Band of volunteers keep festival rocking

With less than a week to go to the 2019 Leek Blues & Americana Festival, most of the preparation works is done.

However, to get to this stage means a tremendous amount of work which starts literally straight after the previous festival. Apart from sorting out artists and bands and working out the logistics of the gigs there is work to produce accounts, secure sponsorship, promote events source merchandise, produce programmes, posters and much more.

All this has been going on thanks to the work of a handful of hard-working volunteers, all music lovers and all dedicated to putting Leek on the map and providing a welcome financial boost to the local economy.

Original co-organisers of the festival, Dave Swarbrook and JR Mountford are still involved. Luckily, they have a team of around 20 willing volunteers to assist them with the many facets of organising a music festival.

Dave recalls: “The idea for the first festival in 2013 came about from a conversation in the pub. The Totally Locally Leek initiative had quickly gained traction helping to boost local independent shops and cafes and we wondered if we could help the local independent pub scene. At the time there were several gigging Leek Blues Bands and we spoke to the organisers of an established Americana music night, in Biddulph, who also came on board. We also took advice from organisers at Congleton Jazz & Blues Festival on the logistics of it all. When we approached the local pubs, they were all keen to host bands and it just snowballed from there really and it has grown year on year.

JR added: “I came on board a little later after the first festival. The Foxlowe was beginning to host more high-profile gigs and the logical step was to combine free gigs in the pubs with a few more high-profile acts that would headline at the Foxlowe.

“Festival planning happens all of the time. We’re already looking for 2020 acts even before this year’s festival and our inbox already has a considerable number of requests for next year.

 

“We’ve got a fantastic team of volunteers and with our range of skills, there aren’t many problems that we can’t solve. Also, we couldn’t do any of this with out our sponsors who keep us afloat and hopefully get great publicity and profile in return.

 

“We try to consider the festival from everyone’s perspectives and make sure they are happy and have a great time. We’d love to make it a totally free event, but with the levels of grants and sponsorship available it would impossible to attract all the high calibre international touring acts without making some of these ticketed events. We do however try to keep any admission charges affordable through stage sponsorship packages – this year ctd architects and The Charles Cotton Hotel.  Venues are very supportive and host many quality bands all for no admission charge.  We have also managed to establish more public performance events such as the popular Sparrow Park Stage during the Sunday Supplement market thanks to the support from local business Old Smithy Tattoo Parlour, Leek Lands Trust, and this year’s Festival partner, Leek Town Council.”

 

Anyone wanting to preview the musical feast on offer during the festival can do so on the dedicated Spotify playlist and YouTube channel both titled ‘Leek Blues and Americana 2019’ or you can check out all the gig listings and artists at www.leekblues.co.uk or on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Little Victor Competition

Tickets and CDs up for grabs

 

The festival organisers are offering a chance to win one of two prizes, each comprising of two tickets to see Little Victor and his combo plus support from Dominic Chuck Berry Cooper’s Red Berryn on Saturday 5th October at the Foxlowe Arts Centre. In addition, each winner will also win a signed copy of Little Victors album “Deluxe lo-fi”

To enter, email the answer to the question below with your name, address and contact number to dave@leekblues.co.uk no later than 1pm on Saturday 28th September. Winners will be chosen at random and announced that evening.
Tickets & CDs to be collected on the night of the event at the box office on the door.

 

Question: In which US city would you find Beale Street?

Musicians Against Homelessness

We are collecting for Musicians Against Homelessness again this year, with tins at Cock Inn , two at Roebuck, Leek. Titanic Brewery and a big silver bucket at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Musicians Against Homelessness was started in 2016 under the patronage of Alan McGee (Oasis, Creation Records). Since then it has raised over £300,000 for the homeless charity Crisis. MAH is run entirely through volunteers so every penny donated goes directly to Crisis. This is the 4th year that Leek Blues & Americana Festival has supported Musicians Against Homelessness.

There are collection tins at The Cock, The Roebuck and The Foxlowe. If you see one please drop your change in and help change the lives of homeless people.

Download a 2019 Programme

If you’re planning to visit the festival and don’t live near to Leek you can download the 2019 Leek Blues & Americana Festival Programme here to plan your visit. Don’t forget to say you’re visiting for the Blues & Americana Festival when you book in – you don’t get a discount (sorry) but it helps us to understand the number of visitors the festival attracts.

If you’re staying over we also have an accommodation list on the Staying in Leek page

Programme Launch 23rd August 2019

This Friday from 8pm, is the 2019 Leek Blues & Americana Festival programme launch at the Cock Inn, Derby Street. Tickets will be available for the small number of ticketed gigs during the festival (don’t forget the vast majority of events in the festival are free to enter) and collect a programme to plan your itinerary for the 2nd – 6th October with over 70 performances to choose from.

The launch event will be headlined by Bill and the Belles who have captured the freewheeling, lighthearted approach to music that has endeared them to listeners of every generation. With a spirited sound that falls somewhere between old-time country and vaudeville, the group puts its own spin on a golden era of music, specifically the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.

 

2019 Ticketed gigs

Tickets for all Leek Blues & Americana Festival events are now available from the @foxloweartscentre or online: www.foxloweartscentre.org.uk or call: 01538 386112 for details.

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