Swanage Blues

2004 March

5, 6 and 7 March 2004

Review courtesy of Blues Matters - by Diane 'Sister Feelgood'

I arrived later than I would have preferred. Got to deepest Dorset in the dark evening only making one wrong turning just outside Poole. Got to my digs that turned out to be lovely as I was a tad concerned as I have never been to the town before and was unsure of what standard of accommodation to expect. Lynne and Declan, my hosts, were delightful, helpful and considerate and not just to me. This was a family orientated hotel and that included family pets - so if you wanted to bring your Fido or Shep along you could - not forgetting the baby as they too were well catered for here.

I had not been to Swanage or its festival and, until meeting the Kent boys, Bob, Jeff. Mike and John at Upton-upon-Severn last year when they told me of its existence, I would never have known about it.

Looking at the programme I discover I know very few of the acts performing here! The events kick off on Friday at various locations (pubs and clubs) around the High Street and one other in Ulwell Road. Being on my own I opt to catch The Bob Hokum Band in the White Horse (11 High Street) as I need to get mobile very quickly and loosen up after a morning in work then a three and a half hour drive down - and I know that Bob and Co will serve up some concoction that will have me and my almost-at-a-standstill circulation pulsating and gyrating before long. On route to the White Horse I pass the White Swan (The Square on the High Street) where I meet the festival organiser Steve Darrington who gets me a programme of the weekend events. In the rear of the bar and up a couple of steps towards the games area are two lads who I later found out were Purbeck Slim and The Hat doing a sound check - a nice selection of acoustic blues albeit over in a trice as it was just a sound check.

I had a half of the local Brew - Ringwood Bitter and then head for the White Horse passing the Purbeck Hotel (19 High Street) where I read from my programme Steve Hill will be playing that evening some "finger picking acoustic ragtime” Reaching the White Horse I walk in and Bob is doing a sound check in the front bay window area of this largish pub/restaurant. “Hello Sweetie! What are you doing down here?” he asks over the live mic as I enter! Everyone stares at me! I walk over to the bar and ask for a pint of Ringwood bitter, take it up in a firm hand and down a good deal of it in one go - The festival is now open - you may begin! This they did about fifteen minutes later to my disappointment - it was after all nine thirty. Bob comes over to talk and tells me that this place has a late night licence and so they don’t start as early as the others. I get another pint in and they do start.

Slow and easy at first and steadily build up the rhythm and tempo not to mention volume. More people started to arrive and it began to fill up nicely. It was then Osbourne brother Melvyn entered along with his son-in-law and was as surprised to see me as I was him. What a nice surprise and bonus as he can boogie and so we did along with the rest of the crowd in the place - until way past midnight! Great atmosphere and some great strident vocals, mean and dirty Blues from Messrs Hokum and the band! Got back to my digs managing the steep hill without too much difficulty and fell into bed and slept like a log - the third and fourth pints of Ringwood’s doing the trick!

The next morning after a late breakfast I stroll down to the sea front and walk along ‘the beach (tide was out). Unlike its neighbouring resorts of Poole and Bournemouth, Swanage is smaller, less affluent and altogether less formal and nicer! I went through the shopping centre without buying a single item of clothing or jewellery but managed to spend nigh on £50 on books! “American Roots Music” was my first and most expensive purchase - the sleeve picture of a very young BB King catching my eye as soon as I went in. It is a hefty tome as is the second book The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. A charity shop produced the two other books - one being almost as beefy as the others and the fourth a normal paperback size volume. I am now looking for the fifth book to complete the set: The Arnold Swarzenegger Beginner’s Guide to Weight Lifting. I must also buy some gloves to protect my knuckles that now scrape the pavement as I slope along the High Street!

Saturday afternoon I find myself in the Kings Bar just off the High Street and waiting for the session of acoustic blues. I run into the Kent boys and catch up on things with them and theirs. Also take up a challenge and start on the guest ale for the day – “Fossil Fuel”. Mistake! I did enjoy the acoustic sets especially Tim Royce along with his upright bass player Reg Edwards. Their somewhat avant garde approach to their style of Blues was fresh and a welcome relief from the somewhat folk orientated blues that had preceded. Then there was Roy Mette - what a voice what a guitar!

These two acts raised the standard of playing to greater levels and were absolute joy! I had to compliment Mette as he really did strike a chord with us all and he is a nice hard working guy. The following band were local lads who did well and the local crowd seemed happy with them. I alas stood waiting for it to happen - you know that moment when the beat moves you and stirs you to some sort of action and you took around to see if others are getting the same reaction - but it did not come. After a few more numbers I thought “Nice regular Pub band” and that’s all! I went back to base and crashed out for awhile and flicked through some pages of the library I had just that morning purchased! Went for a nice meal at some sea food restaurant with the Kent boys and a few others who happened along. The meal went on a little longer than I would have liked and so I missed a few acoustic sessions that would have been nice to hear.

Seeing as Tim Royce had surprised and delighted us all that afternoon we opted to see him again in The Black Swan a little further down the High street. The Swan is on a steep rise away from the sea front and main shopping part of the town, It is small and ancient and disjointed but has bags of character and fairly full when we arrive. We cram into the back of the room near the small bar and I notice Spitfire on tap! Tim and Reg are playing “Red House” acoustic style and it sounded just great. So did everything else they did that night and I especially enjoyed their version of “On The Road Again”. More people came in after us as, like us, they had heard him in the afternoon and wanted more! More they got. I did not envy Reg as he had to drag that huge bass around the different pubs they had been booked into all weekend. But he was a strikingly strong handsome black guy with a super thumping touch to that bass - he could handle it.

Sunday morning I went for a walk to freshen myself and get myself back into the land of the living. The old Fossil Fuel was reeking havoc with my er - well less said the better! I walked up the hill and around the countryside park where I got to encompass the globe in 80 seconds flat - saw old quarrying works, so called castle and lighthouse in sunshine, rain, sleet and hailstones! British weather - never a dull moment. Back to the B&B before going down town for the last session of the weekend for me as I was leaving early as I wanted to get home while it was still light. I sat through some pleasant acoustic sets again and then came the band but after the class acts of Mette, Royce ‘n Edwards it was somewhat “flat” and so I ducked out, sad to leave the place as I had enjoyed myself there.

Swanage is a small seaside town and this was a small festival - its scale dictated by the budget - but this event could grow - the enthusiasm is there, so too the dedication of its organisers especially Steve Darrington. What they need is better named bands to attract the general Blues lovin’ types on a national rather than regional scale. To achieve this they need a massive injection of funding. Pub landlords have been tremendous in their support. Hoteliers and other businesses have also contributed. Organisers have planned, programmed and pleaded making it a success and, provided they want to expand the festival boundaries, it’s now time for the bigger sponsors to back this venture and put Swanage Blues Festival on the bigger ‘Blues Map’.