Blesok no. 43, July-August, 2005
Sound Reviews

Skopje Blues & Soul 2005

Vasja Ivanovski

    This year’s edition of the festival, ninth in the row, has once again proven itself as a quality music event which is already on the map of respected European blues festivals. Two nights (July 4, 5) with four participants offered plenty of enjoyment to local blues fans and music lovers in general. Blues has found its fertile soil in this part of Europe and probably Javier Vargas put it the best by saying that this is “Mississippi of Europe”! No cotton pickers, tobacco producers maybe and pure, honest blues sounds and entertainment was the order of the day!

    Music emphasis was on contemporary European blues scene which has a lot to offer, as blues lovers were able to witness in two hot July nights. Blues is now regarded as widely accepted and influential music form and has since established itself on the old continent.

    Raw Hide (Serbia and Montenegro), Vargas Blues Band (Spain), Coen Wolters Band (Holland) and Nine Below Zero (UK) played their hearts out, presenting different approaches to the idiom and audience could feel that and rewarded all bands with great anticipation.
    Raw Hide opened the proceedings on July 4th with their jumpy version of classic Chicago blues of the fifties. These Serbian guys are class act in their own, honing their craft together for more than twenty years and it showed perfectly in their performance.

Frontman Jovan Ilic did some great harmonica work while leading his band through a set of carefully chosen blues standards which gave plenty of opportunities to strecth out. With fine assistance of dual guitar work by brothers Stanosevic and tight rhythm section, Raw Hide were on the right track with audience all the way.

    Headliners of the evening were Vargas Blues Band from Spain who offered their brand of blues spiced with some Spanish traditional music elements. They played tracks from their latest album “Love, Union, Peace” plus some of their favourites from past releases which were instant crowd pleasers. Special surprise was inclusion of young vocalist Devon Allman, son of great Gregg Allman (Allman Brothers)! His vocals were absolutely great, reminding us at times of his father and he will definitely go places! Javier Vargas is world class guitar player who played with almost anybody who’s anybody in the business (Carlos Santana, B.B.King, Buddy Guy…) and he easily confirmed all attributes written about him in recent years. Blues fans loved every minute of Vargas Blues Band performance and asked for an encore which included stuff by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Cream, what a fine ending to a first night of the festival!

    Coen Wolters Band from Holland opened the next, closing night of the festival with their slice of heavy bluesrock which went down excellent. Inspired by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and alike, Coen and his fellow musicians presented their brand of blues which is quite popular on contemporary blues scene. Coen Wolters is an excellent guitarist who pays tribute to his influences while being his own voice at the same time, something which is rather rare thing these days. His style is full of passion and verve, never trying to go over the top with flashy guitar work, although capable of shooting out an array of notes at any given moment, but doing it with control and feeling for the music he plays. He did stuff from his latest album “Broken Glass”, plus some great covers, my personal favourite track was slow blues “Dance On The Moon”. My prediction is that Coen Wolters Band will soon be familiar name on European blues scene and can only hope to see this band soon in this part of Europe again.

    This year’s festival was closed by the legendary Nine Below Zero from England and what a finish it was! Long regarded as one of the finest exponents of British R&B, successors of the sixties bands like Pretty Things, Yardbirds, Them, Paramounts, Artwoods and others, Nine Below did their blistering set of originals and covers and made local fans dancing in the aisles all the way and you could not expect less from these lads, having in mind their musical pedigree. Brendan O’Neill and Gerry McAvoy used to keep the right rhythm behind Rory Gallagher for many years, while guitarist Dennis Greaves is considered as one of the best Britain has to offer and Mark Feltham on harmonica is a player par exellence! I’ve seen many fine artists on this stage and throughout Europe and Nine Below Zero are one of the best so far and most of the audience would not argue with that. This band closed festival proceedings in style and we are already looking for 10th Anniversary festival next year which should be even bigger event than this one!


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