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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

(part one)

Twinwood Arena, Bedford, August 21st-23rd 2009


It’s festival time. We’ve given Cropredy a miss, probably a bad move as it happens. The line-up there (for a change) was first rate, the weather fantastic (despite the presence of Richard Thompson, who traditionally acts as a rain-magnet), and the performances (so I’m told) top-notch.

Instead, we’ve returned to the friendly Rhythm Festival, which despite low attendances last year, and other festivals falling by the wayside due to poor ticket sales, has managed to stagger on. There don’t seem to be many people here this year, although as I’ve observed before, the Twinwood Arena can easily soak up a large number of people without seeming very full.

The two campsites are fairly busy, but we still managed to get a good spot for the Whiskyfun Teepee (yep, that’s what the recession can do for you) and Jozzer pitched his next door.

Glen Miller
You’ll probably remember the Twinwood Arena: a former RAF base, famous as Glen Miller’s point of departure for his fateful journey into oblivion, and which serves as a venue for events, as a second world-war museum and as shrine to the memory of the lost band-leader. It’s full of surprises, and it’s full of beer, which is just as well; last year, if my memory doesn’t fail me, they ran out of ale early on Sunday afternoon. In this year of the ‘staycation’ there’s a very British holiday atmosphere to the place: beer with bacon for breakfast, followed by beer; beer and burgers for lunch, followed by more beer, then beer and biryani for dinner, followed by a few glasses of you-know-what. Actually that’s not quite true. For some, it’s cider and cereal for breakfast, followed by cider; cider and sausages for lunch, followed by more cider, then cider and succotash for dinner. The wonderfully diverse bunch of characters that we came across (sadly, all their nicknames, awarded by the start of day two, are unprintable) stayed in fairly good order; the Photographer having to bark at only one rather hapless intoxicate. When things did get slightly out of hand, the miscreants, a team of stewards and the police ended up providing a wonderful Sunday morning comedy half-hour, causing most of the main campsite to lay down their newspapers, turn off the Archers on the radio, and adjust the position of their fishing chairs for a ringside view. Maybe it was street theatre?
Oli Brown
Oli Brown
It’s an equally diverse bill which includes the up-and-coming and the over and out. In the former category was frighteningly youthful blues guitarist Oli Brown, who played a passable set with his band on Friday, but seemed a little out of place on such a big stage faced with a relatively small audience. Veteran pub rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods probably fall into the latter category, but no-one had told either cadaverous vocalist Barrie Masters, or ace guitarist and Whiskyfun fan Richard Holgarth, who together delivered a blistering performance on Saturday afternoon under equally blistering sunshine. There was also less reliance on big names from the United States, perhaps given that in 2008, some had performed so lamentably badly.
However, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams have returned as festival favourites, openers and closers, following their sterling efforts in the rain last year. I have to say I’m not quite sure what all the enthusiasm was about. Wonderful festival fodder, perfectly pleasant but perfectly ordinary (despite the name) would be my conclusion. Original material that nonetheless trawls through a very obvious series of largely American influences, ranging from Dylan to Diamond, with a touch of Johnny Cash and Tom Petty in between. It’s nice, but not going anywhere. Perhaps I’m missing the point, or maybe it’s just that their faux hippyism stirred a distant fond memory in the ale- and cider-fuddled minds of the largely fifty-something audience, prompting their astonishing generosity.
Jozia Longo
Jozia Longo (Gandalf Murphy)
Of more interest was Alvin Youngblood Hart, who began his Sunday afternoon set firmly in North Mississippi Hill Country Blues style. He then moved through an eclectic selection of songs, using a wonderful collection of guitars including a lovely Harmony Bobkat, and took in urban blues, country and western and what used to be called blues-rock (in a very British vein). Despite a heavy cold (“This swine flu’s whooping my ass, man”) and some odd tuning from his guitar tech, he turned in a lovely cameo performance; in short, a big recommendation. If you can’t get to see him live then you can see him sing a couple of songs in the commendable Wim Wenders movie, ‘The soul of a man’. Equally worth seeking out is the smart-suited and distinctly coiffured Terry Reid, one of the great nearly-men of rock and roll, and for many years a permanent resident of the USA (not that he hasn’t lost a very cheeky English conversational style of presentation). Reid is one of the great rock voices, as he demonstrated in his Saturday evening set. You may remember we saw him last year at a disastrous gig with Mick Taylor (Reid was far from being the culprit, but fell victim, like the audience, to a spat between Taylor and drummer Mitch Mitchell). Here he’s with his own band, his own songs, some beautiful guitars and a hot-rod Telecaster merchant, Ed Rainey, to whom he’s happy to give a lot of space. There’s a strangely morose (not to say frankly slushy) feel to much of his more recent material (odd, given the irrepressible nature of the singer), and sadly, a sense that his still remarkable voice could do with some better and less ponderous songs.
Alvin Youngblood-Hart
Alvin Youngblood Hart
Terry Reid
But what a voice: “Respect to Terry Reid” as Alabama 3’s Larry Love said later. - Nick Morgan (performance photographs by Kate)
Listen: Oli Brown on Myspace
Eddie and the Hot Rods on MySpace
Therry Reid on MySpace
Twinwood Arena, Bedford, August 21st-23rd 2009
There’s probably always one thing that sticks in your memory about a weekend like this, and sad to say on this occasion, it was abject sound engineering on the main stage, which plagued performers throughout. Glenn Tilbrook was the first to fall foul of this on Friday, when he performed with his Fluffers, an engaging and lively set that ranged from material from their new album Pandemonium Ensues, to classics from his Squeeze back catalogue. Mr Tilbrook has always struck me as one of music’s more genial characters, but his increasing frustration with the inability of the sound crew (who for much of the Festival had the appearance of frightened rabbits) to get the stage sound right was evident for all to see. Thankfully, that didn’t stop him, according to my notebook, from playing his guitar with his arse, an unusual technical accomplishment that I seem to have erased from my memory. More sound chaos ensued with Friday night headliners The Proclaimers, who were still very capable of captivating a crowd with tight harmonies and well-chosen material from their new album Notes and Rhymes, their hits such as ‘I would walk 500 miles’, and their covers, such as an electric treatment of Wreckless Eric’s ‘Whole wide world’. But their road manager spent much of the set glowering across at the sound desk who struggled with monitor levels, in the sort of threatening way large six-foot-plus Scots can have when they put their mind to it. Saturday’s headliners, Alabama 3, ended up doing the mixing themselves. Thus, harmonica player and tapes man, the permanently anxious-looking Mountain of Love spent as much time at the desk as he did on the front of the stage. Nonetheless, and despite a looming curfew (a result of the time it had taken to get the sound at least passable for them to take the stage), they turned in a characteristically high-energy set; Larry Love ended the evening leading the crowd in some community singing when the band were prevented from returning for an encore. Drawing on classics from Exile on Coldharbour Lane, the set also featured songs from MOR and Outlaw, and a couple of tracks from their forthcoming album Revolver Soul (co-produced, apparently, by ex-bassist Mr Segs), which they will be touring later in the year.
Glen Tilbrook
A Proclaimer
D-Wayne Love (Alabama 3)
Larry Love (Alabama 3)
Other festival highlights? Well, Nick Harper’s solo set featured some interesting songs played in an unusual open-tuned flamenco style, with singing-cum-rapping and fadoesque lyrics. The Demon Barbers, despite their plaudits, only served to remind me what was wrong with a lot of so-called ‘folk-rock’. The Photographer wandered off and found herself having a very nice chat with Jacqui McShee, who with husband Gerry Conway, keyboards player Spencer Cozens and others turned in a tidy set as Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle. The Strawbs’ ‘acoustic’ (let’s ignore the booming bass pedals that also seemed to act as an orchestron of sorts) sadly confirmed all my prejudices about the outfit; apologies to any Strawbs fans reading this. And Dave Cousins’ tea-bag dyed hair was almost as ghastly as the music. The Blow Monkeys had feedback problems and their AWB-style groove seemed out of place at six o’clock on a very hot Saturday afternoon. The Beat, led by an impossibly high-energy Ranking Roger and his son Ranking Junior (who was struggling to keep up with his dad), were fantastic: I’d forgotten just what great songs ‘Mirror in the bathroom’ and ‘Too nice to talk to’ were. Eric Bell, one-time lead guitarist with Thin Lizzy is best described as a disappointment, even fluffing his most famous riff, the memorable introduction to ‘Whisky in the jar’. And the excellent James Hunter? Well, he closed the weekend for us, but seemed totally out of place in Sunday’s late afternoon sunshine: his unique take on R&B is night-time music. But he turned out a typically tight and perfectly-sung set which got the crowd dancing, with Alvin Youngblood Hart admiring Hunter’s impossible guitar technique from the side of the stage. And I noticed that some of his band’s kids were having a great and no doubt rare time enjoying their Dads’ playing.
The Photographer with Jacqui McShee
Dave Cousins
Ranking Roger
James Hunter
Of course there was a lot more going on besides all of this, what with digital circuses, solar cinemas, therapy zones and the like, in addition to all the bars. A limited range of food providers produced some decent enough grub, and lurking among the Nissen huts were some gloriously tranquil and perfectly clean cloakrooms (who ever heard of electric hand driers at a rock festival?). The ever-optimistic promoter Jim Driver was already selling tickets for next year’s event before this one had finished, so who knows, we may be back next year, too.- Nick Morgan (performance photographs by Kate) Grub

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