Thursday saw the opening of the Twelfth Annual Gate to Southwell Festival an event that spans four days and five stages including a dedicated dance space. Far removed from its folk festivals beginnings this year's offering is a wide, wide choice of eclectic tastes and genres.
The days are loosely themed and Thursday was Blues Legends Night.
Opening any Festival can be a nightmare, a death slot, especially if the stage is next to the bar. Not so last night. Joshua Cook on the Barleycorn Stage brought a background of psychedelic electric blues, mixed in raw rock 'n roll a little gospel and an enormous amount of effort. Just one man and a guitar he engaged empowered and captured the early evening audience. Hailing from New Orleans, Cook is in the middle of a European Tour, definitely one to catch again.
Again seeing unknown acts is part of the pleasure of festivals and Southwell excels in that area. A stroll over to the Big Top Tent and Ol' Savannah, a Montreal based roots band, playing what could be described as Mountain Music, took the stage. Ol' Savannah were memorable for the voice of lead singer Speedy Johnson who sounded like Tom Waits having just swallowed a bucket of gravel and the most animated washboard player ever whose name I didn't catch. They were high energy and fit the bill perfectly.
Sunjay, a more local and certainly well appreciated late addition to the line up brought his own style of acoustic blues. He added humour as well with songs about requests to play a Bob Dylan tune and had the audience singing along to a Buddy Holly hit.
Blues Legends "Lil' Jimmy Reed Band"gave a star spangled performance. The story goes that Leon Atkins, then a young talented artist from the Deep South, was asked to stand in one night for the real Jimmy Reed who was indisposed through drink. Nobody noticed and the Lil' Jimmy Reed Band was born. This was in 1957. Today it's Powerful electric guitar, harmonica and playing a mixture of Rhythm n Blues and Blues that he twice took into the audience which wowed those present. A consummate professional he was joined on stage by Keyboardist Bob Hall ( ex Groundhogs, Sunflower Blues Band and has played with more well known Blues legends than you could shake a stick at) female acoustic bass player Hillary Blythe and former Ten Years After drummer Ric Lee.
Wrapping the night up were headliners "Nine Below Zero"who did exactly what they always do. They rightly sole the show and had the audience up on their feet. A cracking end to an excellent first day at Southwell.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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