Thursday afternoon at BluesFest was reserved for the showcasing of newborn discoveries and unearthing their blues motivations
First up in the Elgar Room were cheeky Essex rockers Dr Feelgood, and they wasted no time getting into their aggressively soulful groove, unrelentingly bashing out their hits. Their easy-listening toe-tapping style struck a chord with the crowd, with the harmonica interludes in particular pushing up the levels of soulful bliss. Despite Dr Feelgood being the opening act on a Thursday afternoon, this was still a packed-out audience in a swelteringly hot room, with yet more punters outside attempting to get in – a considerable achievement.
The onstage energy was maintained throughout the set. It was easy to see how much the old boys still enjoy playing together after all these years, with Steve Walwyn taking every available opportunity to jam out a lengthy solo, backed by the brilliantly boisterous Robert Kane on lead vocals. The highlight of the hour-long set was the unleashing of classic track She Does It Right, which allowed Kane to fizz up the energy and unleash the pop-punchy-catchy chorus. The trip down memory lane was complete by 2pm, the room filled with equal parts nostalgia, sweat and joy, and the tone of the day was set as everyone left the room with a feel-good smile.
Later on, a packed stage was laid out with guitars, drums, upright bass and a luminous red piano awaiting the arrival of soul legend Mud Morganfield. Yet again the Elgar Room was full to bursting with a buzzing audience and even some excitable kids, their dads clearly distracted by what was about to come. The band finally arrived on stage playing out a jiving, instrumental opening track that set the tone before introducing the hero of the evening: Mud Morganfield. The soul master was as iconic as ever, wearing a shimmering, purple blazer and immediately lighting up the room with his deeply rich voice.
The archetypal principles of what anyone could want from a classic, soulful blues gig were celebrated to perfection in Mud’s set as the tone grooved constantly to uncontrollable, hip-shaking levels, with bopping guitar solos and nimble-fingered piano tapping instrumentals. The heartfelt blues pinnacle of the set – and perhaps the day – was Mud’s legendary track Blues in My Shoes, giving the day a perfect ending and showing that blues is still a relevant genre that can be enjoyed by all ages.
A brisk walk down the narrow and sumptuously decorated corridors of the Royal Albert Hall led to the bright and airy kitchen: Verdi. Slowly setting up on a small stage at the far end was soul master Mike Sanchez, and while the hall of the kitchen was painfully empty, there was a sense of excitement in the air because of the unique setting of the gig. When Sanchez did play out the opening organ notes, it was striking how distinctively loud the sound was as it powerfully rang out around the kitchen’s billowy halls.
The all-engulfing jazz sound of Sanchez’s live performance soon rallied extra audience members, and he eventually became lost in a small sea of onlookers, sounding like a cross between Jools Holland and Tom Jones. The boogie-woogie set was refreshingly chilled-out, suiting the casual restaurant setting as people were able to simply sit and enjoy their meals, winding down the day in a soulful ambiance. Sanchez reminisced old stories from his time in acoustic band Big Town Playboys; mid-set, he declared he was there for the people and encouraged requests, leading to a unique performance of Chuck Berry’s Route 66, and producing a change of pace in the nevertheless entertaining afternoon.
West End Foyer
Attractive basement bar West Arena Foyer had a relaxed atmosphere – the ideal hub for Mitch Laddie. The audience reacted early to the John Mayer Trio-meets-Jimmy Hendrix-through-Walter Trout style by consuming Laddie’s free CD offerings within the first two minutes of the set. As purple shadows beautifully mirrored the band’s movements, Laddie quizzed the audience’s musical knowledge in a fun montage featuring The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black. Laddie inhabited the soul of the blues as he performed and explained the lyrical significance of Gaye’s Inner City Blues – a song that clearly meant a lot to him: “It’s as important today as it was then. Unless you have money, it’s a struggle.”
Passion was also evident in the two succeeding acts, which both possessed exhausting songstresses. Becky Tate of BabaJack had red hair, free-spirited movements and bongo-tapping that recalled Florence Welch, but the music was raw, roots-orientated and had the spirit of Jefferson Airplane. Unfortunately for Tate, her voice fell foul to the common cold, hampering her performance.
Sparkly diva Koko Jean Davis ensured that her soul and funk band, The Excitements, lived up to their name as not only her audience, but also her 60s-style orchestra succumbed to her will. After introducing a dance-move called The Fishing Rope, her body actions became more important than her Gladys Knight vocals. Her electrifying stage presence began by mimicking Janelle Monae, before turning provocative when she started twerking and kicking at the crowd. Her powerful attitude and opinions on the mishaps of the male species were equally memorable.
Three floors up at the Coda Room, singer and television presenter Paul Jones and London broadcaster Robert Elms separately attempted to decode young blues artists. Jones interviewed 24-year-old Mitch Laddie fresh from the stage about the difficulties of musicians in North East England, while Robert Elm’s interview with Marcus Bonafanti was lighthearted and conversational with a shared love for the same musicians.
Fresh new blues-babies will be added to an array of music libraries this evening because Day Four at BluesFest proved the genre remains in good hands.
Keir Smith and Matt Taylor Hobbs
Photos: Rebecca Price
BluesFest is at the Royal Albert Hall until 31st October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.