10th APRIL 2009


PUBLISH DATE: 29th April 2009

Nantwich is one of  Cheshire's most attractive market towns, well worth a visit, but if you do need an excuse, then the annual  Jazz and Blues Festival provides a compelling reason to spend an Easter weekend strolling round its  quaint, winding streets peppered with crazy  half-timbered buildings, and listening to some first rate music. Not to mention several top rate pubs selling local real ales, and a butcher that sells pork pies to die for.  Highlights of our pub crawl included the Black Lion and the Crown Inn, neither of them possessing a straight line between them. The latter establishment providing us with a wonderfully crooked bedroom for the night - builders obviously didn't use spirit levels in 16th Century!  

The weather is a bit hit and miss this year - drizzle and clouds making Friday a bit of a washout, but Saturday and Sunday are glorious, which is just as well, as there are plenty of (free) outdoor events, which a spot of sunshine always vastly improves.

Believe it or not, it's seven years since Chris and the Norman Beaker Band last played this Festival.  Tonight they're headlining at the Civic Hall, the largest venue on the Festival circuit.   It's the same venue they played previously, and quite possibly the same sell-out crowd who take their seats anticipating a night of quality entertainment featuring 25 songs! When we catch up with the  Soul'd on Blues posse, they're just one week into a marathon 28 date UK Tour. With a line up featuring; Chris, fellow sixties luminary Cliff Bennett, the legendary Herbie Goins, all backed by the strat maestro himself, Norman Beaker and his band, the evening holds plenty of promise.  

The Norman Beaker Band

These expectations are met instantly with the first bars of Beaker Band crowd pleaser, '
Option on you baby'.  It’s obvious from the start that Norman and the band are in top form tonight - supplemented by new boys, Kim Nishikawara on Sax and Howie on trumpets, the sound is spot on.  They follow this with another track from the 2002 release 'Who's he calling me him?'. 'When the Fat Lady Sings' is a modern twist on a perennial blues theme - its message of hanging on in there when the odds are seemingly stacked against you, is one that most of us can relate to at some time in our lives.  Then a brand new, as yet unreleased track, 'Look What You Made Me Do', suggesting perhaps that Norman is thinking of going back into the recording studios again (“long over due!”  we all shout). 

The  Norman Beaker Band are: John Price on bass, Dave Baldwin on keyboards and Steve Gibson  on drums; surely one of the UKs most accomplished and authentic home-grown blues combos. The set ended with 'Lies Like a River' from 1997’s 'The older I get, the better I was' - a very understated track that has evolved into a live favourite.

It’s a well thought out, nicely crafted set which is received very enthusiastically by the crowd – shame there’s only time for four songs. 

Norman on guitar

The Beaker Band remain on stage to provide the backing for 60's luminary, Cliff Bennett.  Looking very dapper, and distinguished - Cliff delivers a belting set, despite suffering from throat problems.  It's amazing he can sing at all, as he lost his voice less than 24 hours previously.  Cliff opens with the stomping,  'Lovelight', immediately getting the audience tapping their feet.  Norm's Horns really come into their own during the next number 'One Way Love' - featuring what must be the catchiest horn based riff in the history of music.  I defy anyone not to be humming it the next day!!  This is followed by 'I'm not Tired' and 'Why Me' by which point the audience are up on their feet and dancing.  'I'll Take You Home' is the penultimate offering before launching into the seminal. 'Got to Get you into My Life', for a rousing finale. Cliff explains how this was written for him by his mates, John Lennon and Paul McCartney.  A present that he informs us has paid dividends in subsequent years!

Cliff Bennett with Norm's Horns (Howie & Kim)
Herbie's performance  is a first for us, and I suspect, also a  first for  a high proportion of the audience, apart from a select few, who might have been fortunate enough to catch one of his performances at the legendary 'Twisted Wheel Club' in the sixties.  Unlike others on the bill, Herbie isn't a household name, but to see him performing on stage is a delightful revelation.  With an amazing soulful voice, great stage presence and moves that put James Brown to shame,  this  man is charisma and cool personified.   Starting the set with 'Let the Good times Roll', he proceeded to do exactly that, following up with 'Woke up this Morning' and 'Feels Like Rain' which I liked even better than John Hiatt's own version!  Herbie's 1966 single 'No 1 in Your Heart' is perhaps the track that most people might have heard before and it certainly is a crowd pleaser, with the dance floor, packed by now!  Herbie was kind enough to remark on the enthusiastic dance moves from the audience, by now reaching fever pitch, and how much he 'dug it'! 'Get Myself Back on the Road' and the Jennings and Sample composition, 'Midnight Believer' (BB Who?) finished the set (all too early I might add).  Now based in Italy, it's all too rare an occasion when UK soul fans get a chance to catch up with Herbie.  We can't recommend too strongly that if you do get a chance to see this man do so!

Herbie Goins

Headlining the show, and deservedly so, is our very dear friend,
Chris Farlowe.  Looking and sounding better than ever (how does he do it?), Chris kicks off the proceedings with a jaunty version of 'Ain't No Big Deal', then slows it right down with Tom Jan's beautiful ballad, 'Loving Arms' from the 1998, 'The Voice' album.   Chris' vocal control on this number is nothing short of genius.  His phrasing is unique and gives this difficult to sing number, real vocal depth and texture.  The pace is immediately stepped up again, James Brown style,  with a really funky version of 'Standing on Shakey Ground'.  No matter how many times I hear the Beaker Band play this with Chris, it always sounds fresh and always makes me want to 'get down and boogie'!  Chris and Norman have such a rapport on this song - debuted on the 2000 album 'Glory Bound' - this song just has to be heard live to be fully appreciated. This is followed by 'Handbags and Gladrags' - and just in case there is anyone still under the impression that this is a Rod Stewart song.....IT ISN'T - his version is most definitely a (rather poor) cover of Chris' original! Then it's back for some more James Brown boogieing , with 'Out of Sight', followed by the obligatory 'Out of Time' which not surprisingly gets the biggest cheer of the night.  Farlowe as ever is the consummate professional and when alongside the Beaker Band, they constitute a formidable musical partnership.  They work so well together, something that has developed over the many years they have played together.  Long may it continue.

Chris Farlowe

The finale sees the entire cast on stage to share the vocals on a final medley of songs comprising, 'Shake', 'Knock on Wood', and 'Midnight Hour'.   So much talent in one space at the same time, it's just mind blowing, even more so, when you realise, you're not at some humongous city centre arena paying inflated ticket prices to view some dots on a stage, but in the Civic hall of a small market town in rural Cheshire.  Does it get any better than this?  I think not.

Chris & Norman
Tonight's set list was:
Set 1 Set 2 Medley

1. Option on you baby
2. When the fat Lady sings
3. Look what you made me do
4. Lies Like a river


5. Lovelight
6. One way Love
7. I’m not tired
8. Why me
9. I’ll take you home
10. Got to get you into my life


11. Let the good times roll 
12. Woke up this morning
13. Feels like rain
14. Number 1 in your heart
15. Get Myself back on the road
16. Midnight Believer


17. Ain't No Big Deal
18. Loving Arms
19. Standing on Shaky Ground
20. Handbags and Gladrags
21. Out of Sight
22. Out of Time


23. Shake
24. Knock on Wood
25. Midnight Hour
Photos: Adrian