Monday, 8 August 2011

Nottingham Riverside Festival 2011

Mark Block and the Breezes
Shipstone Street Jazz Orchestra
Bestwood Black Diamonds Brass Band

I`ve visited Nottingham`s Riverside Festival more times than I care to remember but somehow I never get bored with it.

This year, we attended both the Saturday and the Sunday, but as it would be difficult to do justice to the whole, I`m just going to indulge in a couple of edited highlights.


Mark Block and the Breezes were the first band we saw IIRC, and very fine they were too. Billed as "jaunty acoustic pop" or something similar, they were actually from a folk music tradition. I`m far from being an expert on the subject of folk, but the ingredients were pretty obvious even to me - a touch of Dylan, a bit of traditional English folk but also a generous helping of energy and originality. This Mark geezer is an accomplished songwriter and his set struck a nice balance between covers (Mr Tambourine Man*, a couple of traditional songs and, rather surprisingly, George  Gershwin`s Summertime). If I had to pick a favourite tune from the set, I`d opt for In Too Deep, a Block original which seemed to strike a chord (no pun intended) with large parts of the crowd.

*One song from Mark`s set is already on You Tube, his version of Mr Tambourine Man. I must admit it`s  not one of my favourite songs at all, but you might want to check it out.


Shipstone Street, Basford Nottingham is home to The Lion, a venue which caters for drinkers of real ale and lovers of live music. When I lived in Nottingham I heard many great local bands there, and was curious to see if any members of said bands were to be found among the ranks of the SSJO. They weren`t, but that didn`t spoil my enjoyment of these fine exponents of big band and swing music, who I think I saw at last year`s Riverside as well.

 If I had a slight criticism, I would say the arrangements were sometimes a touch fussy for my taste, but that is just a personal thing and it did not spoil my enjoyment.

Part way through their set, they were joined by sassy songstress Sarah Simmonds. Sarah announced her arrival with a version of  Hey Big Spender, followed this with a very convincing rendition of  Why Don`t You Do Right and then a peerless cover of  Billie Holiday`s God Bless the Child.

Previous commitments meant that I didn`t get to see all of the SSJO`s set, but I`d happily see them again and warmly recommend that you do likewise if the opportunity presents itself.


 Bestwood Black Diamonds Brass Band , who appeared on the second day, get an honorary mention for continuing stoically in the face of adversity. 

Playing on the bandstand, they found themselves competing not only with sounds from fairground rides etc but also sounds of a novelty surf guitar band (I`m not making this up !) on the nearby festival stage. I think that current construction work to one side of the bandstand area, involving the removal of a great swathe of trees and shrubs, has inadvertently removed a natural barrier which had alleviated this problem in the past.

It was unfortunate that the Diamonds` set contained a number of  lengthy quiet passages, which frankly were completely drowned at times by sound from elsewhere, making it very difficult to comment on their performance. Their set was quite old-fashioned (songs from stage and screen followed by jaunty versions of tunes like Rule Britannia), in contrast with other brass bands I`ve seen (alright, I`ve only seen two others) , who often seem to include versions of rock and pop tunes. I had the impression the arrangements were quite adventurous, possibly even quirky, but it was really very difficult to judge.

Still, the band played on under circumstances that would have tested the patience of a saint, and you have to give them credit for that.


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