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First to hit the stage this afternoon was CLARE FREE, with two highly acclaimed albums to her name: Be Who You Are, and Dust And Bones. Along with her bassist Jonnie James and drummer Matthew Furness she treated us to many original songs from both of them, but what I admired most was the fact that only the second song in she was prepared to do a cover of a real blues classic by the legendary BB king, The Thrill is Gone; at first telling the crowd how much she loved him and then asking them if they felt the same to a fairly tepid response, but that didn’t last long! The thrill was only beginning, for this version was a brilliant arrangement, slow and moody and Clare has a real ballsy voice made for the blues and as soon as her growl and rasp started the audience were much more attentive and the hall started to fill more. She speeded it up with a middle eight fast riff and then straight into the blues rock title track “Dust and Bones” in which she played a really impressive guitar solo, then some blues funk mixing the styles around brilliantly. Moving around on-stage dancing and interacting with the crowd throughout before singing “My Perfect Man”, which she told everyone if they had a copy of the album How it Is which this song came from, then they should keep hold of it as only about a hundred copies were made. Ooohs from the crowd brought a beaming smile to her face, then she did a great Albert Collins cover with some great bass slapping from Jonnie. I just wish the drummer had looked like he had enjoyed it, more most of the time head down he may have just been stage shy, I don’t know? Cheer up kid, the crowd won’t bite! Well, maybe just a bit, Clare created a nice mood to the afternoon and did a great job warming the crowd up, never easy when you are the first act on.

Next up was a young man only 23, FELIX RABIN, the first thing I noticed was the beaming smiles of all three musicians. He introduced himself as being French and apologised for this to great laughter, he has shared the stage with Tony Bennett and been championed by Quincey Jones: not a bad cv for one so young. This lad was the surprise of the day, who I would call a blues instrumentalist rather than just a singer: he played some amazing guitar solos and when he does sing, he has a really powerful voice on him. He played a fantastic version of Voodoo Chile and with me being a Hendrix fanatic I warmed to him straight away, he amazed the audience with his guitar skills and his ability changing one minute to blues next to blues rock without a pause, he also had a dancing bassist Vincenzo Capodivento, not something you see every day he’s on Facebook as The Curly Guy, and completing the rhythm section drummer Niccolò Rebecci. Felix has a fantastic stage presence and a lovely personality, chatting and joking with the crowd. His version of Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights Big City was incredible and he had them singing and clapping throughout. He even jumped off stage in to the pit and went up close to them: this was a fantastic performance from a young man I am sure we are going to hear a lot more from.

XANDER AND THE PEACE PIRATES. Keith Xander and his brother Stu were discovered on YouTube by Gibson brand’s CEO and since then never looked back, sharing stage space with the likes of Robben Ford, Joe Bonamassa, and the industry legend Eddie Kramer is a big fan. Aided and abetted by the awesome slide guitarist Mikey Gay, Joel Goldberg bass man, and completing the quintet Adam Goldberg on drums. For  those out there who are not aware of this band “where have you been”??? Keith is not only an awesome singer and has  a voice with an incredible range, he is a one-armed guitarist, he uniquely attached a plectrum to a hook on his prosthetic arm  and if you thought that would hinder him just go and witness his guitar virtuosity, this Liverpool born wonder amazes audiences everywhere with his skill and he has some of the best mic control I’ve seen on stage in a long time. But remember this is a band of pirates!  and with Mikey’s amazing slide guitar work the fast and furious acoustic guitar playing of Stu, and  the tight rhythm section of the  Goldberg brothers  it makes them one of the most energetic and entertaining bands on the circuit today. They play a mix of soulful blues, country and heavy blues rock, “Sticks and Stones” had the audience jumping around and Keith had probably the best and funniest line heard all weekend “come on people, clap your hands if you have them”; that was PURE CLASS brother! He not only has a great voice range but also the sweetest falsetto, they ended the set with an incredible  version of Prince’s Purple Rain where the aforementioned came in to its own: a wonderful set from an extremely talented bunch of musicians.

Now for someone I have admired for years in his time with Argent, JOHN VERITY BAND, tonight with Derek White on bass and the dynamic young drummer Liam James Gray, who is apparently only in the band as it makes the others not feel so old! The minute he started his set with the Sonny Boy Williamson cover Help Me you knew this was going to be something special, with a great soulful intro then John starts to sing and I can tell you for a man of his age, (let’s just say he’s like me, over 25) he still has the voice, better than that!! He probably had the best blues voice heard this weekend. He plays a mix of covers and original songs with his band and tonight it was mainly covers, and every single one of them was outstanding: I put A Spell On You, JJ Cale’s Cocaine, with the first of many singalongs with the packed out audience, John’s version of Star Spangled Banner segueing into Purple Haze, yes I was back in musical heaven again. One of the stand out moments of this set was the minute you heard the unmistakable bass line from Derek and the drum riff from Liam : we knew Hold Your Head up, the Argent Classic, was on its way and this was definitely the noisiest crowd cheer heard over the two days and the crowd sang the chorus with all their hearts (and in tune!) We were also treated to Old Time Rock and Roll and another Argent Classic, God Gave Rock and Roll To You where John educated the audience by saying “this wasn’t as so many people think written by a bunch of guys with lots of makeup, even though they had a hit with it”. And for those who don’t know it was actually written by another Argent legend Russ Ballard, this had another explosive reaction from the crowd, and ending the night with the Joe Walsh cover Rocky Mountain Way; the people must have worn their voice boxes out by now I know I nearly had, this was the best and something I won’t forget for a long time. Performance of the event in my opinion: John and the guys smashed it out of the park.

ERJA LYYTINEN was on next and after John’s set this was going to be a hard act for her to follow, and I wasn’t going to be able to see all of it as I hadn’t seen anyone in the second stage today as the line up on stage one had been phenomenal. Erja is a Finnish guitarist and vocalist, she has recorded eleven studio albums and two live ones in her seventeen-plus years on the circuit. Kicking off her set with two songs from her 2017 album Stolen Hearts, “Lovers Novels” and “Black Ocean” she had a big cheer from the audience which had now dwindled away a bit but her fans were there dancing and loving what she did, for what I saw she plays a great guitar and has a great rapport with the crowd, but her voice at times was weak and the guitar sometimes overpowered it. There was a nice vibe created with her high pitch guitar, the Hammond organ from Kasperi and the rhythm section bassist Tatu and drummer Liro did a competent job but for me it didn’t blow me away. Perhaps I had been spoilt with the previous band, I don’t know?

Upstairs to catch a little bit of DANNY GILES BAND, this was obviously where the rest of the people had gone as it was a pretty packed hall. Danny, who also plays guitar with blues harp maestro Will Wilde, and has produced some of his albums has a really powerful voice and he always chats and jokes with the audience. Returning to HRH Blues along with bassist Jon, and Pat on drums he is a very popular man here, as you could tell by the crowd. He mixes a nice blend of old school delta blues along with hard and heavy rock and rock blues. I was sorry I couldn’t see more of his set, but the next band on the main stage were soon to come on and I hadn’t eaten so off I went.

Penultimate band of the night CLIMAX BLUES BAND NOW.

I hear time and time again that this is just a tribute band not one original member, well let me end this argument: George Glover keyboards has been in the band since 1981, now if you’ve been in a band for thirty-eight years how can it be a tribute? Also guitarist Lester Hunt has been with them since 1986, I think that settles it don’t you? If you want bands with no original members, look at Quiet Riot and Yes. When these guys hit the stage the first thing you notice is the formidable figure of the charismatic lead singer Graham Dee, then I see the first saxophone of the day held by Chris Aldridge followed by guitarist Neil Simpson and the man at the back-drummer Roy Adams. They were going to be showcasing songs from their newly released album Hands of Time, which has amazed them how popular it has been in such a short time: No 1 in all kinds of charts. The title also reflects the passing of former leader, Colin Cooper. Graham with his husky baritone voice immediately sets the mood and the whole hall takes on a totally different atmosphere: no twelve-bar blues here, just an incredible mix of slow funky jazzy numbers that have the audience’s heads swaying from side to side and just disappearing into their music. Their first song “Straight Down the Middle” with the funky sound of both guitars followed by a great sax sound, Graham oozes funk and soul out of every pore pulling some of the best faces and moves. The versatility of Graham and his perfect phrasing: he is born to sing this type of music, he doesn’t hog the stage either; many times in the set slipping off side stage and letting all the musicians demonstrate their solo skills. The title track “Hands of Time”, a beautiful key intro from George and a clarinet solo from Chris takes you to a musical dreamland, “Last Chance Saloon” which Graham dedicates to everyone here tonight more up-tempo number but still that brilliant vibe. Graham also treated us to a wonderful version of the Willie Dixon classic Spoonful; sitting down on the edge of the stage serenading the crowd with his husky tone, then it changes into a rock and roll arrangement which has the audience jumping and jiving. Ending the night with their classic “Couldn’t Get It Right” with the whole audience joining in. These guys were the coolest and laid-back band here and probably on the planet: I loved them, and so did everyone else

SAVOY BROWN: these guys did themselves no favours as being the only band all weekend who were late on stage, nearly fifteen minutes. People were tired now and many had made for the exit so when they came on stage the hall was half empty. The band started in 1965 but with Kim Simmonds guitars, keys harmonica and vocals being the only original member (the tribute argument came into play again). As so many times with HRH Blues the penultimate act should have been the headliner last night as well as tonight, after the brilliant vibe and atmosphere The Climax boys had created  these just brought the mood down again playing slow blues numbers with no real enthusiasm except maybe the drummer who was at least smiling I’m sorry but myself, and I’m sure a lot of people agree,  want to leave a gig buzzing and on a high like Chantel the night before and the Climax guys did tonight I’m sorry to say this band did not do that for me.

This was once again a brilliant weekend of music provided by the hard-working team at HRH, but listening to murmurs afterwards I wasn’t the only one who thought that about the headliner selection.

We’ll See you all again soon.

Review by Dave Martin & Pics by Carol Henson aka LadyGigger. original post on Jace Media

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