Leaving on time and in time to reach Grantham train station to pick up a team member we are quietly pleased with ourselves only to be messaged en route to say "train cancelled, catching next one but that's delayed" - bugger ! So our rock & blues weekend starts off with an hour milling about in Margaret Thatchers birthplace ...great.
Worse still the knock-on effect is we miss the opening offerings of the event, one of which is Giles Robson and his band, which was a shame as he's awesome, more later…Further bad news, despite us being enrolled for premium dining we have arrived too late by 30 mins to take advantage of it so have to opt for the on-site chippy, oh I'm sure I'll be over it by May bank holiday………..
Opening the information wallet I fish out the program and start reading, well when I say reading I mean trying to focus on some incredibly small print, I know these size programs are common at events and designed to fit easily into a pocket but considering the average age and visual ability of the attendees around me I think we could go for twice as many pages to display the program over; enlarging the print as we go?
Eric Sardinas And Big Motor are the first offering being a 3-piece with a lady drummer from southern California, crazy top hats, feathers, chains and leather define this loud rock blues band with weathered instruments and vocals singing numbers like "get down the whiskey" should give you a flavour. Great on the tools but those vocals have been round the clock and some………
Leaving Centre Stage and Eric Sardinas I'm off to JAKS stage, my favourite venue, not too big, raised up 3 steps at the back and a long bar, Huskey Tones is the offering which is Chris and Victoria from Bristol who have only been together since August 2016, they tell me. A lady drummer (pattern emerging?) and Chris on guitar and occasional vocals didn't look enough to fill a big space (Noise) but they do a fair job with a delta style number and some acoustic only and ballady numbers which are marred by loud chin-wagging from the crowd. I stick with it and am rewarded with an interesting version of "smoke stack lightning"…grrreat. The more they play the more I like them, nothing to do with the rather nice Marstons Pedigree ale (a tad overpriced…). I move down to the front and have a much better experience joining a 20-something in hoody and trainers standing arms folded and motionless and next to him a 60 something in a cap, jeans, denim jacket and loafers moving in good time…….
Next venue is REDS, published capacity 1500, there's plenty of seating and is wheelchair friendly despite being on the first floor (check with Butlins), easy viewing and screens towards the back and a bar either side. So I just catch the tail end of Giles Robsons Blues harp fest (I got my GR fix!) enjoying four harps on stage with a great blues beat, these harp blowers are no suckers, they got their mojo working and it worked on me…
Back in JAKS for The Revolutionaires - proper rockerbluesabilly with sax and double bass, powerful vocals and a version of "riot in cell block no.9". The sharp dressed front man Ed moves onto the keys to great effect while a couple jive really well just in front of me stage-front and my feet just won't stop moving…. oh come on! He's only on the harp now, his jacket's off and the place is jumping, shake rattle and roll baby, I feel like a one-eyed cat peeping in a seafood store-tastic, it all works for me, great !
A really great opening evening after a late start. Back to the chalet for a couple of night caps a vintage Ry Cooder video and thoughts of tomorrows line up.
Saturday dawns too late for me to get breakfast unfortunately so I make do with a cuppa in the chalet and suggest to the only other team member who is up that we keep up the tradition - a stroll to Skegness town along the coast path and beach where the path runs out, there is a gate out of Butlins open from 9.00-16.00 daily and it will take you about an hour to walk from here to the pier. After a brief discussion though we decide we don't need the exercise and opt for the bus. Heading for the Red Lion we're both looking forward to an all-day breakfast but alas scuppered again by mere minutes we have to go for main lunchtime fayre which is duly delivered and consumed. By this time others known to us have swelled numbers to a small group and the beers disappear quickly (at £2.05 why not?). At this point it should be mentioned that the bus stops running earlier out of season and this should be checked with the driver ideally as to what time the last one is, however if you miss the last one, like us, there are service buses that run past Butlins much later.
Catfish are first up at JAKS, 4-piece from Surrey, the bassist has a great taste in shirts and there's a smoking lead, keys could have been a bit louder I thought but rock blues of a great standard nonetheless. Really good vocals in slow numbers from Matt. "Make it rain" - a beautiful atmospheric number slightly spoiled in the quieter bits by too much crowd talking, Matt even held his finger to his lips !! Come on folks, why stand stage-front to chat with your pals ?? A super band just about to make it big in blues (probably will have by the time I finish this) and deservedly so.
Back into Reds now for Moreland And Arbuckle - no not that accountancy firm from Bolton, but 3 young-ish bearded Americans playing an array of instruments (some odd) to great effect in the swamp-rock blues style, right up my street.
M&A are just one of this year's bands from Alligator Records who Butlins approached to fill part of the bill. Alligator Records has been going since 1971 producing their "genuine house-rockin music" they're well qualified and when I spoke to Bruce Iglauer (owner of Alligator) at the interval, he seemed very pleased with how things were going. It's a great thing Bruce and his team are doing - so how did Alligator Records get its name?
www.Alligator.com history is a good read, and there's free stuff!!
JAKS again for Dom Pipkin and the Ikos, hurrah !! First real brass of the weekend. The floor in front of the stage is empty, a shame as they're pretty good in their hats and sharp threads working hard, listening to the keys I gets shades of Chas and Dave, sorry about that folks but I still like them - especially trumpet and keys……
Toronzo Canon, another Alligator band, now on the big stage at Reds, Chicago 4-piece with keys and a clean sound, great vocals, enough to prompt several ladies nearby (one in a red bowler hat) to dance happily to these top tunes, while on the first seating back from the stage a middle aged lady lap-dances with her old fella who is too unfit to stand….
Toronzo now jumps off the stage and walks amongst the crowd, instrument smoking, he makes it to the seats and commences playing with his teeth in very close proximity to 3 seated ladies - as a pick-up method I think it needs work.
Sunday dawns and 2 of the team go for breakfast for the first time since we've been here! Then its time for sport - well, darts was nearly in the Olympics wasn't it?? Thanks Dave for beating me at darts and Phil for opening a full can of whup-ass at snooker and ping-pong. All this is included in the price folks and there's a small bar if you can face it this early.
Paul Jones and Dave Kelly (blues band, Manfred Mann) kick off, brilliant vocals and harp from Jones, super slide guitar from Dave, a set comprising of music interspersed with stories and history, this pair are on another level, no set-list, pure winging it and brilliant, more like "an evening with Paul and Dave". Such passion, two blokes loving what they do and doing what they love.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006wrpd just because he didn't plug it enough……………………………………..
Not mentioned the introducing stage yet, watch bands, like them and vote for them, and they could get a main stage gig next year…easy
Zoe Green band - decent enough blues band at the rocky edge but I'm not voting yet as I've got another band pencilled in on this stage later and they are The Wang Dang Doodle, I'd have voted for them on name alone but listened first and again a fine sounding British blues band but I was distracted by the French accent on the vocals, sorry but it just didn't sound right so ZGB gets it.
David Knopfler ? Yes he is and sounds just like him (Mark) similar musical style as well (not surprising really) in a 2-piece format he could have broken into Romeo and Juliet at any time and I doubt I would have noticed. Was in the listing as "and band" but there wasn't one, the crowd could be heard above all of the quiet numbers most of which deserved to have their silences heard - overall a bit disappointing.
Knopfler shuffles off stage right and we are treated to Brown Sugar as an interval track, a bald stout 50-something man takes to the empty floor and owns it beginning to end……..
Handily I retain position after Knopfler as The Blues Band are up next, can't wait after the earlier Paul & Dave show. Still on top form this time with the band but I don't think a set-list ! We get the full gamut of back catalogue and current offerings of the band and Paul and Daves solo efforts, good audience participation with the sing-along but never really got jumping in there and I don't know why.
To finish off on The Centre Stage, Steve Harley And Cockney Rebel, the biggest name of the weekend plays a 1hr set almost to the minute in fine style ending with his pension song (his words) but he's probably made more writing for folks like Rod Stewart who I doubt even knows where Skeggy is………………..
With Dr Feelgood already confirmed for next year, why not banish those January blues with…er.. Blues and Skegness rock, you'd be daft to miss it.
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Great British Rock & Blues Weekender 2020 review