THE LERWICK Legion seemed to be at the very heart of the Shetland Blues Festival on Saturday night. A large crowd gathered early to see the four acts advertised, and they were not to be disappointed by the quality and professionalism of all the performers.
Cherry Lee Mewis is 23 years old, five foot nothing, but has a voice that belies her diminuitive size. Gutsy and definitely bluesy, there is no other way to describe it, as she began her set with a great rendition of Cherry Wine. She did real justice to well known tracks such as Shame, Shame, Shame and Lord Wont You Buy Me (a Mercedes Benz) ably backed by guitarist Max Milligan who has worked with Cherry on several of her own compositions including Ugly Night, which features on her new album Little Girl Blue.
Cherry played the audience well, bantering between tracks and giving an adapted version of Memphis Nights which became Shetland Nights. She admitted that her blues influences came from old and new sources and there was evidence of Norah Jones sitting alongside much older blues artists such as Robert Johnson. Cherry has been described as the “real deal” in bringing a new and fresh approach to blues music in the UK.
She rounded off her set by giving an excellent reprise of Cherry Wine, so that the act came full circle. I think the blues circuit in the UK and further afield will be hearing much more of her.
I felt a bit sorry for Steve Phillips as he began his acoustic set. He struggled to make himself heard above a noisy audience who seemed much more intent on chatting than listening to a blues artist who really does deserve a lot more appreciation if one realises his musical roots.
Phillips is an internationally acclaimed blues guitarist and singer. Self taught, he began his career with The Nottinghillbillies whose line-up included Dire Straits leader Mark Knopfler. The two remained friends and it is Phillips’ National guitar which is featured in the photograph on the Dire Straits album Brothers in Arms.
On Saturday Phillips played blues music at its raw and stripped back best. There were no airs and graces as he played a set that included Down to the Delta and Will the Circle be Unbroken? The guitar playing was faultless throughout and this was a set that you just needed to sit back and listen to. If only the audience had just done that. I felt they missed out.
Local band Jamieson’s Big Pockets really got the audience up on the floor with their blues/rock sound. They launched straight into a very energetic set that included fast-paced and lively versions of Bad Moon Rising and a raucous cover of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. This was an interesting rendition performed well without the trademark keyboards of the original version. The audience were certainly enjoying themsleves, up on the floor dancing for every track with many of them staying up to dance as one track led seamlessy into another.
Paul Lamb and the Kingsnakes were determined to make a good impression on the audience. Their set began quite slowly with little clue as to what to expect later on. Lamb held the title of best UK blues instrumentalist for his harmonica palying for six years running. He has represented the UK in the world harmonica championships on several ocassions.
At the Legion the only words I can come up with to describe Lamb’s harmonica sound are outstanding and amazing.
Many of the tracks featured on Saturday were the band’s own compositions taken from their back catalogue of albums spanning several years, going as far back as the early 90s.
While talented vocalist and lead guitarist Chad Strentz sang the lyrics for songs such as Midnight Hour the whole show was taken over by Lamb’s harmonica playing. At one point he left the stage and moved around the entire venue, jamming on the harmonica with a radio mike. This was a jaw dropping performance within a performance, incredible stuff and you could only wonder how he managed to find so much breath to keep playing like that for over 10 minutes. It was an excellent finale to a really good night out.