Festival success boosts local economy

8 October 2018

The sixth annual Leek Blues & Americana Festival kept music lovers happy, bars full and tills ringing after five days of live music saw over 70 acts descend on the town from as far afield as Norway, Belgium and USA.

Each year since 2013, organisers have looked to broaden the appeal of the festival by introducing a programme of live acts to demonstrate the breadth of variety of blues and Americana music.

The formula seems to be working as hundreds of music fans descended on Leek to watch bands in pubs, bars and at the Sparrow Park open air stage sponsored by The Old Smithy Tattoo Parlour.

On the Sunday, the coincidence of the Totally Locally Sunday Supplement outdoor market with the Sparrow Park outdoor stage and street buskers gave the town a real carnival atmosphere.

Councillor Charlotte Atkins, who represents Leek North on Staffordshire County Council, supported the festival with a £2000 grant from her Community Fund, said: “The town was buzzing with people coming from far and wide. People I spoke to said they would book accommodation next year to save on multiple trips to Leek.

“The festival introduces people to Leek who then come back to take in everything else the town has to offer. It’s a real win-win for the local economy.”

Innovations for the 2018 festival included a UK film premier, music from a Norwegian collective and an all-day Americana event at the Foxlowe Arts Centre.

The Festival started on Tuesday 2 October with the UK premier of the film, Sidemen-The Long Road to Glory at the Foxlowe Arts Centre.  The film documents the legacy of three legendary bluesmen, guitarist Hubert Sumlin, drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith and piano player Pinetop Perkins, who lived in the shadow of blues giants, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters who they supported.

Scott D Rosenbaum the American director of the film said: “I’m so grateful to Leek Blues & Americana festival for bringing Sidemen to their programme and to the UK. The film documents how the British blues of the 60s played such a critical role in the evolution of the blues. I’m so pleased it was well received”

The live music kicked off with festival headliner Guy Tortora. From Pasadena, California, Guy has played with greats such as Eric Clapton and Eric Bibb.

Guy Tortora sad: “We loved being involved in the Leek Blues & Americana Festival 2018. The audience was warm, and the organisation team are totally dedicated to the music. We’d be happy to come back anytime.”

New for this year was music from the Norsk Americana Forum, based in Norway, the collective of musicians’ who play American country music in their own unique style.

Bjørn Nilsen of Nilsen’s Southern Harmony, and a leading player in Norsk Americana Forum said: “I’ve got a family connection in Leek, my father’s cousin lives here. Playing here has been a fantastic experience. Our group of musicians has played nine sets over the festival and we’ve enjoyed seeing other bands and making lots of new friends an. We also took time out to explore the local and area and walk the Roaches which was fantastic.”

Devotees of Americana music were treated to an extravaganza of six top acts at the Foxlowe Arts Centre. The FXLW event sponsored by ctd architects proved a great success with world class acts such as Lissy Taylor, Fine Lines and Mean Mary taking to the stage to wow the audience.

Festival organiser JR Mountford summed up the weekend: “The festival seems to get better each year and 2018 was no exception. The quality of the acts was incredible. Thanks to the help of the great venues in town 90% of the music is free entry which makes it a real inclusive festival. There is twelve months of hard work goes in to each festival and I’m personally grateful to all the organisers who volunteer their time, the great venues, our sponsors and of course the talented musicians and devoted fans who bring the festival to life.

“Give me a week to recover and we’ll start to plan for Leek Blues and Americana 2019!”

 

Festival strikes a chord with town businesses

The sixth Leek Blues and Americana Festival, which starts on Tuesday 2 October and goes through to the end of Sunday night, is set to set tills ringing in Leek.

Around 20 venues are set to benefit from an influx of visitors to Leek to watch over eighty live acts descending on the town.

Many of the gigs are free at local pubs, bars and public spaces such as the free stage at Sparrow Park.

Lynne Ward, landlady of the Cock Inn, which is hosting 12 gigs throughout the festival said: “Being a key venue in the festival is great for the pub. We fill up to capacity when the gigs are on which is great for business and a great advert for the Cock Inn and live music.”

On the Sunday the Foxlowe Arts Centre is the place to head for ‘FXLW’ over six hours of local, national and international live music featuring Rick Ford & Adam Coxon, Lissy Taylor, Fine Lines, The Rye Sisters, Mean Mary & Frank James (Nashville) and The Strange Blue Dreams. FXLW is sponsored by ctd architects and an all-day wristband costing only £10 will allow admission throughout the day.

Sparrow Park Stage, hosted by sponsors Old Smithy Tattoo Parlour, will feature Heidi Browne, Lil Jim and headlined by The Jake Leg Jug Band.

With over 80 artisan and food stalls at the Totally Locally Sunday Supplement market it’s lining up to be another amazing weekend in Leek.

Headliner Guy Tortora who hails from California, heads up a list of international acts from the USA, Belgium and Norway.

The Guy Tortora Band will start the gig programme with a bang when they play at the Foxlowe on Wednesday 3 October.

Tickets for FXLW and Guy Tortora are available at the Foxlowe Arts Centre Café and www.leekblues.co.uk.

Local music fan David Barrs from Newcastle-under-Lyme said: “The festival seems to get better each year. The variety of acts and the mix of local national and international talent is a fantastic musical coup for Leek”

For details of all the festival gigs visit: www.leekblues.co.uk or pick up a festival brochure from venues around Leek.

Sponsors step up to support Festival

With 80 acts in 20 venues over five days, this year’s Leek Blues & American Festival promises to be the best ever for variety of music and visitor numbers.

Due to generous support of sponsors. the Festival continues to attract international acts as well bands and artists from across the UK, whilst also introducing local bands and artists to a wider audience, helping venues new to hosting live music as well as acknowledging established ones.

Headliner Guy Tortora, who hails from California, heads up a list of international acts from the USA, Belgium and Norway.

The Guy Tortora Band will start the gig programme with a bang when they play at the Foxlowe on Wednesday 3 October. Tickets are still available from the Foxlowe.

On the eve of the Festival there will be a special screening of the film Sidemen: Long Road to Glory

This film is an intimate look at the lives and legacies of three legendary bluesmen: piano player Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, and guitarist Hubert Sumlin, all Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf sidemen.

Festival organiser Dave Swarbrook said: “We couldn’t do half of what we can without the support of our sponsors.

“There is an impressive list of supporters such as ctd architects who will be sponsoring the FXLW Sunday all day music event at the Foxlowe and The Old Smithy Tattoo Parlour who are supporting the open stage at Sparrow Park, also on the Sunday.

“TF Travel and Leek Link Taxis have helped us to bring over Norwegian artists such as Nilsen’s Southern harmony and Anders Brodersen for our ground-breaking Norsk Americana Forum.

“Thanks also to Staffordshire County Council. SMDC and Leek Town Council and our other sponsors for their on-going support.”

 

Tickets are on sale at the Foxlowe Arts Centre and all gigs are listed at participating venues and online at www.leekblues.co.uk

Norsk Americana Forum

Now in its sixth year, the Leek Blues & Americana Festival continues to punch above its weight in terms of attracting the very best Blues and Americana performers from around the globe. This time around they have teamed up with an entire country, well at least that part of the country that is interested in all things Americana. The Norsk Americana Forum is a non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting Blues, Country, Americana and all things in between throughout Norway and beyond. The forum dates back to 2010, and current board member Bjorn Nilsen explained its role and how it operates. “As the genre got bigger and more popular, somebody had to try to get people to pull together for the common cause. A lot of the promotional side is web based, but we also do radio interviews and we write columns in newspapers and magazines.”

In reality, the Norsk Americana Forum does not have rigid rules. It also promotes related styles of music such as Country and Blues, and it is not restricted to Norwegians, with members from as far afield as the USA. However, Nilsen does admit that, “it would be hard to see Disco, Polka and Norwegian dance music fitting into it.”

The Forum is made up of musicians, journalists and other interested volunteers, and its “Not For Profit” status is important, with all generated revenue being ploughed back into the funding of gigs, tours, festivals, etc.

Norway has a thriving music scene, with Jazz, Blues, Rock & Roll, Americana and Country all having a major presence. There has even been a Norwegian Elvis tribute album, Elvis Tributter, with contributions from notable Norsk artists such as Paal Flaata, Stephen Ackles and Michael Krohn. So what is the most popular musical genre in Norway? Nilsen answered with a smile. “I would guess music to get drunk to. But seriously, Country music is much bigger with the public than it is with mainstream media. Some of the biggest festivals in Norway, which are Blues and Country festivals, always have a good portion of artists in the Americana genre.”

Of course, we did not just want to speak to Bjorn Nilsen for a few soundbites; he is one of the three artists promoted by the Norsk Americana Forum at Leek in 2018. Nilsen’s musical journey has taken in the Jetsurfers and the Marshall Monrad Band, with his latest incarnation being Nilsen’s Southern Harmony.

His influences are evident in many of his songs, but he still likes to list them. “As showmen go, it is hard to beat Mick Jagger. My early influences were The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Willie Nelson, ZZ Top, then later on Bob Dylan, Steve Earle and The Allman Brothers Band. If I had to choose I would most like to have played with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones or Steve Earle.”

As with most musicians, these influences played a key part in Nilsen’s musical development, but his earliest memories go back even further as he recalls his first instrument. “I inherited a guitar after my grandfather, and I was listening to music a lot.” The singing was inevitable because, “I was writing songs and not having a singer to sing them.”

In recent times Nilsen has been developing his undoubted talent for songwriting, and performing as a session or touring musician rather than working on his own projects. “I have co-written songs with several American and Norwegian artists and songwriters,” he explained. “So, I have had around 40 songs recorded by other artists in the last five or six years. Sometimes I write a song for a specific reason, and sometimes an artist will ask me to create a song or adapt one that I already have.”

His musical output continues to gain critical acclaim, with his latest mini album NSH, and his more traditional offering Hardcore Roadhouse Gospel, gaining rave reviews. The instrumental Twangin’ from NSH is the theme song of the Oslo Americana Sessions Radio Show, and a number of his songs have been featured on the Netflix series DAG, as well as several Scandinavian TV series. Other hits include guitarist Petter Baarli, recently of boogierock band Backstreet Girls, with his 2014 album You Petter B. Goode, and Country artist Ottar “Big Hand” Johansen’s 50 Years On The Road. Nilsen co-wrote several tracks with “Big Hand”, including the European top 3 single Starting All Over Again. He again teamed up with “Big Hand” and Country artist Arne Benoni for their album Benoni And Big Hand that produced the European top 5 single The Life And Times Of A Singing Cowboy. 2018 has seen his biggest success to date, with two Norwegian chart toppers, Baby Don’t Ask performed by musician and singer Linda Kvam and “Big Hand”, and Help Me Hold On by artist and songwriter Anders Brodersen, who will also be appearing in Leek.

The future looks bright for Nilsen, with a short tour to Florida and Alabama scheduled for November. He will also start recording a new Nilsen’s Southern Harmony album, based on songs co-written with Austin Church, Melissa Joiner, Lawson Vallery and others. However, all that comes after his momentous dates in Leek!

The Forum will also be represented in Leek by the intriguing Lawson Vallery Band. Lawson Vallery has adopted Norway as his home having been born in Louisiana before growing up in the oil fields of Texas, listening to a radio that played non-stop Country from traditional venues like the Grand Ole Opry. The area featured towns such as Midland, Odessa and Abilene; as Vallery himself described it, “serious cowboy country”.

He started school at the age of six, but his formative years were fraught with problems. He had trouble reading, but he was blessed with an almost photographic memory and an ear for music.

Fate played an early hand, with the ten-year-old Vallery taking guitar lessons from Roy Orbison who also lived in Odessa at the time. However, even that was a challenge as Vallery preferred to watch and copy what he had just seen rather than to read. Enough was enough, and after repeatedly failing the ninth grade he dropped out of school at the age of fifteen. A brief stint at sea was followed by three years as a soldier in the military, and then he took the somewhat surprising step of returning to education to get a diploma in Louisiana. His struggles with reading continued, and he was diagnosed with severe dyslexia, but that did not stop him from achieving his diploma and finally proving to the world that he was neither slow nor stupid.

Of course, Vallery’s own talents were very much in the musical arena rather than academia. He could remember the lyrics to numerous songs, and to this day he can quote many of these dating back to the fifties. As the sixties waned he began to write his own lyrics, and this became one of the great loves of his life, alongside hunting, fishing and dogs, though in no particular order. Sadly, despite having lyrics and some self-penned melodies, he was reluctant to share these artistic pieces because of his poor spelling. Some were kept, but many simply disappeared over the years.

His career progressed to welding for the oil industry in the Gulf Of Mexico, and in the mid-seventies he was asked to take a general superintendent’s position in the North Sea. This was off the coast of Stavanger, and he has called Norway “home” ever since.

He realised that the new position came with great responsibility, and he resolved to improve his English to be more in keeping with his role. His reading material was limited, but he tried to take in as many books as possible, and he remains grateful to James A Michener and Stephen King in particular for writing such interesting tales. Although his grasp of English inevitably improved, he still struggled with spelling, and that remains a constant.

However, by 1977 he found the time to start writing again, and by 1980, with a fourteen day on and fourteen day off working pattern, he found even more time to devote to his creative passion. Things changed in 1984, when he began working in South East Asia and the Middle East. Two other passions infiltrated his life and filled his spare time, competitive shooting and his dog kennel. This led to almost two decades where his writing lay silent; a sleeping giant that would emerge at the turn of the century.

In 2000 Vallery’s spelling woes were virtually over, thanks to his first PC. Spellchecker gave him a whole new freedom to explore his heart and soul; visions from his inner self given credence by the simple click of a button.

Love came knocking five years later, and once again in Vallery’s own words, “she is a real writer with a real education”. Susan convinced him that his work was good enough to share with others, and she gave him the courage to go out and do what he had always wanted to do; write poetry and lyrics.

In 2011 he published a collection of his writing in From The Heart, and although writing remains a passion, his band also occupies much of his time. He was commissioned to perform for the US embassy in Norway, as well as at the 4th of July festival. Vallery was also one of the vocalists at the All-Star event that paid tribute to his friend Kris Kristofferson in Oslo, together with Paal Flaata, Bill Troiani, Linda Kvam, Hege Brynildsen and Jørund Vålandsmyr.
The Lawson Vallery Band is made up of first class musicians who have worked with renowned artists including Kenny Loggins, Joe Sun, Paul McCartney and Casino Steel. Their recent album “TEXIANA” was released to great reviews in June 2018.

The third member of the Norsk invasion of Leek is Anders Brodersen, who reached the top of the Spotify chart in his homeland with his first single Help Me Hold On, co-written by Bjorn Nilsen. He has just released a second single, with an album due in early 2019. Brodersen hails from Fauske, a small town within the Arctic Circle that borders Sweden. Fauske has produced a few notable musicians, including singer Christel Alsos, and it is perhaps no surprise that Brodersen grew up in a musical family. He started his career in his early teens, exploring his talent for singing, songwriting and playing guitar in dance halls, bars and pubs. Fauske remains the centre of his biggest fan base where he is popular both as a solo artist and with his band Dusty Boots, but he is hoping to extend that to Leek at the forthcoming festival.

Bjorn Nilsen signed off by admitting that although the artists promoted by the Norsk Americana Forum have appeared at many Norwegian festivals, they have never appeared at what is arguably Norway’s best-known Blues festival at Hell Station in the village of Hell. So, when you welcome the Forum to Leek Blues & Americana Festival, you can rest assured that they would rather go to Leek than go to Hell!

With acknowledgement to Bjorn Nilsen and Lawson E. Vallery’s own entry on the Cyberwit.Net website.

 

Mike Madden, September 2018

The needle returns to the start of the song…..

Is it really 12 months since we launched the 2017 Leek Blues & Americana Festival programme on the August Bank Holiday ?

Well we’ve somehow managed to do it all again, with a pallet-full(!) of programmes being delivered to LBAF Towers yesterday.

Over 20 venues hosting almost 80 acts – local, national and international – with 5 days of great music all over town, most of it for free.

The fantastic Guy Tortora Band, three amazing Americana acts from a our new friends at Norsk Americana Forum flying in for the weekend,  and loads of wonderful bands travelling  from all over the UK just to play little old Leek. And a UK film premiere too… Marvellous!

With Lisa Mann & her band, supported by the Deadbeat Damsels, help us to kick it all off tonight at The Cock Inn from 7:30pm.

Come on down, enjoy the multi-award winning talent, buy a beer and grab a programme.

 

Chris Bevington Organisation and Kirk Fletcher Live at The Foxlowe Theatre

An excellent review of our headliners this year Kirk Fletcher + UK Band and our very own Chris Bevington Organisation appearing on Friday 29/09/2017 at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek.

Many Thanks to Stephen Harrison for the write up, very much appreciated by all of us involved with the Festival.

http://steviejblues.co.uk/2017/11/15/chris-bevington-organisation-and-kirk-fletcher-live-at-the-foxlowe-theatre/

 

a letter for (Leek Blues &) Americana….

Darren writes…(letter to the Leek Post & Times, unpublished)

Dear Sir

This weekend Leek was buzzing with pubs, clubs and cafes across the town hosting dozens of acts from the UK and beyond as a part of the 5th Leek Blues and Americana Festival. Over the weekend I spoke with people who had travelled many miles to come to see the bands and stay in our wonderful town. Each and every one of these people spent money in our shops, cafes, pubs and hotels and helped to support out local economy, the brilliant Sunday Supplement Market was especially busy with many stallholders selling out. They will be back too and also tell their friends about us – why wouldn’t they!

I am very proud to have played a small role in the starting of this festival back in 2013 and can only say how grateful I am to all of the acts and the venues who put on the gigs, but especially to the festival organisers Dave Swarbrook and JR Mountford who volunteered literally hundreds of hours to make this year’s festival such a success. I know they will both be hard at work on the 6th Leek Blues and Americana very soon….after a well-earned break, I hope – cheers both!

Cllr Darren Price
Leek East (including the town centre)

Two U.S. Music Stars will round off the fifth Leek Blues & Americana Festival

Two U.S. Music Stars will round off the fifth Leek Blues & Americana Festival

 

West Virginian Lisa Mann and Texas raised Rodney Branigan will round off this year’s Leek Blues and Americana Festival this week.

Following a tremendous five days of live Blues & Americana music throughout Leek’s bars, restaurants, Foxlowe Arts Centre (and even Sparrow Park!) the Festival  took a deep breath and will kick in again this Thursday 12th October 9pm at the Cock Inn, Leek (no door charge)  with an additional gig to the programme, Lisa Mann and her band. Rodney Branigan will then ‘wrap’ this year’s Festival on Saturday 14th October at the Foxlowe Arts Centre doors 8pm for 8:30pm, £10 admission.

Award winning Lisa Mann has added the Cock Inn, Derby Street, Leek into her already packed UK  tour schedule.

Lisa has been awarded the prestigious 2016 Blues Music Award for her mighty skills on the bass guitar, an award which she also took home in 2015. Her first award win fell hot on the heels of her win for Blues Blast’s Sean Costello Rising Star Award, as well as three Muddy Waters Awards from the Cascade Blues Association for Contemporary Blues Act of the Year, Bass Player of the Year, and Northwest Recording of the Year. Her latest release, Hard Times, Bad Decisions debuted on the Living Blues radio chart at #7, and on the International Blues Broadcasters Association chart at #10, and can be heard burning up the airwaves worldwide.

Originally from West Virginia, Mann’s vocals effortlessly straddle the line between the honey sweet warmth of the south, and the force-of-nature sound Mann has cultivated by mastering everything from hard rock to rhythm and blues. Her clever blues balladry is complimented by her considerable prowess on bass guitar. Her bass grooves touch on the hallowed soil of soul greats James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt.

Her influences run the gamut, from low down blues sisters Etta James and Koko Taylor, to singer-songwriters like Bonnie Raitt and R&B belters like Little Milton. She writes the majority of her recorded material, and her songs paint pictures of a gritty (and sometimes humorous) personal experience in life, love and the not-always-pretty music business.

UK Promoter Dudley Ross: “we are SO excited to be playing the Cock Inn, Leek on Thursday 12th October with the amazing American artist Lisa Mann!! I play guitar with Kirk Fletcher, and we were in Leek as part of the Kirk Fletcher UK Tour during the Festival and we loved it! So I thought it would be great to bring Lisa to your fantastic town! Hope to see you there, it’s going to be one hell of a party!”

Lisa’s UK Tour Line Up comprises: Steve Watts – keyboards, Dudley Ross – guitar, Mike Horne – drums, Lisa Mann – vocals & bass.  CONTINUED….

 

 

 

Multi-instrumentalist ‘one man – two guitars’ Texan Rodney Branigan returns to Leek on Saturday 14th October 8 for 8:30pm at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek with support from local singer/songwriter Rob Davies who will be featuring songs from his latest album. Tickets are £10 and available from the venue and on-line at www.Leekblues.co.uk.

Rodney is a Texas-raised Londoner who learned to play in Austin, perform in Los Angeles, craft songs in Nashville, and put it all together in London.  A master of several instruments, with a rich and soulful voice, Rodney’s heartfelt lyrics have often led to comparisons with Jeff Buckley, even described by France’s Crossroads magazine as “the revelation of the year or even the decade”.

His infectious blend of organic progressive folk, rock, flamenco, classic, bluegrass and jazz sensibilities have seen Rodney tour the US from coast to coast and travel the world across China, India, Africa and Europe, where his reputation as an outstanding live performer has led to turns supporting the likes of Billy Sheehan, Jack Johnson, Angelique Kidjo, Pentagram, Shair’n’Func, Show of Hands and Francis Cabriel among others.

 

Music Connection Magazine has described Rodney as “…one of the most amazing artists you will ever see. Not simply because he is unique, but rather because he is impossibly talented”

 

Leek Blues & Americana Festival Organiser, Dave Swarbrook added “It’s fantastic to be able to welcome Rodney back to Leek again. He played a small private party last time and so I was keen to share our unique experience with everyone in town! As well as being an incredibly talented multi-instrumentalist, fabulous singer and with tremendous song writing ability he’s also a great bloke! I’m looking forward to showing Rodney the pubs of Leek and introducing him to North Staffordshire Oatcakes, which has become a pre-requisite for all visiting international musicians.”

Music Store Pro / PreSonus Competition

Another first for the Leek Blues & Americana Festival. A Comp!

Again, our friends at Music Store Pro and their friends at PreSonus (it’s just one big love in isn’t it?) have got together to offer Festival goers the chance to win a fantastic prize.

Only the PreSonus Audiobox USB 96 Studio! Worth over £175. https://www.presonus.com/products/AudioBox-USB-96

To enter simply register your email address either in store at Music Store Pro or grab a flyer and submit in one of the collection boxes you’ll find at The Cock Inn, The Roebuck or Infinity Live.

The winner will be chosen at random by 5th October 2017…. Best of Luck!