Topic: Darlington Rhythm 'n' Blues Festival 2012
Despite the recent closure of Darlington’s Arts centre the now firmly established Rhythm ‘n’ Blues festival was held yesterday, under a slightly overcast sky which threatened to put a dampener on the proceedings. As if; 19 bands in 11 venues over 10 hours – Darlington was set to party.
And the party kicked-off in fine style with the irrepressible Robin Bibi Band on the main stage in the Market Square. Not an easy task, but Robin was more than up to the job with a great mix of standards, instrumentals, self-penned and even, because it was Sunday, a touch of gospel. Robin got into it, and the crowd so much, it’s fair to say he spent a good part of the set, playing in among the crowd. As well as delivering a strong 60 minute set, the band set the tone for the day – party!
The next couple of hours, I spent wandering around the “fringe” events, sampling the delights of , Oil City Connection, The Solutions, The Monologues, and Atlantic Soul Messengers all to a background of The Blues Bishops. It’s more than fair to say that this event tries its best to cater for all tastes. A little foot-sore and in need of a reviving coffee, I found a perch for the main event of the day, the legendary Andy Fairweather-Low. Has this guy really been in the business for 45 years? He still looks pretty chipper, the fingers are still nimble and the voice has lost none of its edge. From an opening salvo of Peter Gunn theme, we were taken through a trip of the guy’s back-catalogue without it feeling like resting on former glories: how many singers can follow a track from 2006 with one from 1966, then one from 1971, and each sounding as fresh as if they were from 2011? Backing group, The Lowriders were crisp and tight throughout.
I had to miss the last half-hour of Andy’s set to catch one act in particular, Lewis Hamilton & The Boogie Brothers; playing in The Quaker House on a rare excursion down from Scotland. This was a hot-tip I had to follow up, and I was not disappointed. Still in his teens, Lewis’s fingers are made of rubber and magic as he throttled his way through a couple of Telecasters in a style I’d put somewhere between Rory Gallagher and Jeff Healey. Not only that, he has a fair ol’ set of pipes (his voice, not bagpipes) and a comfortable and confident stage presence that immediately engages with the audience. Hell, he insults our beer (“tastes like socks!”) and we laugh with him. Making the power-trio is Nick on Bass & Santa behind the drums – and these guys know their business, make no mistake. The set, split over two 45 minute sessions are an eclectic mix of self-penned and standards, with a couple of left-field covers to add character. Yes, you get your Hendrix and Freddie King, Deep Purple and Ray Charles freshen things up, but a rapid-fire Johnny Cash cover (Fulsom Prison Blues) comes in like a shot of Tabasco. And then we’re treated to an ad-hoc instrumental I’ll call Quaker House Strut. Somehow, I don’t think these guys will ever go hungry in these parts, not when the Quaker House is crammed full before the end of their 1st set.
After that, it’s a stroll back round the now cleared out Market Place, to a soundtrack of The Alligators, Heavy Soul and Tin Can Alley before your correspondent beat a retreat, in the words of the day’s headliner – “Wide-eyed & Legless”.
Once again, the day was a great success, not only down to the bands who set a great atmosphere and played it 100%, but to the organisation of Mike Prenderghast and all at Darlington R’n’B, but also to Darlington Council who made the day possible. At the peak of Andy Fairweather-Low’s set, I’d estimate around 2,000people were stood in the Market Place, not to mention those in the surrounding bars hosting the fringe events.
My apologies to those bands not mentioned above - The Bandits, Jet Martin, Howlin' Matt, Trevor Sewell, Rough Justice, Pete Gilgan, John Black. I did try to get round as much as possible.