This was my third consecutive trip with this European venture from July Morning and Viking Line cruises. Each year, the event grows in stature and gains support from an ever-widening blues music fan-base. Last year, Lil’ Ed Williams pulled off a triumph with his fast-paced, racy Chicago set. For 2017 the fast moving, raucous and riotously loud award probably belongs to Canadian outfit, Zed Head, who were partnered by New York drummer, Rui Balla, a guy who clearly loves being centre-stage and throws himself almost literally into every number. Other band members included Neil Chapman as frontman with John Burkitt on bass and West Virginian Mike Matney on guitar. As a late-night closing act they had to push it out big time following on from a truly excellent set by London’s Si Cranstoun.
Cranstoun may have been the surprise of the gig for many, though from the crowd response, it was evident he already had a bag of fans out in Scandinavia. Cranstoun’s set revolved around his current release, ‘Old School,’ an album that barely hints at the power and strength of his vocal talent. This is a guy best caught live, if possible. Closing his set with some old sixties numbers backed by a compelling horn section, Cranstoun blew the place apart with his sheer class.
From Sweden, Trickbag proved themselves to be an absolutely spot-on, solid blues outfit with driving vocals from Tommy Moberg and top-dollar harp-work from the UK’s Steve West Weston. The band were joined by two US soul-blues singers in Californians, Mercedes Moore and the delicious voice of Missy Andersen.
Two of Sweden’s most promising, up and coming blues artists, Lisa Lystam and her guitarist partner Fredrik Karlsson, turned in an interesting performance on the return leg of the trip alongside Swedish blues royalty, Roffe Wikström. Since the untimely demise of Sven Zetterberg last year, Wikström is now possibly the most important local, home-grown blues musician out there; with a set in Swedish, they managed to keep the hung-over crowd in hand with no apparent difficulty or effort and proved that blues music has a universal appeal that transcends any potential language barriers. This was simply effortless crowd mastery and control. Wikström had, as is now usual on this gig, turned in a powerful set with his own bluesband.
Erika Baier & the Business, was a lady with a huge blues-rock presence, always gripping, with a searing vocal delivery and absolute self-assurance that opened the blues cruise with superb skill and an outfit that was guaranteed to grab the attention. With her clear love of some soul-blues greats, she gave her all in an Etta James, Nina Simone-inspired set that had her compared favourably with US blueslady Shameika Copeland. This is a lady well worth catching, and a live act with true quality.
Caroline Af Ugglas also turned in a raw-edged, raucous, rocking set, full of powerhose vocals and enormous raunchy quality. Coming from and delivering what was clearly more of a rock-based set, she nevertheless took the packed crowd with her all the way.
For me, the show-stealer has to be the ever-wonderful New York bluesman, Jerron ‘Blind Boy’ Paxton. Here we had a true master craftsman with an enormous appetite for the music and a spellbinding stage presence that genuinely captivated the huge crowd. Paxton moves around the world of traditional, old-school acoustic blues and ragtime-blues music with flair, flourish and astonishing facility. Switching from guitar to old-time banjo and harp, he sadly bust a fiddle string but otherwise turned in a pretty remarkable and varied acoustic set that was as good as anything out there. Put simply, Paxton was superb.
Each year the organisers of this event pull in a handful of local, Scandinavian acts, some from wider Europe and a batch of US talent. On the showing of the 2017 event, it’s sure gonna be a hard act to follow but I’m sure looking forward to it once again. Counting off the days already.
Text: Iain Patience
Photo: Janet Patience