The North-East’s blues aficionados were out in force on Saturday for the 5th annual Durham Blues Festival held at the prestigious Gala Theater.
George Shovlin and the Radars were a last minute addition to the bill following the cancellation of The Brew due to drummer Kurtis Smith dislocating his shoulder just days before the festival. The band were one of a small contingent of local artists on the bill including MC Gary Grainger who also featured on the acoustic stage.
George and company were in fine form and delivered a superb set of blues including a rendition of Muddy Waters’ “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man” with some great playing from guitarist George Lamb throughout. Their set was interspersed with light hearted humor from George Shovlin. The band really won over the audience and looked like they were enjoying themselves in the process.
Next up was Red Butler, an energetic four-piece blues rock outfit from Brighton who are soon to be taking to the road with Laurence Jones. Vocalist Jane Chloe Pearce commanded the stage, engaging the audience, dancing and gyrating throughout the set could often found at the back of the stage stood aloft on the drum riser rocking out.
Red Butler’s set was predominantly material from their debut album, Freedom Bound, including the likes of the rocking “Hard Drivin’ Man,” “Pension Blues,” and “Jaywalker,” which sparked an impromptu sing-along from the audience. The band also included in their set great covers of “Shakin’ All Over” by Johnny Kid and the Pirates and an incredible cover of Sandi Thom’s “Belly of the Blues” during which guitarist Alex Butler really shone.
British energetic blues rock guitar virtuoso, Larry Miller, wowed the audience in Durham with a demonstration of guitar mastery and exquisite showmanship, as well as thoroughly entertaining the audience with his on stage banter in between songs. Miller paid tribute to the great Rory Gallagher with a wonderful cover of “Walk On Hot Coals.”
Finland’s Erja Lyttinen is undeniably the queen of slide guitar play. Taking to the stage with a cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful,” which was so good that it left the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Not only is Erja a phenomenal guitarist, she is a joy to watch. Erja’s set consisted of both new and old material, including the likes of “Grip of the Blues,” the beautiful “Change of Season” from Forbidden Fruit, and “Mississippi Callin’.”
Erja’s last studio album, The Sky Is Crying, was a tribute to the late great Elmore James, one of her major influences, from which she played “It Hurts Me Too,” and a spellbinding rendition of the title track. Having recently becoming a “Blues Mom” as Lyytinen put it, she dedicated the song to her sons.
Erja’s set left you wanting more. Thankfully for us, she will be returning to the UK later in the year for a full headline tour in support of her new live album/DVD, Live in London.
The audience came wanting blues and they most certainly got that from Aynsley Lister, a formidable guitarist and stalwart of the British Blues scene. Aynsley’s set this evening was largely from his new album, Home, including the likes of the title track, “Broke,” and the up-beat “Sugar” with some superb blues piano from Johnny Dyke. There is some great chemistry between Aynsley and Johnny throughout.
Lister also included in his set a great cover of Freddie King’s “Tore Down,” again with a superb piano solo from Dyke. However, it was his cover of Purple Rain which left the audience speechless, with some passionate playing from Aynsley.
Traveling the furthest to be at the festival was the legendary Geno Washington who had come all the way from Evansville, Indiana to close the festival. At 71 years old, he thoroughly entertained the crowd with his approach to old school blues. His set was interspersed tales of days gone by and quipped with witty anecdotes. Geno is a real blues man. Having been entertaining audiences since the 60’s, he was a pleasure to watch.
It was clear that he was having as much fun as the crowd were watching him, with his beaming smile throughout. He schooled the audience in blues with covers from the likes of Elmore James, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf played side by side with the likes of Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” He finished every track to rapturous applause from the crowd.
Geno made fun with the audience that he was expecting an easy night, but the crowd weren’t ready for him to finish quite yet. The band closed out the evening with “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” during which the audience were all up and dancing, before finishing their set with “Jumping Jack Flash.” Geno is most certainly carrying the torch for the blues men of yore.
A fantastic festival, and a great day of blues from the cream of the international blues scene. We look forward to next year with eager anticipation.