After the disappointment of last year’s cancellation, Abertillery’s Blues Festival returned in the guise of a Rock and Blues Weekend and abandoned – for this year at least – the festival site in Abertillery Park in favour of acts performing in venues throughout the town.
Centered on the Metropole Theatre and with other acts in The Doll’s House and the Rolling Mill, both established live music venues, the organisers have attempted to involve the town and its businesses in the festival.
This works well at the similarly-sized Tenby Blues Festival but Abertillery does not have the pulling power of a tourist resort and so has to rely much more on local support.
There was room for many more in the Metropole on Friday when one of the country’s finest young guitarists, Laurence Jones, opened the weekend. Jones has been compared to Eric Clapton and has toured with Walter Trout.
Backed by Miri Mettinen on drums and superb bassist, Roger Inniss Jones demonstrated why he was named young artist of the year at the British Blues Awards. He deserved a bigger audience than the 80 or so who turned up.
Saturday saw a plethora of acts in venues throughout the town culminating in a much better attended set by punk-era legend John Otway who pleased his many diehard fans and confused a sizeable minority in the Metropole.
Otway is a singer-songwriter specialising in surreal cross-genre comedy, not the first act one would think of to headline at a blues/rock festival; but with a 40-year career behind him, a Top 10 hit and TV appearances he had earned his place onstage.
Otway bills himself as Rock’s Greatest Failure and it was hard to see which of the many things that went wrong in his act were planned. He worked hard, however and brought some welcome light relief to a weekend dominated by some serious hard-core blues.
Sunday was a day dedicated to mainstream blues with Luke Docherty in the Rolling Mill and J Alexander’s Blues Devils in The Doll’s House, both acts backed by a number of local performers.
The weekend succeeded in bringing some quality live music to the town and kept alive the hope of a sustained and ongoing festival.