Tag Archives: Trevor Babajack Steger

Acoustic Festival of Britain. Uttoxeter. 31.05.19-2.06.19

Our annual trip to AFOB, so this is not the first review. We have been to every one since its beginnings in Nantwich and it has had a few twists and turns in its history. Huge place to set up the tent, we politely ignore the steward’s directions, knowing it is not necessary. But first to the music, the other factors to follow.

Friday.                First task is to spot Mike Stephens’ annual spelling mistake in the programme! Sat on one of the chairs inside , which collapsed and I rolled a**ehole over breakfast! Thankfully I had put my pint (or ‘not a pint’, see later) down first. First out of the blocks are Wildfire Folk. A lot of enthusiastic people of a lot of ages playing a lot of instruments.                      Dan Webster  Bloke from York with his group, the first number was reminiscent of The Waterboys. Maybe it was because they just featured over the PA?  The song ‘Bo’ seemed to be a clone of the bluegrass standard ‘Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms’ …but there are lots out there! Much of his banter seemed to revolve around his headline spots, Her Ladyship switched off and turned to her 30p book purchase from Castleford Library ‘The Smiling Man’ by Joseph Knox.  But she was back on track on hearing the last number ‘Plastic Jesus’. One of her favourites from her days in The Penthouse, Scarborough.                      Josh Burnell  Another outfit with a violin, I always find it a bit naff when there is an instrumental number before the (female) vocalist makes an entrance. Music based around traditional folk songs but considerably beefed up. Steeleye Span get an early nod, but not sure if the later treatment of their ‘Blackleg Miner’ completely works with the big Jon Lord keyboard effect. ‘Port of Amsterdam’ is more restrained and Her Ladyship was among many who thought they were very good. It was interesting that a young lady put her chair down in front of us but politely asked if we could still see ok. We could. We happened to be there as we had moved from our previous spot when some noisy morons stood next to us, neglecting to ask if we could still hear. No, we f**kin couldn’t!                            Fleetwood Bac. Tribute act based on the ‘Rumours’ line-up both visually and musically. Even in their banter they are in character, so you get the full job! And there are many people who come to see them and close their eyes and listen. And say they save themselves a fortune by not buying a ticket for the current ‘real thing’. Yes, I hate the whole ‘tribute’ industry (see later comment) but this lot are bloody good. The two girls are frighteningly accurate in their roles as Christine and Stevie.  This is their acoustic ‘best of’ set.

Saturday. A good night’s sleep on our lonely pitch. But the walk into the town was disappointing as car boot sale wasn’t on and I  also forgot to buy a newpaper.                     Gaz Brookfield. Festival veteran from the West Country with pithy songs.  His opening number was about songs with two chords. (The ubiquitous ukulele tent can vouch for that, namely ‘Dance the Night Away’, ‘C’est la Vie’, ‘Copperhead Road’.)    I remember his song about diabetes from earlier events.  the one about bullying had Her Ladyship reaching for her industrial strength Scotties.                             Chris Difford. His 7.00pm slot was moved forward. Possibly so he could shoot off down to a little festival near Biggin Hill to join the rest of Squeeze for a ‘secret’ gig?  No matter, he was bloody good here last year. This year he has not got Boo Hewerdine with him but has Melvin on pedal steel.  His solo show is very much a ‘History of Squeeze’ with much humourous anecdotery and appropriate songs. ‘Take me I’m Yours’, ‘Up the Junction’, ‘Goodbye Girl’ all work ok, but ‘Tempted’ should be left to either Mssrs Tilbrook or Carrack, methinks. Bloody good again.                                  We had to leave early, to be sure of getting a good seat for the excellent Swampcandy. Two young men from Maryland. I am sure I am not the only one who pestered Mike Stephens to book them ages ago, he has finally succeeded. First song is Bukka White’s ‘Aberdeen’. Next up are Mississippi Fred McDowell and Robert Johnson in quick succession and the audience is full of smiling faces. It made me think of the famous line in ‘Butch Cassidy’…  were they all thinking ‘Who ARE those guys?!’ Their older songs like ‘Positive Drinking’ and ‘Drink Whiskey With Me’ are mixed with newer stuff like their murder ballad ‘Candy’. Trevor Babajack Steger was here giving approving looks and they should have been in one of the bigger tents.  I stayed behind to watch the bass fiddle being packed away like something from IKEA!  Spot Joey’s feet on one of the photos.                       3 Daft Monkeys They reckoned they hadn’t been here for ten years, I reckon it was nine at the first event in 2010 but not important.  Lots of middle-aged women jumping about at the front. I think one song was called ‘A slow start for maybe twelve bars then a brief pause then 1-2-3-4  Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash Bash’. Strangely enough the next song had the same title. Then there was a waltz which started out a slow waltz then…as the Steve Earle song says ‘You know the Rest’.                                Jo Carley and the Old Dry Skulls  I came across this lot on Youtube somehow and was keen to see them in the flesh.  Most of their songs seem to feature the words ‘Bones’, ‘Voodoo’ and/or ‘Zombie’ but it makes for a really good act. Only the occasional nod towards ska, which I can happily overlook. Check them out.                                   I saw Bernie Marsden at Linton the other year, mixing Whitesnake stuff with blues standards and promoting his book. Not bothered about another view.                     Trevor Babajack Steger  A highlight from last year’s AFOB we made sure we were in early and away from the  (inevitably) noisy bar area. Starting out with ‘Daddy’s Gone’, ‘Sawdust Man’ (the title track from his rightly-lauded lp) and ‘Runaway Train’, he tells us he is preparing a new record and gives us a new murder ballad. Sadly it is 10.30pm and there are clumps of wazzoed women talking about dress sizes (sorry, ‘lying about’), haircuts and reality tv shows rather than listen to this great troubadour but then, the Terms and Conditions don’t mention no taking. ‘Ramblin’ Man’ and ‘The Black Dog’ are given the Full Monty but ‘The River’ is one of his few numbers that isn’t delivered with a pint of gravel in his throat and reveals a very good softer vocal tone. Sleepy John Estes’ ‘Brownsville Blues’ gets a real seeing-to as the encore , he is another must-see.

Sunday        Caught the end of the Welsh giant that is Candy Mountain. A pretty full tent gave him a big round of applause.                          Hattie Hatstar. Jolly woman plus accordian (and occasional uke) giving us her witty songs. very reminiscent of Victoria Wood. Would I be wrong in suggesting that her songs were mainly aimed at the proportion of the audience who were born with a bum at the front as well as the back…or Morris Dancers?   Not for the first time in our festival frolics over the years did I have to charge back to the tent for a new pack of incontinence knickers for someone seated very close to me with firmly crossed legs and tears rolling down her cheeks. (‘You lying get!’).   A good addition to the line-up.                     After a while Bon Accord came on to give us their take on the Stephane G/Django R canon of work, and Her Ladyship made a perfectly acceptable comment ‘ Is there any point in stopping?’.  Sadly. there wasn’t. Beautiful South tribute ?  Run-of-the-mill ska jumpabout? Ironically, my final t-shirt of the weekend was an R.E.M. one and (after a gallon of beer) there was a chance of my throwing something at the R.E.M. tribute later (it wouldn’t have been ‘praise’) so we upped and left. Home and in bed by 9.00pm.  So, overall…?

1. The actual event. The brochure touched on how difficult a year it has been for Mike Stephens personally. I agree that lesser men may have pulled the plug and let punters apply for a refund from eg Visa cards. No good for us, we pay by cheque.

2.Line-up. Yes, it sounds harsh, but you can polish a turd as much as you like, it is till a turd. Look back to the earlier posters over the years and just compare them. It is not Fake News.

3. Beer. Not cheap at £4.40 for a pint of amber nectar.

4. Tankards. I said ‘pint’ above. The festival pots really do push the concept of pint. I measured out a pint at home and transferred it to the festy pot. Even right to the very top I still had a small mouthful left. That’s lots of mouthfuls over a weekend!

5. Food. Good chunky pasties@£4.50.

6.Toilets. Cleaned regularly.

7. Sound. Pretty good everywhere.

8. Security. Polite and not heavy-handed.

9. What next for AFOB?  Very sad to have to sum up by saying that this could well be the end for it as we know it. Organiser Mike Stephens is a good bloke and listens to the customers. He proposed last year of having a Sunday ‘stand alone’ day packed with tribute acts. Many years ago he succumbed to having one copy group per year. But the music industry has been swamped by tribute acts. He actually gets more ‘next year please’ requests for Stones, T Rex, Beatles tributes than any other. Thankfully though, I think the parallel resultant wave of negativity made its mark! He will be the first to tell you that nowadays is much different to 2006. Many, many more festivals mean artistes and agents can put up their fees far beyond the rate of inflation.  The decision to ‘not have’ the big stage and the likes of Big Country ‘not appearing’ has drawn much wrath.  Many think that poor advance ticket sales may have had a big influence on these ‘circumstances’.    AFOB has always had a loyal cohort of 500 or so, and we are amongst that number, but the bottom line is £sd. No matter how you try, you cannot justify this line-up as warranting a £115 ticket including camping. Yes, many of the rival festivals are almost ‘pop-up’ events with poor facilities and little regulation but ‘money talks’ in the end. I don’t know if Mike had any comments at the end of the night.

Admittedly the new setting with no big outdoor stage did work but the line-up would have been ordinary at best even with the ‘absentees’. By all means slim it down but the ticket prices will need some severe pruning.
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Acoustic Festival of Britain. Uttoxeter Racecourse. 1-3 June 2018.

Friday.  The proceedings start at noon here. Managed to get tent pitched quickly, just caught the end of Sicknote Steve doing Seasick Steve’s ‘Doghouse’ with a dash of ‘Deliverance’ thrown in.                                    Sons of Clogger . Plastic Paddy-ish with a bit of an edge. Usual formula…12 slow bars intro then bash, bash, bash, bash 100mph .There was a number jigging about at the end to ‘Last of the Highwaymen’. Thankfully no ‘Irish Rover’ or ‘Whiskey in the Jar’.                  Juzzie SmithBig hype from organiser Mike Stephens in the programme. One man Oz band.  Good voice, impressive versatility on a range of instruments. ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was hardly a surprise!  Extremely accomplished but for some unknown reason I was just a bit unmoved.                          Merry Hell . North West folkies with a female lead vocalist. More traditional folk than Captain Pugwash stuff, ‘Bury me Naked’ was a popular waltz, not unlike Victoria Wood lyrically.   ‘Ghost in our House’ was well received , as was the whole set.        Her Ladyship went off with the Whitwell Mafia (Neil and Val)  to check out Stevie  One Mandolin, a regular at many festivals.  She reckoned his idiosyncratic ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was great and ‘Ernie ‘ was genius!                              Think Floyd. Before they came on, I wrote down that I would bare my bum if they didn’t start with ‘SOYCD’. Needless to say, my dignity was in safe hands.  No point giving set details, there were no real surprises. The female vocalist on ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ was good though. (Neil said it was Cherry Lee Mewis ). But why buy a cd by them?  I have been a Floyd fan since being on a school trip in London when ‘Arnold Layne’ came out and have seen a lot of tribute acts over the years under various derivative names. Still waiting for the arrival of The Dark Wall Piper !  In fact, I have come up with a name for my own Floyd tribute act…Milk Floyd. That’s what they all do , don’t they?  To be fair to this lot, they were probably the best I have seen, and with only half as many on stage as some others. *              A good day weather-wise, which always helps, and the musical fare seemed to go down well.

Saturday. We were heading to the Real Ale tent when a bunch of Morris dancers had a similar idea. Her Ladyship did a 180 degree turn and headed for the  Lounge Tent, it was a bit too cold to sit outside.  We stopped in there for a while , in the esteemed company of Mr J.L. Hooker, Mr R. Johnson and their peers.                     Boy on a Dolphin  Here last year, another outfit that the organiser holds in high regard. Very good musicians, I was thinking that the singer may be a Paul Carrack fan when he said that the guitarist was from Mr C’s group.  Bit of name-dropping (‘recorded this in Bryan Adams’ house’) and a couple of covers courtesy of Bill Withers and The Who. A bit too smooth for me.                    Chris Difford  .Knowing what a cantankerous git he can be, I was almost inclined not to watch him. Glad I ignored the inclination. He was great!  With help from Boo Hewerdine , he treated us to classic Squeeze songs , along with a couple of more recent compositions with Boo .   Some great anecdotes, and a younger Difford would probably have stormed off when some unscheduled trumpeting from outside interrupted proceedings. Today’s CD laughed it off.  Brilliant slot!                                  Steve Harley .His fourth time here but   another artiste who has been known to throw tantrums, problems with his sound threatened to produce another.  I always wonder how the Beatles  seemed to manage!  But he just about contained himself and gave the crowd pretty much what they wanted. ‘Judy Teen’, ‘Mr Soft’ and ‘Sebastian’ were all greeted with a cheer, as was the inevitable ‘Make me Smile’. Maybe there could have been room for another ‘hit’ ?  Always a great show, always a great pro and probably always a great fee! But , NB, there have been others who have commanded similar sums and haven’t been asked back.  And Mr H came on with a crutch and a broken hip!                              Roy Mette. Not the first (or last) to suffer from programme misspellings, he had Mandie from Roadhouse on vocals too.    Occasional cover (‘Behind Blue Eyes) but mainly original songs. Her Ladyship liked ‘What would John Lennon say’.  ‘Catch you later blues’ was good.                 John Illsley. The AFOB programmes have more than their share of spelling mistakes. Mike Stephens admits his spelling is crap, but I would always prefer a well-run event by a crap speller than a weekend shambles by  Jeremy F**kin Paxman.  But describing Dire Straits’s Mr Illsley as ‘the songwriting powerhouse behind many of the songs’ is a master stroke. ‘Many’ of the songs? I can’t find ANY of the songs!!  Apologies to all concerned if I am wrong, of course. But how did he and his chums fare on stage with the Dire Straits catalogue. I have to say they were absolutely f**kin’ SH*TE!  I spent time thinking of an appropriate ‘take’ on Dire Straits…Dire Traits? Dire Sh*tes? Dire Tw*ts?.  In the end , Her Ladyship had the answer. ‘Just put ‘Dire’.’  Exactly. Including an embarrassing attempt to copy Mark K’s vocal style, it was, sadly, naff.    I went off to the Lounge Tent to be as far away as possible without being at the five furlong post on the race course. Even if it meant listening to some swing music over the PA. And to cap it all, the duo that are the terminally tedious Big Fibbers came in!         Good weather, some good performances and some (well certainly one) not so good.

Sunday. Her Ladyship was keen to see Fake Thackray. Not for me, I decided to go down to the Lounge Tent where who are on? An expanded line-up of the afore-mentioned Big Fibbers?!   I decided it would be more interesting to go and look at the price list on the ice cream van for an hour. Yes , £3.00 for a bloody Magnum! I memorised all the flavours.                        Harry and the Howlers. Self-confessed fans of fifties rock and roll, with a spot of blooze maybe. ‘The Wild Wild West’ was a slower self-penned number, with Big Mama Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog’ being more familiar. Mainly original songs, with crowd-pleasing covers such as ‘That’s alright mama’ and ‘Folsom Prison’ thrown in . Some Wanda Jackson to finish, coming back for ‘Jolene’. Pretty decent.                          Brook Williams. A familiar face on the festival circuit, but first time here.  A decent crowd were treated to ‘Statesboro Blues’ and Rosetta Tharpe’s ‘Rock me’. His ode to the Isle of Man TT Races ‘My turn now’ was good.  Surprisingly short set though.                      Ferocious Dog. It has been very much ‘Have Festival Will Travel’ for these lads in recent years, and they have built up a big following (a lot were here).  Big intro music/poetry/smoke (didgeridoo too?) pre-empted some high octane Plastic Paddy stuff. But most of the songs started off at 100 mph rather than the usual slow intro section. The genre does nothing for me still, but there were plenty there having a great time, which is more important. Excellent violinist, Her Ladyship liked them.  Decent lads from Derbyshire.                        Troy Redfern. Mr R replaced Trevor Steger in Babajack last year, and Babajack were down to play. However, singer Becky had to cry off, so Troy (and bassist Adam) took the spot as part of a trio. Part-time cellist joined them for some Son House.   The ever-knowledgeable MC on the Main Stage announced that Babajack were on! Troy and Co are a good turn in their own right, worth investigation.    ‘Mad Man Blues’ to finish, Her Ladyship went skipping into the tent a la Peter Kay.( She promised she would inflict eye-watering punishment to parts of my body which would ensure their future 100% incapacitation if I mentioned it!).                          Urban Folk Quartet. Starting with banjo and violin to the fore, they were a multi-instrumentalist foursome that almost resisted categorisation. A dual violin number brought an idea for a name…Stradbone Ash anybody!?   If they haven’t played Cropredy yet it is a glaring oversight. At one stage they had a banjo with three percussionists…Santana plays bluegrass!  Her Ladyship went down to listen to a song about coalmining, a subject close to her heart.  A penalty point though, for the cheesy audience participation section. Too ‘clubby’, get rid of it!   Very good show though.                          Whiskey Rebellion .  Line-up threatened more Plastic Paddy stuff but it was more…Bakelite Balkan!?  Much more Russian folk music style.                          Elvis Fontenot   . Regular festival fillers ‘All the way from Stoke’. Cajun/zydeco stuff, I remember their being pretty enjoyable last time . Otis Gibb’s ‘Caroline’, Canned Heat’s ‘ Going up the Country’ elicited some jiving.  ‘I knew the bride’ was followed by another from the peerless Rockpile, ‘Fine, fine, fine’.                                                       I left early to get a good seat for Trevor Babajack  Steger .    Another casualty of misspelling in the programme, we have been keen to see him solo after his split from Becky in Babajack .  Not going to go into the details (none of my business anyway) but straight away it was plain to see that Becky may have kept the name but Trevor has got the soul.  (And the name!) . Starting with the only non-original song ‘Brownstone’ he gives us most of his solo lp ‘Sawdust Man’.  A one man blitz of pulsating rhythmic blues par excellence. All these young blues gunslingers (you know who you are) should be made to come and see him (and go home and bawl their f**kin eyes out!).  Get yourself up to God’s own county please Trev.                  Greg Murray and the Seven Wonders. Seven? Bloody thirteen of them on stage! Nearly more than were standing in front of the stage. Headliner status?! Wasn’t impressed last year, but well-received by those who hadn’t gone home.                 Acoustica For some reason decided to start soundchecking when GM and co had finished on Main Stage. Cue much disbelief by the tent’s occupants!  Basic pub outfit doing Tom Petty, America, Steve Harley, REM (x2), we only stopped for half a song.

Verdict?

  1. Music. Mike made a thinly-veiled comment in the programme about how difficult it is today, as the number of festivals has rocketed. Sadly, the line-up doesn’t really compare with those of yesteryear. Just check out the historical posters. But Chris Difford and Trevor Steger were great.
  2. Bar. Only (almost!) overcharged once. £4.00 a pint, sadly par for the course.
  3. Food. Again £4.00 for chips, as above. Her Ladyship thought general variety and standard good. The noodles shed that sold her a veggie dish with chicken in last year was there again.
  4. Security. Low key, fine by us.
  5. Sound. Usually ok!
  6. Programmes. Needs a proof-reader!  The blurb on Sicknote Steve never mentioned him! All about Seasick Steve…strangely economical with the facts!
  7. Crowd. Well-behaved, never saw any problems. And I noticed an interesting aspect that may influence the next point. Fests like Cropredy, Glasto and even Cambridge Rock always have lots of people in previous festival t-shirts. I probably spotted only a couple here. Yes, there are a few explanations, but if one of them is that people have been before, bought a t-shirt but haven’t returned, then that is a big concern.
  8. The future. Mike Stephens always has time for the punters, I managed a few minutes with him. There could be a VERY interesting development! (Or two!)

All in all though, we always enjoy the weekend. We met some good friends (Check out the excellent WHITWELL FESTIVAL OF MUSIC. ) and it is a bonus to be near a town.  The weather was great, but sadly for the ‘walk-up’ contingency, it could have been better if the sun had come out earlier in the morning.

*Have a look at previous article re Tribute Acts and Plastics Pollution