So, back to Butlins for the third time in less than two months. I first came in 1997, I think , when I had breakfast next to Tony McPhee and watched the Pete Gage era Dr Feelgood and a decidedly suspect version of Mott The Hoople. Current event has groups only doing one spot, so a clash of viewing sometimes.
Friday night, and first choice was John Verity or Krissy Matthews. Had originally opted for the former but more room in ‘Reds’ so gave the latter a go (on basis of his blurb). After first couple of numbers, his guitar-playing seemed decent but the 3-piece unit seemed to be crying out for a designated lead vocalist. However, ‘er indoors was soon to point out that not many people would be happy to sing such increasingly-naff lyrics. She had a point. We stuck with him, expecting him to have 40 minutes or so. He had 80 minutes on stage. Much too long. Then a choice of Roger Chapman here or Ten Years After in Centre Stage. Give the fact that, in the 70s, I loved Family and loathed TYA there was no conflict at all. Chappo was great tonight. Top marks for excellent sound, that has been a real plus in Skeggy Fests of late. Half the battle was won having Geoff Whitehorn on guitar. Mixture of Family stuff and solo stuff, with ‘Daddy Rolling Stone’ reminding me how criminally-underrated his post-Family outfit, Streetwalkers, were. Sadly no ‘My Friend the Sun’ or even ‘In My Own Time’ but plenty of slinging about anything on stage not nailed down. I did actually sneak out for a few minutes during one of his funkier numbers to see if Ten Years After were just as bad without Alvin Lee. I remember in 1972, spending £1.25 for a ticket at Leeds Uni. After 2 tedious numbers, he announced ‘Slow Blues in C’. It was, for about 1 bar. Then a blur of twiddlydiddly nonsense, with the smell of burning fingers and mahogany. We walked out and FYA (forty years after) there didn’t seem to be much difference. BUT, fair play to the remaining 3 originals, let them earn a living. Regarding the adulation of Alvin Lee (and step forward too the Danny Bryants of this world), to quote the Gospels of St Peter (Green) and St Paul (Kossoff), ‘Quicker may be slicker but more is a bore and fewer is bluer’. This is from the Bunternet edition, of course.
So, in Reds it was now Virgil and the Accelerators. Again, 3 youngsters, a bit more animated than the first three. After about 10 minutes though, I’d had enough…I must be getting old! According to the blurb they have been likened to the ‘new Cream’ (!?). It occurred to me that as ‘new’ is the complete opposite of ‘old’, then I had to agree with the definition! Which meant an unplanned trip to Centre Stage.
Now Chantelle McGregor is a lovely girl who plays a decent guitar BUT there lies a problem. Her admirers are all middle-aged men who want ‘protect’ her and wouldn’t give it the time of day if it was a fat, middle-aged, bearded male. So, Chantelle, stay away from the burger van. It really saddens me to have to say that I heard somebody nearby say that she had put on a few pounds since Cambridge Rock Fest. Back to the music. Robin Trower and Blind Faith among the songs, but even she would laugh at being compared to Stevie Nicks. Place was packed , so she has plenty of fans but not headline status really.
Saturday afternoon, only Centre Stage open, starting with Steve Rodgers (son of Paul). The resemblance is breathtaking …and his voice too! Very post-Free Rodgers Snr, and therein is a dilemma. Any other male on the planet would donate a kidney to be given ‘The Voice’ but for Steve R it could well mean he is destined to play out as a support act (even to Bad Company, it seems) where people will listen politely to his pleasant-enough songs after the initial ‘Wow’. On the plus side, no mention of his father or singing his songs, and it wasn’t all deja vu. (He didn’t have a Middlesbrough accent and he seemed to be a nice person!). I reckon James Taylor’s son and John Lennon’s son had/have the same problem. So next up were Stealer. Surely they can’t have booked a Free copy outfit to follow him!? Opening number was a plod through ‘I’m a Mover’ (not looking good!) but then we had ‘Badge’. But it soon became apparent that this shower were a run-of-the-mill Working Mans Club outfit from Lancashire! Why bring such a group all the way to Skeggy!? There would be a dozen like them within 10 miles! We had to leave before we both threw something at the stage, and I predicted that they would finish with…you’ve guessed…All Right Now. Sat outside for an hour to calm down and returned to find I wasn’t wrong with my prediction. A total insult to the punters. Waited for The Stumble to come on, eventually, but after a couple of numbers we left. They are Skeggy regulars but their Chicago blues stuff is not for me, although they go down well. So the Saturday afternoon slot was not brilliant.
Saturday night and it was Steve Gibbons Band in Centre Stage or Deborah Bonham in Reds. Have been watching the former for years so he was our option. His spots at the Folk Fest were very differing and here he was not bad but has been better. Plenty of old rock and roll done a la Bo Diddley and I enjoyed hearing ‘No Spitting on the Bus’ and ‘Down in the Bunker’ but he could have recited ‘War and Peace’ and it would have been preferable to Deborah Bonham. By all accounts she is a lovely person but I have never met anyone who has paid, or would pay, to see her in her own right. She appears at nearly every fest we go to and often overruns thereby messing other acts up. She has a decent voice and backing band but it is as clear as day that the only reason she gets a gig is because she had a famous dead drummer for a brother. And the loudest noise at any fest is the sound of her dropping another name onto the floor. (Ironically, the only name Steve Rodgers mentioned was hers!).
By now, are you all asking why we even bother to come here!? Have seen The Animals many times and they put on a good professional show, but went to see the original Argent instead. They didn’t do a lot for me in ’72 and they were okay tonight. Rod Argent isn’t the best singer in the group though and there was a bit too much keyboard for me but pleasant enough stuff, with Russ Ballard doing some of his many songs he’d written for others.
Next choice is Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash or Larry Miller. I have been watching Wishbone Ash probably annually since the 70s and when MTWA have in opposition a blueser the like of whom could be found in most music pubs on a weekend…no contest. (I realise Mr Miller has acquired lots of followers in recent years but we opted for a bit of class). Martin Turner seems to have settled on a solid line-up, after a few changes, and although the current guitarists are not as recognisable as Andy Powell or Ted Turner, they contribute well to the overall sound (plus their backing vocals are good). Kicking off with ‘The King Will Come’, they ploughed a furrow through ‘Argus’ and it was good to hear ‘Front Page News’ and one of my favourites ‘No Easy Road’. ‘Living Proof’, probably the standout song from the Laurie Wisefield era, had my female companion ‘Woh-oh-oh’ ing and they fully deserved to get a decent set length. Martin came out to chat afterwards and in my opinion makes their show a more attractive night of music than Wishbone Ash ‘regular’ led by Andy Powell. Ash fans will know the tension between the 2 versions and this isn’t the time or place to debate the subject! Highlight of the weekend so far.
Sunday afternnon saw the events open with the Bowden and Williamson Band. Seasoned performers, with a mix of covers and original stuff. We were a bit disappointed that we had a date to see Middlesbrough take on Sunderland so had to leave. Back after the game, and we’d missed Giles Robson and prepared for Gerry McEvoy’s Bunch of Friends. Now Mr M, long-time bassist with Rory Gallagher, seems to have left the excellent Nine Below Zero after some two decades to form a Rory Gallagher tribute outfit, at the age of 60. Maybe more money, being more in charge, fallen out with 9BZ, who knows? However, back in the 70s I just did not ‘get’ Rory Gallagher. Plenty of T-shirts here to show lots did though. Ted ‘SAHB’McKenna on drums and some bloke doing RG . Did nowt for me 40 years ago, and today didn’t sway me either so we left.
Last lap, Sunday night. Totally ridiculous queue to see Hamsters, Feelgood and Mud Morganfield so went to Reds. First up, Skinny Molly. I wasn’t impressed by them last time but was pleasantly surprised tonight. No real name-dropping and set heavily influenced by Lynyrd Skynyrd with whom Mike Estes played for 3 years in the 90s. Very ‘Southern Rawk’ apart from bleedin’ ‘Wishing Well’ !! Everybody in Castleford plays that, why here!? They did actually do a good ‘Dead Flowers’, with a tongue-in-cheek refence to the Royal Mail, and ‘Freebird’ finished off a performance I was pleased I caught. Sadly, had to miss FM. I was a bit too old in the 80s for the poodle-rock brigade, but would have stopped if the schedule had permitted.
Over to catch the end of The Hamsters. We’ve been watching them for the last 25 years and they’ve never really changed . Good pros, but it has always seemed just a job to them . No on-stage rapport, it’s like 3 blokes coming into work in a morning, sitting down, doing their job then going home and doing the same the following day (but in a different office!) Rhythm unit may retire but I suspect Barry won’t. Usual ‘bit of nonsense’ with ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ at the end and they were off.
Next up , Dr Feelgood. Packed house with loads of T-shirts in evidence, and they came roaring out with 3 numbers from the 1st LP. Early showing for ‘Milk and Alcohol’ and then it is halfway, which means De Blooze. For ever a decade we’ve been getting ‘Down By The Jetty Blues’ and it bores me to tears!! It used to be even worse when we got about 20 minutes of it, mercifully it is now down to 10 minutes. (I did once suggest to someone not too distant from Steve Walwyn that he suggest to MrW that it may be time for DBTJB to be put out to pasture. ‘You tell him!’ was the response. Point taken!) They put on their usual high-voltage show, but we were a bit too far away to appreciate it. And they only got an hour! Finished with ”One More Shot’, no encore.
Final choice was ‘Crucified Barbara‘ or Mud Morganfield in a packed Centre Stage. So trooped off to see CB. Plenty of roadies and gear and here they came, what appeared to be 4 girls whose combined age seemed less than mine! Loads of posturing , hair swirling and strutting of stuff. After a while, they announced their first single, from 2004!! How old were they when they made that !? Four!? Even worse, I discovered they formed in 1998!! So either a) They were in nursery or b) They are Time Lords or c) They are much older than they look or d) I was pissed and blind. Sadly, d) and maybe c) seem the correct answers. They were good at their job, i.e mainly making middle-aged men buy their cds from them but to me not much different to The Runaways were decades ago…although they have lasted much longer already!
Decided to try the end of Mud Morganfield instead. He definitely seemed to be someone who was living off his father’s meal ticket (Muddy Waters). Slick band but he wouldn’t get a gig in a New Orleans bar if it wasn’t for his lineage, so we left after 10 minutes…and that was it!
So, pretty much the usual Skeggy RnB weekend. Some good, some really good, some not so good and some that just should not have been there! Good attempt at trying to give younger groups a chance. Excellent sound, pretty good timetabling, ridiculous queues. But I reckon if there are 4 or 5 over the weekend that I would pay to see, the rest is a bonus. I have e-mailed the event booking people with a couple of my thoughts, and some photos were taken , so look out for updates.
And we’ll be there next year!
PS I sent an email to Butlins about a particular concern I had. I was promised a reply…not forthcoming.
Have a glance at Rant Corner, especially if you’ve ever been to the event