Live Review: The (THL) Festival, Kirton in Lindsey, North Lincolnshire – 16th July 2023

The Black Feathers, live, (THL) Festival, 16/7/23
photo: Mark Dinnage

The lyrics, “Sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun, if the sun don’t come you get a tan from standing in the English rain,” by some small band from Liverpool with an uncanny understanding of the English weather feels particularly apt, as in the middle of July, the middle of the English summer, saw weather forecasters issuing a ‘Yellow Warning’ for gale force winds and thundery showers, particularly for North Lincolnshire. Now it goes without saying that every hardcore music festival fan always arrives fully armed with sunscreen and galoshes covering all eventualities, however, here at the (THL) Festival, originally known as The Garden Festival and now in it’s fourth year, there is a much more amenable alternative. Move the whole festival indoors, or to be more exact into the town hall.

Promoter Brian Chudley made the difficult, but what clearly turned out to be correct, decision on the morning of the festival, so one can only imagine the logistical challenges that had to be addressed in a few short hours. And yet, at the advertised time, the redirected congregation, picnic hampers to hand, filed their way into the hall. Once in, seated, warm and dry and feeling slightly smug as we looked out of the tall arched windows at the unseasonal weather the festival got underway. Rock Choir, an amalgamation of Lincolnshire choirs, including Kirton and Woodall Spa, got the ball rolling with a half hour set of seventies and eighties pop and rock classics. Wonderfully and energetically led by Christa the choir were on good form as they warmed up for their forthcoming performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in a few weeks time.

Sam Chase Trio, live, (THL) Festival, 16/7/2023
photo: Mark Dinnage

First of what could be argued were four headline acts on show are the Sam Chase trio who are made up of the man himself on guitar and lead vocals, Devon McClive on cello and backing vocals and Chandra Johnson on violin and backing vocals. Hailing from San Francisco, Chase normally records with a much larger ensemble known as The Untraditional, and has released several albums throughout the last twenty years, but for touring purposes over seas it’s very much the scaled back trio. However, don’t for one minute think that a smaller band means a smaller performance, for, as previous reviews of the Trio’s concerts within these pages have testified to, these three musicians live are about as good as it gets.

In their 75 minute set the Trio led the audience through a wonderful mix of their back catalogue starting with ‘Feel Sunlight Burn’ from the 2012 album ‘Will Lead Us To Victory’ all the way through to ‘Chasing Windmills’ from their most recent album ‘You Call This An Album’. In between they dazzled the crowd with their musicality particularly on ‘Carry My Bones’ where both McClive and Johnson took solos leaving the audience mesmerised while Chase’s vocals are quite extraordinary, possessing such range and power. Included amongst the ten fabulous songs that made up their set was probably their most requested number ‘Cold Night’ along with a wonderful rendition of ‘Mayflies’, before McClive took the vocal lead with the beautiful ‘Lost Girl’. Chase has a natural rapport with his audience with a sharp wit that quickly had them eating out of his hand, and before long singing along with every song. The final number ‘Rock Bottom Never Felt So Good’ seemed to arrive much too soon and the raucous response from the crowd was in danger of taking the roof of the hall, it was deafening. They were that good.

The Blue Highways, live, (THL) Festival, 16/7/23
photo: Mark Dinnage

Needless to say, the banter amongst the somewhat giddy congregation amounted to “how do you follow that?” However good fortune would have it that the next act on stage had already cemented their reputation with the locals as one of the best new bands around. With a slight change to the running order The Blue Highways took to the stage and delivered a set focussed mainly around their most recent album, ‘Out On The Line’.  For those not familiar with the band they originate from London and consist of the Lury brothers, Callum lead vocals and guitar, Theo drums and backing vocals and usually Jack on lead guitar. I say usually for it’s quickly apparent that’s there’s a change of line up for today’s performance as Callum informs us early into the set that Jack’s about to become a father, which seems an acceptable excuse. Standing in on lead guitar is the more than capable Dave Banks whilst on bass there’s another new face with Dave Burns doing a sterling job.

The set opens with two relatively older numbers, ‘Teardrops In A Storm’ and ‘Love Keeps Wasting My Time’ before the band delve into the new album with ‘Nobody Lives Here’ followed by one of its highlights ‘Rio Grande‘. It’s well documented the influence Bruce Springsteen has on the band and on their previous visit to Kirton they included a couple of The Boss’s songs in their set, but not today. Instead the only cover version is their rendition of ‘Savin’ Up’ which appeared on Clarence Clemons’ solo album ‘Rescue’, the Springsteen connection never far away.

Midway through the set Callum is left alone to deliver solo performances of ‘What’s A Man To Do’ and ‘Running Out Of Time’ before Theo returns and together they sing ‘Tonight’ a cappella with exquisite harmonies that only siblings possess. This is followed by a new and as yet not recorded number, ‘Scars’, dedicated to the memory of the brothers’ grandfather who recently passed away. Sung with heartfelt emotion this song offered up a new musical direction to the band’s normal repertoire, more personal, hinting at a possible new direction and developing their own sound. They completed their set with two numbers from their 2021 EP, firstly with ‘She Moves’ before finishing with a rousing rendition of ‘I Wanna Party’ before leaving the stage with the crowd baying for more.

The Black Feathers, live, (THL) Festival, 16/7/23
photo: Mark Dinnage

Next up were another act familiar to the regulars at Kirton though it’s been a few years since they last graced this hallowed stage. The Black Feathers are a duo from deep and darkest Wales made up of husband and wife team Ray Hughes on guitar and vocals and Sian Chandler on lead vocals who together create a wonderful blend of acoustic gothic folk. Having said that, they caught most of the audience off guard when opening their set with a cover of Willie Nelson’s ‘On The Road Again’ before returning to a more recognised path with ‘Down By The River’ from their much lauded debut album from 2016, ‘Soaked To The Bone’. This was followed by three numbers from last years sophomore album ‘Angel Dust & Cyanide’. Firstly ‘Hurricane’ followed by ‘Barcelona’, complete with its arpeggio intro which invites comparisons to that of ‘Hotel California’ before finally their version of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’ that seemed to work far better live than on the album. Other highlights included ‘Lighthouse On Fire’ and ‘Only The Brave’ ,both from last year’s somewhat overlooked and misunderstood album.

Hughes is a excellent guitar player and the duo are at their best when they sing in harmony, their voices working impeccably together to create the sweetest of sounds even on the saddest and darkest of songs of which the gorgeous ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’ is a perfect example. Throughout the set they held the audience captive with a well balanced repertoire that included two more cover versions, a slightly tongue in cheek ‘Spirit In The Sky’, complete with enthusiastic audience participation, before closing with a sublime rendition of Paul Simon’s ‘Homeward Bound’. Once again the crowd vociferously showed their appreciation for a fantastic performance.

Sara Petite, live, (THL) Festival. 16/7/23
photo: Mark Dinnage

The final “headliner” are the Sara Petite Band, hot off the back of their blistering set at last week’s Maverick Festival. Petite hails from San Diego and is currently on this side of the pond touring in support of her most recent album ‘The Empress’ that was released last month. She opened proceedings with the first track from the album, ‘God Save The Queen’. No, not that one. Petite plays her own brand of country that encompasses everything from high energy rock to soulful ballads, her lyrics, always heartfelt and personal, span the emotional gamut from the confident carefree rebel to the fragile lost soul. This evenings set is built around her latest album and the 2021 release, the much lauded ‘Rare Bird’, of which the title track was one of many highlights as were ‘Scars’ and ‘Feeling Like A angel’ from the same album. Petite’s band were exemplary throughout and included the exquisite talents of Joe Coombs on guitar sprinkling delightful solos over catchy riffs but always supporting the song never invading Petite’s rightful space in the spotlight.

During the middle section of the set Petite treated the audience to a couple of tracks from her back catalogue, first with ‘Tiger Mountain’ the title track from her 2006 release, followed by ‘Little House’ that originally appeared on her 2008 album ‘Lead The Parade’. From there it was back to the new album with the title track followed by the rocking ‘Bringing Down The Neighbourhood’ that brought proceedings to a close, but not before the raucous demands from the audience were rewarded with the anthemic ‘The Misfits’.

And with that this year’s (THL) Festival came to a close, the hall buzzing to the sound of the excited and extremely satisfied congregation as they gathered their belongings, empty hampers and weatherproofs, before venturing out to face the elements that had been so far from their minds for the last eight hours. In time thoughts will turn to next year, who will be on the bill? How will they possibly follow this year? Oh, and do you think the sun will shine?

About Graeme Tait 126 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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Alan Peatfield

Hi Graeme
As usual, another excellent article.
You capture extremely well the positivity and enthusiasm of the audience. The quality of all the acts on show, with every one of them a headliner in their own right, was clearly evident. Your background detail was informative yet succinct. Be careful though; too many glowing references for this venue and parking will soon become a nightmare!!