Thouars Blues Festival, Thouars, France

La France et le blues

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Photos by  Janet Venning

Thouars is a pleasant albeit undistinguished smallish town about 50km south of one of France’s most loved rivers, the Loire, a tangled, riotous waterway that wriggles and writhes across much of the country bedecked by vineyards and world-renowned chateaux. For many years, the town has been the home to a small, intimate blues event that invariably pulls in a crop of home-grown blues talent peppered by a mix of US imports, some better known than others.

This year saw New Yorker Brad Vickers and Margey Peters with their laid-back, back-porch style of music always infused with a touch of tradition and drawing on their 2015 release, That’s What They Say. New Jersey-based picker Dave Gross, who produced the album and also plays on it was also – by chance – a festival booking so added his more intricate electric and jazz-influenced input to both his own and Vickers’ sets. Gross was supported at times by two of France’s top-quality blues sidemen with Abdel Be Bop Bouyousfi on upright bass and Denis Agenet on skins.

Other US visitors included the searing voice of Atlanta’s Sandra Hall supported by one of the country’s truly excellent bands, the French Blues Explosion featuring Pascal Delmas on drums, Fred Jouglas on bass, Sam Mister T’Chang – a wonderful, inventive guitarist, and Victor Peurtas on keys and harp, a Spanish player of quality who counts Jerry Portnoy among his musical admirers.

Archie Lee Hooker, nephew of the late Lee Hooker of world legendary status, also turned in a fine, raucous set that unsurprisingly included a batch of his late uncle’s tracks in the mix. Felix Reyes and Paul Linden produced what might well have been the set of the festival with a confidence and ease that only comes with years of knowledge and experience of working the hard-nosed, demanding US scene.

UK acoustic picker Paul Cowley, himself now a French resident, also delivered a well-received set sprinkled with fine slide and resonator work and his smiling and appreciated attempts at speaking the local lingo. Local talent included another acoustic player, Li’l Henry who majored on old Lead Belly-cum-Lonnie Donnegan style skiffle material, and Cyril Maguy, a guy with a powerful voice and a strong, rhythmic guitar style that was clearly popular with the crowd.

This is a festival that always manages to produce an unexpected twist in the tail, generally by the eclectic choice of musicians, particularly those from the US who always seem to enjoy the visit and leave with a welcome number of new fans and followers.

—Iain Patience

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