Over the August Bank Holiday weekend, music fans descended upon the quaint Lancashire town of Colne for the annual Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival. 

Colne itself has an interesting musical heritage pre-dating long before the festival. One of the town’s most celebrated sons Wallace Hartley was famously the band leader on board the RMS Titanic. Hartley along with his musical counterparts heroically played on to passengers as the tragic ship went down in 1912. A monument to the great man himself now stands proudly just a stone’s throw away from The Muni; a stunning Edwardian theatre and the location of one of the three main stages of the festival.

The legend of Hartley also recently inspired blues man Joe Bonamassa to pen a song about him on the forthcoming Black Country Communion album BCCIV.

Over the course of the three-day event, The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival took over the Albert Road area of town, with in excess of 100 artists performing throughout Colne’s many theatres, bars and restaurants. The streets were lined with revellers who basked in the glorious sunshine whilst festival goers scurried between the many venues hosting live music. A whole raft of buskers and street entertainers played to the passersby.

Now under new management and supported by Colne Town Council, The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival provided a comprehensive and diverse programme of live music that encompassed and supported both grass roots artists as well as established international acts from across the whole spectrum of blues, soul and roots music. There really was something there for everyone.

Currently flying the flag high for British blues Joanne Shaw Taylor did not disappoint on the opening night of the festival. This being Joanne’s first appearance at the festival in almost 15 years, she quipped about having to bunk off school the last time she played here. Performing in front of a full house at The Muni, Taylor delivered a set which centred around her latest album Wild with the likes of the hard rocking “Dyin’ To Know”, the heartfelt “No Reason To Stay” and the David Bowie inspired “Wild Is The Wind” all featuring.

Earlier in the evening, Stevie Nimmo proved to be a firm favourite. This festival is very close to the hearts of the blues community, Nimmo acknowledged this stating how Colne has been a solid fixture in his calendar for many years and how he hoped for it to continue for many years to come. Stevie’s set highlighted tracks from his latest album Sky Won’t Fall like the cheery “Lovin’ Might Do Us Good” as well as a spellbinding rendition of Big George’s “The Storm” and the rather apt Storyville number “It’s A Good Day For The Blues”. Nobody present was going to disagree with the sentiment of the latter.

Having recently featured on the latest Glenn Hughes’ album Resonate, Australian Hammond wizard Lachy Doley wowed the audience at The Hippodrome with his passionate playing and keyboard trickery, which was aided by his trusty Whammy Clavinet.

Jenna Hooson and Paddy Maguire lit up the stage on Saturday afternoon at The Hippodrome. From the opening notes of their up tempo interpretation of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Get It On” they quite literally blew the roof off the venue, the whole room up on their feet throughout, and their energy didn’t subside at any point in their set. The band featuring Jamie Mallendar on bass and Liam Gray on drums also went on to perform with several other artists over the course of the weekend including Tom McCartney and Clay Shelburn.

Saturday night was dedicated to the ladies of the blues with an incredible triple bill at The Muni. Northern Ireland’s multi award winning powerhouse vocalist Kaz Hawkins kicked off the proceedings and charmed the audience with her witty banter, huge vocal range and commanding stage presence during her rockabilly tinged set.

On the other hand, Jo Harman brought something a bit different to the proceedings with an up tempo genre-defying full band set that was oozing with soul, and interspersed with heartfelt ballads like the beautiful “This Is My Amnesty”. Harman’s rather funky rendition of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” most certainly got the dance floor moving.

Meanwhile, over at The Hippodrome British guitar virtuoso, Aynsley Lister delivered one of the standout sets of the festival to a packed out crowd of blues fans. Lister gave a display of guitar mastery that culminated in two encores, before closing out the night with a deeply emotive rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain”, which was enough to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

Following a street parade on Sunday afternoon, rising star of the British blues scene Elles Bailey delivered a lively set to an expectant crowd at The Muni. Much like Jo Harman the day prior Bailey brought something a bit different to the proceedings with her set of country soaked blues rock, which in places was interspersed with some beautiful keyboard based ballads. Elles prowled the edge of the stage as she engaged the audience throughout her rousing set. Bailey also paid homage to the greats with both a sensational cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Spoonful”, which she made her own as well as her tribute to Janis Joplin in the shape of her track “Girl That Owned the Blues”.

US based blues chanteuse Lisa Mills made her second appearance of the weekend on Sunday afternoon at The Muni. Lisa’s set centred around her deeply personal latest album Mama’s Juke Book with the likes of her acapella Gospel tinged take on Connie Smith’s “You And Your Sweet Love”, the beautiful “Here I Am Again” and the heartfelt “I Can’t Stop Loving You” all featuring. Lisa’s incredible voice filled the room throughout. Armed with her much celebrated Epiphone guitar ‘Evangeline’ Lisa Mills quite literally took Colne to church.

Over at the Little Theatre, Dave Acari closed out the acoustic stage with his distinctive brand of whisky fuelled punk and rockabilly tinged blues. Equipped with only his resonator and a trusty stomp box Acari thoroughly entertained the packed out crowd with his fuzz fuelled tracks and hilarious banter. Dave’s new album Live At Memorial Hall will be released at the start of September, he really has to be seen to be believed.

One of the surprise sets of the festival came from Texan blues guitar prodigy Clay Shelburn who made his UK debut this weekend. Shelburn made a name for himself recently after a video of himself performing Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” on a Walmart toy guitar went viral online and racked up over 7.5 million views on YouTube. Immediately from the off Clay grabbed the attention of the Hippodrome with his incredible cover of Gary Clark Jr’s “Bright Lights”. In that song Clark Jr repeats ‘You gonna know my name by the end of the night’, and on the strength of Clay’s Colne performance, he most definitely left his mark. Clay Shelburn is one to watch out for in the future for sure.

US based bluesman Lucky Peterson closed out the festival at The Muni. As a child star, Peterson was taken under the wing of the great Willie Dixon, and made his national television debut at the age of five with his track “1-2-3-4”. Peterson’s set was very much a soul and blues review which encompassed both his own material as well as songs from some of the greats. Lucky also took the opportunity to get up close and personal with the audience, taking a seat beside fans as he jammed out a few numbers on his guitar.

No matter where you went over the course of the weekend, the sounds and influence of blues greats like Freddie King, Albert King, Howlin’ Wolf and Robert Johnson were prominent. It is a testament to festivals such as this for providing a supportive environment for the legacy of these musical pioneers to live on. One thing the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival proved this weekend is that the spirit of the blues and the music of the Mississippi Delta is alive and well in the heart of Lancashire.

Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival
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Event Date: 25/26/27-Aug-2017