The very last British Rock & Blues Festival took place at Skegness Butlin’s over the weekend of 13th – 15th January for a very emotional crowd. Sunday was the last day of a weekend that had brought together a few thousand blues and rock fans from around the UK, just once a year in January, but for a quarter of a century.
Rock & Blues Festival – Skegness – 13th – 16th January
Words and Photography: Sally Newhouse
To read the full weekend coverage, visit https://www.metaltalk.net/tag/rock-blues-festival.
Sunday, 15 January 2023
Sunday kicked off with Blue Nation on Centre Stage, but more about them later. Giles Robson with Dino Baptiste are the perfect blend of blues talent to grace Reds, Giles being the internationally acclaimed blues harmonica player and Blues Foundation Music Award Winner of 2019, and Dino Baptiste, a professional pianist/keyboardist/vocalist in demand for all things related to blues and boogie-woogie.
The highlight of their set was the world premiere of The Butlin’s Boogie, written by Giles. The perfect song to wake the audience up on a Sunday. I’m so glad I was there to capture the song on video.
Sad Café, the reformed smooth rock band with sax solos courtesy of Neil Shaw-Hulme, includes the energetic and charismatic vocalist Barry James Thomas alongside the band’s long-time bassist Des Tong. Hearing the 1979 number-three hit Every Day Hurts live in Centre Stage was magical.
They also delighted the crowd with Strange Little Girl and My Oh My. Another pleasurable tick off the bucket list for me. Watch Every Day Hurts here:
The highlight for many on Sunday afternoon was The Chicago Blues Legends, who played in Reds. There was nothing but high praise after the band’s performance, which included legends Billy Branch on harmonica, John Primer on guitar, and young frontman Jamiah Rogers, whose talent will ensure the blues scene is kept alive for future generations.
I bumped into the guys backstage, and they were in high spirits after such a warm reception, relaxing and having fun.
Sunday evening over in Reds saw three blues gems and a taste of the deep south, featuring 83-year-old Lil’ Jimmy Reed, the last of the Louisiana bluesmen, and highly respected English-born pianist, ‘boogie-woogie’ man Bob Hall with his wife Hilary Blythe on bass.
Following Lil’ Jimmy was a real surprise with the extremely entertaining, swinging rock & rollers King Pleasure And The Biscuit Boys, who played classics such as Shake, Rattle & Roll and got everyone on their feet.
The Middlenight Men were the last band on Centre Stage on Sunday night and had a polarised reaction, as maybe an odd choice for a pop-rock punky-sounding band to close the weekend. Those who stayed partied along with the theatrical 8-piece to way past middlenight.
Their energetic performance of rock, roll and comedy features a stellar line-up, including frontman Nick Hughes of Terrorvision and drummer Leon Cave of Status Quo. They smashed their way through an hour-long set of original songs, including Rat Star, Heroine Heights and the very catchy B.A. Baby.
(This is a band I’d recommend checking out on YouTube for some really witty ’00s MTV-style music videos.)
Hot Shots – The Highlights
For those who wanted a more intimate atmosphere, Hot Shots was the place to be, with tables cleared from the front providing a dance floor for the weekend.
All the artists who played there have made appearances on the larger stages in the past; or were certainly worthy of playing them. This smaller venue was pretty rammed all weekend, and at times, with no photo pit, I couldn’t get near the front with the cameras.
Shoutouts must go to The Mighty Bosscats, who certainly played a mighty set on Friday night, a new band to me. I particularly loved the slightly gravelly vocal tone of singer/guitarist Richard Townend.
And to The Terraplanes Blues Band for a lively bluesy set on Saturday. It was hard to take my eyes off skilful harmonica player Eduardo Allen.
The biggest shout-out of the weekend must go to Blue Nation. Winners as a duo on the Introducing Stage last year on Sunday, they returned as a three-piece this year to a packed house. Not only a talented band, three lovely lads too who said they were “just ordinary lads from Birmingham” and felt so honoured to be back to play the main stage in front of more than a thousand people.
The standout song was Echoes:
The boys spoke to the audience at the end of the song about mental health, not just how important it is to talk to someone if you are suffering, but how we can better look out for the people around us too. They told us to go to their merch stall where they had a bucket and would rather people throw in a few quid for The Samaritans than buy their merch, something they do at every gig. At Butlin’s, they raised a staggering £201.49!
“The inspiration for Echoes came from the loss of a family member,” singer Neil told me later. “Anyone can relate to the song, though, as it could be any kind of loss, be it a partner, a pet or a family member. The feeling of grief when something is missing in your life, and it will never come back.
“When you are going through that transition in life, all you have to hang onto are the memories or the echoes of that person. Ultimately it will be ok, and you heal and learn to cope with the loss, but it is about the journey we all take and try to navigate. We have all lost someone we love, and Echoes was written to remind you of that person. Life is very much like an echo. What you put in the world comes back to you if you believe in it.”
If you would like to donate to The Samaritans, please use the quote ‘Stream’, and the donation will link back to Blue Nation. Thank you in advance on their behalf. https://www.samaritans.org/.
Many have emailed Butlin’s HQ to express their feelings of genuine, utter dismay that the festival will not happen in 2024, but ultimately Butlin’s is a business, and profit margins for live music are tighter every year.
There will be different kinds of weekends on offer, such as Back To The 2000s, garage weekends, and dance music festivals like We Love Ibiza, but clearly appealing to a different market.
But Butlin’s Great British Rock & Blues Festival has been about more than just the music for a long time now.
We travelled through blizzards to get there by 4 pm on a Friday afternoon to spend every minute we could with our fellow festival goers. We fed the ducks, we lost a few coins in the amusement arcades, and we got lost trying to find our apartments in the dark.
We made friends who will be friends for life. Some of us even got engaged (on stage, in front of a thousand people, thank goodness she said yes – heartfelt congratulations to Carlos and Fran!).
Though most of us need a few days off work to recover from such a brilliant time, when Butlin’s can bring our festival back to brighten up the long winter nights in January, we will definitely do it all again.
More videos from the weekend can be found on Punkrocksal’s Youtube playlist.
Artists who appeared over the weekend, in no particular order:
The Chicago Blues Legends,
Ten Years After,
Gerry McAvoy’s Band of Friends,
Alvin Youngblood Hart’s Muscle Theory,
Full House (Frankie Millers Band),
The Verity Bromham Band,
Animals And Friends,
The Steve Gibbons Band,
Climax Blues Band,
Rhino’s Revenge (John Rhino Edwards),
Willie and the Bandits,
King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys,
Malone Sibun Band,
Miguel Montalban and the Southern Vultures,
Andy Taylor Group,
The Middlenight Men,
The Milk Men,
Tom Kilner Band.
Liam Ward Band,
Vincent Flatts Final Drive,
Ashley Sherlock Band,
Jimmy Regal and the Royals,
Fargo Railroad Co,
Andy Grant Band,
Eddy Smith and the 507,
Jamie Porter Band,
Five Points Gang,
Last Year’s Winners playing The Main Stage:
Friday: Ramblin’ Preachers,
Saturday: Brave Rival,
Sunday: Blue Nation.
Blues Matters Stage:
D C Blues Band,
The Jam Session,
Alex Fawcett Band,
Terraplanes Blues Band,
Ritchie Dave Porter & Debra Susan,
Ash Wilson Band,