BluesFest 2014 at the Royal Albert Hall: day two with Big Boy Bloater, Marcus Bonfanti, Andy Fairweather and many more
Circumnavigating the main auditorium, Georgie Fame opened the show in the Elgar Room with his captivating brand of rhythm & blues and jazz. Thrilling the audience with his dazzling keyboard and vocals, Fame demonstrates why he’s been right up there with the best of them for 50 years.
Later on, there’s a queue. For good reason: Andrew Fairweather Low. The former tour mate of Eric Clapton had the largest crowd of the day under his charismatic spell from the opener. Indulging in frequent extended guitar solos, Fairweather Low, now in his 60s, yields to his loyal fan’s demands for a rendition of hit Gin House Blues, closing the show in style.
Next up, Jo Harman was voted 2014 female blues vocalist of the year, and wasted little time proving why she got the nod at the British Blues Awards this year. In bright red lipstick, and accompanied by an even brighter red piano, Harman’s entrancing smoky jazz styling, punctuated by passion filled dance moves, was nothing short of mesmerising.
There’s nothing quite like following your ear through the bowels of this iconic concert hall, navigating from stage
to stage, while absorbing the theatre’s illustrious history from the regular intervals of photography lining the grand hallways – particularly if it’s your first visit. 20 minutes and three flights of stairs later, Danny Toeman’s soulful funk was recognisably emanating from the Verdi kitchen. Toeman’s passionate and uplifting performance was contagious, and elicited a slightly frenzied reaction – at least for a Tuesday afternoon – from the audience.
Elvis once said “rhythm is something you have or don’t have, and if you have it, you have it all over.” This wholeheartedly applies to Mike Sanchez, who has it in spades. Bashing boogie-woogie from his piano, Sanchez’s energy and charm set him apart, from an all-round performance perspective.
Lastly, the Bad Apples, whose audience ranged from young kids to life-long fans, gave an informal and interactive performance, encouraging clap-a-longs and sharing regular jokes between catchy, high tempo numbers. Mick Moody on guitar stole the short show with a mind-blowing solo.
North Circle Bar
An essential mention must go to the young performer at Jason Rebello’s blues masterclass. Following a day’s instruction from the pianist, who toured with Sting in the 80s, Rebello warmly invited audience members to jam with his three-piece band. At no older that ten, the young lad belted out a remarkable rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way, much to the admiration of those left in attendance, but mainly to his tearful mum, who witnessed her son perform at the Royal Albert Hall.
West Arena Foyer
Though not the main arena of the Royal Albert Hall, this is the more casual and intimate room where the audience can stand and dance (and they did). All three acts in that one room today embodied three completely different styles. They all had beautifully soulful and deep, raspy voices but their music was all different.
First up, Dan Owen (Blues Boy Dan) blew the audience away with his voice. An exceptionally talented musician, looking a tad like Harry Styles and at only 21-years-old, one was not expecting a voice that sounded like he’s been smoking cigarettes for 50 years. It’s as deep as is probably physically possible, as well as embodying impressive control and range.
Big Boy Bloater, the second act to come on in the West Arena Foyer, was energetic throughout his set, full of electric guitar solos and the kind of songs in which the lyrics are indiscernible, but you’re having too much fun to care. The same went for Marcus Bonfanti, the final act. The sound was more rocky than the previous two: head-banging electric guitar solos played out beautifully with the lead singer’s full head of long hair, his strong voice shining through with soul.
This festival is fun for all ages, with the day ticket allowing you to move about. With the range of different styles and acts, it encompasses all tastes. Though this festival mainly attracts an older audience, seeing young children being introduced to this kind of music, and enjoying it, shows how timeless this genre can be.
Cassia Morrice and Marc Gatford
Photos: Irene de Marco
BluesFest is at the Royal Albert Hall until 31st October 2014, for further information or to book visit here.