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FINE CITY BLUES FESTIVAL

NORWICH AND NORFOLK

17 – 27 October 2019

Steve Morphew and Dave Thomas have been bastions of the blues in Norwich and Norfolk for more years than either of them care to remember.  Steve is the presenter of Best of the Blues, Future Radio and Deep In The Blues, [email protected] UK.  Dave has been playing the blues since the 1960’s – all over the world.  They first got together six years ago to launch the First Fine City Blues Festival in 2014.

The Fine City Blues Festival has been something of a unique offering – happening over two consecutive weekends in mid-late October.  The main objectives are to bring black American blues artists and British blues artists together in smaller venues that suit the music and to establish the fine city of Norwich as a centre of excellence for the blues. 

The Fine City Blues Club launched in Norwich in early 2015 as a regular Thursday night gig so that the mix of international, national and local blues musicians could share a stage in the city.  Now the club and festival form a firm foundation for Fine City Blues to bring the best of the blues right into the heart of the city.

“ … such a great initiative. I envy the fact that all this goes on in Norwich, and there’s nothing comparable in London!”Phil Keevil, Creative Director/Professional Photographer/Blues Lover

Most of the performances at this years festival took place in the Louis Marchesi, a characterful venue with a variety of performance areas where the Fine City Blues Club is based.  It is a historic medieval building opposite Norwich Cathedral and the Maid’s Head Hotel in Tombland – the hub of the city.

First up on 17th October were Split Whiskers led by Johnny ‘Magic Boy’ Wright on guitar and vocals and Gilby J. Fletcher on vocal and harmonica.  Veterans of the UK blues venue and festival circuit, they delivered an energetic and highly entertaining mix of material.

The next night the Mojo Preachers graced the main stage of the Louis Marchesi, with the wonderful Sophie Hammerton singing her heart out with material from their recent highly acclaimed album ‘Man Mad Monster’ – a heady concoction of fusion blues, psychedelic, swamp, funk and rock that left the crowd dripping with sweat and begging for more!

Meanwhile, in the deep south of Norfolk, The Dave Thomas Big Blues Band delivered an eclectic show which opened with Dave singing and accompanying himself on his trusty old Epiphone Texan acoustic guitar.  Joined by Hugh Gregory on acoustic guitar and vocals they delivered a sweet rendition of JJ Cale’s ‘Magnolia’ with seamless playing and close harmony singing.  Then the Dave Thomas Band were up to deliver their hard-driving first set of high-energy blues and rock ’n’ roll.  The second set saw the band expand eventually to a ten-piece, featuring the keyboard wizard Andy Cooper, the exceptional harp maestro Gareth Tucker and showcasing the towering tenor saxophone of the great Phil Marshall.  The highlight of the evening was their raunchy delivery of J.B. Lenoir’s ‘Talk To Your Daughter’ with Dave’s daughter Jess Thomas and Sonia Browne (the Mayor of Diss) on backing vocals.

The mood changed to a much more reflective tone on the Saturday and Sunday back at the Louis Marchesi. Upstairs in the intimate concert room Doug MacLeod from the USA and London’s Sean Taylor both entertained and inspired with exceptional concerts.

Doug MacLeod is known for his warmth, wit and guitar wizardry and he delivered a truly memorable performance on all counts featuring anecdotes and memories of the great bluesmen he has known and befriended over the years and his original songs such as ‘The Plowing Mule’ and ‘There’s A Time’ packed with Doug’s wisdom and good advice!

Sean Taylor does so much more than sing and play.  He creates the night with intelligent, insightful and, sometimes, bravely honest songs as he did with ‘The Path Into Blue’ and ‘Number 49’ and his range takes him from the political ‘This Is England’ to the romantic ‘Perfect Candlelight’.  The audience was enraptured.  It was an unforgettable experience for all who were there to witness such a thought-provoking performance.

The music kicked off again the following Thursday on the main stage the Louis with power and passion from Deep Blue Sea.  Iago Banet took the stage to stun us with his technical virtuosity on acoustic guitar before the full band roared into action with two supremely talented female musicians – Dregas on vocals and Amanda on drums – together with Iago and Graeme on bass, Deep Blue Sea are an original band on a mission!

Headlining this year’s festival was the award-winning Kyla Brox Band. Having won the UK Blues Award and the European Blues Challenge in 2019 Kyla proved why in an inspiring show at Norwich Arts Centre, award winner of the best small venue and boasting a brand new, state of the at PA system as part of a major refurbishment.  The soulful sounds of Kyla and her talented band were coming through crystal clear!  The song that reached out to touch hearts was Kyla’s own ‘Bluesman’s Child’.  She really is the jewel in the crown of British blues right now!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (the Louis Marchesi), local heroes the King Size Papas were getting the crowd dancing to their infectious good-time jazz and jump blues from the 40s and 50s.

Saturday 26th October saw an extra special double bill with the Fine City Blues Band opening up for the Cinelli Brothers, a band who are making big waves in the blues world with their modern take on Chicago and Texas blues from the 60s and 70s.  Led by singer and guitar player extraordinaire Marco Cinelli, this raw, authentic blues band are the true champions of a new generation of passionate blues and soul musicians lighting up the scene in the UK and Europe: stripped down harmonica, guitar, bass, drums underpinning  Marco’s vocals.  By the end of the evening the joint was jammed with blues fans new and old begging for more.

The last day of the festival is always a welcome contrast to the frenetic sound and sights of Saturday night.  The last Sunday of the Fine City Blues Festival has become affectionately valued for its laid back acoustic country blues and chilled-out atmosphere with great real ales and nourishing home-cooked chillis and curries helping to soak up the alcoholic excesses of the night before!

First up were Dave Thomas and Friends (which included the lead bass from the Scottish National Ballet!).  They were followed by the Journeymen who play traditional and contemporary blues with consummate ease.  Rough and Ready, the highly entertaining and engaging duo, featuring Roy Mette and Mandie Graham were in cracking form.  As too were the Dove and Boweevil Band, led by the engagingly lovely Lauren Dove and the exceptional guitarist Mark Howes (aka Boweevil).  By the end of their foot-stomping set the crowd were ready for Luke Arnold’s Blues Situation to raise the roof once more with their mix of original and Chicago style blues classics.

The harmonicas have it!

Review published in the Blues in Britain magazine