After much anticipation the festival weekend had finally arrived. With events commencing in four seperate venues, I chose the youngest band of all, The Other Guys, formed by pupils of the local Wallace Hall Academy. Featuring the twin guitars of Ben Lord and Jack Gordon and charismatic frontman Rory Crawford, their set commenced with ‘Molly’s Chamber’ by Kings of Leon before ‘Seven Nation Army’ to delight their young following before some of the older clientele raised a smile to their funky version of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Who Knows’.
A measure of how the festival had engaged the town was in evidence in the Buccleuch Hotel where an upstairs bar had been opened for the first time in five years to accommodate the live music. First up was a band with big personalities, Sinister Footwear, boasting three members of the festival committee, Chris Lord on guitar, Patrick Keppens on drums and Bob Clements on bongos, harp and vibes. This was a good natured show of covers including ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Hound Dog’ with Lord self-deprecating humour apparent. The pick of their songs was their bluesy take on ‘Come Together’. A last minute addition was ‘blues busker’ Phil Saunders from Penrith, who demonstrated his talents at playing guitar and harp simultaneously with original material such as ‘Toe The Line’ and an entertaining medley of Little Walter and Bo Diddley. Meanwhile Baby Isaac were in mid flow and attracted a group of dancers to their 1950’s style Chicago and West Coast Swing. Fronted by the charismatic Angela Moore with Gary Arnott on harp they were one of the most entertaining bands of the weekend, with upbeat songs like ‘Back To The Track’ and ‘You Got What It Takes’ before the reflective ‘I Cried Last Night’.
In contrast, at the Thornhill Inn, Bad Reputation’s approach was to play blues influenced hard rock, so there was plenty of early Whitesnake, AC/DC and Thin Lizzie to keep the crows rocking. They were followed by The Cats, featuring Andy McMillan on double bass and vocals, Fraser Graham on Gretch guitar and Sandy Sweetman on drums. They collectively brought the roll back into rock and roll in two relentless hours, with material ranging from ‘Mystery Train’ to Van Morrison’s ‘Gloria’ to ‘Peter Gunn’. Their performance showed why they’ve been chosen to play the Colne British Stage this year with notable highlights being Johnny Burnett’s ‘Tear It Up’ and their self-penned ‘I Just Got Paid’. The evening ended with hazy memories of the open mic evening at the Elmarglen Hotel.
Despite their 1pm Saturday kick off, The Yahs soon had recruited a large crowd to their brand of funky blues. From opening song, ‘Walking The Dog’ it was clear they have a confident frontman in Grant Dinwiddie who adeptly handled material from Muddy Waters and Led Zeppelin alike. David Bass provided the fluid guitar licks before vocals on ‘Fulson Prison Blues’ where Dinwiddie impressively played the accordion. Elsewhere Sandy Tweeddale performed a selection of ragtime blues, before being joined by Blues’n'Trouble frontman Tim Elliot for several tracks including ‘The Wrong Woman’ and ‘The Train Comes Along’. Dave Arcari had been watching before starting his own show with ‘Dreamt I Was 100′ in the hot and crowded Elmarglen. His spirited take of ‘Soul Of A Man’ was to follow before ‘Devil’s Left Hand’. There was less space than usual for him to jump around, but those watching at the window were grateful for his turn to play before them.
The start of the main event was approaching, so there was just time to catch a couple of songs from Maryport Battle of the Bands winner Balmoral Road. Although not wholly a blues band, Tom Salmon was playing some tasty guitar licks while Emma Dockeray displayed a very impressive vocal performance. There was just enough time to see The Wise Guys perform their strut ‘Same Old Blues’ before heading over to the main event.
Taking place in the Bailey Hall within the recently built Wallace Hall Academy, the main event started with Chantel McGregor. Having just released her debut album, McGregor had pleasingly included a large number to her repertoire which she played with clear enjoyment, such as ‘Freefalling’ and the straight up rock of ‘Caught Out’. A sublime version of ‘Sloe Gin’ followed before ‘Had to Cry Again’ which featured some particularly stunning guitar work. Edinburgh veterans Blues’n'Trouble then performed an upbeat show. Guitarist Mike Parks provided some tasty slide guitar to ‘Cherry Peaches’, yet the focal point as ever was Tim Elliot whose harp playing was as inspirational as ever on ‘Why, Why, Why’ and the country boogie ‘Travelling Light’. An outing of the song from which the band takes their name capped one of their finest performances in recent years.
Meanwhile back in the Buccleuch, The Seventh Sons were also pleasing the punters with a brace of Howlin Wolf covers before an upbeat version of Dr Feelgood’s ‘Going Back Home’. The main event was reaching its peak audience size as Oli Brown took to the stage. ‘Evil Soul’ is one of his faster paced songs, yet the crowd were also treated to the as yet unrecorded shuffle, Mr Wilson. Brown looked comfortable and expressive with the new rhythm section of drummer Wayne Proctor and bassist Ron Sayer, both who were given a solo, yet Brown’s own performance on the accoustic ‘Complicated’ was the highlight.
Across at the Thornhill Inn, there was a triumphant return for Corey Gibson, frontman of Earl Grey & The Loose Leaves, as his band confirmed their tag as one of the best young Scottish blues bands with a powerful performance. It commenced with a vamped up interpretation of the Luisiana Red classic ‘Alabama Train’ before ‘Rose Painted Bureau’. The wealth of talent on show at the festival climax also included Jon Amor in a solo setting, the Peter Green inspired blues of The Deluxe and one man blues band Mike Whellans who channelled a notable performance of Keb Mo’s ‘Am I Wrong’. With large attendances at the pubs, it meant there was still standing room at the Bailley Hall as Aynsley Lister took to the stage. With an able deputy keyboard player Reuben, his band performed much of his latest release “The Tower Sessions” along with the welcome edition of the hard edged ‘Big Sleep’. His melodic brand of blues rock found favour with the crowd whom relished his performance as festival highlight. The icing on the cake was the return of Chantel McGregor to the stage to join him for a playful boogie through ‘Sugar’ before whipping up the crowd on closing encore ‘Hush’. All in all, this was a very successful event which indicates Thornhill Blues will be a regular addition to the festival calendar.