Happy, gentle and good natured, this is the way a festival should surely be. And you get a chance to sit down! The venue is airy, the travelling time between stages (Academy 1 and 2) is well judged and the bands generally run to time.
Arrived straight from a visit to Farnborough to see Jo Harman entice. Her music doesn’t really fit in here. Not that she’s listening. She delivered a soulful set reminiscent of Mollie Marriott and if MM is getting plaudits, JH must be there soon too.
Her band are tight and contains an electric joanna that’s allowed free rein, but her blistering but emotive pipes are the real draw. She doesn’t have a big stage act, she has modesty that’s refreshing and live she toughened up significantly from her last album, 2017’s ‘People We Become‘, a smouldering version of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, even if it’s full of solos, it gets the crowd bopping (OK, nodding) and when her hit, the very Steely Dan ‘ When We Were Young’ is rolled out, things are very fine. Jo Harman out of place? Almost out of this world.
And what can we say about Dan Baird? He is so delighted to be here, how can we not be delighted to see him? He’s smiling all over his face and attacks, it’s loud by God and he leaves a lot of shape throwing to his great guitarist Warner E Hodges who feels every note and throws that guitar around his head with impunity.
Dan is grizzled, the real deal, whiskey soused (a neat trick as he’s teetotal) and very, very loved, the crowd almost storming the front of the stage, enjoying his effortless cool and the shape of his music which is exactly right for this event. This is going so well that even a jam doesn’t cause lost impetus.
What a headliner. What a way to end the first day.
Eschewing the acoustic offers, 2.30 was a very civilised main stage opening for the becoming-massive Manchester maestros Gorilla Riot. What’s in a name? Well, you’d expect this lot to be bouncing off the walls rather than laying back with a Country inflection. And after a strangely low key start, their strategy becomes apparent, ease the Sunday morning crowd in as they get used to it.
It works. As they settle in and start to own it, the crowd swells and starts to shout. With there’s guitars, they make a righteous noise, mainman Arjun calm and poised, two fretboard fingerers Liam and Charley providing a lot of the energy, James a Bill Wyman Stone faced bassist at the back.
They do have a 70’s troubadour feel, the kind that Whiskey Myers show and tracks like ‘Bad Boy‘ are immediate and fun enough to make an instant impression. Despite a rather anaemia version of ‘Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be‘, this set was an unqualified success. A young band who can structure a set? Very nice. Gorilla Riot will surely be rising up the bill next time.
Only caught a little of Stonewire’s set, but Sky Hunter has a naughty twinkle and big voice that is hard to ignore, as they toughen up their sound but cleverly keep the soul. Had to go though…
…for Thirteen Stars. Housed in tiny Academy 2, this was something of a sell out. Of course, they are well known in the area now, although it was nice to hear that they were currently in the studio, as it’s been a lengthy hiatus since their last excellent ‘The White Raven‘ release.
Hoss Thompson continues to command. His talent clearly droves things, his acerbic wit allowing some gentle chat, he asks us if there are my Nile Rogers fans out there and when a few cheer, follows it up with ‘ok, just so I know…’
There’s a great sound, heavy but with nuance and as the groove rolls around, exactly right. And so ‘Razor’s Edge‘ races along, ‘Daddy’s Girl‘ has rather a sleazy feel and ‘Tired Of Waiting‘, the closest thing, Hoss accepts, they’ve been to a hit is wonderfully accessible. And a new song had great heft but an open classic rock vibe too; looking forward to that release immensely, breath has never been so hated. Thirteen Stars make music to love and gigs to wallow in; this was one of their best.
One of the best things about this fest is the variety. And so, from Nashville, Zack Logan, a fine Country singer with an acoustic, helped by a double bass and fiddle. Could have been boring, thanks to his storytelling and easy manner, it was refreshing. Particularly when he mentioned his pick up band and told us be was going to Germany the next day ‘to pick up 2 more guys’ before dissolving into giggles. Authentic, Mr L; hope we see him again soon.
Then I had to go. Didn’t want to. Had to. Sad to leave such a good atmosphere and that doesn’t happen often. Kudos to Claire Lloyd, her welcome is part of that atmosphere, a first time for HRH Country Rock Outlaw Western and Southern and surely not the last. Outlaws? If so, we’ve found a safe house.
Remedy Rating: 5/5 Perfect Patient