HRH Blues 4, O2 Academy Sheffield 14th &15th April 2018 .
Welcome back to the steel city for the 4th HRH Blues: a weekend to see some of the legends of blues and many young and new and upcoming acts. Once again Royalty and VIP punters were going to get a short unplugged session on stage 2, but this time over two days. The bands on this Saturday afternoon were: 12.00 The Della Grants, 12.30 Brian Rawson Band, 1.00 Jim Kirkpatrick Heavy Weather and 1.30 The Rainbreakers. I enjoyed the Della Grants set and at 1pm they were playing a full set on main stage so off I went.
Day One main stage The Della Grants. Having seen them kick off the day unplugged I was impressed and so were many others going by the fairly large crowd so early in the proceedings. They are a bunch of friends from Leicestershire: Max Manning and Tom Best sharing harmonica and guitar together, along with Andy Boulton on bass and Tom Waker on drums. They play what I call blues Americana with a rocky vibe, they are often joined by another friend, Tony Robinson, who plays organ, piano and trumpet. A nice change from guitars and drums, they played a good set of songs mixing the blues genres, and as I have always said to kick off a festival must be nerve racking - they showed none of it.
Next Jim Kirkpatrick Heavy Weather
Jim formally of FM and and the Bernie Marsden band, is an acomplished blues guitarist with over twenty years experience and is recognised as one of the best slide guitarist on the circuit. He often accompanies singer songwriter Thea Gilmore on her tours and now fronts the band Heavy Weather. Being early in the day, the crowd wasn’t so big for his entertaining performance, their loss.
Up next Danny Giles Band
Danny, who also plays guitar with the Will Wilde band and produced his latest album which I had the pleasure to review, is such a likable chap; smiling and joking with the crowd all through his brilliant set playing old style delta blues and tunes from some of the legends gone by.
Having checked out the next act on YouTube, I was very excited to see Sari Schorr
If you love the blues and love guitar and want to hear a voice that will completely blow your mind then go see this lady, she has an immense vocal power and sings like her life depends on it. Never have I witnessed such emotion while singing songs than with this girl: she twists and gyrates around the stage and you could have heard a pin drop as everyone in the crowd was just stunned by this performance. Her unique twist to the classic Black Betty has to be seen not just heard: it was remakable and she received rapturous applause after she had finished singing it. I cannot wait to see her again on stage - please please go out and see this amazing artist you will be mesmerized.
Time to see a band in stage 2 upstairs
The Black Hands: this Derbyshire four piece play southern blues rock foot tapping head bobbing music that the large crowd appreciated throughout. Having missed their set at last years HRH Blues, I was glad I managed to see them this time.
Back to the main stage for English born singer songwriter and blues guitarist Danny Bryant. This dude has been all over the world and played with legendary artists such as Buddy Guy, Joe Cocker and Carlos Santana. He certainly can play the guitar and had a fairly long set, but unfortunately just too many guitar solos for me that just merged into one long song.
Time for something to eat before I settle down to see the act that the crowd had filled the arena for, the legend that is Bernie Marsden.
He is one if the happiest guys I have ever seen on stage: forever smiling and telling stories of his past exploits but always entertaining. He showcased Whitesnake numbers and many songs off his latest album Shine and jokingly mentioning his new autobiography, Where’s My Guitar all through his set to endless laughter from the packed crowd. Well done Bernie, a great performance: no wonder the crowd kept yelling for more.
My aching foot was now playing up so I went upstairs to sit and see the final act of the night Pat McManus, the Northern Irish former Mamma’s Boys guitarist. I was disapointed, I’m afraid to say and after seeing Bernie do what he does best Pat opens his set with what seemed like a forty minute guitar solo and I had heard a lot of them already today! I don’t know if it was because I was getting tired, but apart from Belfast Boy, his wonderful tribute to his great friend the wonderful Gary Moore I was pretty underwhelmed, but overall a fantastic first day of blues and fun and laughs and I look forward to day two.
Once again the lucky ones were seeing some unplugged acts in stage 2 before the full sets, today’s acts were Catfish, Black Thunder Review, and Big Canyon. I had heard about Catfish and was looking forward to seeing them perform: I wasn’t disappointed. Young Matt can play an acoustic like an electric, and his skills were on show for this short set. I wasn’t going to miss their main stage performance.
Black Thunder Review are lLocal Sheffield lads originally called Socrates Johnson but after a number of line up changes they settled on the Black Thunder name. Their influences range from Robert Johnson to Bob Dylan and even rock n roll punk man Jack White.
Big Canyon fuse a mix of blues and rock to create their own distinctive sound. They have a debut EP out: Life liver’ love giver.
The day begins on stage one with Sugarman Sam & The Voodoo Men. Having played at HRH Blues before, they are a popular band with the crowd. They are all good musicians and Sam himself is a competent guitar player combining blues and rock, but he came across to me as too brash and playing one high chord over and over again doesn’t get the crowd into a frenzy as he tried to do. Not the best opener for the day.
Next was Catfish, who I had seen earlier do their unplugged set and was looking forward to seeing them again. They consist of Matt Long, who at only 23 plays the guitar like a seasoned veteran, Keyboard player and father Paul Long, drummer Kevin Yates, and newly joined bassman Adam Pyke. This band have had five B,B,A nominations over two years and have four nominations in this years uk blues awards , . They are all richly deserved; as they performed an absolute dream of a set with the incredible vocals of Matt and when he played his finale of Make It Rain, by the time he had finished he was absolutely breathless and drained, emotion, style and some amazing guitar playing. This band can only go from strength to strength, one of the best bands of the weekend without a doubt.
Chris Antonik was next, a Canadian who has won numerous awards over the years but after seeing Catfish’s performance it was going to take a lot to impress me, and I’m afraid to say anti climax. He has been compared to Eric Clapton but there were far too many guitar solos, and it all sounded like one long tune after a while.
Pontus Snibb’s Wreck of Blues. Pontus is from Sweden,and his love of old style American blues mixed with 70’s rock is shown in his performance, he often goes out as a solo artist but tonight he has his band The Wreck wih him. I enjoyed his set, there was nothing flash about him; he has a rocky voice but can deliver blues old style just as efficiently. I had a chat with him later in the evening where he was posing for selfies with the crowd; a very nice guy and also can play guitar without showing off.
Next to hit the stage was Geoff Achison’s UK Souldiggers. Geoff is an Australian who travels all over the world with different versions of the Souldiggers. This is his UK troupe, and they just happen to be very good friends of mine and Carol’s. I have to be careful not to sound biased, but they consist of the legendary Sam Kelly on
drums (Google him and you’ll see why), the maestro keyboard player Paul Jobson, and bassist Andy Hodge. Throughout his long tour Geoff has been playing and singing with a good ol’ fashioned cold, but he never let it deter him. They play blues but with a twist: it has a soul-funk sound to it, and they don’t have a set list - they just go out and play, with Paul and Geoff directing each other on stage it is a masterclass in musicianship. When they started the crowd was fairly small but when they finished the crowd was huge, that says it all for me: well done guys, see you soon.
Ben Poole was next, and this young guitarist has been praised and acclaimed by many music magazines and musicians; one being the legendary Garry Moore. He tours extensively all over, and often accompanies Danni Wilde (sister of harmonica player Will) on her tours. He has also recorded a live album at the Albert Hall.
The penultimate act of the night was Stevie Nimmo, I wasn’t going to catch the early part of his set as I was about to interview his brother Alan from King King, I saw his band play in my little village hall of a hundred people way back in 2014 and when we spoke he remembered the gig well. I asked him how his throat was now and he told me, “it is what it is I have to take it one day at a time, but for now its good”. I also asked him if he was excited about touring with Europe in November and he said he really was: when he was a kid he loved Europe and Bon Jovi and the like, so this is really cool. Talking about the new album, he said because of the throat op they had to put it on hold and he though that it would never be finished, but now it is and he’s really happy with the finished product. It was a short interview as he had a queue of people videographers and press waiting to speak to him, a quick photo with him and that was it, thanks Alan you’re a real star.
Back to his brother on stage, now in full swing, the crowd was huge so I sat for this one. Stevie, being one half of the acclaimed and well respected Nimmo brothers, has been in the business for two decades and has now taken to the road with his blues combo; rarely playing guitar at the moment due to the humerous he fractured in a mountain bike accident, but his prescence on stage is still incredible due to his sometimes gritty, many times emotional, but always perfect voice. His album Sky Won’t Fall was released in 2016 and immediately was voted album of the year by the media and fans. He did play the guitar for one song and considering his injury, it was as brilliant as any one I had seen all weekend .
Last year King King should have played HRH Blues but Alan Nimmo (the brother with the kilt) had to have a big operation to remove polyps from his vocal chords and needed a long rest. Tonight was different: they were headlining. Alan comes to the stage, big smile and announces “We made it, a year late but we’re here”. He then made a big apology to everyone for letting them down (you didn’t Alan) and went into what he does best with the rest of the guys: Lindsay Coulson bassman, new keyboard player Jonny Dyke, and drums Wayne Proctor with Alan lead guitar.and even towards the end bringing his brother on to play more guitar. Playing many songs from their award winning album Exile & Grace. I mention awards, this band’s shelves must be heaving with them, the amount they have won, and every one well deserved. Now about to do a massive tour of the UK and major cities abroad, then back to the UK in November to tour with Europe. Now Alan and the boys are ready again to show the fans and the press why King King are one of the best blues bands out there.
Review by Dave Martin, Photos by Carol Henson aka LadyGigger