Review of Bluesfest 2014 Daytime Stroller: Day One

Date: Monday 27th October

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I attended Bluesfest 2013 at The Royal Albert Hall in London which included Gregory Porter, Natalie Cole, Van Morrison and Ronnie Wood’s Tribute show to Lil’ Jimmy Reed amongst others. Now the early evening performances returned this year and boasted a ‘varied’ line-up to say the least; having gone from strength to strength (especially in the UK) Gregory Porter returned to headline the prestigious venue in his own right as did Van Morrison. Level 42 opened the festival on the Sunday as the final night of their successful UK tour and although I didn’t attended I saw them at Magic Summer Live 2013 in Stoke Park so I can support the view that they are best heard in a live setting.

However, are they more funk than blues? With any genre of music you have a group of how do you say ‘purist’ fans who see a festival bill such as this and say ‘This isn’t blues!’ I’m inclined to agree but having been fortunate enough to see Gregory Porter, Robert Cray, Level 42 and Sheryl Crow in my lifetime (I didn’t attend any of the evening shows) I can safely say that you will not be disappointed if any of these artists steps onto a stage.

In addition, the Daytime Stroller shows were back with an increased ticket price of £20 (plus booking fee) as opposed to the £10 a ticket from 2013. Now when the ticket prices were announced there was something of a significant change to the price structuring with an additional £5.10 added for each of the three Elgar Room acts each day. The maths was a such: £20 a ticket plus 40p booking fee + 3 Elgar Room shows at £5.10 each (£15.30 total) = £35.70 a day. This has you might expect led to anger and confusion which people vented through social media. After a while the Elgar Room add-ons were scrapped and you only had to pay £20.

I travelled to The Royal Albert Hall with my friend Kieran and met up with another friend Zubair to enjoy a day of blues. We purchased our tickets and walked around the venue (it’s during this point where I miss Chris Rea’s beautiful artwork from last year and this is mentioned in my Bluesfest 2013 Daytime Stroller Review here:)

The venue had been covered with free Bluesfest guides which consisted of maps and stage times across The Elgar Room, The West Arena Foyer, Verdi, Berry Brothers & Rudd Bar No 3 Bar, Coda Room and North Circle Bar. ‘This is great! No more getting lost or confused’ I said. It was at this point I noticed that something was wrong, two of the rooms listed were incorrect from the website listings that we had relied on. There were hundreds of these booklets around and no acknowledgement that the website was incorrect.

We walked down flights of stairs to the basement West Arena Foyer to see The Ben Poole Band perform a one o’clock set. Ben Poole is a British blues guitarist who recently released his BBC recording ‘Live at The Royal Albert Hall’ DVD which was recorded at last year’s Bluesfest. I’m the kind of person who likes to see artists perform live first before I listen to or watch any recorded material as you can’t beat that moment when you see someone live (especially for the first time). I can’t really explain and that’s just my opinion.

Ben Poole walked onstage with his three piece band (Sam Mason on keyboards, Matt Beeble on bass and Craig Bacon on drums) as they played an instrumental introduction to set the mood. ‘Let’s Go Upstairs’ was a funky number with a very fluid keyboard sound whilst ‘Love Nobody No More’ created quite a floating sound especially during Ben’s technically flawless guitar solo on a Gibson guitar. His vocal style is quite poppy and reminded me of Darren Hayes from Savage Garden who had a hit with ‘Truly, Madly Deeply.’ Ben Poole let’s his fellow musicians play out during Freddie King’s ‘Have You Ever Loved a Woman’ which he first heard as a twelve year old on a 3CD collection that his dad owned. He explained that it featured Eric Clapton and Fats Domino and it was because of that album that he is now playing this music. ‘Time Might Never Come’ was written about the late blues guitarist Gary Moore who Ben was fortunate enough to play with before he passed.


Ben Poole, Blues Fest 2014, ©Kieran White

I feel that ‘Ben Poole plays guitar like John Mayer and sings like Darren Hayes’. I think that’s a winning combination. He said hello to us afterwards and is a really friendly guy around his fans. I recommend that you catch him now in intimate settings before he is playing bigger venues.

I couldn’t stay for the rest of the day as I had to leave early to get a train from London Victoria to Crawley for The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band and Laurence Jones show at The Hawth Theatre that evening. I did purchase tickets for the Daytime Strollers on Tuesday and Wednesday though so the Ben Poole Band was just the beginning of a three-day blues music binge.

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