1st European Blues Challenge 2011
Kulturbrauerei, Berlin (DE)
March 18 & March 19, 2011
It was bold of the members of the young European Blues Union to hold their annual General Assembly together with the first European Blues Challenge but they were willing to take the risk and they managed to bring together no less than sixteen member countries for the first European Challenge.
After a short, compulsory detour via Brandenburg Gate and other famous Berlin sites, there we were in a unique place called Kulturbrauerei, an old brewery now converted in a cultural centre, the perfect setting for the weekend’s festivities.
Friday, March 18
The Suitcase Brothers
It was up to a likable guitar and harmonica duo from Spain, the handsome Suitcase Brothers, to open the first European Blues Challenge. Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee’s natural heirs, the two Spanish brothers never failed to bring a mix of humour and talent to a great acoustic Blues.
From now it was full speed ahead!
Next up was King Mo, a Dutch band spurred on by a slightly extravagant but brilliant guitar player and a rather well-balanced organ, taking you higher and higher until you reach “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, a track which instantly moved the decibel level a few notches and will have definitely left its mark on the Kulturbrauerei.
Richie Arndt & The Bluenatics
After a quick change, it was time for the German trio, Richie Arndt, to take to the stage and fly the host country’s flag. Running as smoothly as a good old Volkswagen Combi, the band gave out a deeply convincing Blues before leaving the stage and a fired up audience, eagerly awaiting the next act to keep the fire burning.
The next group didn’t have to come a long way since the foursome Meena is from Austria. What makes this group difference is that it is mostly made up of girls on vocals, drums, bass. The only alley cat around is the guitar player who with his powerful riffs knows how to get those she-cats purring. It may not be the purest of Blues but it’s original and generally speaking, inspired.
And then, we went back to the great North to meet the wonderful Tim Lothar from Denmark. All alone on stage with a guitar and a cap for his only friends, he had the tough task of performing solo immediately after some fairly full-on bands. In spite of his great talent, the Dane seemed to be at pains to show the many emotions he usually brings with him.
Micke & Lefty Feat. Chef
And then we were off to Finland with Micke & Lefty feat. Chef, a trio verging on rockabilly, dressed to kill (even wearing carefully chosen shoes and socks). This band may not have been quite as Bluesy as expected but the audience was enthralled, enjoying the band’s style and its party atmosphere.
Next, it was time to get in the groove with the Polish trio, Boogie Boys: two piano players and a drummer with boundless energy. Having spent a large part of their set performing covers, the two piano players really got through to the audience and showed off their talent and skills playing a four-hand piano, weaving their personality in the performance as well as adding a few acrobatics during their version of “Great Balls Of Fire”.
Tomislav Goluban from Croatia was the last competitor on this first evening, making sometimes some very daring choices, when for example leaving his beautiful partner in crime to sing “Dust My Broom” in a Betty Boop style.
Schroeter & Breitfelder
At the end of this first evening of festivities, we were treated to Schroeter & Breitfelder, the German winners in the solo/duo category of the International Blues Challenge 2011. After being introduced by Jay Sieleman no less, the German gig became a jam session ending at around 2am.
Saturday, March 19
Saturday was the day for the European Blues Union and at 10am all attending members got together to set goals and ways to expand this Europe of the Blues, make important decisions for the future and try to find the right energy and synergies to really promote this music.
It was time for some more Blues and once again, we headed back to the Kulturbrauerei to enjoy the second half of this European Blues Challenge, which started with the high spirited Swiss from Bluecerne. Brass and keyboards make for great Chicago blues and superb guitar hero performances. The evening couldn’t have started any better!
Next, it was Belgium’s turn with Howlin’ Bill, a stylish band from Antwerp. The foursome took us on a far-flung search for new horizons, accompanied by a charismatic frontman who knows what to do with his harmonica. Well-known on the international stage, this quartet took the evening to another level and made a big impression on the audience.
And then a surprising selection from Italy with an unusual duo. Indeed, Davide Lipari and his drummer tried to introduce us to a crazy world where Jimi Hendrix would join a drum & guitar project rather than a drum & bass one. It was certainly interesting but it lacked a little charisma and conviction, Davide remaining very static on his seat, getting up only for an unexpected guitar hero solo in the middle of his set.
After Italy it was France with Awek, a band from Toulouse responsible for taking the EBC rocket even further up those blue skies. The whole band seemed on good form and just had to push the right buttons to shake up the whole of the Kulturbrauerei. We all fell for « Kiki », a track which cannot help but raise the temperature to a dangerous level. Poweful and honest, Awek had already made a great impression in Memphis last month and here in Berlin the charm offensive worked once again!
Emil & The Ecstatics
Sweden was next with Emil & The Ecstatics, a talented quartet. A brief Hendrix like diversion when the guitar player tried a stint with the guitar behind his head, only demonstrating that it’s better to put gimmicks aside during a competition. But it was only a hiccup and their performance was more than honourable.
Latvian Blues Band
Latvia had also sent her own representatives to Berlin and we have to admit that the Latvian Blues Band with its strong brass section did extremely well. Let’s not forget their sense of humour fusing from time to time and always greatly appreciated by the audience. They even ended their set with a really fascinating Baltic style «That’s Allright Mama». Really impressed and impressive!
Then back again to the great North with the Norwegian threesome, Vidar Busk & His Bubble Of Trouble bringing the decibel level to an all time high, too high some might say, particularly when comparing with other bands. Complete with double bass, tattoos and side burns, we entered the world of rockabilly with a few good ideas unfortunately diluted by a slightly self-obsessed frontman who was a little over the top at times. It would be great to see this trio again in a festival more suited to their style!
Britain’s 24 Pesos were called upon to close the long list of competitors in this first European Blues Challenge and it’s with a much too loud Hammond organ that the quartet ended up bursting what’s left of our eardrums after the previous set. Great compos with hints of rock and hip hop, the band reminded us of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and even if it wasn’t on the menu, they certainly made an impression!
Big Daddy Wilson
Then it was time for the jury to make its decision and for Big Daddy Wilson Trio to entertain us for a good half an hour. An extremely talented singer/percussionist, he took us together with his two guitarists on a voyage from classical Blues to African Blues with a stopover at Reverend Gary Davis’s place. A wonderfully warm voice and a truly sincere performance!
Time now for Ronny Salewski, master of ceremony for both evenings and the EBU president, Tom Ruf, to come back on stage and name the winners.
Second place went to the Austrian quartet, Meena, whilst the first European Blues Challenge top gong went to the Belgian Howlin’ Bill!
And since a little Blues is always better than long speeches, the band started a new gig before ending in a jam with most of the musicians in the hall.
With such a successful first event, the European Blues Union members have already decided to organise the festivities same time same place in 2012.
Something to look forward to!