Special report by Nicolette Johns with photos (click here for pics day 1) by José Gallois of the 3-day Internationacional Blues Festival of Mijas 2014. [Also read the reports of day 2 and day 3]
Sometimes, but only sometimes all falls into place………environment, weather, food, people and of course music! Exactly this is what the photographer and the reporter of ‘The Blues Alone?’ experienced when visiting the 8th edition of the annual Festival Internacional de Blues in Mijas – Spain in 2014.
Now you might not link the mountain village of Mijas Pueblo (near Malaga) to a Blues Festival but then you would be wrong; this is a match made in heaven!
In the past your photographer and reporter had been attending this festival already in 2008 but only for the week-end in order to see the first son of Muddy Waters, Mud Morganfield perform with his UK backing band. After this two day visit we’d already decided that we would come back to have an extended visit to the wonderful town of Mijas Pueblo.
Normally one expects the cultural department of the town’s council to initiate such a festival but in this case the person who initiated this festival is not a Spaniard but an Englishman called Kevin Hillier, owner/operator of the famous blues bar ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But’ located in London Soho; very remarkable to say the least.
It all started 12 years ago with his idea to establish a similar festival to Cognac-France in his beloved Mijas where he spends 50% of his time each year. Kevin Hillier believed that the town of Mijas Pueblo would be ideal to host blues bands on various stages located in the many squares around town. He decided to put a business-plan together and hand it in at the council of Mijas Pueblo. After the council leaving this plan on the shelf for more than two years, Kevin Hillier was discussing his dream of realising a blues festival once again with friend/ local restaurant owner Pepe El Mauro who decided to stir up things in chasing some council members. By this time also the local football club of which Kevin’s son was a member, which is btw also the supporters club to the Barcelona team, Barcelona de la Peña, joined in and backed up the ideas Kevin Hillier had for the village of Mijas. Finally Mijas council gave their confirmation to organise this festival early 2007, which gave Kevin only a few months to put the line-up together for the festival to be held in June of the same year. Although every year the struggle involving authorisation and funds with the council continues Kevin Hillier has managed to host some fine musicians such as Sugar Blue, Mud Morganfield, Big Joe Louis & his Blues Kings, Eugene Bridges, Lazy Lester, Little Victor, Little Freddie King and frequent returning UK artists like Steve ‘West’ Weston and Jerimiah Marques. The festival is so successful that more and more Spanish, English and now also Dutchies tend to plan their holiday around this festival. Unfortunatelly the new council which was elected May 2015 won’t be continuing this fantastic, friendly, well hosted festival but Fuengirola’s council is now interested in hosting the 2016 music feast.
First band to play the 8th Festival Internationacional de Blues de Mijas is the Scottish band Robin Robertson Band, (classically trained) singer/songwriter Annette Chapman, music (Jazz) teacher Robin Robertson on the Fender guitar, session musician Dot Allen on keys, replacing Brain Branford is youngster Scott Waterson on 4-snare bass and on drums the guy with the most difficult first name I ever encountered Ruairidh Saunders. The Robin Robertson Band opens with a song written by Annette Chapman, a soul-ish blues ballad ‘Dust In The Wind’, which is displaying her vocal capability to the fullest. Followed by a more up-tempo funky song ‘Long Time Dead’ a song with a message; “grab life while you can”. With Annette’s introduction “now for something completely different” the audience is treated to a lovely and capable rendition of Billie Holiday’s ‘God Bless The Child’ which Annette started a cappella, my comment to choosing this song would be that it is too early in their set – I would have chosen to schedule this song a little later in the set because the audience should have been more into the music to really feel the vibe of this song. Of their first album with the same title as the band’s name the mixed audience in the Plaza de la Virgen Peña is also treated to B.B. King’s ‘The Thrill Has (!) Gone’ suitably displaying Robin’s guitar skills; ‘Look Who’s Talking’ has a leading role for Dot Allen’s piano which invited the audience to dance the jive on this, at this time of day (08:45 pm) baptised in sunshine, square. The Robin Robertson Band, nothing new, heard it before but they’ve delivered an entertaining set but moreover they’ve enjoyed performing the 8th Festival Internacional de Blues de Mijas! When the crowd is cheering for an encore the band decides to play Jimmy Reed’s ‘Bright Lights, Big City’ once more because of the limited songs they can play with their substitute bass man; good up-tempo rendition however I would advise rehearse more songs next time!
The second set is hosted by the charismatic Jerimiah Marques (pron. Marks) and his Blue Aces. Aces is indeed the name to cover these fine gentlemen who back up Mijas’ favourite Jerimiah; Laurie Garman on blues harp, Lewis Fielding on the Dearmond (Guild) guitar, Mike Thorn on drums, Orlando Shearer on the double-bass and of course Jerimiah Marques vocals. These men who have mobilised their own audience both from Spain but also from the UK play a mix of Chicago Blues, Roots Reggae and Ska which is surprisingly not biting eachother. already into the second number of the set the selfies by the audience with the band in the back-ground are numerous!
I’m struck by the way the guitarist of the band, Lewis Fielding, plays his Dearmond – according to my info. he plays it in a very old fashioned way which apparently is not a very easy technique. The way he play’s ‘Messin’ Around’ is memorable and mesmerising, also memorable is the way Laurie Garman blows his harp, it is as he making love with it and doesn’t mind us watching! If I would not mention the rhythm section to you readers I would do them wrong, Mike Thorn on drums and Orlando Shearer are the backbone of this band, they need to follow frontman Jerimiah Marques who travels from Chicago and it’s blues scene to the Mississippi blues of the south of the US to the New York jazz scene to Toots & Maytalls’ Reggae of Jamaica.
A powerful rendition of ‘Smokestack Lightnin’ which without the dedication and wonderful play of blues harpist Laurie Garman wouldn’t have been the same, Rufus Thomas’ ‘Tiger Man’ gives us Jerimiah in between his worshippers his congregation, the audience of Mijas! His encore is not only another Toots Hibbert tune ’54-46 that’s my number’ but also Muddy Waters’ ‘Got My Mojo Working’ is one of the encores. Our first time to see Jerimiah and his Blue Aces perform live, all through their performance I’m feeling their energy. I’m still struck with the sounds of the guitarist in the coolest outfit in Mijas, Lewis Fielding, my hero!
To get the audience warmed up for the next show awaiting Mijas Pueblo is an American act, based since the seventies in the UK, but Arkansas born Jimmy Thomas. But before Jimmy Thomas makes an entrance the crowd is entertained by guitarist (Gibson) Londoner Eddie Angel (no – not the one from the Straitjackets) with the Billy Boy Arnold song ‘I Wish You Would’; who could wish for a better opener than this?
Eddie’s appearance makes me remember Jimmy Wood, great rock ‘n roll look, I’m anticipating he’s a ladies favourite! Although his play is not overwhelming he’s great in this setting together with Laurie Garman on the chromatic harp.
Jimmy Thomas, who’s been a member for many years of Ike & Tina Turner’s band is quite to my taste bút not the one to sweep me off my feet today; he’s a performer but not one who sticks to mind. His vocal ability today is poor and only a few songs into his set he steps of stage for Eddie Angel to take over. Meanwhile Laurie Garman is blowing our socks off; in my humble opinion he’s the man of the match!
Main act of the first day of the 8th FIdBdM is no-one less than Bob Margolin, already over more than 40 years a guitarist of which 7 years (1973-1980) with Muddy Waters, now performing in Spain with the Tota Blues Band. Bob Margolin winner of the 2005 and 2008 Best Blues Guitarist Music Award and the 2004 Blues Music Award for Best Blues Band is also a writer which brought him the Keeping the Blues Award for Journalism in 2013 after he’d written an e-book called ‘Steady Rollin’ which is also Bob’s nickname given to him by a hometown (Boston) dj who introduced him once as ‘Steady Rollin’ Man’.
Bob’s regular Spanish band is frontman/blues harpist Flavio Rigatozzo a.k.a. Tota who is based in Barcelona but is originally from Buenos Aires – Argentina. His band members are Martin J. Merino on guitar, Miriam Aparicio on piano. Unfortunately the crowd has to wait 20 minutes into the set for Bob Margolin to make his appearance but his slide mastering is overwhelming. Thank you mr. Bob Margolin for all you have done in your substantial career; your music has influenced many, many, many guitarists! Unfortunately his vocals are not my cup of tea which makes us decide to leave the Virgen de la Peña square prior to the closing of the festival. Oh well, you can’t win ’em all, another great day of music ahead of us tomorrow.