Friday, May 18, 2012

Byron Bay Bluesfest 2012


The Big Chief, Pat's old mate
I must admit that I had misgivings about this year's Byron Bay Bluesfest. I thought the governors of the fest had taken the easy way and stayed with the tried and true. Len, Pat and I discussed this if memory serves me and we concluded just that. If I'm wrong correct me. My memory could be dodgy after the last 6 weeks.

Many of the major artists had performed in previous years – John Fogerty, Keb Mo, Steve Earle, Justin Townes Earle, Angelique Kidjo to name a few – and although their calibre cannot be denied I was somewhat disappointed by comparison to the previous year's superb line up. I was unable to attend the 2011 fest. I may have mentioned this. Such is the measure of my sacrifice to the missus. I did enjoy romping the hills and dales of Yorkshire, but Elvis (the true Elvis!) Costello, BB King, Ernest Ranglin, Dylan, Los Lobos, Toots, Tull, C.W., Irma Thomas, Mavis Staples...oh my aching conjones.

Regardless, we move on. Where was I? Oh yes, and YES, but we'll get to them later. Now, despite the apprehension about the line up I have to say that I did thoroughly enjoy it, as we all did and I feel that it's the total experience, the vibe that draws you in and gives you that finishing lustre.

Len providing Justin with advice

All photos at

Len's most entertaining report for 2011 was delivered prior to the deadline for this year's commencement, just. We waited and we were not disappointed. No. It was probably the best report yet and would be up here in Blog but for the PDF format. Anyway the man has promised to send a word version and we can assume that it will arrive when it does. You will not be disappointed when the report for 2011 is up there in 2015.


Total experience. Well Michelle's accommodation was top notch. It certainly beats wading through streams of water in cyclonic conditions trying to secure a tent when some angry beastie thrusts its stinger into your toe and 13 feet of Carty lie secure, dry and snug in their respective vehicles. OK move on.

Michelle's unit was smart, modern and glamourous in fact we all felt like shampoo poodles according to Pat. The sleeping arrangements were great and the Snore Factor was kept to a minimum by the placement of various offenders, in fact I didn't hear a thing. Niki being sober helped immensely. 
sober Niki??

A dip in the Pacific each morning was the perfect balm for a cobwebbed head, followed by coffee on the bustling Kingscliffe beachfront, followed by the Blues Brekkie and a few primers and a bet or two for Len and Michelle. A mangificent start to the day. My phantom bets would have put Len in the $$$$$$ had he not placed it on the wrong neddy. Such is life for the punter..., precarious and exhilarating. The Blues Brekkie reached new heights as Niki and I strove for new gastronomic visions with the gourmet sausage and various other epicurean bangers.

The pub provided just the right ambient atmosphere for the sort of philosophic discussions in which we all became engaged. Such as Art being created through discomfort, pain. Discuss. ''Hat Fitz is losing his edge'' says Len,''too much comfort, marriage is smothering the art. You've got to have that pain factor. Hat used to come down from the interior in his horsehair shirt, bellowing his blues, his eyes rolled back flailing on his guitar, pretending he could see. What's in the next race Michelle? Now, he strums away crooning behind Cara. Pain is missing... Another Snowy Mountains Ale for me bro. As a motivating force discomfort can't be denied. What do think about this race Baz? You don't have to say anything, just point and nod. Just look at Donovan. Gone to seed mate. Lucinda. Another one.''

                                                           Guess the YES fan??                                                             

Then Lynelle dropped a real clanger when she said that she was a YES fan. This was met with howls of derision by certain sections of the troup. ''Bloody arty farty prog wankers'' was one uncharitable comment, as I recall. But to give her her due she stood by her allegiance and said that they were indeed prog rockers of the highest order. Then, not one schooner later she proclaimed herself to be a Saints fan. Well, this was unfathomable. We scratched our noddles, glanced at each other, took a sup and looked at the form guide. But apparently she went to school with a girlfriend of the drummer, from recollection. So, more a fan by association it seemed, and we started chatting again. An odd one. But she is a self proclaimed 'nutter'. And she couldn't be sued for defamation or definition of character (LOL!!). 

Keef's autobiography brought some lively chuckles into the discussion. My own favourite was the bit where Mick rang Charlie at 5am, against Keef's best advice, and asks 'Where's my drummer?'' Fifteen minutes later Charlie appears at the door dressed in his best Saville row suit, grabs Mick by the lapels, ''I'm not your drummer'' and king hits Jumpin Jack Flash onto a silver salmon platter which slides along the table towards the open window and canal below. Keef was chuckling away at this conflag when he suddenly realises that Mick is wearing his (Keef's) wedding jacket and grabs the jacket, thus saving Mick from a watery demise.

Yes, the conversation was spirited and amusing and Len was keen to maintain a polite level. Any wayward expressions such as 'poofs', 'wankers' or disparaging comments about seniors or women for example were quickly pounced upon by this staunch arbiter of political correctness. ''Bosoms mate...'' he'd correct with that eyebrow arched. And rightly so. And Pat would reply ''Well, did you cop the bosoms on that?'' And Len would admonish ''She's some mother's daughter Patrick''. And Pat would say ''Well they'd both be happy with those tits...''

Pat had suggested that we adopt blues names, he being Little Paddy I think it was, which had a nice ring to it, Niki being Muddy Muddy Murphy, me being Lightnin' (which I was quite happy with), Len being Red Hot Ole Man Moses, Michelle being Wailing Sister Chelle, Lynelle being Blues Belly Nelly or some such, and I think that's as far as we got. 

Talking about Pat, the picture at the top of this report is The Big Chief, a large portion of humanity who has his own post code. If you stand behind him, forget the performance, even the screens are blotted out. Well you've got to give it to Pat, the man has class - yells out ''Hey you, Shorty!'' Well the Chief turns around, looks to the left, looks to the right, shakes his head and looks over at Pat with disdain. I mean, Pat must be close to 6'6"', Chief close to 7' and about twice Pat's girth, all muscle. And then Pat lays the blarney on him, has him chatting. What a performance, what nerve!

OK, The Ratings
A drawing of our tired Monday enthusiasts

The Highlight of this year for me was The Pogues.
Also Len – see his report below, and Pat I think – Pat from memory was enjoying it. I'd seen them play at the ANU in the early 90s, promoting the Peace and Love release. Shane promoted it for four numbers then must have decided that the band could do a champion job by themselves. Dressed in his long black coat he launched himself from the stage into the crowd and was carried away and laid on his back on a table where the roadies put coins on his eyes while the band played the wake. The band appeared to be totally pissed off but showed what a great group they were. One particular lady stood by the ante room where Shane lay and berated yer man with non stop gob shite ''McGowan you hopeless bastard get your slack arse back up there'' etc etc infinitum. My cousin Chris McGloin's band White Nellie supported them on the same tour in Adelaide where Shane-o performed the same vanishing trick. According to my other cousin Andy this was assisted by a ripe bottle of plonk being sent to Shane's table courtesy of White Nellie. There you go. Be aware. Always someone ready to sabotage your show.

This time around Shane performed the whole gig, and what a performance! Some songs I wasn't familiar with, and I count myself a fan, yet the audience sang along. Shane now looking like Brendan Behan, and Behan contemporary Barney McKenna from The Dubliners had passed over to that great session in the sky a few days prior so The Irish Rover, on which Barney had played and fellow Dubliner Ronnie Drew had sang, was dedicated. Pat and I were discussing how The Dubliners were the punk folk of their era. Last one gone now. Raise your glass. Slainte.

There seemed to be some arrangement whereby Shane could shuffle off after a few songs, probably to rehabilitate himself. Anyway, a jig later and ole Shane-o would shufty back on again looking pleased. He'd managed to do the business, whatever that was.

Len's verdict: The Pogues...they were so good they were almost ordinary; with Shane'o we expect the worst. The terrific thing about the Pogues was the quality of the guys in the band; they are so good that they take the focus away from McGowan; Highlight act of this years Bluesfest.
More Len:

The acts this year were up to the expected high standards; as we observed, the big standout acts (which means they have to be especially big) were not evident this year (i.e. Bob & Elvis last year). However, the worst rating of all the acts that I could give was a high 7; thus reflecting the quality.

Top Raters max 10

Lucinda...she graced us with a sensational coughing fit....instead of detracting from the show, it did give us a human insight to the performer. Here 'Fruits of Your Labours' brought tears to my eyes, perfect!
Justin Townes Earle...Justin can do no wrong; wears the heart on the sleeve; but I did detect a cunning sarcasm from Justin this time; his intro comments to some of his songs appeared to be harsh compared/contra to his words of the songs...was he challenging us?
John 'CCR' increadible guy; great to hear the full albums: 'Cosmos Factory', one of my first/fav albums I ever had; and 'Green River', with it's lesser known tracks...great, great, great!
John Hiatt...This guy just fantastic interpreter of the classic travelling man...his songs are either about leaving town, the trip, or coming home (loves his automobiles). His has a strong voice and booms out his tunes with ease.

9 Raters
Ziggy Marley; Trombone Shorty; Crosby Stills Nash; Keb Mo: Ziggy, Trombone, & Keb are the ultimate professionals and could do this stuff with their eyes closed. CSN was a pleasant surprise, would go out of my way to see Crosby/Nash individually but together they still have something.

Acts that we didn't see quite enough of to rate but on what we saw were at least 9s: Kenny Wayne Shephard; Zappa Plays Zappa; Seasick Steve; Seasick has gone up a notch since we last saw him; the addition of John Paul Jones may have assisted in this. Kenny Wayne Shephard was great and only wished we had seen the whole show. Zappa Plays Zappa was a huge surprise...good!

Michelle gave 11 out of 10 for Melbourne Ska - I heard them, the tent was chokkers way.
Also to Harry Manx and Foggo (see below). Old Harry never fails, he's such a comfortable sound, eloquent and cool - too cool for Hendrix's Voodoo child in my (humble) opinion.

Baz – Ratings
A surprise was that I missed The Specials – how? And I saw Crosby, Stills and Nash who I didn't rate back then in the early 70s. That said, their performance, despite a shaky start, and despite Nash's singalong poppy songs, and despite Crosby's 'weird' (as he called it) pretentious meandering stuff, was good. Crosby's vocals were excellent, Stills' guitar was good, Nash thought he was McCartney, but then I have reservations about him too. Have you read any interviews where Crosby, McCartney, Beachboy Mike Love and Donovan are humble, self effacing? Naaaaah. These blokes are the biggest pump it up wankers ever, not counting Liam Gallagher who is in a class of his own.

Zappa plays Zappa was very good, an ear cleansing on the final day. It made me realise just how inventive Dweezil's dad Frank was. Tight time signatures, turn on a note stuff, unpredictable harmonies and great guitar. Of course all Frank's stuff was orchestrated – no room for error.

Keb Mo goes electric. So good, a great lead player. A down home funky groove and Keb has charisma, he was dripping with it.
Check Keb with Bonnie Raitt

Bettye Lavette.
Such a passionate voice, such a forceful personality. She performed Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come at President Obama's pre inaugural Lincoln Centre concert. Check out her reading of Pete Townsend's Love Reign O'er Me with Townsend, Daltry and Barbara Streisland looking on. Masterful.
She performed All My Love one of Zepplin's songs, and Robert Plant commented that she'd changed his  lyric. She replied that she'd done it so that adults could understand it!! Howl!! She said he was gracious about it. Len and I heard her being interviewed by Rhythm's Brian Wise in the Q&A sessions, an intelligent feisty woman with attitude ''all my music friends are millionaires, sure I got attitude.'' Brian Wise seemed a bit overwhelmed.

Seth Lakeman
Wow. Seth Lakeman from Cornwall or Devon – West country UK anyway, is a fabulous entertainer, fiddle player, guitarist and writer. And his band was tops, with a fine sense of dynamics. I saw them twice and the joint was jumping each time.

Justin Townes Earle
Well we saw him in 2010 and Len and Pat saw him last year somewhere and I think there were signs of health issues – also he sang downer songs and 'looked like Hank Williams on the way out' anyway some similar comment if my memory serves me. It may not. In fact it has been awry in the past. Well Justin was truly on form here, we watched him twice; fine finger pickin' with his two backing musos on double bass and mandolin/guitar, he was just mesmerising. Such an animated performer, facial expressions and his wandering about doing his lanky, leaning shuffle forwards, back one, sideways. This is an honest song writer, his heart on his sleeve as Len said, his defeats, his hopes, his family and his memories, he 'tries to move on' but it just keeps coming back. Len bought the latest with the longest title ever 'Nothing's Gonna Change The way You Feel about Me Now', and it is a very good album. I think we decided Rick Nelson meets Hank Williams. Check out the
February Letterman appearance with different band plus horns:

YES the band. Well, what can you say and I think I've said it. Check my last blog.
We were transported.

No surprises

John Fogerty

The old Foggo just keeps on keeping on. Michelle gives Foggo 11 out of 10 and says that she and Niki were complaining because he was late, how rude of him, then discovered that someone in the marquee had died... 11 out of 10 is NOT ENOUGH MICHELLE!!
His vocal and guitar skills are better then ever and to hear him perform Green River and Cosmos Factory in toto was just great. There are so many tracks which are so good and just don't get played. Foggo was in his own class – and in his own shirt – the same one but this time ironed by his ever loving wife who was by the side of the stage ready with slippers, pipe and pamper. What more does a poor boy need?

Lucinda Williams

Lucinda was in a slightly larger shirt but her voice is still languorous, vulnerable, bitter and
honey hued. She can rock with 'Joy', and she can ache with a tender melancholic mood.
A wonderful song writer and singer, good band too! Bettye Lavette also sang a fabulous funky version of 'Joy'.

Ziggy Marley

Ziggy was Bob updated with variations of reggae, ska and dub all thrown in to make a most enjoyable performance.


The Celtic Bohemian Manifesto Man manifested before us. He came, he wafted, he blessed us and he
took us to his fairy castle and did things with us. Not really. We departed before it all became too much. His finger picking was good, as you'd expect from one who had taught The Beatles. As he has often proclaimed in interview, his finger picking is all over The White Album. All over it. His vocals with the wavery affectation transported us out of there.

The Bottom Line

A most enjoyable fest and I agree with Len that a more relaxed approach increased the enjoyment factor. Way to go. I do think that the organisers need to think seriously about their future and incorporate more modern pop, rock, roots acts. Tie it in with Big Day Out or similar. Their future is the young, not a disappearing audience. My top raters this year were:
The Pogues
Justin Townes Earle
Keb Mo
Bettye Lavette
John Fogerty
Zappa plays Zappa
Lucinda Williams
Seth Lakeman
John Hiatt
Ziggy Marley


John Twohill said...

Barry, Barry, Barry! I triplicated your name to make up for not catching up more than momentarily during the entire five days of Bluesfest 2012 (and not because I rabidly disagree with your comments or ratings). It is indicative of the quality and breadth of the lineup that my highlights and ratings only occasionally match you and yours!

Sure CSN and Fogarty met my expectations, unlike Robert Z in 2011, and thank God for that, as I would have had to complain even longer and louder than I did previously. My edited highlights ~ (thank goodness he is finally getting there) were chronologically:
Eilen Jewell (a terrific countryish swing/rockabilly Bostonian? singer and combo), John Hiatt ('nuf said), the Fabulous Thunderbirds and My Morning Jacket (big 21st Century sound) on opening night.
The Specials (had me moonstomping!) and Candi Staton (Friday)
Brian Setzer (possibly my highlight!), Yann Tiersen (Euro/Kraftwerk), Ray Beadle and Justin Townes Earle (Saturday)
Rosie Ledet (Creole singer and band with an amazing washboard player) and Joanne Shaw Taylor with Ray Beadle (Sunday)
Melbourne Ska Orchestra, 1814 (NZ reggae) & John Fogarty performing Green River in it's entirety on Monday.

As you can see One Man's Bluesfest is another man's missed opportunities ~ unfortunately I missed The Pogues due to old age!

Cheers John


John, Thank you for your comments which are appreciated and with which I heartily concur. As you say, the quality is such that our preferences cross at various points and in my group we go our separate ways while contacting via text, meeting along the way. I remember seeing Brian Setzer in Narooma, fiery rockabilly, excellent. I regret not catching The Specials. Rosie Ledet I'd like to have seen - I watched a video of her in my U3A class. Eileen Jewell I think I would have enjoyed. Ya can't catch them all, but you can try. Next year should be great! I left Brisbane and met Denise at the Water Festival in Thailand, then over to Myanmar - a wonderful icing on the cake. Cheers and I'll enjoy reading your overseas blog. Barry

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