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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Twinwood Arena, near Bedford, UK, August 5th 2007
Phew, what a scorcher! It has to be the hottest day of the year so far, and for some reason we’re stuck in the middle of a field (again) listening to music. Actually it’s not so bad. You see, the Rhythm Festival, brainchild of Jim Driver, sometime promoter of excellent R&B nights at the 100 Club, is really a bit of a deluxe festival. So for a few extra of Whiskyfun’s quids we’ve got ourselves a nice picnic table in a breezy marquee with a great view of the stage. And we’re on the edge of a wonderful little natural auditorium, sometimes known as the Twinwood Arena – it’s all dragonflies, pirate-fairies and teddy-bears.
We’ve driven up with a pair of rock-chicks, who along with the Photographer spend most of the day in the shade guzzling Eccles Cakes, superb Lancashire Cheese, and copious quantities of red wine, with occasional pauses to take in a band. Me, I’m the designated driver, so I can only watch this spectacle with awe. Round the corner there are two more stages, a digital funfair, a cinema and a circus for kids. The ‘facilities’, are quite excellent. And there’s a control tower too, because the site is a former airfield – in fact, band leader Glenn Miller flew out of here on his last fateful flight, so the restored control tower houses a museum, and is something of a shrine for his fans around the world. The festival runs over three days, but prior engagements have kept us away ‘till today (which means we’ve missed the likes of the Levellers, Hot House Flowers, Dr John, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Harley and many many more). I have to observe that prior engagements seem to have kept a lot of folk away altogether as the audience is frankly quite thin on the ground.
Wild Billy Barrett
Wild Willy Barrett
Somehow we don’t get away from the main stage (no one wants to get too far from the Eccles Cakes) so we miss acts like John Cooper Clarke, Dr Feelgood, and the excellent Tiny Tin Lady (whom you may remember we enjoyed very much at Cropredy a couple of years ago). And once the initial feasting is over, our entertainment really begins with John Otway, teamed up on this occasion with his original partner and co-hit-maker Wild Willy Barrett. It is a predictably chaotic set. Barrett spends most of his time grumbling about Otway, pleading to the audience for help (“for God’s sake sing along so I don’t have to listen to Otway’s violin”) and finally gets his revenge during ‘Head butt’ (which mainly comprises Barrett banging Otway’s head on the microphone). “Was that real blood?” asked one of the rock chicks.
The Blockheads

Otway is followed by the Blockheads, who apart from a rather belligerent Derek the Draw on vocals, were in as good a form as I can remember. Norman Watt-Roy’s driving bass playing was as impeccable as ever, and Dave Lewis on saxophone was outstanding. They’re celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, and have been touring for most of the year, and on to December. It shows – in the best possible way. They’re as tight as ninepence – a phrase which I fear I may have made up – but you know what I mean.

And then, after more Eccles Cakes of course, it’s time for some sweet motherfucking country acid house music from Whiskyfun favourites, the Alabama 3, now sadly without Mr Segs, but with Stevie Nicked (Steve Finnerty) on guitar and Devlin Love on vocals.

Alabama 3
They’re embarking on a tour to promote upcoming album MOR (released in September) – which is why they’re all dressed in a sort of beige (well, a creamy, whitish beige), apart from the black-clad, shorn and highly articulate Reverend D Wayne Love. By the way they hit the stage and tear into ‘Woke up this morning” I deduce that they’ve fortified themselves with something more than pastries from Lancashire, and they’re in a hurry too because they’re late on stage (problems miking up the drums). Well – although they all looked a bit surprised by the penetrating sunshine beating down on them they delivered an electric set, as good as if it were night time, featuring two new songs ‘Locked’ (the new single) and ‘Way beyond the blues’, in addition to favourites such as ‘Don’t go to Goa’, ‘Speed of the sound of loneliness’, ‘U don't dans 2 tekno anymore’, ‘Mao Tse Tung said’ and a blistering ‘Up above my head’ to finish.
Who said what

Keyboard player Spirit of Love, who had partaken of much sustenance during the set, collapsed spectacularly onto his keyboards, only narrowly avoided joining the startled audience, and had to be helped off stage. Quite how he made it back to play on encore ‘Peace in the Valley’ I don’t know – but they finished in fine style.

< Who said what?

Ike Turner was supposed to play but pulled out at very short notice leaving “the father of the British blues” John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers as the remaining headliner. This was a sorry affair. I mean it’s remarkable that he can still look so well and perform at the age of 74 but he’s really milking his reputation. Let me just quote you what a fellow festival goer said to me in the ‘facilities’ – “I’ve been here for over 48 hours waiting to see something I first saw forty years ago. And it’s fucking crap …” Well, a tad harsh perhaps, but it’s certainly a soulless, shallow and sterile affair. Guitarist Buddy Whittington is note perfect, but he looks as though his mind is more on his next plate of pies (quick – guard the Eccles Cakes) than his playing. And why do we have to endure his over-long sequence of Led Zeppelin riffs?
Mayall’s singing is pretty poor- it’s hard for a man of his age to make the sort of high notes that were his trademark in his heyday – and his keyboard playing weak. Surprisingly he does a good job on harp, especially on his old war-horse ‘Room to move’. But I think we’re all glad to see him leave the stage, with his final farewell of “Remember to check out the merchandise booth…”, which rather summed it all up. And after that, to finish, we had a breathless Neville Staples Band. You remember Neville – “the original rude boy” - one time singer with the excellent Specials and Fun Boy Three, who raced nicely through old Specials songs at such a pace that it was impossible to get a picture of him. Oh yes – and what an excellent trombonist.
John mayall
John Mayall
Before Staples took the stage Jim Driver came on to thank us for being there, and to tell us that like last year, he’d probably lost a shed load of money on the event. Since then he’s e-mailed his list asking people to buy bonds for next year’s event (“I'm not disheartened because everybody seemed to have such a great time and I'm sure that the formula is basically right…”) to help defray some of the cost of this year’s. It’s a great pity – this is a fantastic, well organised and happy festival on a really interesting and intimate site, with a great line up of performers. So if you’re making plans for August 2008 I urge you to keep an eye on Jim’s website and pay your money down to make sure it happens next year. I’ll see you there. Thanks Jim. - Nick (all photographs by Kate)
Kate's Rythm Festival photo album

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