BRUTHEN BLUES BASH 2003 FEATURED
THE BRUTHEN BLUES JAMMERS - LOTUS
DEBI CANDLISH - TERRY LOCKWOOD & DAMIEN NEAL
CHRIS WHITE & ROSS WARD - THE VANGUARDS
NICKY MOFFATT - BLAIR DAWES - DIRTY RIVERS
CHRIS WILSON & the SPIDERMEN
PD HALE & the BLUE ROOM
SURFIE - ANNEMARIE SHARRY
THE SOUTH OF THE RIVER CHOIR - GEOFF ACHISON
ANDREA MARR'S BLUES TRAIN - BEACHHEAD
BRUTHEN BLUES BASH 2003 REVIEW
I am so amazed at how resilient small country towns are. Raging bushfires continued around the East Gippsland area for months (although the media only reported it for about 2 weeks!) These fires waylaid the plans to have the 8th Annual Bruthen Blues Bash on its original date, but it didn't stop it being rescheduled for a month. This change meant that crowd numbers were down slightly, but enough people turned up to ensure yet another great Blues Bash. The Bash, as always, raises money to support local needs, so accordingly this year's money went to bushfire relief.
The CFA were nearly called Friday night as the Blues Jam was smokin'! This year a contest was held with the best acoustic jam act winning a gig at the Blues Café. So many acts, some from as far away as Byron Bay, vied for the prize. A lot of great talent provided a great night of entertainment with the eventual winner being Ross Ward with his down home blues style. It was also a night of great singing. A local female singer (whose name I didn't catch) fronted a local outfit of seasoned muso's and grabbed the audiences attention with some strong blues, funk and soul. The huge highlight though was the awesome Rod "Beachhead" Jeffery, on holidays after his blitzing show at the Canberra Blues Festival. He, along with Dutch Tilders, is regarded as the best blues singer in the land, although he likes to think of Dutch as the Blues singer and himself the R'n'B singer! He joined Jay Wagstaff's new outfit, the power rock/blues trio Lotus. Jay has performed with many of Australia's great blues players showing there are some benefits of working your guts out helping organise a blues festival!. Beach belted out one of the best versions of "Good Morning Blues" you'll ever hear, singing as gentle as a purring kitten, hitting notes so high only dogs could hear them and roaring like the proverbial lion. The crowd appropriately went off their heads!
Being in late March the weather was very different, a lot cooler and some welcomed light rain. This though didn't detract from the usual showcase of talent in the beautiful main street. Terry Lockwood's huge vocals and Damien Neil's very fine acoustic playing have become familiar sounds to the Bruthen audience and a wonderful way to kick off a Saturday arvo of Blues. Chris White followed with Jam winner Ross Ward. They performed some wonderful trad blues with the original "Crop duster blues", full of innuendo, being a standout. Then some retro blues with the Vanguards, Dale Lindrea on bass and vocals and David Birtwell on guitar. T-Bone style blues mixed with jazzy reworkings of blues classics won them many fans. Dirty Rivers then gave their usual smorgasboard of material from Chicago slide guitar blues, contemporary rock/blues, country flavoured through to gospel. It was to be the first of 6 gigs for Debi Candlish, who said slavery had ended! Lotus followed showing blues comes in many forms, from Hendrix to Ben Harper. Local legend Nicky Moffatt on 12-string guitar, didge and vocals performing his wonderful originals and indigenous covers from the ilk of the Warrumpi Band and Archie Roach showed why he is regarded as a local legend.
Throughout the day an array of workshops were provided. Dale Lindrea provided a bass guitar/rhythm workshop, explaining how a band's engine room should work. Annemarie Sharry (1996 Blues Performer of the Year) showed her talent as a choir leader by getting a whole stack of people with virtually no prior singing experience (except for ring-in Beachhead) to all sing together and sound great.
I felt both the Blues Café and the Blues Party started a bit too early at 6pm. Many stayed on in the Main Street so missed the start of Terry Lockwood and Blair Dawes. I didn't get to the café but all reports confirm it was a great night with Debi Candlish and the Annemarie Sharry lead South of the River Choir a standout.
As usual the Blues Party was recorded by sound maestro Rob Harwood and son Ben, so hopefully there will be a third "Live at Bruthen" CD released later in the year. Terry Lockwood and Damien Neil eased us into a great night of blues. Many are used to Terry's soulful vocals and irreverent sense of humour but Damien rally surprised everyone, not only with his very tasteful playing but also his talent as a vocalist on a Richard Thompson penned number.
The Vanguards performed for the first time in Bruthen and provided a nice entree to Terry and Damien's appetiser and the main meal and dessert that was to follow. It's amazing how much vibe and energy can be made from just bass and guitar. Dale's vocals have improved and I really enjoyed his singing style with wonderful phrasing bringing new life to blues classics. Dale disproves the theory that you need a booming deep voice to sing the blues. It was really wonderful to see David Birtwell tackling the T-Bone Walker style. Many would know David from the Chicago blues based "Howlin' Time", later becoming "Blue Devil" later becoming "Harper" before joining the "Redliners". I really think he is suited to the T-Bone style, keeping great rhythm whilst Dale sings, then cutting it up in his solo, just really great (minimalist) jump blues!
Chris Wilson was already loving his time at Bruthen, even before he got on stage. He was really getting into the Vanguards set and was looking forward to his own. If you have seen Chris before then you'll know he loves to see people dancing, so playing to a Bruthen crowd was like bacon and eggs, sun and surf or Fred and Ginger, the perfect match. Chris warned them not to make liars of those who sprout Bruthen audiences is the best festival audience on the planet and they didn't, in fact they didn't stop dancing all night. Chris and the Spidermen belted out two huge sets of straight-ahead blues. Chris' huge vocals and harp out front backed by a great rhythm section of Dave Folley on drums and Chris Rogers on bass with the very talented, but always getting better, Shannon Bourne on guitar. It is wonderful to see a young guy who started making a name for himself at the MBAS Blues jams picking up licks from the likes of Jeff Lang and Geoff Achison forge ahead and making a mark with his own sound and style. Playing with Chris is such a great apprenticeship and I can't wait to see what he does in the future.
Well it was a hard act to follow but PD Hale did what he does best, belt out some great blues/rock groove that had the crowd to the point of exhaustion. PD is a great entertainer, big in stature and presence. His riffs are in the Keith Richards vein, no million notes a second guitar hero stuff, but classic, solid, unforgettable riffs, born of the blues, grown up to be rock'n'roll. His singing though isn't in the Keith Richards style! His voice probably doesn't match his size with I think many expecting a deep gravelly voice, but his voice is a little higher and clear, I do like to understand what people are singing! The songs are the usual love won, love lost and the unfairness of the world but there is a little PC (political correctness) here, such as how a woman made him a better man for example. No matter how tough blues guys are most of them would admit they would be nothing without their good woman, who doesn't just cook, clean and love but also gives them a kick in the arse when they need it! The one's who wouldn't admit to it obviously haven't found their soulmate yet. PD was backed by a great band, The Blue Room, who are the sweet and sour of this main dish. All would know Winston Galea, drums and Barry Hills, bass, from their Dutch Tilders and the Blues Club days. Winston rocks it out with the best of them, he's the artillery that does the damage, blows people back into their seats or gets them out of their seats and onto their feet. Barry is the reconnaissance man, keeping tabs on the artillery and providing intelligence to the front line (no this is not a joke about drummers and intelligence!). Peter Phillips on keys added texture to the slow blues and gives turbo charge to the rockers and his Hammond with the Leslie speakersfunkifies everything else. It was unfortunate the UN became involved in the evening carting Messrs Wilson, Hale and bands off after they had unashamedly bombed a few hundred blues fans with the very deadly (but highly enjoyable) dance virus!
I must admit I rarely attend the Sunday morning gospel service, not that it isn't really good with the wonderful Rev Laurie Baker, but it's just too bloody early! But this year I dragged my tired and sorry little nether regions out of bed to witness a brilliant showcase of gospel singing. The local congregation, heady by Surfie on guitar, were joined by some truly great singers. Terry Lockwood (I've got no idea how he got up this early, maybe he didn't go to bed?) belted out "Amazing Grace" with some very good local singers before doing "So I can die easy" a cappella. His deep voice keeping everyone spellbound. Debi Candlish introduced her wonderful slide rendition of "Now is the needed time" by talking about Bruthen as the "town of love", as like most people who come here she has fallen in love with the town and it's people.. Beachhead then brought the house down with a cappella versions of the beautiful Billie Holiday classic "God bless the child" then took us all down south with Leadbelly's classic "Take this hammer". If that wasn't enough the next act was one of the real highlights of the Festival. The "South of the river choir" lead by Annemarie Sharry absolutely blitzed showing how the oldest instrument can be used from telling a tale of woe to uplifting everyone's spirit. Traditional gospel numbers, African songs of praise through to bluesier numbers had the audience enraptured. This group does have the odd one or two professional singers, but many hadn't sung to this level prior to joining the choir, I think this was the most wonderful thing, yes it could be you up there folks! The sound, the energy and the emotion is unbeatable, no wonder so many people go to church in the south of the USA where singing without constraint flourishes.
Debi Candlish then strolled up to the pub for what would be her 6th gig of the festival. Her gentle style eased many heads, still aching from the previous night's music extravaganza, or was it the alcohol? Debi continues to impress, always adding something to her repertoire. I noticed a couple of newies, "Annabel" a gentle folk song and another song which name escapes me, but a real rollicking blues number, showing a real diversity in Debi's music. From gentle folk/gospel influences through to the ol' gut bucket blues and the more confident she is with her music the more she is able to perform. Debi quickly engages her audience with banter about the songs, about her life and whatever is happening at the time, it is great to see a talent starting to blossom.
Geoff Achison performed at the very first Blues Bash and whilst reminiscing with Trish and Wags we noted how far Geoff had come in 7 years. His guitar playing has always been sensational, but with maturity and confidence he no longer needs to bombard his audience with guitar pyrotechnics every song. He is now content to play beautiful music, interspersed with some seriously great guitar playing. The big change for me is the confidence Geoff now has as an entertainer. He has wonderful rapport with his audience, he's gentle, funny and self deprecating, conversing with his audience, inviting them to be part of the show, whether by laughing at something that's yelled out, or joking about the merits of "Pearl Jam" after a misdirected request. Geoff's show comprised almost entirely of requests, which shows his adaptability as a musician but more importantly the extent to which people know his music. His first set was full of mellow ballads the ilk of "Adam and Eve", "Guilty" and "Kissing Angels". More originals and covers that he has made his own, such as "Whipping Post" followed, ballads, blues and rockers, but unfortunately for one young fan, no Pearl Jam! It is easy to see why Geoff is one of Bruthen's favourites.
Surprisingly this year's Blues Bash was Andrea Marr's first festival! She instantly won me with some wonderful Aretha and Etta numbers. Andrea is very interesting, she can pull off the Etta sass or be the raunchy blues diva, but she is really a lovely, gentle person, which also comes through on stage. Andrea's got the look, got the voice and most importantly she's got the band! Chris Wilson on keys is well known and well respected and tussles for solos with Brian Strafford, who plays both lead guitar and sax. I really loved the sound of the piano and sax together, something different from the usual arrangement. I don't think I've seen Brain play before and he blew me away. He handles the slow blues ballads, gets funky and pulls out some blistering solo's then he goes and does it on sax as well! Andrea is very respectful of her band, giving them all credit when due and even gets them to do her job. Brian and bassist Barry Tiplady both sang and did well too, again more variety keeping the crowd interested. I also liked Brian's confidence allowing Geoff Achison to sit in on his guitar. I know many who would be reluctant to get up on stage again after getting their head cut, but Brain was confident and so he should be, he has a very different style and feel to his music. Andrea and Geoff were great together ad libbing to some blues classics, having humorous banter and just playing some great blues. Yet another great end to a sensational Bruthen Blues Bash.
See you next year at the 9th Annual Bruthen Blues Bash 2004.