ORKNEY BLUES FESTIVAL - 16-18 SEPTEMBER 2005
Reviewed by Dave The Bishop Scott
When I set off from Northumberland I was determined to make the most of this Festival by exploring Orkney and learning about the heritage and culture of the islands. The well-preserved Neolithic site of Skara Brae, the ancient stone circles at Brogden and the waters of Scapa Flow which hide the sunken German fleet provide an impressive backdrop. Walk along the shores, breathe the pure, cold air and look out for the seals; visit the distillery and sample the local malts. All of this gives you a context for the music, as Orkney becomes a total experience and one which you will never forget. When I reviewed the Maryport Festival I upset the locals by saying that the Cumbrians on the west coast were "more into fishnets than internets." By contrast, Orkney despite its remote location is a very cosmopolitan society with modern facilities, including Internet cafes, and with a tendency to look outwards rather than inwards.
The festival opened with the Charlie Morris Band from Florida, completing their successful Gator "N" Chips tour of the UK. Charlie has written some wistful, poignant and humorous songs which he showcased in this performance; the latter included Still Got 'Em, a riches to rags story about a guy who lost everything through playing the blues, and Lyin' Dog. His version of Muddy Waters' Champagne and Reefer is even better than the original. Charlie sings with sincerity, plays a mean slide guitar and, whilst mainly creating a gentle sound, can also play driving blues/rock such as Highway 49, I Gotta Woman and Ray Charles' Smack Dab In The Middle. Keyboard and harp player Devin Rice is a phenomenal talent and a very modest man; when I asked him how he had honed his harmonica skills, his reply was, "By ignoring all other harp players and developing my own style." The drummer had only recently joined the band but his understated style and growing rapport with the bassist made for a very effective and interesting rhythm section. Audience participation was the name of the game and the rapturous applause at the end showed how much this intriguing group of musicians had been appreciated.