Last Friday the Hereford Blues Club hosted a benefit as a means to raise funds for the club so that it may continue to bring a cast of musical characters to Hereford whose influences are predominantly blues.John Steven Hales, who is known for having worked as a promoter with Hereford Live, and launching his own promotion entity, Porkbelly Promotions, has also ventured into live blues and rock by starting the Hereford Blues Club and Hereford Rocks.
I was fortunate enough to interview John during the Hereford Blues Club Benefit Bash and delve into the trials and tribulations of being a live music promoter in a city that often feels like it is floating in a sea by itself with a tenacious reputation for opposing change and modern culture.
2016 has seen the emergence of various music promoters, such as my own venture the Underground Revolution ran alongside Rich Lovell, with the intentions of giving more scope to different genres of music and opening doors to a myriad of aspiring local acts, and bringing in acts from around the country with the intention of putting Hereford on the musical map once again.
No one can say it has been easy but these things take time, and with the open arms of Hereford’s number one live music venue, The Booth Hall and several other venues around the city, promoters have the opportunity to make it happen with the anticipation that live music lovers around the county will continue to support the prevailing boom in the music scene by attending shows.
Regardless of the isolated musical paradox Hereford often finds itself in, there are a multitude of events locals should support and embrace before they lose them and end up in a sea of cover bands again. We certainly love a good cover band but to be honest, they have their place and time, and as a city with a reputation for having a college that runs a fantastic music program producing top notch talent, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be in the spotlight.
THE BENEFIT REVIEW
The Hereford Blues Club Benefit Bash brought us a host of eclectic acts for a mere £7. I spent the night boogieing away and thoroughly entertained by some of the acts which I had never seen before.
Freeborn Rising opened the night with their brand of folk punk music inspired by The Levellers: a Ludlow 2-piece fast becoming a local Hereford favourite.
The Kin surprised us all with a brilliant 4-piece that was fronted by quirky, charismatic female drummer, Natalie Hall. A petite beauty who had an air that resembled Jewel in my mind and who pulled in the crowd with vocals that surpassed her stature.
My favourites acts of the night though, which were pretty electrifying and brought the crowd to life, were the Mark Pontin Group from Swansea and The Troy Redfern Band. Troy Redfern is a regular performer on the bill at John’s events, and with good reason – he has star quality and a confidence that shakes up the room each time.
An act I don’t want to forget to mention, is the duo made up of, cellist Sonia Hammond and guitar/vocalist Adrian Crick. There is something special about the cello that brings grace and elegance to the stage and a nostalgic appeal. Their classical style fused with jazz, folk and blues was beautiful and added a fresh take to the night. Other acts supporting this benefit included Black Lines and Ann Duggan.
THE JOHN STEVEN HALES INTERVIEW
Hereford City Centric: It has been 7 months since the launch of the Hereford Blues Club, what are your reflections so far on the progression of the local blues and rock scene in Hereford.
John: It’s been an eventful but difficult journey. We have been putting on a lot of quality acts, yet they haven’t attracted the numbers I hoped for. It’s a shame because I have had some big names on the bill. Trying to get people to pay and support the acts has become puzzling.
HCC: The last Hereford Rocks had a surprise guest perform on stage that made the papers and was buzzing around the Hereford grapevine, can you tell us a bit about how this came to be?
John: The surprise special guest was Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin! The Deborah Bonham Band were playing Hereford Rocks so I suspected Robert might show up but only found out on the afternoon of the gig that he was coming. Deborah is the sister of the late drummer of Led Zeppelin, John Bonham and the three were very close. When he showed up he was nice as pie, introduced himself and mingled with the crowd, then he came onto the stage later and performed ‘When The Levee Breaks’. Deborah Bonham also performed the old Johnny Kidd number ‘Shaking All Over’ with Robert – performances that became the highlight of the night.
As you can imagine the crowd went ballistic even though the audience was disappointingly small. The ironic thing is before he came on I went outside and mentioned Robert Plant was coming and people thought I was joking. (We both had a chuckle at this point).
HCC: What are some of your memorable moments apart from Robert Plant since you launched the blues club an Hereford Rocks?
John: The Groundhogs put on a great show a few months back but really all the acts have been noteworthy. I haven’t really seen a bad gig to date and some of the younger acts like Turquoise Llama, Raptor and Sweet Talk – who are really talented musicians and performers have put on some pretty impressive shows for me.
HCC: Turquoise Llama are also part of Teddy’s Leg, a local feminist punk band who have played for me in the past. They’re pretty dynamic characters who are all cousins, quite a musical family. They are actually opening for the Subhumans on November 2nd at The Booth Hall for one of a series of Underground Revolutions punk nights. We are pretty excited.
What is in the pipeline for Hereford Rocks and the Hereford Blues Club the remainder of this year?
John: In Autumn we have Kirk Fletcher and Sari Schorr coming over from America and in November we are hosting a big blues festival at the Left Bank featuring Laurence Jones and four other bands for the bargain price of £12
HCC: I noticed you put Troy Redfern onto the bill quite a bit. Are you managing him? Is he a favourite?
John: He brings in a good crowd, is a good guitarist and has a great band behind him. The locals love him and he volunteered to play today.
HCC: Troy is a swell guy. So what are some perks and downfalls of the job?
John: Well the perks are seeing lots of live music I would never see in a million years in Hereford and being a part of the re-emerging music scene. The downfalls are the lack of attendance and the financial implications.
HCC: Can you tell me a bit about what tonight is all about?
John: Tonight is a benefit to raise money for the blues club so it can carry on. We have 7 acts for £7 who are an eclectic mix including folk punk, electric cello and straight forward rock. I have really been impressed by a number of people who have come forward and offered their services to play.
HCC: That is the spirit of musicians. They support each other and their promoters putting in every effort to keep music going locally…pretty wonderful. Thanks for your time tonight…but just one last question for giggles. Who is your favourite Teletubby?
John: (kind of enjoying this question more than I expected) Tinky Winky…but then again that is the only Teletubby I can think of.
Sari Schorr coming to Hereford from America this October