Tenby Blues Festival – 2019

Blues fans made their annual pilgrimage to Tenby from November 8 to 10. Pubs, bars and cafés hosted non-stop “live” music all day, and at night the main Blues Festival stage at the De Valence Pavilion featured a remarkable line-up of talent. Reviews by Nigel Summerley and Rob Barnes 


Grainne Duffy

She didn’t officially have the top-of-the-bill spot on Friday night at Tenby’s De Valence Pavilion, but Grainne Duffy took it anyway.

She’s a blues woman for sure, but she’s also a hell of a soul singer – with a voice that could take a classic such as “I’d Rather Go Blind” and give the Etta James version a run for its money.

And when she backs off the mic to take a guitar solo, the bonus is that she can also conjure up the spirit of Peter Green’s haunting tone and phrasing.

She again acknowledged her debt to Fleetwood Mac’s founder in her own lovely Green-inspired blues “Good Love Had To Die”.

If all that wasn’t enough, she had the best band of the night behind her, with her fellow guitarist Paul Sherry a stunningly emotive player.

Runners-up were the excellent Big Joe Louis, whose downhome trio proved you could strip the blues right back to basics and groove like crazy; and the crowd-pleasing, high-energy Malone-Sibun Band who injected large quantities of soul and rock into their blues, and perhaps more than a hint of Spinal Tap into their over-the-top stage antics. NS


Sugaray Rayford

Words can’t adequately convey how good Sugaray Rayford’s barnstorming BB King-meets-James-Brown performance was. The US phenomenon was backed by a superlatively hot and tight six-piece band, but his voice and presence were so huge that you felt he could have brought the house down on his own.

Instead of second- or third-generation derivative blues, suddenly it felt as if we were in the presence of the real thing – authentic and seismic.

When, as a benevolent dictator, Sugaray wasn’t ordering audience members to get up and shake their booties, he was warning those of a religious persuasion to leave before he started getting down and dirty.

And he did just that – reminding us with a graphic reading of “Big Legged Woman” of how close the blues has always sailed towards outright filthy humour.

Sugaray, though, is such a mesmeric performer that he got away with his lyrical devilry – and with playing until past midnight and still leaving everyone wanting more.

Before all hell (and Sugaray) broke loose, there had been comparative calm with laidback Louisiana sounds from the excellent cajun/zydeco band Whiskey River, and a lively set from blues-rockers Crawlback whose magic moments came when they featured the big, sultry vocals of bassist Bella Hillman. NS


The Dusk Brothers

Sunday’s show was kicked off in energetic fashion by the Dusk Brothers, a menacing-looking duo who sported dark shades and black cowboy gear. They played oil-can guitars and stamped hard on stomp-boxes. They took all traces of wistfulness out of their version of the blues, and replaced it with sullen defiance. But the menace evaporated as soon as their first song was over – once they started their patter, the crowd quickly warmed to these chatty Bristolians.

The show was closed by promising US blues and country singer Gina Sicilia. But the flight from Nashville and five-hour drive from Heathrow had not done her rich voice any favours. And it would always have been difficult to follow the second act, the triumphant John Verity Band. 

Seventy-year-old Verity is best known for his stint as the frontman of Argent in the 1970s, but that was only a brief interruption in a 50-year solo career.

If anyone in the audience was expecting to find Verity in decline, he very quickly proved them wrong. He still has the mane of prog-rock hair, still finds the high notes, and still plays both blues and rock guitar with effortless panache, inserting a soaring lead break or three into every song he plays. The title of his own song, “This Old Dog Ain’t Done Yet”, says it all. At one point, he played the Argent song “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”. Letting the side down a bit, to play this at a blues festival? Not according to this audience, who flooded to the dancefloor and made clear their approval. RB

Nigel Summerley

Nigel Summerley retired from The Oldie magazine to return to freelance journalism. He previously held executive staff jobs at the London Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and the Daily Express before freelancing for 20 years for newspapers including The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Guardian and the ‘i’ paper, plus a wide range of magazines. He continues to write about music, travel and health, and blogs at www.nigel-summerley.blogspot.com.

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