• Words Chris Farlie Photography Andy Webb

Midwinterfest 2018 Day 2 - The Evening - Alan West & Steve Black, The Haley Sisters, Journey Hom

The Saturday evening session opened with Alan singing “He Ain't Foolin Me” from All Things For All Reason”, with Adam ( now with his own customised drink holder) providing a suitably effective solo.Steve took over lead vocals for the next song “Down But I’m Not Out” with Adam once again providing inspirational flourishes. Vocal duties for “Bobby’s Idle Hour” traditionally an Alan song started with Steve, though for verse two and indeed the rest of the song normality was restored to allow Alan to continue building the image of the bar with the “piano not tuned”. A perennial favourite was then played in “Framed” with Alan somehow always able to make you believe for 3 minutes that he might have gunned someone down! – always a special moment. Next a full band workout for the song previewed at the Songwriters Round last year “Mana Atunae” the two words of Innuit that made the title of the song.

Taking his moment once again there was time for another slot of Adam Sweet, this time with Justin Johnson providing the percussion. Starting on a new song , an uptempo number called “You and Me”, this was followed by “Move On” from Adam’s 2nd EP, with Justin once again improvising his percussion parts to great effect. With Alan and Steve returning to the stage for the song originally written by Steve and then rewritten by Steve and Adam “Doing Alright”. “Highway Of My Heart” was revealed as a favourite of Dutch country fans while Alan resumed vocal duties for Steve’s favourite song, Waylon Jenning’s “Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys” and the set was to close with their reworking of “Down On The Bayou”, it’s a departure from their norm and is a little cracker.

The Haley Sisters as we identified in our Midwinterfest preview are a prodigious gigging band as likely to turn up at the London Palladium as they are the Sands Centre in Carlisle. Alan first met them in 1989 and they were self funding their albums in the 1990’s. Opening with “If I Needed You “for Steve Black, immediately the sisterly harmonies were apparent. With Becky on acoustic and Jo-Ann on bass while Becky's husband Brian Smith provided additional guitar. The audience were in the palm of their hands from the very first song, let alone when they did an Emmylou Harris cover of “Hello Stranger” once again showing the sisters working in unison and separately within the same song. Both sisters smiling hugely clearly enjoying playing “The Sweetest Gift A Mothers Smile" from the “Little Things” album Emmylou Harris did with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. The overlapping vocals a sheer delight while Brian’s guitar parts were beautifully picked. "I Want To Be A Cowboys Sweetheart” written by Patsy Montana in the 1930’s, introduced possible a Midwinterfest first yodelling! None the less it was captivating.

It was not all covers though and “Luckiest Girl Alive” showed that they were equally able to produce their own quality material, which if anything sounded even better live than on the record, however it's difficult to say know when the moment you arrive you are inundated with requests. There was then a second outing for a Kris Kristofferson song “Help Me Make It Through It Night”, while "I Was Looking For Someone Just Like You" inspired by the works of JJ Cale was another song from their most recent album “Always By My Side” and saw Jo-Ann take lead vocals. One of the covers from that album is “Travellin’ Soldier” which they did a very passable version of.

A chance to allow Brian to show his prowess on slide guitar came in the shape of Elvis Presley’s That’s Alright Mama” which he did to great effect. The next song was the song that has caused most interest in the new album “Hello Dad What’s It Like In Your World” addresses the subject of passing on in a sensitive caring manner. Brian occasionally gets to choose the songs and his choice this time was a Bonnie Raitt covered by the Dixie Chicks “Give It Up Or Let Me Go”. Their cover of Kenny Roger’s “Sweet Music Man” certainly uncovered a minor classic and their version was extremely captivating especially those moments where they once again sung in harmony. The final song was a Simon & Garfunkel cover of “The Boxer” which received a huge reception and a standing ovation. With such a response an encore was inevitable which came in the shape of Rodney Crowell’s “Till I Gain Control Again”. If I was to have one minor complaint about their set it was just that I’d love to have heard more of their own material which would have stood up equally as well as many of the numbers they covered but as I say that is a minor quibble.

The last time Acoustic Journey played Midwinterfest we jokingly asked if they would ever go electric , and they talked about making a plugged in album rather than an unplugged one as was the vogue at the time. Two years down the line the band has morphed into Journey Home normally an electric band though tonight appearing more like their former selves acoustic guitars rather than electric, and on cajon rather than drums but at least with an an additional bass player! Possibly worried about making too much noise as an electric band they immediately pushed the acoustic levels to 11 with “Get Back Up”! The addition of James Archer on bass does actually give Journey Home a much warmer rounder sound than the bands previous incarnation “Trucks & Whiskey” being a fine example. Ben Gurney recently returned looking from traveling down under looking in remarkably fine fettle wrote the next song after being stuck at an airport, “Big City Lights” is one of the stand out songs on their recent EP that has certainly shifted the band up a division.

“Just One More” had its inspiration revealed to be lead singer AJ’s Dad! If there is one song that perfectly sums up the new band it is “Ain’t Quite a Truck” even with Ben’s guitar solo somewhat being a bit muted compared to the one that graces the EP.. Somehow the additional bass player, seems to have allowed Andy and Ben to beef up their presence on backing vocals in a most effective way. “British Summertime” dealt with the perils of doing things in the summertime. “County Line” once again was made by excellent baking vocals which really rounded out the song along with Ben’s guitar solo. The main set closed with “You & Me” bringing a most successful set to an end.

Dexeter returned to Midwinterfest somewhat revamped following the departure of lead guitarist and chief songwriter Gareth Thomas last year..Opening with “Way Of The World”, followed with the Ben Earle written “Nashville You and Me” got things off to a super start. The good mood continued with a cover from the TV series Nashville “Tell Me” which went down a storm. A thumping version of “Try” got sections of the ballroom to their feet in appreciation, and even included a snippet of Bryan Adams’ “Run To You” before returning to the main song. Suprisingly the only Tom Petty tribute of the weekend came in the form of their reworked version of “Freefalling” which works really well. Things then returned to the very first single “Slow It Down” also featuring a reinvention of the tune from the original version while still retaining the original spirit.

Dexeter have often been compared to Fleetwood Mac so a cover of “Dreams” seemed an entirely natural song to cover, and their version was pretty authentic with a great Buckinghamesque guitar solo!

“Meet Me There” still retains its ability to get a crowd joining in even after a full day of entertainment, while their first completed new song “Head Above Water” gave an idea of where Dexeter are going and it certainly seems a promising direction. The heavy blues rock of “I Hope it Hurts” with crunching guitar riffs and power drumming again was possibly louder than some of the audience would have preferred.That was supposed to be the final song of the night, with the main set eventually ending with another Nashville cover “Tell Her Slow”. Their set eventually climaxed with “Not Giving up Tonight” bringing Day 2 to a close.

This set with could not quite match the high spots of the show at Hertford last year, possibly due to the lack of keyboards changing the overall sound, combined with their usual drummer being on vacation. The brash confidence of that night seemed to be absent but it was still a set that had us looking forward to their first batch of newly recorded songs due later in the spring hopefully.

#AlanWest #SteveBlack #Dexeter #JourneyHome #TheHaleySosters #AdamSweet

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