Christmas may seem like light years away and with the reality of being back to work hitting home, something was needed to give everyone a post-New Year's boost. While all of the talk over the last few weeks may have centred around who was playing at Download and Sonisphere this summer, there was the small matter of how fans were going to get their music fix before the cold, dark days of winter were finally over. The Great British Rock & Blues Festival, now a staple of the UK festival circuit, had come round at the perfect time.
Kicking off proceedings was former Argent man, John Verity, who delivered a smooth, tasteful Blues performance with some fiery fretwork, with "Looking Back" and a fine take on "Rocky Mountain Way" being the highlights.
Arguably the most hotly anticipated band of the day was a rare appearance by the heroes of Woodstock, Ten Years After. With original members Leo Lyons, Chic Churchill, and Ric Lee being present, they delivered their own brand no-nonsense Boogie, being the perfect bridge between Hard Rock and Blues. Original lead guitarist/vocalist Alvin Lee may be long gone, but his replacement Joe Gooch is no slouch. With a fine voice and explosive guitar style that belies his age, he certainly matched up to Lee's historic performances. "I'd Love To Change The World", "Big Black 45", and the riff heavy "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" kept the momentum rising up to the searing climax of their signature tune "I'm Going Home", featuring a fantastic guitar workout, culminating into a mini Rock 'n' Roll medley of "Hound Dog" and Blue Suede Shoes".
Unfortunately the hotly tipped Chantel McGregor was a disappointment. The promise of Stevie Nicks-style vocals did not materialize, and maybe it was just an off night, but her voice just didn't seem quite in tune. There was some promising guitar work from her, but it wasn't quite enough for the night. Maybe on another occasion she would show what she could do, but this was not her night.
Whereas Chantel McGregor's performance fell flat, Virgil And The Accelerators sizzled. Having just come off the recent Uriah Heep tour and gaining more fans by the night, it's easy to see why they are rated so highly. If Ten Years After represent the old guard then Virgil And The Accelerators are the hot new kids on the block. Looking barely old enough to be out of short trousers does not stop them from hammering out a ferocious set of Blues-based rockers with searing, screaming fretwork. Lead guitarist and vocalist Virgil McMahon possesses that rare ability to capture melody and a fast technique that artists such as Y&T's Dave Meniketti excel at routinely. There's absolutely no doubting that McMahon is a rising star for the future, and with songs such as "Bad Girl" and "88" to back him up, you'll be hearing a lot more from this band in the near future.
The festivities on Day 2 were opened with an early afternoon slot for Juall, who kept the punters milling around the stalls in the main stage area entertained for a half hour set of Thunder-style Melodic Hard Rock, mixing songs from their forthcoming debut E.P with a couple of crowd-pleasing cover songs, including a riotous take on "School's Out". This was the perfect warm up for their forthcoming tour with Nazareth.
With a name like Bonham, you just know that you're in the presence of Rock royalty. Deborah Bonham is the sister of Led Zeppelin legend John Bonham and the Auntie of Black Country Communion drummer Jason. The main difference here is Deborah doesn't play the drums, but she does possess one hell of a powerful, edgy voice. Having overcome an early sound problem, Bonham performed songs from her forthcoming album, including the soulful "I Need Love" and the menacing "Killing Field", alongside fan favorites such as the funky-edged "Jack Past 8" and "Pretty Thing" with its Free-like groove. The moving "The Old Hyde", a song about her old family home built by her father and brothers, was dedicated to those who have lost loved ones. Ending with the Zeppelin chestnut "Rock And Roll" guaranteed her set ended on a high. A great performance by an excellent singer.
It's a rare feat in this day and age to muster up a couple of original members in a long-standing band, but to have a full hand is something that maybe only ZZ Top and Aersomith can boast ... and Argent. Built around the Hammond organ histrionics of Rod Argent and the talents of songwriting genius Russ Ballard, Argent played a blinder. With the dual lead vocals of Argent and Ballard, they launched into a classic-laden set including "It's Only Money", "Liar", and "Be Free" with its excellent Uriah Heep-style harmonies. It was inevitably the hits that really got things going, and "Hold Your Head Up" and "God Gave Rock And Roll To You" were greeted like long-lost friends. A surprise, but very welcome inclusion, was the pre- Argent hit with The Zombies "She's Not There", and Ballard's "Since You've Been Gone", made into a mega-hit by Rainbow, which had everyone singing at the top of their voices.
While Martin Turner's Wishbone Ash were undoubtedly a class act, they perhaps suffered from the exuberance of Argent's performance. Sure "The King Will Come", "Rock And Roll Widow" and "Front Page News" with their tight guitar harmonies and great melodies are quality songs, but those were maybe a little laid back for a headlining Saturday night set. An enjoyable performance, but not quite the rousing end to a Saturday night that was needed.
With Wishbone Ash's set finished there was just time to check out a revamped The Animals And Friends on the Centre Stage, and it was certainly great to hear the hits "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", the Blue Oyster Cult approved "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place", and the evergreen guitar tutors' standard "House Of The Rising Sun", which were delivered with enthusiasm by the band featuring original drummer John Steel. Vocalist Pete Barton did a phenomenal job filling Eric Burdon's shoes, and what an absolutely huge, Blues roar he has! It would be great to hear him fronting a rough and dirty Southern Rock band.
Talking of good old fashioned Southern Rock, what better way to open day three than with Skinny Molly. With a line-up featuring former Lynyrd Skynyrd/current Blackfoot man Mike Estes alongside one time Blackfoot/The Rossington Band guitarist Jay Johnson, and current Blackfoot drummer Keith Pietro, you just knew this was going to be one rip-roaring ride. Songs such as Skynyrd's "Saturday Night Special" and a moving take on "Simple Man" alongside Blackfoot's hard rocking "Train Train" and "Fly Away" were the perfect rabble-rousers for the crowd, and with Free's "Wishing Well" raising the roof , Skinny Molly were onto a winner. Closing the show with the anthem "Sweet Home Alabama" and the classic "Freebird" where Estes and Johnson shredded as if their lives depended on it, was guaranteed to leave the crowd begging for more, and that's just how Skinny Molly left it.
Following on from that was going to be difficult, but FM brought their inimitable brand of Melodic Rock to the show with the slickest performance of the weekend. Steve Overland still possess one of the finest AOR voices the UK has ever produced, and is arguably one of the few who can match his Trans-Atlantic counterparts. It's incredible to think this year celebrates the quarter of a century mark of their debut album, Indiscreet, with "That Girl", "I Belong To The Night", and "Face To Face" featured from that album. FM have the knack of penning a catchy tune or two and "Bad Luck" and "Don't Stop" have enough hooks to bag a shoal of fish. Ending their set with their own take on Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", followed by Overland acknowledging their Blues roots with Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way", for the second time over the weekend. FM looked like they had a blast playing at this festival and won many admirers from those more used to the dirty side of the Blues than the high gloss of the AOR market.
There was just time to nip next door to check out perennial live favorites Dr. Feelgood deliver their traditional British take on R&B with "Down By The Jetty Blues" and "Back In The Night" before heading back to the Rock stage to see Swedish vixens Crucified Barbara thump out some ferocious riffs. Coming across as a mix of the Runaways and Motorhead, these girls certainly know how to Rock. Their no frills Metal drew a sizeable crowd, and while some may have been tempted to head off to bed to rest up for the long trip home the following day, many more turned and headed back into the hall to watch the band fire up "Sex Action" with its killer riff, and first single "Losing The Game", which kicked everything off in 2005. While most of their material is pretty full-on Metal, singer Mia Coldheart did bring things down a touch with "Jennyfer", the closest thing they have to a ballad before returning to normality with "Blackened Bones". Crucified Barbara certainly proved that it's not just the guys who can play ballsy Metal.
With the evening almost over, there was just time to drop by and catch the end of Mud Morganfield's set. Being the eldest son of Blues legend Muddy Waters has engrained the Blues in Morganfield's DNA. Not only does he bear an uncanny resemblance to his father, but he sounds just like him too. When he sang "Hoochie Coochie Man", you'd swear it was Muddy himself singing. Bedecked in an all-white suite and perched on a stool, occasionally standing to do an impromptu jig, Morganfield personified Classic Old School Blues and with that rich, deep voice he really brought the sound of Chicago to Skegness. This was a seriously classy and impressive performance to bring the weekend to a close.
Pitched at a predominantly older audience than the aforementioned festivals, the Great British Rock and Blues Festival set the standard that others must reach. This was such a well-run event with excellent food and accommodation, top class customer service to give a hassle free stay, while creating the perfect environment for three days of the finest Rock and Blues around. The Great British Rock and Blues Festival 2012 certainly built on the success of last year's show and continues to grow and grow every year, making it an unmissable event in the gig diary.