Lori Williams reviews the blues on offer at Belladrum this year
Belladrum’s opening night is the calm before the storm, although in Thursday’s case the storm nearly ended play before it had even begun. Advertised as beginning at 4 pm, the Potting Shed Stage was unable to open until much later thanks to its open aspect and heavy downpours proving a dangerous combination for musicians and electrical equipment. Undaunted, sound engineer Isaac Sutherland promised music as soon as it was safe for all. Deciding to wait it out in the dry, I retreated to the campsite.
With a clear break in the rain a few hours later, I headed back to the festival. 200 metres from the entrance the sound travelling on the night air changed from the pounding beat of the Jimmy Shandwick Experience to the dulcet tones of Emma Shearer on vocals for the Strathpeffer Coffee Shop Blues Review. Emma was joined by Tony Wallis on Sax, Matt Sillars on lead guitar and Neal Kinghorn on bass guitar. The Blues Review worked well and provided a more soulful alternative to the louder Grassroots Stage. Featuring newly written songs such as ‘Belladrum’ and old favourites like ‘Who Do You Love’ sung by Matt Sillars. The group played a short but enjoyable set and t was obvious throughout that the artists were enjoying themselves. The small audience certainly were, dancing happily around a few chairs erected in front of the stage. Unusually, the stage was nearly in complete darkness – with just a few coloured spots to illuminate the performers. Perhaps a combination of the late start and the rain meant the lighting hadn’t originally been needed or was too dangerous. . With better weather and better lighting the stage would have attracted more people. Unfortunate really, the artists had obviously worked hard to provide a good show and the performance deserved to be seen by more people.
An additional set by the All Star Blues Review, at noon on Friday, was smiled upon by the weather gods, and was much better attended. Tony Wallis began the set with a very personal song entitled ‘I Just Want to Be Here’, written about his desire to live in the moment rather than hectic life his work requires. Matt Sillars followed with a bluesy rendition of his ‘As Beautiful as Me’ featuring a nice guitar solo. Emma Shearer’s first song was the self-penned ‘Blondie Blues’ sung with beautiful clear vocals and Neal Kinghorn then left the audience wanting more with his composition ‘Wrecked on the Rocks’, sung in his distinctive, gravelly voice. The first half ended with Gilbert Anderson’s signature version of ‘Five and Dime.’ Delayed by about 5 minutes due to a guitar problem, the wait was worth it, as Gilbert’s vocals and guitar picking are sublime.
The second half of the Potting Shed’s opening showcase featured a mix of covers and originals. Tony performed Steve Earle’s ‘My Old Friend the Blues,’ sung with great depth of feeling – you felt he had experienced those lyrics himself. Matt chose one of his new songs, co-written with Ewen and Claire Campbell of the Black Rock Ceilidh Band, for his second offering. ‘Im So Glad I Caught Your Eye’ was written to include fiddle accompaniment but Matt’s banter with the audience filled the gaps left for Claire’s fiddle, and an impromptu alien appearance also became fodder for his jokes.
Emma’s classic ‘I Think Youre Mad’ suffered from mic fade but was sung beautifully. Neal also chose a self-penned song, ‘Sunday Street’. Intricate finger picking is a speciality of Neal’s and the finale of this song revealed to the crowd just how good he is. Gilbert Anderson saved his favourite song for the finale. ‘Reuben James’, as made famous by Kenny Rogers, is a Gil speciality and Belladrum’s performance showed the reason Gil is such a highly respected musician.
Rounding off a set showcasing a number of different formats that are all collectively ‘The Blues’ the group finished off in the tradition of the Strathpeffer Coffee Shop Sessions. Emma led a stonking blues jam with improvised vocals and all the musicians joining in as and when. It was an fitting closing performance for the Potting Shed All Stars and a great way to kick off the first full day of music at the 2011 Belladrum Festival.
By Lori Williams