Beastie Fest – hosted by Leeds Blues Club at Boom Leeds on 23 March 2024.

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Review by Tim Marcus with photos by Sam Conquest Photography

As I begin to write this piece, I’ve just completed a horrendous journey of 7 hours plus from Leeds back to my home in South London: but boy was it worth it! The purpose of our visit to the city of Leeds this weekend, my first there in over 40 years (the previous one being another horrendous journey, on that occasion, for an FA Cup semi-final replay – but that’s another story entirely), was to attend Beastie Fest, an event put on by the wonderful Rob Bradley of Leeds Blues Club to commemorate the life of Steve Beastie who very sadly succumbed to the “Big C” on Boxing Day last year.

Knowing the seriousness of his illness, Beastie had already begun to make plans with Rob about a charitable event that he wanted to put on in his name. Obviously, he’d hoped that he would be there to see it but sadly it was not to be. Fortunately, however, the discussions between Rob and Beastie had sufficiently progressed to the extent that Rob had a very clear vision of what Beastie wanted, the artists that he wanted to approach with regards to appearing at the Festival, to the extent where Rob, along with his team from Leeds Blues Club, were able to see Beastie’s dream through to fruition.

We’d travelled up to Leeds the night before as Rob had very kindly invited us as his guests to attend a long-standing event booked in at the Leeds Blues Club, a show from Big Wolf Band, who were also due to be appearing at Beastie Fest the following day. Sadly, Rob had learned just 24 hours beforehand that due to a medical emergency, Big Wolf Band had had to pull out of the show, and of course Beastie Fest the following day too. Nevertheless, we still made it to Leeds for Friday night and it was great to meet Rob and still have a drink or two in the Cross Keys, home of the Leeds Blues Club.

The following afternoon, just before 3:00 pm, we arrived at Boom music venue, in a somewhat deserted, former industrial-looking area, just on the edge of the city centre. Whilst this isn’t the home of the Leeds Blues Club, Rob had told us that the Cross Keys simply wasn’t big enough for the number of people he was hoping for so needed to find a larger venue. So as we entered the cellar-like building, we walked down a ramp from the arrival/bar/merch area into a darker, even more cellar-like room where the music was to take place. The room had been set out with rows of chairs to one side and the other half left open for those who wished to stand, or simply pass through from front to back. By the time 3:30 pm arrived, we were crammed in with around 80-100 other like-minded souls who’d turned up to commemorate Beastie and hear some great music as Rob took to the stage to introduce the first of the day’s six bands.

There’s something for everyone today, regardless of your particular interpretation of the blues. As Beastie always used to tell us on his radio shows, it’s not just about traditional blues: it’s about blues and music touched by the blues, and let’s face it, what style of modern music today hasn’t been touched by the blues in one way or another? Having said that, whilst the bands we’re going to hear today may all be very different, aside from all being touched by the blues, they all have another thing in common; Beastie loved them all. In fact, if Beastie had had his way I’m sure it would’ve been a week-long festival however Rob has had to narrow it down to six, and even with two of those six slots being taken up by substitutes, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Beastie would’ve loved, them all.

Opening proceedings this afternoon are the first of our two “substitute” bands and they don’t come much later having been brought in at just 48 hours’ notice when Big Wolf Band had to withdraw, and that’s Halifax’s Blind Pig Gang.

It’s an entertaining opening 45 minutes with some accomplished musicianship which sees the Blind Pig Gang deliver some soulful funky blues, including covers of some lesser-heard songs by the likes of JJ Cale and Freddie King. Some great keyboard work too throughout the set from Pete Burns which gives the set at times a kind of 1960s sound it. Very enjoyable and a band I would be very happy to listen to at a similar event in the future.

Band number two to entertain us today is another band brought in as a replacement albeit in their case, not at quite as short notice as it was a few weeks back that Terraplanes Blues Band announced that they would sadly be unable to fulfil their scheduled slot today. Replacing them however is a band held in equally high esteem by Beastie, another Yorkshire-based band, Bloomin’ Hummerz.

Another wonderful 45-minute set from a trio performing what I would describe as Roadhouse Blues. Some great slide guitar in evidenced on their cover of Elmore James’s “Dust my Broom” (originally recorded as “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom by Robert Johnson way back in 1936) and some great low notes are also being played on what to my eye appeared to be a Paul McCartney/Hofner violin style bass guitar. We also get a great cover of Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac’s “My Baby’s Sweet” and amongst the original tracks we hear from Bloomin’ Hummerz is “It’ll Be Fine” (the first song of theirs that Beastie ever played on his radio show) and their finale, a song written and dedicated to Beastie called “Chuffin’ Chuffed”, in which appropriately enough we hear our first gob iron of the day.

Next to entertain us, and the day has really flown by as it’s already 6 pm, is a band we’ve been following ever since we first saw them performing at a festival in Margate back in 2019. That band is the genre-defying Pearl Handled Revolver.

I’ve never been one who has liked to pigeonhole a band by classing them as one specific genre or another however if I had to do that with this (now) five-piece from Bedford, I think I’d find it an impossible task, as I think would anyone. Listening to their music you get rock of the classic variety, there’s plenty of Prog Rock in there too and then suddenly you’re also hearing blues and even some jazz. When I first heard them playing some five years ago their overall sound instantly had me in mind of late 60s/early 70s Doors and Deep Purple and five years on those thoughts

haven’t really changed. Simon Rinaldo’s keyboard playing has me in mind of Jon Lord on the first two or three Deep Purple albums, while the blend of his keyboard playing and Lee Vernon’s vocals also has me in mind of the great Doors combo of Ray Manzarek and Jim Morrison.

Whether it’s the time of day or not I don’t know, however as Pearl Handled Revolver get stuck into their set, the room we’re in appears to be at its most crowded as the psychedelic sounds have drawn people in from the bar area, including many of the other artists appearing here today, who like myself and others in the audience, are mesmerised by what they’re hearing during the course of this wonderful 60 minute set; many it would appear hearing this quintet for the first time and joining their ever growing band of admirers.

We hear a couple of new songs in the set as well as some established favourites, including; “Woman Made a Man Out of Me”, Rabbit Hole”, “Into The Blue”, and “Belly of The Whale”. The difference in hearing these favourites now however compared to back in 2019 is the band having increased in number. They were joined, approximately twelve months ago by Simon Rinaldo’s son, Lucas, who plays both bass and guitar; a fairly simple addition however one that has taken these great songs to a new enhanced level and gives this wonderful band an even bigger, all-encompassing sound.

It’s now time to revert to something a little more traditional in the blues field and that comes in the form of the delightful Emma Wilson and her band. Emma has been around the blues scene for a good while now however during the last twelve months, she has started to gain traction and make an increasingly good impression on both sides of the Atlantic.

It’s a fairly short set from Emma tonight and as the main part of it draws to a conclusion it’s time for her to introduce the special guest artist at Beastie Fest for his first of two planned appearances this evening. If the emotions running through everyone today weren’t already high enough, as Matt Long takes to the stage, they’re cranked right up to 11 on the amps.

The multi-award-winning 29-year-old Catfish frontman and guitarist received a diagnosis of bowel cancer just under 12 months ago, at approximately the same time as Beastie received his diagnosis, so naturally, Matt who has been undergoing treatment himself over the past twelve months was very keen to lend his support to today’s event to help commemorate the man he had got to know very well. What makes Matt’s appearance today all the more incredible however is that it’s been less than a week since he shared with the world via his social media accounts, the devastating news that his course of chemotherapy had been unsuccessful and that now his only slim hope of beating the disease is a costly course of assessments and treatment not available through the NHS in this country.

Matt takes to the stage to the loudest appreciative applause of the day to join Emma and her band as they give us a great version of “Hoochie Coochie Man” before Emma concludes her set with another

great cover, this time Aretha Franklin’s “Muddy Water”. Perhaps unsurprisingly there are cries for an encore at which point, much to everyone’s surprise, Emma turns to Matt and her band and says, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll leave it to you boys. Play whatever you want” as she takes a seat in the front row to enjoy her band’s final song with the rest of us. Matt takes over lead vocal duties and they give us a fantastic version of the Freddie King blues classic “Going Down”; a great conclusion to a short but wonderful set.

After that performance I think we all need to catch our breath again, however, I would have to say that what follows next is hardly what I’d call “taking a breather”! Fifth band of the day to take to the stage is Hard Stairs; not a band I’m particularly familiar with however, they’ll do for me, as like everyone else appearing here today they’re one of Beastie’s favourites.

Hard Stairs, hailing from Gloucestershire in the south of England are described as a garage blues duo. Add to that their frantically paced, punk-edged delivery and you have something very different to what you’ve heard before. I’ve no idea where this came from however the moment guitarist and frontman Horston Longsail took to the stage and plugged himself in, an image of Vic Reeves running on Duracell batteries came into my head – and stayed there for the duration of the set! As I say, what this duo produced was very different, possibly an acquired taste, but certainly very entertaining and an act that doesn’t allow you to take your eyes off the stage for a second. A band I’d be very happy to see again.

It’s been a long day and as the clock ticks around to 10 pm it’s time for the Beastie Fest grand finale, the appearance of McHales Permanent Brew, a band who as much as anyone here today, owe their rise over the past couple of years to Steve Beastie (not to mention with the addition of their hard work too of course!).

Drafted in by Beastie as late replacements for Rainbreakers, they opened the 2022 HRH Blues festival in front of around 2000 people at the 02 Academy in Sheffield. Faced with a dilemma and an opening spot to fill, I believe that Beastie was put on to McHales Permanent Brew by photographer and friend of the band, Stephen Wood. Beastie only had to hear them once and he knew that they had to appear at the festival. He messaged me the day before as Sam and I were travelling up to Sheffield to cover the event. “Make sure you get there early. You need to catch McHales Permanent Brew; they’re opening on the main stage”. He was right. We did get there early.

We did catch McHales Permanent Brew, and like everyone else in the arena at lunchtime that day, we were totally blown away by what we heard. McHales Permanent Brew are another of those rare bands that I’d describe as “genre-defying”. Yes, there are blues at the core of what they play however like Pearl Handled Revolver who entertained us earlier today, they have so much more. In fact, when I was listening to them that Saturday lunchtime in Sheffield, the thought running through my head was that they were the closest thing I’d heard to Pearl Handled Revolver since they had blown me away the first time I’d heard them some three years earlier.

And, like the quintet from Bedford, with McHales Permanent Brew, all the elements are there: the blues, the classic rock, the prog rock, even the jazz. The main difference to me however is that whilst with Pearl Handled Revolver it’s very easy to imagine yourself listening to them in a smoke-filled Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles back in the late 1960s, the McHales Permanent Brew boys, from the North West of England, have a far more modern feel and sound to their music. Normally playing as a five

piece, tonight they’re without keyboard player Simon Lomax, so tonight the sound is ever so slightly different from the first two occasions I saw them, nevertheless, the quality is unaltered.

Fronting the band and taking on most of the lead vocal duties whilst also playing acoustic guitar, is the younger of the two brothers in the band, Paul McHale. He has a husky, gravelly quality to his vocal performance however he sings with great control and you feel every sense of emotion with him as he tells his stories through the music. Beside him on lead guitar and also vocals is his older brother Frank. As I wrote of that performance in Sheffield, “There’s beautiful guitar work from Frank, as he produces all sorts of sounds with his six strings and metal slide, ranging from blues rock to psychedelic. The riffs are heavy and driving, yet they still have an overriding melodic sound”, and tonight is no different. All this wonderful sound being produced by Frank and Paul, underpinned by some solid work in the rhythm section too from Stephen Houghton, who himself is responsible for driving many of the riffs on his bass guitar and some solid drumming from Chris Orrell.

The main set from McHales Permanent Brew lasts for around fifty minutes and consists of a mix of songs from their wonderful 2021 self-titled debut album, and their equally wonderful second album released last autumn, “Lessons from the Darkest Storms”, which simply picks up where the first album left off; quality from beginning to end, with tonight’s shortish set concluding with “Cracks” from the second of the two albums. However, before things are wrapped up for the evening we have the grand finale which sees Matt Long return to the stage to perform with McHales Permanent Brew. It’s clear from the expressions on the faces up on stage that Matt is delighted to be there and that the lads from Skelmersdale are honoured to be sharing the stage with such a talent. What we get from them is an elongated version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” which morphs into something else before returning to the Dylan classic.

It’s been a fantastic day and there simply cannot be enough praise and thanks to be heaped upon the Leeds Blues Club’s Rob Bradley and his team for making this day happen and fulfilling Beastie’s wish, not to forget of course all the artists who have appeared here today for Beastie along with all the staff from Boom in Leeds for making everyone feel so welcome. And let’s not forget Matt Long too; he didn’t just turn up at the end for his guest spots, he’s been here for the whole day with his fiancée Sam, supporting the event, his friend Beastie and Beastie’s family. Finally, and most importantly of all, great love and thanks to all of Beastie’s family, in particular to Janice his wife, and daughter Hollie, who very kindly agreed that all proceeds from the sale of Beastie’s CD collection and all the other donated CDs and albums, would be donated to the fundraiser recently set up by Matt’s family to help give him a fighting chance of getting through his own battle with cancer.

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