Thursday, May 01, 2008











The 19th annual Byron Bay Bluesfest was held at Bilongal Fields. A definite venue improvement, being about five times the acreage of Red Devil Park. Each area self contained with foodstalls, bars and toilets. No leakage of sound, there was space to relax and a pleasant walk between venues. The photo shows Len swamped once again by local beauties who appeared to enjoy the company of the urbane gent in the jaunty panama.

Many more super photos of the Bluesfest can be found at my Picasa site http://picasaweb.google.com/barry.mcgloin

The Weather. What? No rain apart from one morning at 07:00 when it fell in torrents as we headed for the showers, beautiful to experience but following that... just sunshine, warm balmy ocean embalming sea spray days.

During this year of the drought The Len had turned his attention to upgrading our mobility, sleepability and cookability, which had bugger all to to with the drought but this Vision had brought forth pushbikes, camp beds and a portable burner and frying pan. Wow, Len and I we were mobile, we could sleep well and eat well. Thank you Len, we said. Just 5 minutes into town zooming along the bike path, dive into the ocean to catch a wave or two, then up to the splendid beachfront cafe for a blues brekkie of the Full Goriller for Len, eggs Benny with salmon or the Turkish brekkie for me, the morning newspapers and chai tea to accommodate the Indian within. Om. Alternatively we could cycle back to the tent for the big fryup of eggs, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and the gourmet sausage. Then maybe back into town to place a bet or two on the gee gees, if one was thus inclined. Where? The Great Northern of course, where one could sup on a Guinness, Coopers or any exotic variety of uplifting liquid to inspire your choice of losing nag. And mate, was Len inspired.

Our fellow Bluester Paddy could only make it for the final day this year, the big fella was crook following his NZ cricket tour and St Pat’s Day. He was debilitated but dogged, off the booze and loping through the dry Monday like an Irish setter chasing shadows.



The Music.
It was impossible to see all acts, so the strategy was to see those we had both picked. Mostly this worked, although somehow Len missed Hat Fitz but that was down to some confusion over the venue, and if you go to the wrong venue it can be a long trot to the right one....so you may as well stay where you are. As Len points out below, there were approximately 120 acts, and unless you can clone yourself you can only see (and give yourself enough time to enjoy) about one fifth of what is available.

Acts that could have been? Well where was C.W. Stoneking (with his band)? Where were the Kings of Leon? Where was Tinariwen, Salif Keita, Ska Cubano, Detroit Cobras, Dropkick Murphys, Natasha Atlas, Neville Bros, Susheela Raman, The Pogues, Hazmut Modine, Legendary Shack Shakers, Artic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, C C Adcock, Little Richard, Keef, Ronnie, Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Chisel, Oils....... Buddy Holly?? Well.....all right, we did fine.


The notes below are my assessments in order of preference of those we saw.....well Len didn’t see Hat as mentioned, because he became disoriented in a bar...... These are followed by Len’s ratings which have been calculated using The Len Rating Scale, his sure fire method which nails a performance into it’s appointed spot.



Hat Fitz & Itchy The Juke Joint was chokers with about half the outside area also full. The atmosphere was hot, sweaty and intense as The Hat and Itchy seared the air with their intense, manic performance. It was unbelievable, such rhythmic power, the audience jumping and clapping, this was the G spot of rock, the absolute essence. It was as close as you might dare to imagine Son House, Charlie Patton or Robert Johnson in a 1930s juke joint. Unlike US roots performer Seasick Steve, Hat doesn’t spice up the show with patter, in fact in a rare moment of soul searching he commented “Errr, you might notice that I don’t talk as much as some…… that’s because I’ve got nothin’ intelligent to say…..”


Guy Davis. We were drawn to Guy’s two performances - I'd caught him two weeks previously in Canberra, an excellent guitarist, banjo and harmonica player and vocalist – and mostly his own material – such a fabulous entertainer using his acting skills well. Much sexual metaphor, double entendre, which is traditionally part of the genre plus Guy’s added mannerisms and facial expressions made for very entertaining performances. I wondered though whether such caricature bothered such a proud intelligent man.

Collard Greens and Gravy These guys are at the roots end of the scale, like Hat and Guy, the soul of this festival for me. This is real music - no frills, swamp boogie and deep blues played with consummate art and conviction. Ian Collard is a virtuoso harp player with Shortie Shortte a fine drummer and James Bridges an excellent understated guitarist.

Kate Miller-Heidke I had no idea or expectation here. Wow!! I was mesmerised. This girl abounds in talent with her operatic voice and spiky wit, supported by a top band. They covered the John Farnham OZ hit ‘You’re The voice’ and knocked us out, I couldn’t believe the arrangement - it was sooooo good. The audience went bananas.

The Lost Dogs.


The open warm personality of Kasey Chambers, here in The Lost Dogs linking her musicianship with husband Shane Nicholson and her father, Bill Chambers. This was quite a surprise, these blue ribbon country musicians doing choice covers like they're sitting on a verandah; 'Dirt Music' in the words of Tim Winton, relaxed and rich. The Tom Waits song 'Big in Japan' was superb.

Seasick Steve US entertainer Seasick Steve is a big character, slugging from his “stage prop” his earthy amusing patter kept the crowd enthralled in fact word must have got around because the second performance was chokers. Similar in the style of Hat Fitz ie early country blues though not quite as manic



Sinead O’Connor the beautiful bald bold banshee from Ballytown graced the stage and boy can she sing. Mother of four ( maybe another on the way?) she took us through her mighty repertoire including three fab new songs from Theology. The only song which didn’t come off for me was Mandingo from The Lion & The Cobra (her great first album). It was a treat to see this artist in action.


Ruthie Foster another gutsy female with lots of presence. Ruthie sang her heart out, blues and gospel, the crowd loved her as did Len and I.

Damien Dempsey supporting Sinead on her tour the ‘security guard’ from North Dublin was surprisingly good, he reminded me of a young Christy Moore. Like Moore he’s political, passionate and writes good material (the first we’d heard of him, very impressive). The Irish contingent in the audience proudly displayed the Irish flag and were yelling encouragement and for favourites – great to see!!

John Fogerty the star of the festival for most. The old Foggo didn’t let us down, apart from one number where his guitar was either out of tune, or someone was playing in the wrong key. He trotted out all hits together with equally good numbers from the new album. Best for me was Centrefields’ Old Man Down The Road. I would have loved Susie Q backed by Spell on You, as he performed them on the live CD ‘Premonition’, and Run Through the Jungle’ but ya can’t have everything. He gave the crowd more than their money’s worth

John Hiatt won best dressed award of the Bluesfest, you’d reckon such a good songwriter could afford at least a Fogerty checked shirt !!

John Hammond a legend with an impeccable line coming straight from Robert Johnson, through Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Ry Cooder, this man is a consummate performer. His last CD 'Push Comes to Shove' is so good - on a par with 'Wicked Grin' and I would have loved to see him perform with the band but he does it so well solo.




GOCOO & GoRo very entertaining Japanese percussion, flute, synth

Loudon Wainwright 111 a feisty performer, you wouldn’t want to be the sound guy, imperious and arrogant yet he puts out great songs. His daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche joined him for two songs, also a fine voice in the family tradition – Martha Wainwright was superb last year – refer my review.

Boyes,Brill & Dellgrosso I caught about 15 minutes – you can’t see everyone - but what I did see and hear was damned fine. Rodrigo and Gabriela as usual astounded their audience.

John Cleary & the Abbsolute Monster Gentlemen from N’Awlins, very funky with Cleary doing a wonderful ‘Tipitina’

Jools Holland & Orchestra you don’t get to hear jump blues often - great to hear this big band swing, albeit for 20 minutes...

Wilco are a top favourite of Len, they didn’t twiddle my knobs much at all. Admittedly the band took off a couple of times with their impressive, albeit ostentatious lead guitarist

Ray Davies the Absolute Lege. I’m a huge Kinks fan, love their stuff, but I caught Ray after Hat’s superb gig, and here was the old trouper doing a karaoke ‘Lola’ which I assumed was his last number, and he was struggling with staying in tune I thought, like the disappointing Royal performance of a couple of years back, so being fatigued from the day's doings we walked back to the tent…. and heard him belt out all the old favourites, sounding spot on....should have stayed

Mamadou Diabate was entrancing on the kora. Yunasi, The Cat Empire, The Audreys, Charlie Muswellwhite and Jeff Lang were all good. The Cruel Sea were also good, but I was expecting much more, and Don MacLean, well…….. not really a disappointment because I wasn’t expecting much although I saw Don perform a free concert in Hyde Park, London in 1974 and he was good back then and the park was packed, but now he’s somewhat Las Vegas, although I was pleased that he started with a couple of Buddy Holly songs.

Len's Picks

Bazza ok, I have reviewed my scratch ratings from the worn schedules I kept, given it some more thought, rapped it around a rating scale and here is the result; ratings for all Artists seen in entirety:
Sinead O'Connor 10.00 John Fogerty 9.95 Wilco 9.90 John Hiatt 9.85
Collard Greens & Gravy 9.80 Ruthie Foster 9.75 The Lost Dogs 9.70
Damien Dempsey 9.65 Guy Davis 9.60 Seasick Steve 9.55 Rodrigo y Gabriela 9.50
GOCOO + GoRo 9.45 Jeff Martin 9.40 Loudon Wainwright III 9.35 Jon Cleary 9.30
Ray Davies 9.25 John Hammond 9.20 Mamadou Diabate 9.15 Jools Holland & His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra 9.10 Jeff Lang 9.05 Charlie Musselwhite 9.00 Will Conner 8.50
Hollie Smith 8.00 The Cruel Sea 8.00 JJ Grey & Mofro 7.00 Don McLean 5.00

Unfortunately, I was only able to see about 25% in depth. There were about 120 acts over the 5 days and I saw the above 26 artists. I was able to see a couple of songs from about another 10 acts but not enough to rate them fairly.

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