By NEIL RIDDELL
SHETLAND’S fifth annual blues festival takes place next weekend with another impressive-looking line-up of visiting artists set to play 14 shows in the space of 48 hours.
Gigs will take place in Lerwick, Scalloway, Sandwick, Hillswick, Yell, Whalsay and Brae on Friday and Saturday, before the festival draws to a close with a Sunday afternoon session in the Lounge with co-headliner Steve Philips – who is celebrating his 60th birthday this year and is back in the isles having previously performed at the first Shetland Blues Festival back in 2003 – and boogie woogie pianist Daniel Smith.
Headliners Paul Lamb and the King Snakes look set to be one of the real treats over the weekend, the London-based five-piece now including a vocalist, harmonica player and Lamb’s son Ryan on lead guitar.
Described by now-defunct music journal Melody Maker as sounding “as American and black … as white Brits dare” and hailed as “absolute dynamite” by The Times, Lamb’s band previously performed here back in 1999 at the Bressay Hall. Their current line-up is completed by drummer Sonny Below and bassist Rod Demick, with lead vocals and rhythm guitar coming from Chad Strentz, and the band will be performing at the Whalsay Boating Club and the Legion in Lerwick next weekend.
Lamb said: “The last time I played was in the 90s and had a lot more black hair and zap then! We have just been touring all over Europe to great crowds. As I said we played about 10 years ago to a very enthusiastic crowd and I hope for more of the same.” He added that the band had gained experience over the years and he thinks the audiences will be blown away by the Snakes’ “dynamic, entertaining performance”.
A newcomer to the British blues scene, the 5ft tall, 23-year-old North Wales singer Cherry Lee Mewis will be bringing her brand of unplugged, soulful blues north, playing three shows – including a free lunchtime performance at the Lounge next Saturday – to showcase songs from her debut album Little Girl Blue, released late last year.
The raw, husky-voiced Mewis recorded a mixture of forgotten and obscure blues tracks for the record and says she gets her kicks out of scratchy old vinyl, roaring vocals and battered old guitars.
“Many of the oldest blues records contain gritty, realistic lyrics, no censored versions,” she said. “I put my whole self into every single one of these tracks, I feel like I’m inside of them …”
She also plays Friday and Saturday night gigs, at the Norscot Angling Club and the Legion respectively, and said the six-piece group would be performing “raw, acoustic blues” with “stabs of rootsy jazz” thrown in.
“We all can’t wait to visit the Shetlands, one of the must-see places on some of our lists so to perform there is even better!” she said. “The crowd should expect the unexpected! We got a blues harp player, slide guitarist too so if you’re into your early delta blues, even if you ain’t and want to hear what it’s all about, let Cherry Lee Mewis aka Little Girl Blue, introduce the sound to you.”
Another new name for this year’s festival are the enticingly monikered Black River Bluesman and the Croaking Lizard. Hailing from the tiny town of Mustio in the far north of Finland, legend has it that the band “destroyed” the woods and mountains around the area to carve guitars, drums and harmonicas from whole ironwood trees with their bare hands, using John Henry’s 12-pound hammer to beat down the mountains for brass, silver and iron to fashion the rest of the parts they needed.
The group, who have been likened to the White Stripes and have been together for over a decade, seem to be especially excited at the prospect of coming to Shetland.
“Oh yes, we are very much looking forward to visiting your islands,” Jukka Juhola, guitarist and vocalist with the group, told The Shetland Times this week. “You know, we are country boys and live out in the woods in a remote country way up north. It is good to travel down south and see some civilization sometimes. On the other hand it is good that our gigs are in Brae and Mid Yell – in a big city the culture shock might be too big for us Arctic blues guys!
“No, but seriously, we have played a couple of times in Scotland, enjoyed it and it made us want to go further north – we really are excited about playing on Shetland, meeting the people and trying to understand the language. We hope your rough climate likes our rough blues and vice versa.”
Listening to the stripped-back punk sound and the harmonica-laden rhythms of their music on the band’s myspace page, the spectre of the likes of Nick Cave, Jim Morrison and Tom Waits is never too far away and their liquor-infused sound should go down a storm when they appear at the Mid Brae Inn on Friday and at Mid Yell the following evening.
Juhola added: “Our unrefined animal blues have been compared to the rough sounds of the Mississippi Hill Country artists … as well as psychoblues and garage. Anyway we hope that the crowd will notice and feel that we really enjoy playing and performing our original songs. No two gigs are alike; songs wind up different every time we play them, the songs lead the way and we try to follow. We like to take risks and have fun on stage.”
Also on the bill for next weekend’s blues extravaganza are funky soul outfit the Lyndon Anderson Band, Thurso 10-piece After Hours R’n’B Revue and the unplugged Hokum Hotshots. Local performers include the Gordon Tulloch Experience, the Vinyls, Donald Anderson Band and Jamieson’s Big Pockets.
The festival committee took delivery of a new double bass last week for this year’s festival and they have also announced a couple of changes to the original schedule. The Hokum Hotshots will now play a second gig on Friday at Norscot Angling Club, while the Rumshack Blues Band have pulled out of both of their billed appearances.
- The full line-up can be found on the official website at www.shetlandblues.info, where you can also get a flavour of what the weekend’s shows will sound like for yourself: as is customary for festivals these days, there are links to footage and recordings of all the visiting artists, as well as footage of the 2007 festival. Vice-chairman Jimmy Carlyle said sales were going well and that anyone who wants to buy tickets for any of the events can contact him on 07979 530005.