This is my personal take on the now - 'Carlisle Blues Rock Festival'
As the host for Lancashire Blues Archive and rep for the British Blues Archive it's good to get 'out and about' in the neighbouring counties. The festival is in its sixth year and I've been to the last four at the Hilltop Hotel. Not much change there...except the new name of 'Carlisle Blues Rock Festival'... but I suspect this is a sign of the times!
Carlisle in the far north west of England has a strong industrial past and due to it's proximity with the Scottish border a history of turmoil! However, this previously austere and highly fortified city now presents a different image. The city still boasts of its association with Hadrian's Wall and it's 12th century castle, but these days the cathedral complex and impressive Tullie House Museum, alongside a burgeoning cafe culture in the pedestrianised town centre add to it's tourist appeal.
The sixth Carlisle festival enjoyed the customary large turnout for two and a half days of top class entertainment. As in previous years, the line-up covered an extensive range of blues-related music incorporating artistes from around the UK and special guests from the USA and Australia.
Following the first Carlisle Blues Festival in 2007, each subsequent event has been acclaimed as better than the one before. Whilst it is fully understood that there has to be a realistic, ultimate limit to perceived excellence, this year’s festival still managed to raise the bar that little bit further. Once again, it was a magnificent weekend of blues-based music that delivered four action-packed sessions over three days intermingling seven acts from the United States and ten from the UK.
My advice for anyone who loves blues music is “don’t wait too late to get your tickets for 2011” many did this year and were disappointed. This was the only UK Blues festival to sell out all three days before the weekend started. Though only in its 4th year, this festival is fast becoming ‘The Festival’ to attend. Called by some “The Civilised Festival” there is no running from one venue to another, or camping out in the cold or wet. The festival is held in the one hotel, which is taken over for the duration of the festival by Blues enthusiasts.
Opening up proceedings were Kevin Thorpe’s Tipping Point, sadly without Kevin and the first gig that Tipping Point have played since Kevin’s untimely demise at the Newark Blues Festival.
“This gig is for Kevin” said the lead guitarist and singer Dominic Holland. “Can’t Keep a Poor Boy Down” was straight into the groove with an excellent middle eight too from Dale Storr on keyboards. “Smoke Stack” was a slow tempo throbbing song about life way down south featuring another solo from Dale and the outro was fabulous. “Down In The Water” was a slow ballad written by KT.
In it's 3rd year, this was our first visit to the festival. Mainly seated, there was a large friendly crowd and many familiar faces from the festival scene.
Friday Night opened with Hokie Joint, relatively new, but already one of the best live bands on the circuit. These guys are an original and exciting 5 piece, fronted by the animated and gravelly voiced Jo Jo Burgess.
The third Carlisle Blues Fest took place at the Swallow Hilltop Hotel on Friday 13th to Sunday 15th November 2009. A rather unusual time for a music festival, but perfectly timed to boost those winter blues during the run up to Xmas.
This was the second year the festival had been hosted at the Swallow Hilltop Hotel; the first festival, held at the Lakes Court Hotel (now The Hallmark Hotel), was so instantly successful it had to move to a larger venue.
Friday night got off to a lively start with a harp driven set by Hokie Joint. Band leader Giles King is already well known for his work with Lightnin' Willie and the Poor Boys. Sam Kelly's Station House had arrived at the venue two members down; keyboards man Paul Jobson was recovering from an operation and guitarist Tony Qunta was stuck in traffic.
This was the second Carlisle Blues Festival, following the spectacular success of the first festival twelve months ago. The venue was the Swallow Hilltop Hotel, which was fully booked for the event and substantially supplemented by a large number of non-resident punters.
The festival was opened on Friday evening by the Sean Webster Band with a mix of rousing blues rock and angst-filled ballads. Sean led the charge on vocals and guitar, ably backed by the ubiquitous Dave Raeburn on drums and Tom Latham on bass guitar. The trio took no prisoners and ended their powerful set with an excellent vocal rendition of “I’d Rather Go Blind” and the slow blues, “Have You Ever Loved A Woman?”.