The Rhythm Festival, held annually in Bedfordshire from 2006-2011, was always dogged by bad luck. Despite a magnificent line-up of classic and up-and-coming artists – including Joe Bonamassa, who was halfway down the bill under Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel in 2007 – its fortunes collapsed in a torrent of summer rain. This one-off event is an attempt to recreate the Rhythm spirit on a smaller scale over one weekend with rock, blues and prog bands from the past and present.
The outlook is fair by the time opening act John Otway bumbles onto the stage and breaks the mic stand. The self-styled “greatest failure of rock’n’roll” is living proof that the English love an underdog. As well as his two-hit wonders, Really Free and Bunsen Burner, the deranged set includes Blockbuster played on a double-bodied bendy guitar, a song about mobile phone coverage, Body Talk on theremin and a Bob Dylan homage in his take on I Will Survive, with a harmonica harness made from a bent coat hanger. He’s hoping to be booed off by “Wilko fans who’ve come to hear proper music”, but the audience are either in on the joke, or too terrified.
Back to normality with Federal Charm, the youthful Manchester quartet lavished with praise by The Blues and our sibling title Classic Rock. Everything about their duelling guitars-driven set is as hearty and traditional as the hog roast wafting across the auditorium – but it goes down a treat. A resounding Nobody’s Fault But Mine (Blind Willie Johnson, nicked and rearranged by Led Zep) is the decisive crowd-winner. They go on too long and they’re over-fond of Status Quo formation poses, but it’s an invigorating and impressive display.
In comparison, Babajack seem lacklustre. Frontwoman Becky Tate says “we’re not a blues band”, but it looks contrived, as she perches on her African drum next to a Seasick Steve lookalike on cigar-box guitar. A series of insipid numbers are met with polite applause and any enthusiasm is reserved for another Led Zep cover, Gallows Pole.
The Pretty Things save the day, bringing it to a clattering finish with a deadly mix of Bo Diddley-inspired slide blues, SF Sorrow psych monsters and 60s R&B floor-pounders. Frontman Phil May, who found himself staring down the grim reaper at the end of last year, is off the fags and sounding snarlier than ever. Dick Taylor – Jimmy Page’s favourite guitarist – is still playing until his fingers fall off, while young bruisers George Perez on bass and drummer Jack Greenwood fan the flames beneath it all.
Apparently, Mr Page showed up at their last gig at the Half Moon in Putney, and paid to get in. We’d bet it was the best few quid he’s spent in a while./o:p