July 25th 2019 will be a day that long remains etched in my memory, not just because it was stupidly, ridiculously hot, but because it was the day that I made my first visit to the Rock and Blues Custom Show. The show, which is staged in the gloriously perfect Derbyshire countryside, is celebrating it’s 35th year this year and has pulled together an array of amazingly talented musicians to help it have one hell of a party this weekend.
After spending the previous weekend at a very hot and loud Mote Park, Maidstone at Ramblin Man Fair, it was an excited reviewer that found himself travelling up the M1 with wife and kids in tow on this balmiest of Thursday’s. Not often I take the family to a gig, so taking the three of them to their first ever festival, was going to be interesting, especially as they were expected to work! There were photographs to be taken, review notes to be written and interviews to be conducted and they were going to have to pull their weight over the next three days.
As we arrived at our hotel in Derbyshire after a painfully slow drive from Sussex to and having had the air conditioning on in the car all day, it quickly became apparent how hot it was as the heat coming up from the pavements and roads almost made it hard to breath. Sahara like conditions was my wife’s comment. Anyway, we were here and we were going to have fun. After a quick freshen up we finished our journey to Pentrich for what was undoubtedly going to be a great weekend with the line up that was on offer.
The setting for this show is perfect at the foothills of the Derby-shire Dales. If you stand and just look around the views are indeed very picturesque, especially on a hot summers night (and no I didn’t offer my throat to the wolf with the red roses). Tonight’s opening night saw a three band bill for what was going to be an old school party night. I have to admit, after the long, slow journey up and the need for a beer, we only caught the last song of the opening act Bad Habits which is a shame as they appeared to be a great opening act from the response they got from the crowd as their set finished.
All of tonight’s acts are playing on the main stage, which is one of three that are set up for the rest of the weekend. There is also an acoustic stage/tent and an outdoor stage which are hosting an array of bands and singers on the Friday and Saturday. The main stage area is inside a massive marquee with a full stage, lighting, bar and enough space for I would guess, over a thousand revellers. It is hot in their tonight, not just from the weather, but from the body heat of the party ready crowd who are ready for a weekend of beer, laughter, catching up with friends and listening to some great live music.
The Master of Ceremonies on the main stage for the next three days is The Rev Dr. Clive Thomas Jackson of Dr and the Medics fame and tonight he has a dual job as his band are the next band on stage. I have never seen them live before but do have in my record collection, the 7” single of their massive hit Spirit in the Sky so was really looking forward to seeing them, if only to hear that. I really didn’t know what to expect as the band took to the stage, being completely unfamiliar with any of their material but I had a feeling they were going to be fun. What I didn’t expect was an hour of hits from the 80’s that got everybody singing and dancing and kickstarted the party perfectly. From the opening notes of set opener Perfect World to the theme tune to the Addams Family which accompanied their departure from the stage some 60 minutes later, this was a set that could not fail to get you going.
The Doctor, resplendent in a multi coloured sequin jacket is a master of his trade. He commands the stage like the seasoned pro that he is as the band head into the B-52’s hit Love Shack and follow it up with You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) by Dead or Alive. The crowd which is growing ever deeper are absolutely lapping this up and rightly so, it is just brilliant. Dr and the Medics though are not just about one man, they are a band and a very talented one at that. Melissa Weekes who sings backing vocals and shares some vocal trade offs throughout the set has an amazing voice and really added something special to the bands performance.
Next up is the band’s latest single which I believe is called Terrified, a really good rock track in it’s own right and then comes the song which sold over 24 million copies worldwide, Spirit in the Sky. The atmosphere just hit the roof when the band started playing the song and never left it. This was then followed by More (think that is right) before they got back into cover territory with a blistering version of Kim Wilde’s Kids in America.
Dr Clive and the Rock and Blues Custom Show have a long history together and he dedicated World Catches Boot to the show. I sat there listening to this track, thinking how much the Dr sounded like Ian Astbury on this song and then blow me down , they only go and play The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary next. I honestly thought I had died and gone to heaven as this was one of those tracks that just made up the soundtrack to my youth and I just love it to bits. If I wasn’t reviewing I would have been down the front jumping and dancing with everybody else who was loving this set. Now if that wasn’t enough, they closed with a raucous version of Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell and a massive sing-a-long that made sure that the party was well and truly started. Just truly outstanding!
Closing out the first night’s entertainment was left to another band who first came to prominence and had chart success in the 80’s, Bad Manners. They were making their first appearance at the show for 10 years and although ska really isn’t my thing, they went down superbly well with the crowd who enjoyed their upbeat, fun set from start to finish.
A bit like Dr Clive from Dr and the Medics, Buster Bloodvessel is a man of legendary status if you were around to enjoy their success in the 80’s. The man certainly knows how to build a setlist, about 18 songs tonight, and how to entertain the crowd and he did that to perfection tonight. Whenever he could, he got the crowd involved in the songs, whether it be sing-a-longs, getting them clapping, getting them to jump up and down or just having them laughing with his witty on stage banter. The 60 minutes or so that they were on stage just seemed to rush by in the blink of an eye and even though I was not familiar with the majority of their material I found myself joining in with the covers that they threw into the set, the first of which was My Girl Lollipop.
Sitting around half way back all I could see between me and the stage in the distance, was a wall of people jumping up and down as the band ploughed on through their set. Walking in the Sunshine and Fatty Fatty brought the set to its mid way point before a wonderful version of Frankie Vallie’s I Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You turned into a rousing sing-a-long version of I Love You Baby that had every single man, woman and child joining in.
Buster and his 7 piece band have got the crowd right where they want them as play El Pussycat by the Skalites and you can see how much Buster has clearly sweated through the set in which he has not yet stopped moving. We are now approaching 10.30 at night and the marquee is at boiling point, both musically and in temperature. People are dancing in the aisles all the way back to the bar and those sitting are getting their own little groove on.
They bring their set to a close with one of their early 80’s hits Special Brew before returning for a classic two song encore. Even me, as a non ska fan but as a person of a certain age who listened to the charts as a kid could not help but sing a long with Lip Up Fatty which was loud, raucous and thoroughly entertaining before the final song of the night had everybody on their feet and how could it not, it was the Can Can. I have to say, in the end, they won me over and undoubtedly the crowd loved them. They got one of the best receptions of the whole weekend and between themselves and Dr and the Medics set the weekend up perfectly.
Glad I made the trip up from Sussex, hell yeah! Even the wife and kids enjoyed themselves and as we drove back to our hotel we were all eagerly talking about the bands we were going to see tomorrow.
Review & Photography by Darren Smith