Review: Ben Poole – Anytime You Need Me

Manhaton Records (Sept 2018)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

Ben Poole returns with his third album release ‘Anytime You Need Me‘, an album that helps build his standing in the blues rock community as his career continues to grow.

I think there’s one thing this album epitomizes, it’s the continuing trend to release albums that don’t conform to the over regimented definition of what blues music should be.

What you end up getting are releases that are like a breath of fresh air, pulling in influences from other genres and with it new audiences.

With ‘Anytime You Need Me‘, Ben has introduced elements of funk, 70’s rock and even a little soul. The album is a little more adventurous then previous releases.

Take It No More‘ would be nearer the traditional blues rock track which has elements of King King, which is hardly a surprise with aforementioned band’s Wayne Proctor at the production helm.

While ‘Found Out The Hard Way‘ wouldn’t be out of place on a Mitch Laddie album.

But I found ‘You Could Say‘ a bit too poppy for my palette with Ben’s vocals taking on a high pitch Jonny Lange vibe.

It has to be said the two covers on the album are interesting choices, Don Henley’s ‘Dirty Laundry‘, a track I’ve always loved and Jude Cole’s ‘Start The Car‘. However they work really well and releasing ‘Dirty Laundry‘ as a single will certainly help raise interest from other quarters.

While not every track is to my liking, I think live it will be an entirely different matter and with a heavier live sound they will fill out nicely.

Anytime You Need Me‘ is an album, which along with other current British musicians releases, helps cement the UK as one of the top blues & blues rock territories in the World.

 

Review: REƎCE – Resilient Heart

Mighty Music (November 2018)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

There are some albums which are highly anticipated, and for me ‘Resilient Heart‘ is one of them.

Take the vocal talents of singer David Reece, who I first came across as front man for American hard rock band Bangalore Choir and vocalist on Accept‘s ‘Eat The Heat‘ album, add a guitarist whose playing I highly regard, namely Martin J Anderson, who I first heard playing in his blues rock band Blindstone. Finish off with guitarist Marco Angioni, bandmate of Martin’s in Danish heavy metal band Meridian, bassist Malte Frederik Burkert from David’s other band Sainted Sinners and drummer Sigurd J. Jensen also from Blindstone.

The result….a mature hard rock album!

From the opening bars of the first track, ‘Any Time At All‘, you know your in for a bit of a musical treat. This is a band tighter than an elastic band wound three times round a  pencil. David Reece’s vocals sound as good as they did 25 years ago and yes I’ll bring up the old chestnut I always do, if I don’t like the vocals then I won’t like the album!

With eleven tracks on the album, none of which in my opinion a ‘filler’, choosing a favorite is bloody difficult. However, for me there is one track that stands out both in vocal performance and musicianship, and that’s ‘Forest Through The Trees‘. This is without doubt a monster track!

For those of you familiar with David’s work and indeed the catalogue of the other musicians involved, then ‘Resilient Heart‘ is probably already on your ‘to order’ list. If your not and it’s not……then don’t hesitate and pre-order it now, you won’t be disappointed.

Review: The Radio Sun – Beautiful Strange

Pride & Joy Records (August 24th 2018)

Reviewer: Stephen Brophy

Australia’s The Radio Sun are one of the new breed that harks back to older times, releasing on average one album every year continually giving their fans what they crave. The latest offering ‘Beautiful Strange‘ falls under the same style as their other releases, with those wonderful melodic harmonies once again standing out.

The twelve tracks on offer this time around are once again top class, there are a number of songs that get in your head like a musical worm burrowing through the cortex and just not letting go. There is something a little special about the mixture of melodic rock with some crunching riffs, songs by The Radio Sun always seem to be uplifting, no matter what the subject matter, it really is a rare talent.

Having really let this one sink in over a period of time it’s grown the more I’ve spun it, some tracks that didn’t hit me immediately are now firm favourites. Despite the fact they the band are releasing an album every 12 months or so they are still managing to sound fresh on each release, perhaps that is helped by the style of music these guys play.

Highlights on this one for me are the opener ‘Hold On Tight‘ that just kicks things off so well, a great blend of power and subtlety, ‘Out Of This World‘ is another cracking track again not quite being a ballad, but having a slightly slower tempo and then just take a listen to the crunchy riff on ‘Hearts On Fire‘ which is a song that keeps dragging me back to it, half way through the song you thing it’s settling down for break and then Steve Janevski kicks things up a notch or two with a soaring solo, once again the guitar playing and general tightness of this band is a joy.

There is something about this band sets the World right when you listen to them, it’s not all about the harmonies, but damn they are sweet. The Radio Sun continue to create high quality output, this is once again an excellent release from the band. Can’t wait to hear some more of these tracks live when the band hit the UK next March, get out and enjoy a fun night out with some awesome music.

 

Review: The Magpie Salute – High Water I

Mascot/Eagle Rock (August 2018)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

Now I’ll set my cards out from the offset. When I first saw that The Magpie Salute had Rich Robinson, who of course is known for The Black Crowes, in the line up I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my thing. The Black Crowes ticked all the boxes yet never really did it for me.

However……..Straight out of the box so to speak I soon realised that this is one of those ‘cleansing of the palette’ albums. An album that sets its stall out a little different from what others are releasing, a album to just sit back and allow it to wash over you.

There are various different elements to the album, you want a nice slice of sit on the porch blues then ‘Hand In Hand‘ is perfect for you. Tracks that start all laid back until they throw things into top gear? That’ll be ‘For The Wind‘.  If your a Tom Petty fan then ‘Can You See‘ will certainly be to your liking.

All in all a coherent, mature album which just grows the more you play it. So it’s gone from a pre-judgemental uncertainty to an album I’ve not stopped playing.

With this being ‘High Water I‘ I have to say I’m already looking forward to ‘High Water 2‘, which is already a certainty.

 

 

Review: Wonderworld – III

Key Music (June 2018)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

Four years after their debut album, Wonderworld are back with their third release not surprisingly called ‘III‘.

For those of you already familiar with the band then there won’t really be any surprises or changes from the previous two releases. That certainly isn’t a negative thing, just means we have ten more tracks of top notch melodic hard rock to enjoy!

For those not familiar, Wonderworld consists of Italian singer/bassist Roberto Tiranti and from Norway guitarist Ken (JR) Ingwersen and drummer Tom Fossheim. All three have an extensive musical background which has helped bring a lot of different influences into the band’s sound.

It can always be difficult to pick stand out tracks when your really enjoying an album, however the track that really hit the spot for me is ‘The Last Frontier‘ which at nearly seven minutes long showcases the band’s musicianship and the quality of the production on the whole album.

So for the third time, I can highly recommend ‘III‘ as well as the previous two albums.

 

Review: Michael Romeo- War Of The Worlds / Pt. 1

Music Theories Recordings / Mascot Label Group (July 27th 2018)

Reviewer: Dan Mann

I’m sure most of your are familiar with the name Michael Romeo, founding member of progressive metal band Symphony X. Well in this release Michael delves into the depths of symphonic metal.

I’ll say from the start, if your not a fan of widdly widdly guitar then this release is probably not for you. Having said that, those guitar connoisseurs among you will absolutely love it!

Kicking off with an intro that wouldn’t be out of place in a Star Wars film, Mr Romeo soon makes it obvious where his roots lie.

I’ll be honest and say I have to be in the mood for symphonic metal, but catch me at the right time and there is an increase in volume shall we say. Those increases were quite frequent during the various playbacks of ‘War Of The Worlds / Pt. 1‘, the production leading to a decent sound full of depth and atmosphere.

Listening to the robot effects at the beginning of ‘F*cking Robots‘ is an experience on headphones, even more so up-scaled through a home cinema system, making it one of my favorites out of the ten tracks on offer. The current single ‘Djinn‘ is shall we say a little daring as a single coming in as it does at a nearly seven and a half minutes long. But it so highlights the vocal talents of Rick Castellano. Boy can he hit notes most of us could only almost manage in tight trousers.

With a run time of some 50 minutes, this album certainly doesn’t short change you, leading you as it does through the mind of H.G. Wells. There are influences aplenty with more than a nod to my favorite classical composer Holst. It’s almost the Planets Suite meets Conception meets Savatage.

To sum up, this is an album I discovered I enjoyed far more than I expected. It is without doubt a labour of love by Romeo and here’s looking forward to Pt 2.

 

Review: Gus G. – Fearless

AFM Records (April 2018)

Reviewer: Simone – The Metal Mistress

What happens when Michael Schenker and Steve Vai have a love child? You get supremely talented, melodic, riff heavy guitarist, Gus G. I have been a fan of Gus for a long time, especially enjoying him when he toured with Ozzy. His band Firewind has been around for 20 years, and is one of those unsung metal bands only known to non-mainstream fans and are a definite must-see if they play near you. Now, once again, he outdoes himself, giving us the album ‘Fearless‘ featuring three super talented musicians playing together. Dennis Ward of Pink Cream 69 and drummer William Hunt of Black Label Society collaborate with Gus to create a non-stop hard-hitting rock album.

The album starts off with what we expect from Gus G. – a powerful guitar segment in ‘Letting Go‘ Here we first get to hear Dennis’s vocals. Known more as a bassist and producer, at my first listen this was definitely not what I expected. It took me a moment to appreciate Dennis’ vocals. While his range is not wide, he has a solid, strong voice that works tremendously with Gus’s strong guitar and William’s kick ass drums. It does not get lost among the music as it so easily could with a less clear and strong singer. One thing I like about Dennis’s vocals is he modulates with each song’s composition unlike other hard rock singers who always sing with the same tone, and punch on every song.

Getting us settled into the deep riffs that we will see throughout the album, ‘Letting Go‘ and ‘Mr. Manson‘ set the tone for ‘Fearless‘, however do not be lulled into thinking all tracks will be the same. ‘Don’t Tread On Me‘ has what I consider the best solo riff by Gus on the album. If you want to truly hear his talent listen to this melodic number. The title track ‘Fearless‘ takes us in a different direction entirely having a Flamenco-style staccato of a guitar opening. This number above all the rest, reminded me of Joe Satriani – long, melodic, crying melodies that led into killer speed riffs.

I love the ‘Money For Nothing‘ cover. It is such a sleeper song- making us reminisce and think it is going to sound like the original. The abrupt change from the familiar sounds of the original playing in our memory to the hard crunch and searing new solos makes you wake up and say WTF. Then Dennis’s vocals whack you over the head.  If I was a bit unsure about his vocals in the beginning, this number lets me know I am an idiot.   The minor lyric changes are also a clever revision with a touch more relevancy to today’s crowds.

Gus makes sure we get a few instrumentals for his long-standing fans. ‘Thrill of the Chase‘ delivers. I especially like William’s drums on this number. They do not get drowned out by the powerful guitar, but keep stride throughout the song along side it.  ‘Big City‘ was a bit unusual to me – delivering a bit of Southern rock, bluesy vibe in the base chords that make up the root of the song. It turned into what I would consider a typical 80s hard rock song with a short solo by Gus in the middle. ‘Last Of My Kind‘ is a great close out to the album, bringing everything to a huge blow out of all three melding together for one final “let’s show you how much ass we can kick” song.

As usual we are treated to Gus’s intricate guitar solos in each song. He makes sure his fans get enough to satisfy while keeping the entire album balanced between each musician. This trio’s talents compliment each other and never overpower each other.  This album is one I would pop on during a long road trip to get the juices flowing again. It keeps your energy high and delivers on a good, constant rhythm. From first song to last, it keeps your attention.  Just remember to set the speed control to keep the speeding tickets at bay!

Fearless‘ is a well-produced, fluid album from 3 killer talents working together to give us what we expect from them – kick ass hard rock with enough variety to keep us listening from track 1 to 10.

Review: Big Boy Bloater & The Limits – Pills

Provogue / Mascot Label Records (June 2018)

Reviewer: Steve Borkowski

With today’s blues scene seemingly saturated with blues/rock power trios and guitarist front-men playing everlasting solos with painstaking looks on their faces, it’s quite refreshing when something different comes along to shake things up.

For the unfamiliar, Big Boy Bloater lives up to his name, a big man with a big voice, a husky, hoarse growl… think Tom Waits meets Howlin’ Wolf. The other thing worth noting is that BBB has a massive personality and sense of humour.
With so many artists taking themselves too seriously, Bloat’s tongue is always firmly in his cheek and this comes through in his lyrics which are always clever and humorous and often topical, from society’s reliance on modern medicine to cure pretty much every ailment imaginable in the title track ‘Pills‘, to the pop at shady agents promising a big break in ‘Stop Stringing Me Along‘ which is the closest thing to a ballad on the album and the honky-tonk roll and roll of ‘Oops Sorry‘ which is a humorous take on a ruined relationship.
Add in titles like ‘Friday Night’s Alright For Drinking‘, ‘Slackers Paradise‘ and ‘Unnaturally Charming‘ and you get the idea of what to expect.
Musically, you get a multitude of influences from old school rockabilly, Louisiana Swamp Blues, slide heavy, groove filled blues/rock and even blues tinged pub rock, but what you won’t find are long guitar solos or loads of heartfelt ballads. This is an upbeat feel good blues album for non blues fans, that continues in the same vein as Luxury Hobo.
Forget taking pills, buy it, this album is a surefire cure for the blues.

Review: Salty Dog – Lost Treasure

Escape Music (March 2018)

Reviewer: Grant Foster

Salty Dog’s debut, ‘Every Dog Has It’s Day’ was, in my eyes a true lost classic, packed with fine rockers and golden mellow moments driven by the writing partnership largely of Pete Reeven – guitar- (who provided the music) and Jimmi Bleacher – vocals – (who added lyrics). I remember taking a copy down to the Clay Pigeon in Eastcote, home of Neil Kay’s infamous Heavy Metal Soundhouse at the time, so I could headbang to ‘Come Along’ for chrissaskes!

Unfortunately, grunge killed SD’s blend of hard rock & blues, stone dead, along with a number of other bands. Timing, as they say, is everything.

So, this release – what’s it all about? The lost second album? It appears to be just that, polished demos that were worked up for the album that never saw the light of day. By then, Bleacher had departed and Darrel Beach had taken up the vocals. But how does it compare to EDHID?

I really, really, really, wanted to like this album. Like I’ve said, I loved the debut and if ‘Lost Treasure‘ came anywhere near that, in terms of song writing, production & performances, then it would still be a corker of an opus.

But – I’m afraid to say, I’m left totally & utterly disappointed. And really, really, really frustrated!

I’m looking at the notes now, that I typed over the course of listening to this album, on the five occasions I listened to it and it saddens me.

  1. Damned If I Do – More straight ahead hard rock than the debut album – Felt it would have been more ‘in the groove’. Doubles up towards the end for no apparent reason.
  2. I Need More – Sounds like a Badlands out take. It highlights how unique Jimmi Bleacher was and is sorely missed. The chorus is the best part on offer here, but not enough to save the song. Again, it double times out of nowhere, apparently for the guitar solo.
  3. Walk Softly – Starts out like The Cult, pre Electric, then ultimately goes nowhere. A real demo feel, which brings me to the production, or rather the lack of it. Muddy, unrefined and not a patch on that debut!
  4. Open Sezme – The guitar riff is cool and up to now probably the best thing so far. And be grateful for small mercies that Mr Beach has stopped caterwauling long enough to prove he CAN sing! Has an eastern feeling guitar solo.
  5. Mission On A Hill – A slower paced tune, very Zep like, but again, goes absolutely nowhere. Lacks any kind of strong melody in the vocal, something that is right across the board, I’m afraid. ‘’Do you remember?’ sings Beach? I’m trying to forget………
  6. All That Glitters – Slide guitar opens a riff heavy tune, but lacking the subtle touch. Certainly not glittering and definitely not gold.
  7. Woman Scorned – This proves when the band take their foot off the heavy laden lumpen blues pedal, there is a half decent tune here.
  8. Honeysuckle Wind – Yee haw! Banjo upfront and it goes on to be an inoffensive little jaunt. The sort of thing Blackberry Smoke went past, about ten years ago.
  9. Didju – More of the same…….lumpen hard blues rock with yet another uninspired vocal melody and no chorus to speak of. Oh god……..
  10. Old Fashioned Love – Tries to be Skynyrd, but falls way short. Still, at least it sounds different, although still no chorus!
  11. When Fools Rush In – No, sorry, I’ve lost the will to live. A ballad on shifting sands and I’m out of here.

I know, I know, it doesn’t read well. I suppose when the debut album is as stunningly as good, as Salty Dog produced, bringing out a follow up 26 years later with a different line up and therefore different dynamics, was never going to be easy. But even taking that into account, this, is as bad, as EDHID, was good.

 

Review: HRH Blues IV – Day 1

O2 Academy, Sheffield

Reviewers : Stephen Brophy (SB), Peter Scallan (PS), Steve Borkowski (SBork)

Photography : Stephen Brophy 

The Festival Season is upon us with a vengeance now as we arrive in Sheffield for this years installment of HRH’s Blues event, now in it’s fourth iteration. Thankfully this year it’s not clashing with the World Snooker Championships that take place across the road from our O2 Academy venue, which makes things a little easier for us all.

The Della Grants (Acoustic)  (SB)

To open any Festival can be a daunting enough experience, but to open both the Acoustic Sets on the 2nd Stage and then jump right over to the Main Stage to play a Full Electric Set is no mean feat. This band takes it in their stride, they play a really nice mix of Blues and Americana, and although 20 minutes isn’t really enough to properly evaluate a band there was certainly enough in this set to peek my interest for their opening slot on the big stage. Besides I’m a sucker for a bit of harmonica. As much as I love Acoustic sets it isn’t always the best way to see a band for the first time, but when bands are playing two sets it offers a great contrast.

Brian Rawson Band (Acoustic)  (SB)

Having seen Brian’s band playing the first HRH Blues in Pwllheli back in 2014 I was interested to see how they sounded now, and this weekend was going to be the first outing for a brand new lineup. Considering this was there very first live performance together I thought it the Acoustic set sounded great, nothing disjointed and Pete’s vocals worked really well with their sound.

Jim Fitzpatrick’s Heavy Weather (Acoustic)  (PS)

This is my first time attending the HRH Blues festival in Sheffield. While there were a few acts I knew and was looking forward to, my rekindled passion for blues and blues-based rock is still developing so there were many acts I hadn’t even heard of! However, my first band to review was none other Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather doing an acoustic set.

I know of Jim from his day job band FM and was looking forward to this short acoustic set. He did the set on his own and played three songs including the song Heavy Weather. I have maintained the that this guy is one of the main reasons that FMs live performances have moved up notch in the time he has been in them and this short performance just reinforced this notion. What did surprise was just how good Jim’s vocals were and it was a great start to my weekend.

The Rainbreakers (Acoustic) (PS)

Next up was The Rainbreakers whom I knew absolutely nothing about. These guys play a quirky take on blues rock, sometimes straying into soul. They certainly sounded tight, crisp and fresh but weren’t really for me.

Their unique sound is epitomised by Ben Edwards vocals which didn’t really hit the spot for me. However, they may well be one of these bands that demand more attention in terms of listening, which I will do.

Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather  (PS)

I moved to the main arena next to check out Jim Kirkpatrick’s Heavy Weather doing their full set. Jim leads a basic three piece and played a great set including. I recognized the songs from the earlier acoustic and this guy really is a class act in terms of guitar playing. He also has a great voice but being able to compare the earlier acoustic performance with this band performance, I was less convinced about his vocals accompanying a full band in terms of power and cutting edge. None the less, the rapidly-filling main arena gave him a deserved rapturous reception.

Danny Giles Band  (SBork)

To many The Danny Giles Band or DGB as they like to be known were a new band, but not to me, Danny and I go back quite a few years and I’ve booked him a couple of times to play events (including my birthday bash), so I was looking forward to seeing how my old friend would go down with the Sheffield crowd on such a big stage.

Dan’s style is quite heavy, definitely more rock than blues, a big man with a big voice and tone to match, he’s backed by a tight rhythm section of Pat Garvey and Jon Chase, a classic power trio, who aren’t afraid to mix up styles blending rock and blues easily and throwing in a little fusion for good measure. Their own material is strong and well rehearsed, from many years and miles covered on the road, mostly in mainland Europe where the band play the majority of their gigs.

While this is clearly Danny’s band, he is a team player allowing his band to shine and take solos of their own, having played guitar in his father’s band The Chicago Thieves and also can be seen shredding alongside Will Wilde who’s performance on stage 2 at last years HRH Blues was one of the highlights of the entire weekend for many.

The DGB mix heavy tunes from their debut album ‘More Is More‘ including ‘I Won’t Let Love‘ and ‘Been There Twice‘, Danny displays his versatility by covering Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in a slow blues and Johnny Guitar Watson’s 3 Hours After Midnight which brings the crowd to it’s feet. The set seemed to finish too soon and the DGB left the stage to a roar of applause having won many new fans..

Brian Rawson Band  (SB)

Sadly with timings I was not able to stay for the full electric set from Brian Rawson Band which again, like their acoustic set, took place on the 2nd Stage. It’s always interesting to see a band play different types of sets in very short succession, and it shows a really good contrast. The band are really up for this 2nd set and new vocalist Peter Scallan is right in the groove from the very start, it may sound odd but they seem to have grown in confidence from the earlier set and have stepped it up a notch or two, having said that they are the one band from the Day 1 list that seemed most comfortable with both styles.

For me ‘Trip, Stumble & Fall‘ is probably the highlight and sounds better than the first time around, alongside ‘Sitting On Top Of The World‘ which was excellent. Wish I could have caught the whole set, but think I managed to see enough to get a good sense of the vibe and for a band that have literally just come together it has to be said that it’s been a really successful day and two sets that were very much enjoyed by the assembled crowd.

Sari Schorr  (SB)

Sari has been high on my list to catch live for quite some time now, having really enjoyed her recent album release and having not managed to catch Sari’s guitarist Ash Wilson up until now, this was definitely one of the sets that I was most looking forward to seeing all weekend, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Sari has a wonderful powerful voice and she’s backed up by a very talented bunch who all appear to love playing Blues music.

The aforementioned Ash Wilson is superb, also in the band is former King King keyboard player Bob Fridzema, who as always sounded great, the band seem to have knitted together really well, and the crowd is into this Set from the start. Tracks like ‘Demolition Man‘ and ‘Damn The Reason‘ have people singing and dancing in the aisles between the seats and all over the venue to be honest.

Something a little weird is that the live version of ‘Black Betty‘ really didn’t do much for me on the day, and I really like how Sari treats the song, but it certainly went down well with others. The songs in this set however stand up very well beside the voice and top notch musicianship from all of the band, these guys really know how to play and work tightly as a unit. Great set and the atmosphere around the Main Stage is certainly building. A rocking version of Zeppelin’s ‘Rock N’ Roll‘ is all part of a set that is well balanced and more often than not powerful and upbeat, until the next time.

The Black Hands  (SB)

Up next on the second stage were a band from the Midlands, The Black Hands and they definitely play Blues Rock, but with a harder edge and nice aggressive vocals, really enjoyed what I heard from these guys, unfortunately I didn’t manage to hear the full set but even if I’d only managed to be there for ‘45‘ that would have been more than enough to make me want to see these guys again.

Would definitely like to see how this brand of Blues Rock would go down on the main stage, personally I think it would really kick things up a notch early evening and hopefully the guys get a chance next time out. Keep an eye on this band there’s more to come..

Greg Coulson  (SB)

Greg Coulson not only fronts his band but he also plays the Keyboards and Guitar, not the easiest of tasks when you are concentrating on the vocals, but he does a fine job of things. There are many things to like about the style of Blues that these guys play, it’s classy, a little upbeat and sounds great, Greg is working with the crowd to get people involved and the interaction is good.

Highlight for me is probably ‘Someone To Be There‘, with a classic riff it lends itself very well to Greg’s vocals and gets people moving in the crowd. This is an artist that has experience while at the same time being relatively new on the scene, there’s a tonne of talent on the stage and will really look forward to hearing new material and getting to see this band live again. Great energetic and upbeat performance from an emerging artist, and that’s the brilliant thing about a weekend Festival like this you get to see Legends and possible future legends all on the same stage and Greg Coulson was another that got a great crowd reaction and should be on your radar if he isn’t already.

Rainbreakers  (SBork)

Rainbreakers are a band that defy genre, blending classic blues artists of the 60’s and 70’s with  modern soulful twist, their sound can switch from gritty to delicate in a heartbeat. They are like a breath of fresh air in that they are so different from pretty much every other band on the UK circuit right now.

Their own material is skillfully written and authentic, their influences clearly come from a very diverse musical palette, their covers usually from obscure US band such as The Wood Brothers or Monophonics. Ben Edwards vocals soulful, strong and full of emotion, Charlie Richards guitar fills and solos as good as any plank spanking front man, but Charlie appears to shy away from the limelight, happy to be part of a band rather than overplaying to draw attention to himself. The tight rhythm section of Sam Edwards and the always smiling Peter ‘Pedro’ Adams, complete the 4 piece.

The set is made up predominantly of tracks from their 2 EPS, Blood Not Brass and Rise Up, plus the new single Heavy Soul from the upcoming debut album in which Ben opens up about his battle with depression.

It was always going to be difficult to see full sets of every act playing. I wanted to support various friends who were playing but torn between some of the acts on the main stage that I don’t see often so for much of the last couple of hours, I dashed between, Rainbreakers, Danny Bryant, Lewis Hamilton and Bernie Marsden.

Danny Bryant  (SB)

Lets not beat about the bush here, HRH Blues like any Blues event is a celebration of fine guitar playing, and you need look no further than Danny Bryant, he plays with passion, emotion and makes everything look so effortless, this is what a lot of people have come to see. Have always thought that the vocals did not quite match up to the extremely high standards of the guitar playing, but that’s not to say they aren’t good, and the songs are very well written indeed, especially the new material on show from the soon to be released Revelation album, a very personal and moving piece of work.

Danny’s facial expressions can at times look quite menacing as he dominates the stage, certainly not shoe gazer. As mentioned the guitar is stunning throughout, this is one of those sets you can say it was a pleasure to be at and it’s not only Danny that’s top notch in this lineup, on keyboards is the always brilliant Stevie Watts, and when you have musicians of this caliber playing with you it perhaps allows you to just to what you do best, this is the case tonight, I don’t think anyone in the crowd would have been disappointed had Danny played another couple of hours, the set just built and built and with the tracks from the most recent albums, which for me have been his best, it’s just a quality 65 minutes of Blues rock, with some solos that were good enough to blow your socks off. Can’t wait to catch these guys again on Tour. 

Lewis Hamilton Band  (SB)

Lewis Hamilton and the band were in the unenviable position of being scheduled against Bernie Marsden on the main stage, but that didn’t hold this three piece back one little bit and the crowd that was present was very enthusiastic. Brilliant to finally get to catch Lewis live as I’ve been listening to his music for a number of years.

The room had a good sized crowd there to check the band out and they were most definitely getting into this set and Lewis’ guitar playing. In particular, some excellent solos right the way through, and the band were very appreciative of those that have made the journey upstairs to see them. This trio are very tight and the sound is pretty good the fact that the set flies by is indeed an indication of it’s quality.

There is a really impressive control to his playing while still managing to emit as much passion and feeling as possible, the atmosphere in the room was terrific and it built alongside the set, with plenty of movement and encouragement from the audience. Definitely another successful set to close out the 2nd Stage on Day 1, and perhaps in the future something can be done with regards to clashes like this where there are two artists on at the same time on different Stages, even if there is an overlap enable the audience to get the opportunity to catch more of both headline sets. The Lewis Hamilton Band made it obvious why they’ve been put into this slot closing out the stage, but also why they should definitely be in a lot higher up on the Main Stage, perhaps next time out, great stuff. 

Pat McManus Band  (SB)

Okay, going slightly outside of scheduled order here as Pat and the band were actually the last band on stage on the opening night, but it makes no difference when the guys hit the stage and how long they play for, as by the end of it you will have a smile on your face and wish they could have stayed longer. Pat McManus is not only one of the finest musicians on the scene but also one of the nicest you could meet and just look at the smile on his face when he plays, sheer joy, it’s infectious. The set is a mixture of styles, Blues/Rock/Celtic, there’s full blown rockers and powerful instrumentals, one of the highlights is always the wonderful tribute to the late Gary Moore ‘Belfast Boy‘.

The band are just so tight, Pat, Marty and Paul play so many shows all over Europe it’s no surprise, but each time you see them it’s a pleasure to watch, there’s a nice mix of instruments with, Guitar and Fiddle being the most used by Pat, he truly is a master of both. Having heard far too many people rule out his music because of the Celtic influences you really need to get out and catch this man live while we can, there are very few musicians on the planet that can touch him for passion and ability and he still has the beauty in his playing that can bring a tear to the eye, his rendition of ‘Parisienne Walkways‘ although not in the set tonight would have definitely had jaws wobbling. What we do hear is a great mix, instrumental, Rock and naturally Blues and what we get from the latest album Tattooed In Blue sounds great, but it’s always going to be the Mama’s Boys classic ‘Needle In The Groove‘ or ‘Still Got The Blues‘ that the crowd really get involved for. Brilliant way to close an evening….

….…..but lets look back a little and the Headline act for day one….. 

Bernie Marsden  (PS)

Bernie Marsden was one of those names that I was familiar with, having been a huge fan of early Whitesnake and his own band Alaska. I recently him playing a great set at the Winterstorm festival in Troon, Scotland. Therefore, I was really looking forward to seeing him again. Yeah – it’s a blues festival and you have to expect a smattering of blues classics. You also have to expect him to draw on his Whitesnake experience, which he did.

However, I have got to say I was disappointed in the Bernie Marsden set. In my opinion, it had too many blues standards and even the Whitesnake classics got drawn out a little too long for my liking and felt like it was being padded out. His Winterstorm set was shorter and it was possibly just the culmination of a long day for me. What wasn’t in doubt is just how good a guitar player he is and the stellar guitar sound he had. He could also maybe benefit from having someone else do some of the singing. Disappointing is how I would sum up this set.

This has been an excellent first day with a really interesting mix of bands on both stages and as expected a really good reaction from the large assembled crowd. Lots in top notch and fun performances from a collection of bands that not only seemed to be loving playing the Festival but also the reaction they were getting from the audience.