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The Great British Rock and Blues Festival 2013

When we think about the Great British Rock and Blues Festival or the Great British Folk Festival for that matter, held a little over a month earlier, we may be tempted to think why on earth we should be attending music festivals in the middle of a typical English winter? Once you've attended one of these events however, you will come away thinking, well why not? There's a sense that everywhere else in the country is buried beneath a blanket of snow during this season, whereas at the Butlins Holiday Resort in Skegness, we are given the opportunity to cohabitate in a warm and cosy environment, in warm concert halls during the day and evening and in snug apartments (also known in Butlins parlance as chalets) at night, whilst there's nowhere quite as hot as the front of either of the main two stages during the weekend concerts.

Cohabitation is probably the right word for this particular festival as it does require animals of different species to live together over the weekend; those who like their rock music particularly loud and those who like their blues particularly soulful. In some cases the rock and the blues does meet somewhere in the middle and it is here where the magic happens. With a programme packed with well-known names from both worlds, this year's Great British Rock and Blues Festival attracted a sell-out audience, with each festival-goer given the choice of no less than thirty-one main stage concert sets, divided between two main stages, the Centre Stage and Reds, together with afternoon jam sessions in Jaks and other events taking place simultaneously in other areas of the complex.
 
On Friday night, a packed audience gathered in the Centre Stage for the opening performance by the Trevor Burton Blues Band, who gave the wah-wah peddle some hammer during storming versions of Hey Joe and Mystery Train amongst others, whilst Mothership, a young Led Zeppelin covers band, entertained the audience on in Reds, followed by hard rocking performances by John Coghlan's Quo and Oliver-Dawson Saxon. 
 
By mid-evening, the audience was in party mood and the charismatic Barrie Masters once again led the Essex-based pub rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods onto the Centre Stage for a blistering set. Attired in panto military tunic, the singer took the lead on a handful of classic numbers such as Do Anything You Wanna Do, Teenage Depression, Wooly Bully and the Who's The Kids Are Alright, completing the set with a high octane take on Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild
 
The headliner act for Friday night was the Dutch rock band Focus, featuring original keyboard player Thijs van Leer and drummer Pierre Van Der Linden, both from the band's early 1970s heyday, when the pop charts fearlessly ventured into Prog Rock territory, providing airplay to the likes of House of the King, Hocus Pocus and Sylvia, all of which were performed during their set. Whilst the enigmatic leader alternated between flute and a battered Hammond organ with the band's name emblazoned on the front in black insulation tape letters, sometimes both instruments simultaneously, the rock riffs originally created by former guitarist Jan Akkerman were re-worked on Friday night by Menno Gootjes. During their set, Focus also showcased some of the material from their tenth and most recent album FOCUS X.

he action continued just after noon on Saturday as the Shipston-on-Stour-based three-piece blues band, led by twenty year-old Laurence Jones, impressed everyone with their dextrous playing. So young and yet so good; the length of the queue at the concessions stall was testament to their popularity at the festival. Their set included a take on Jimi Hendrix's version of Dylan's All Along the Watchtower together with an obligatory Led Zeppelin's number, in this case Rock and Roll, as well as a handful of numbers from their debut album, including The Thrill Is Gone

With plenty going on throughout the Butlins complex during the afternoon, such as an exciting set courtesy of Top Topham John Idan Ex-Yardbirds on the Centre Stage, whilst the Billy Walton Band, Mitch Laddie and The Arrows featuring Alan Merrill performed in Reds. Meanwhile, Roadhouse provided a session over in Jaks, where the North Wales-based singer/songwriter Emma Black joined in for an informal set. Finishing Saturday afternoon's Centre Stage concert was Woodstock veteran Leo Lyons along with fellow Ten Years After guitarist Joe Gooch, performing a great set with their splinter group Hundred Seventy Split, who provided some impressive rock-fuelled blues with a repertoire of mainly new material, but with one or two blues standards thrown in for good measure such as Columbus Stockade Blues.

Saturday evening's opening act in Reds continued to crank up the volume to an easy eleven, with Del Bromham's Stray recreating some of the hard rock that the band were known for in the 1970s, whilst Slack Alice, Virgil and the Accelerators and Mick Ralphs' Blues Band took care of business on the Centre Stage. To complement the music, the Rock and Blues weekends always attract festival goers who add something of a fun element as the rock crowd don lots of costumes, tune inflatable or air guitars, whilst the blues stage attracts one or two black-tied Blues Brothers. 
 
By mid-evening on Saturday, the crowds gathered in front of the stage in Reds for one of the weekend's true spectacles as Hawkwind took to the stage for an hour of what could only be described as space rock. With original member Dave Brock at the helm, the band's performance was augmented by a memorable stage show, featuring a couple of young dancers picking up where the legendary Stacia left off, albeit slightly more 'dressed' for the occasion. Appearing often throughout the set, with each costume more outlandish than the last, even on stilts on a couple of occasions, the dancers complemented the music throughout as the band worked through some of their best known material, opening with Master of the Universe and finishing with Silver Machine

Headlining Saturday night was Prog Rock giants Curved Air, featuring two original members, singer Sonja Kristina and drummer Florian Pilkington-Miksa. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the band's set started almost forty minutes later than advertised and much of the audience was lost to the other stage by the time they went on. When there's two stages, patience is low and people have a tendency not to hang around too long between sets, which is a shame for the band. Nevertheless, Curved Air went on to perform some of their best loved hits from their early 1970s heyday including It Happened Today, Back Street Luv, Marie Antoinette and Proposition, with Sonja picking up an acoustic guitar at one point to perform one of the band's more folkie tunes, Melinda.

Whilst the bleary-eyed amongst us faced breakfast on Sunday morning, the complex prepared for its last day of fun and music. Two members of The Blues Band, Gary Fletcher and Dave Kelly performed their own sets on the Centre Stage, whilst The Stumble opened proceedings in Reds. Taking advantage of the perfectly good stage under the Skyline Pavilion, rock artist Steve Pablo performed an impromptu acoustic set, which for all intents and purposes, eased those who attended into Sunday afternoon in a more gentle fashion. Inviting a couple of guests up to join him, including Robert Brown on National steel guitar and Nick Garner on harmonica, the set flowed seamlessly into a nice acoustic set by Emma Black, featuring a handful of self-penned songs including The Curlew. Maybe an acoustic stage would offer some respite for those who may be experiencing tinnitus after a Stray gig, or just something to relax them and ease them into the third day of the festival. 
 
No rest for the wicked though as the amps were once again cranked up for performances by Blue Swamp on the Centre Stage and the scantily-clad Finnish guitarist Erja Lyytinen in Reds. Attracting, for obvious reasons, a pretty exclusive male dominated audience, the singer/guitarist delighter her audience to some highly charged Scandinavian rock with her tight band.
 
Rounding things off in Reds on Sunday afternoon was the return of one of the most popular bands to play the festival, Band of Friends featuring ex-Rory Gallagher bassist Gerry McAvoy, ex-Sensational Alex Harvey Band drummer Ted McKenna and impressive Dutch guitarist Marcel Scherpenzeel. Attracting a large audience, Band of Friends provided a celebration of the music of the late Rory Gallagher rather than a tribute to it. 

The black-suited ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone closed the afternoon concert on the Centre Stage, with a set filled with classic songs such as Say You Don't Mind, I Don't Believe in Miracles and Time of the Season, together with a couple of Motown hits, Tracks of My Tears and What Becomes of the Broken Hearted. The singer also performed the sublime Old and Wise, which he originally recorded with the Alan Parsons Project, finishing with the old Zombie's hit She's Not There, the first song Blunstone ever recorded. With his distinctively soulful voice, coupled with some entertaining anecdotal references to his long career, Blunstone provided one of the most memorable sets of the weekend.  

As evening drew in over Skegness, the festival reached its final couple of concerts on both main stages. Whilst the Henrik Freishchlander Band, Blue Coupe and ABCB provided a rock filled concert in Reds, the Centre Stage prepared for a soul-filled and bluesy evening featuring one of the legends of Stax soul. The Blues Band kicked things off, being led by the ever-youthful Paul Jones, who went on to perform a few blues standards with Dave Kelly and Gary Fletcher, both of whom had played solo sets during the afternoon, together with Tom McGuinness and Rob Townsend. With an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the blues, Paul Jones led the band through one blues classic after another for a set that also included a rousing version of Dylan's Maggie's Farm.

With original drummer John Steel and the keyboard player Mickey Gallagher, who replaced Alan Price in 1965, The Animals were very much on form tonight. Led by charismatic frontman Pete Barton and featuring guitarist Danny Handley, the band ran through some of the classics that made the band famous in the first place including House of the Rising Sun, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and It's My Life, before inviting their special guest up on stage for a few soul classics. Steve Cropper strolled on stage to rapturous applause, going on to perform some of the hits the guitarist is most associated with such as Time is Tight which he recorded with Booker T and the MGs, Soul Man, which he did with Sam and Dave, (Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay with Otis Redding and In the Midnight Hour with Wilson Pickett. Now there's a pride of lions. 

The final act of the festival was the ever exciting Dr Feelgood who delivered the goods in their inimitable style. During their energetic set, the band paid tribute to the band's former guitarist Wilko Johnson, whose health is declining fast as he faces a bleak future with terminal pancreatic cancer. The last six songs were dedicated to the guitarist including Back in the Night and Lights Out. Robert Kane, the band's lead singer wore his black jacket throughout the entire set, removing it just for the last note of the last song Bone Moronie/Tequila, before putting it back on to leave the stage. Quirky brilliant exciting band. A national treasure. Well this brought another excellent festival under the 'Great British' banner to an end for another year and one of the most enjoyable to date.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky