By Jason Palmer
Okay, let’s set the scene. It’s a miserable Welsh August bank holiday weekend, and unlike the masses, I haven’t taken it upon myself to travel to either Leeds or Reading to watch another corporate extravaganza with the off chance of being able to recognise who is on stage due to the distance I would be from it. No, instead I find myself in a pub in Pontypool. One, which in my younger years I used to deliver Sunday newspapers to.
These days it’s called the Dragonffli and following in the footsteps of the venue’s previous incarnation (the much visited Hog & Hosper) it’s the place to go to watch decent live music if you live in this South Wales valley. It’s had a refurb since my last visit and it has been moved around, with the stage etc. now occupying the rear room and for me it works well.
So Blaenfest what is it? Well since last year’s inaugural event held in the town of Blaenavon Uber Rock’s very own Nev Brooks has been lending his talents to proceedings helping raise money for a youth inclusion project, going by the name of The Neon. So a worthy cause and even better we get to hear some decent music in the process.
Tonight’s line up features three bands; The Johnstown Flood, The Lash and Johnny Cage & The Voodoo Groove.
First up then, The Johnstown Flood, a three piece with Joe Kelly on vocals and guitar, Niall Davey on bass and Rhys Gallivant on drums. As I understand it the Flood haven’t been together that long, but you certainly couldn’t tell. They’re very tight musically, appear to be good musicians and totally engaged with the crowd throughout. In parts it’s a bit like Zeppelin and in others far more indie. Either way this was a really good set.
We are off to a good start and after a quick backline changeover we find the The Lash on stage. That’s the new version of the band in their streamlined line up of Dan on guitar, Kyle on bass, Carl Bevan on drums and the huge talent that is Erin Mac on vocals, who I must admit I am kind of drawn to.
Erin is a petite little brunette but wow, what a voice, you just don’t expect that voice to come out of such a small frame. Her vocals blew not only me away but I think everyone in The Dragonffli. At times she reminds me of Amy Winehouse and others she’s like Janis Joplin, these guys can go far. Delivering a tight and fantastic set I must also mention the band, who are simply on fire, and fair play to ex 60ft Dolls drummer Bevan for keeping up with the younger members, because when Erin leaves the stage the trio remained and played a blinding jam. Fuck me, The Lash certainly know how to leave an impression.
So we come to tonight’s headliners and I must I like Johnny Cage & The Voodoo Groove. I have seen them twice before, once as the Hopeless Sinners (however I wasn’t fussed on them that night) and once supporting The Urban Voodoo Machine in their current Johnny Cage incarnation. If you haven’t seen these guys before, do yourself a favour and catch them live. They are fantastic and what a mix they are, from the guitarist who looks like a cross between Jim Morrison and Elvis to the lead singer who looks like a lounge act but possesses a voice many can only dream of having. These boys are great, and you cannot help but enjoy their set, it’s packed with energy and good musicianship.
Straight from the off they are in the groove, and I love the sound of their keyboards, it reminds me of Ray Manzarek, and that big fat green Gretcsh, I love the sound those guitars make. What a set, it had it all and it it had the crowd dancing. Johnny Cage & The Voodoo Groove really are the real deal.
You know I was for some reason thinking of perhaps not coming tonight, travel etc. What the fuck was I thinking? This was a night not to be missed in an excellent little local venue and all in support of a good local cause. Look you can spend your weekends sat on your sofa being drip fed complete bollocks such as X Factor or you can perhaps live your life a bit, go and support local music and your local venues, because if you don’t no doubt you will be the first to moan when there is nothing in your town.