Blues Music in Manchester | Spinfest 2012

Like I said in my last post, there was a blues-type-festival on in Manchester yesterday. Not your Leeds/Reading sort of festival, but a “free daytime music festival celebrating city life”. Thats what the flyer said.

You can find out more about Spinfest here.

So, we bundled ourselves off in the rain and cold to The Avenue Courtyard in Spinningfields (near Oast House) to take in the blues. Before we left, I was getting all excited about how many great musicians have to come together in a Blues festival, and how I love the smell of BBQ and that I hope Pulled Pork would be on the menu – sans BBQ Rub of course.

Before I go on with this review, you have to know something. Me and Mr Kitty get our blues fix in Memphis Tennessee. We have tasted the really blue blues. I wouldn’t say we’re blues snobs, but we have a really clear idea of what we want from our Blues. We get that often the music is location based, so the blues can TOTALLY exist in Manchester.

Anyway, we arrived at Oast House and the Courtyard to find no tables spare – this is pretty cool – I like that there wasn’t enough room for everyone to have a chair. It promoted the community, round-the-campfire kind of vibe that I love so much with the Blues scene. Just come in, sit down, somewhere. Anywhere.

We did a quick scout round to find the food for later. There was a Hog Roast. I mean, pig is close… but there wasn’t a snifter of BBQ. People were ordering Pizza. I thought that was really weird, but hey, the festival also said it was a celebration of city life. This particular segment was a celebration of the inappropriateness of city life. Like having a Hog Roast and Hanging Kebabs being served where rightfully there should have been Shrimp and BBQ and PoBoys. What surprised us most is that SouthernEleven is literally 100 paces away – we’d expect that they’d have asked them to help out with the catering?

Anyway, I can handle not being fed the way I want. My real excitement was to hear about the musicians. If anyone reading this is from Manchester or the surrounding areas, you will no doubt have heard of – or seen – the Hoochie Coochie Mancunian. He’s a street musician, you normally catch him outside of Selfridges/M&S with a huge umbrella. He is fabulous.
I felt sure that any celebration of the Blues in the City would incorporate this guy, because he is fantastic.

Nope. He was not on the bill. He did turn up though, which was nice to see. He used to drink in a pub where I worked, and he was never beyond getting up to do a little turn (he usually had his guitar)…but they didn’t invite him to, and he didn’t ask. This was the second thing that led me to believe the organisers didn’t really know how to handle a blues festival.

The third thing, and perhaps this was the most important for me, was the music. This is going to be difficult for me to write about without sounding unfair, as I’m effectively reviewing 6 bands all in 1. Just let is be known that I absolutely loved the day. I’ve rarely had as good a time in the Centre of Manchester. Except for when Oast have the Piano player on. He’s fabulous.

Basically, the blues for me doesn’t come out of the minds of great musicians through their fingers and into an instrument. Thats just too basic. The real blues circulates through their whole bodies, collects their worries and heartbreak on its way, and seeps out of their hearts when they play. When you hear real blues, you don’t actually hear it, you feel it. You can taste the melancholy, and the desperation, and the legacy of the songs.
The musicians at spinfest played some pretty good songs. They played a lot of BB King and suchlike. I didn’t hear Howlin Wolf at all, which was a disappointment. However, I did hear Jerry Lee Lewis and Willie Nelson songs – now I love Willie Nelson. He is my favourite. But he ain’t blues. Nor is Jerry.

My biggest beef isn’t that, though. I’ve been to see Lawrence Long who has knocked out a Ludacris song and blues-ed it up bigtime and it sounded fab. They don’t have to be blues songs to be bluesy. I just couldn’t feel the emotion in the songs – for any of the bands. I don’t mean they were bad – all of the bands were crammed full of incredibly talented men – but they just weren’t blues musicians. It was more like very accomplished people who know how to play blues music. It’s not the same.

It was nice to watch, but it didn’t speak to my soul. When you watch real blues music, and you feel the real love for it, and you watch the musician(s) emptying out their emotions through their instrument, it speaks directly into your soul, and you can’t help but be incredibly moved.

Yesterday, I wasn’t moved. I had a great time and I remarked loads how the musicians were good, and that they were doing great covers of songs… but covers is all they were.



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