For some this almost never happened. With a blizzard blowing across large parts of the country, a fair few people were trapped in their cars overnight. Fortunately though for most, the roads were clear and all destinations lead to Skegness for The Great British Rock and Blues Festival.
Warming things up nicely for starters were John Coghlan`s Quo. While Coghlan may be gearing up for one of this years most talked about tours which sees the original four members of Status Quo reuniting for the Frantic Four sell out tour in March, this was the perfect opportunity to get in some early training. Rarely played Quo classics “Roll Over Lay Down”, “I Saw The Light”, “Railroad” and “Big Fat Mamma” had the Quo faithful rocking with joy. With the band sounding tight and lively, Quo`s trademark no frills boogie was the perfect way to start the weekend.
Arguably the surprise package of the whole festival were Eddie and the Hot Rods, known primarily for their huge hit “Do Anything You Wanna Do”. Lead by the enigmatic Barrie Masters, their hard edged street Punk Rock `n` Roll with dashes of the New York Dolls grabbed the night by the throat. “Teenage Depression” and “Gloria” were pumped full of raw Rock `n` Roll energy while “Born to be Wild” was given a massive kick up the backside to end an energetic and inspired set.
They may have had a well-publicised court battle over the use of the name but Oliver Dawson`s Saxon were anything but a second rate substitute and with Graham Oliver and Steve “Dobby” Dawson from the original Saxon line up their pedigree was undeniable. With a set full of all the Saxon classics you want to hear from “Dallas 1pm”, “747 (Strangers in the Night)” and “Denim and Leather” this was all about pleasing the packed crowd. New singer Bri Shaughnessy formerly of Seventh Son was a revelation with a range and power absolutely perfect for the material and the charisma to match the towering riffs. The band have hit the jackpot with Shaughnessy and he may just be the missing link to take them back up to the next level.
Graham Oliver has lost none of his fire as the riffs just kept coming, while Steve Dawson`s solid bass laid the foundations upon which everything else was built. Oliver and Dawson co-wrote most of the songs played and have every right to perform them and when “Motorcycle Man”, “And The Bands Played On” and “Wheels of Steel” were cranked up there would be few who would not be impressed with them. Oliver Dawson Saxon`s powerful performance set the bar high for the rest of the weekend and was a masterclass of how to win over a festival crowd.
With a heavy overnight snowfall in County Durham delaying young Blues sensation Mitch Laddie, `70`s Pop Rockers The Arrows switched places on the bill meant that those arriving after a late lunch missed their performance of “I Love Rock `n` Roll” their original song later made into a smash for Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. The good news however for the late arrivals was that they got to see Mitch Laddie instead. He may be barely out of his teens but played like a veteran. His latest release Gettin’ It Right shows a maturity beyond his years and brings to mind Stevie Ray Vaughn and Joe Bonamassa at their best. Blues may be viewed in some quarters as an old man’s music but with talent like Laddie coming through, it`s in safe hands for some time to come.
Talking of seasoned veterans, over on the Centre Stage was Leo Lyons and Joe Gooch from Ten Years After in their new power trio Hundred Seventy Split also featuring Damon Sawyer on drums. The combination of the old school of Lyons and the young gun Gooch worked so well with both feeding off the experience and enthusiasm of the other producing some fine bass heavy Blues including the brooding autobiographical “Going Home”, a pulsating take on the Lyon`s solo “Bad Blood” and the fine Southern Rock of “Tennessee Plates” made for an entertaining set.
With Psychedelic projections, dancers on stilts and a swirling, feedback drenched sonic assault meant that everyone`s favourite space rockers, Hawkwind were in town. “Masters of the Universe” kicked off proceedings and it`s amazing to think how this bunch of solar renegades could enter the mainstream with the soundtrack to a car advert. “Assault and Battery” was mesmerising with the hypnotic synths and a whirlwind of guitars backing some tight harmonies from founder member Dave Brock and Mr. Dibbs.
With the likes of “Prometheus” featuring gyrating dancers in space bikinis, Hawkwind were visually and musically on another planet but those who were a little baffled by what they saw rose to the occasion when “Silver Machine” launched getting the biggest cheer of the night.
Rather more sedate was Mick Ralph`s Blues Band with the Bad Company/Mott The Hoople guitarist treading a more traditional Blues path than his previous bands. With a set of Blues standards including “Rock Me Baby” and “Born Under A Bad Sign” mixing with Bad Company`s “Feel Like Making Love” and “Can`t Get Enough”, which although lacking the punch of Paul Rodgers vocals, did maintain the momentum to the end of the set while giving the crowd the chance to see a genuine guitar legend up close.
On the final day Band of Friends set the pace for everyone else to match. Featuring Gerry McAvoy, who spent a quarter of a century laying down the bass with Rory Gallagher and then Nine Below Zero, along with former SAHB/MSG powerhouse drummer, Ted McKenna this was one hell of a rhythm section. With a set celebrating the unique talent of Rory Gallagher all eyes were on Marcel Scherpenzeel, who had the unenviable task of playing those Gallagher licks and he did the Irishman`s legacy proud with a stirring display and some stunning guitar work. Band of Friends were tight, powerful and musically explosive.
Over on the centre stage Colin Bluntstone, still part of The Zombies, the band he formed with Rod Argent, performed a more AOR friendly set with shades of the John Payne era Asia with “Turn Your Heart Around” featuring some exquisite Pomp tinged melodies while “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”, his big hit with Dave Stewart was welcomed by the crowd. Although his performance was fairly low key and laid back it provided a contrast to the more guitar oriented performances of the weekend.
Henrik Freischlader was altogether much more animated with his energetic take on the Blues combined with Hard Rock and a sprinkle of a Funk groove for good measure. It`s easy to see why many have hailed him as the new Bonamassa with his catchy hooks and fiery fretwork, he could certainly make his guitar sing and scream. While his music may have been unfamiliar to some the quality of songs such as “Come On My Love” soon drew in new admirers judging by the activity by his merchandise stall.
With a line-up featuring Joe and Albert Bouchard, the founding rhythm section of the mighty Blue Oyster Cult and Dennis Dunaway the bassist from the original Alice Cooper group, Blue Coupe were one of the most eagerly awaited acts of the weekend and they did not disappoint. With a set crammed full of BOC and Alice Cooper classics their set flew by in what seemed like a nano second. “Godzilla”, “Burnin` For You” and a roof raising “Cities on Flame” from the BOC canon along with “I`m Eighteen” and “Under My Wheels” from the pen of Dennis Dunaway were just what was needed. For the hardcore fans, the rampant opener “The Red and the Black”, “Hot Rails To Hell” and “Black Ju Ju” kept them more than happy while Blue Coupe originals, the Grammy nominated, “You (Like Vampires)” and “Fever (More Cowbell)” proved they have strong enough material of their own to go the distance.
With a double strike of “School`s Out” and “Don`t Fear The Reaper” Blue Coupe demonstrated their classy roots while a thunderous take on MC5`s “Kick Out The Jams” ended the show at a frantic pace. With a new album out in the next few weeks this could be a big year for Blue Coupe.
As the show drew to its conclusion, the first major festival of the year was yet again a resounding success. With a fantastic mix of Blues and Hard Rock with an excellent selection of new and established talent this was the perfect tonic to the post-Christmas lull. With excellent accommodation, incredible food and superb organisation from start to finish this was one great weekend. Added to this, the relaxed atmosphere where the artists mixed freely with the punters, this festival is like no other. Judging by the string of people queuing up to book for next year, they will have no problems selling out for 2014 so act quick, book up now to avoid missing out on one of the best festivals in the UK.