Diary of a Bluesman


Mike 'Dr Blue' McKeon is a bluesman with a voice like a bear who has been

singing and playing the blues for many years. Mike has agreed to write a diary to show us what a

bluesman's life is like, the venues he goes to, the characters he meets, his experiences.

He sends in chapters of his diary when he's ready. Who knows what adventures he will have.


Chapter 7

The Road North Again

Listen to Chapter 7

The Road North (again!)

Back in London after the Dundee Blues Festival, I had a couple of weeks at home before I headed out on the road again. This time to Cumbria, where I had 3 gigs to play, on the Blues Trail of the Maryport Blues Festival. I took the chance of being in London, to pay a visit to the jam night at Round Midnight Jazz and Blues. It turned out to be the bar's third birthday. It was great to see (but more importantly hear) Ian Segal, who was there. I am a huge fan of Ian's voice and performing. For me, he is the real deal. Ian has a spellbinding stage presence and a voice to match. I heard today that he has won a couple of British Blues Awards. I am delighted to see that he is getting the recognition he rightly deserves. A great British Bluesman.



Maryport Blues Festival was a stop on the way to the Edinburgh Festival for me. I was very excited because many musicians who I have spoken to, who have played Maryport, rave about it. It has the reputation for being a really friendly event, and the location couldn't be more beautiful.

I drove up on the day before the festival started, so that I had plenty of time to get set up at the campsite. I wanted to mooch around the town, to check the access and the set up, in each of the three venues I was due to gig in. Like many festivals, there is a main stage and then various pubs/clubs provide a performance space for the many acts that make up the ‘Blues Trail'.

I managed to speak to two of the organizers of the festival while I was there, to get some background to the event. The first was Ty, who has worked on the festival for 6 years. I caught up with him in a caravan that was located by the harbour bridge, which was later to be one of the information points for the festival.

Ty offered me a seat in the caravan and told me more about the event. There were to be 17 pubs on the trail, in addition to 2 main stages, one at the Wave Centre and the second, an outdoor stage at the local rugby club. There are actually two rugby clubs in town; the second was the camping site for the fans as well as the performers. Club members ran a wonderful café providing hot breakfasts- soul food for a Bluesman!

Ty described how all the organizing team take a break for a month at the end of a festival before they start the 11 month process, of planning, and setting up the next years' gig. There is a small core - group that coordinates the festival, (described later by Ian Lambert). 40 or 50 people are involved, according to Ty in the setting up. With 30.000 visitors expected over the weekend that's a lot of extra loos. To keep it safe for the crowds that will be walking/staggering from venue to venue, some roads are closed. Further, sites need to be prepared for catering vans and other traders. Ty was busy so I to wandered off to meet up with Ian Lambert who was my contact as well as being a director of the festival. Ian was busy, so I arranged to meet with him later over the weekend.

When I finally caught up with Ian, it was in a back room of the shop in the High Street that was the main box office. Ian's phone was constantly ringing as people called him with queries and logistical problems to solve. In between calls we managed to have a chat and a mug of tea.

Ian has been involved with the Maryport Festival for about five years. He started as a steward. He described how a small team of volunteers listens to all the CD's that are sent in to the festival organizers. They go through them and decide who will be headlining and who will be on the Trail. Ian insisted that all the CD's are listened to. If you are new to applying to play, Ian advises that you send your cd's in early. I asked Ian about their booking policy. Ian said they try to get as diverse a range of acts as possible. One member of their core group attends many of the bigger festivals here in the UK and some in Europe. He will advise the group, who might make a good booking for the major stages. The range of music represented this year included: Rock, Chicago Blues, Acoustic Blues and more Roots/ Blues like BabaJack.


One of Ian's favorite memories of the festival was when Chuck Berry played as the headliner a few years back. Ian was working as a steward back stage. Chuck Berry had delivered a great performance (despite his age). As a finale, he had got a load of women up from the audience to dance on stage. Chuck Berry walked off stage playing his guitar, as he stepped off stage, he slumped into Ian's arms completely exhausted. Chuck, in Ian's words, ‘had nothing left'. With the band still playing, with the women dancing on stage, he was helped into a waiting car and driven off. Leaving behind the ecstatic crowd calling for ‘more'.

The festival was started originally, as part of a regeneration project for the town. In the first year there were 3 venues, and it has grown to the current size of two main stages and 17 venues on the Trail.

4 directors, with the help of 4 additional volunteers, run the festival company. This group sits down after each festival. It reviews the successes of the most recent festival, and fix a budget for the next year and then start planning.

There is a team that goes around the pubs in Maryport, to see what they want. Information is then passed onto the Operations Team who will organize things like: sound equipment, barriers and toilets. There is a member who deals with the council. The 8 members of the central core- group are involved in more than one of the sub groups (Operations, Council Liaison, Booking and Artist Liaison). This multiple membership of groups helps with communication within the group of organizers.

The festival works hard, but struggles to get sponsorship, particularly in the current financial climate.

Ian described how there is a group who chase funding. Sadly, much of the grant aid they have been able to get in the past is designed to support projects starting up and is not there to support established festivals. ‘We rely on ticket sales' Ian said, we only have one budget for both the main stages and the trail gigs. This does however create a tension, because the pubs (Trail venues) that pay the acts that play on the Trail, feel they are subsidizing the main stage acts. Broadly speaking the main stage ticket- sales breaks even, the ticket sales for the trail, keep the festival going.

I wanted to know if Ian had any other tales to tell. Ian smiled and told me ‘we never know what's going to happen'. During one festival, he had just sat down for the first time that day at 8pm, for something to eat, when the phone rang. It was one of the acts saying they were due on stage at 9pm that they were stuck on the camp- site, with their van up to the axels in mud, could Ian help? ‘I told them not to panic, give me 10 minutes and I would call them back' said Ian, who took the time to shovel some food down. Outside one of the volunteers was driving past, who owned a 4X4. Ian flagged him down. Sadly the driver didn't have a towrope. Ian and his mate rushed over to the Fair Ground and scrounged some strapping. They pulled the band out of the mud and got them to the packed venue with 25 minutes to spare.

I think this story more than anything, demonstrates the community spirit, the resourcefulness and the energy required to keep this wonderful festival going.

L.R. Phoenix

I met some great acts, including the man with a huge voice: L.R. Phoenix, who was playing with the Rev. DJ Waller (on harp). Over from Finland, where he lives, L.R. Phoenix is actually a Brit. He plays a mean guitar with a range of interesting slides. Aside from a short cylinder slide, he treated us to songs, which featured: a fork and a length of antler. A great guy, a unique performer with a powerful blues presence.

I bumped into Becky and Trevor from BabaJack, after one of my gigs (Navy Club). I was packing up and en route to my next gig as they arrived to set up. We sat down and had a quick chat. BabaJack is a busy band that are touring constantly. They said they like the Maryport Festival, describing it as quite different from many other festivals. It seems to them that everyone is involved, from kids to grandmas. It is ‘very vibrant'. Becky and Trevor had started their Maryport Festival at the Sailors Return, a small, intimate gig. Prior to us meeting they were on the Rugby Club Stage with a huge PA. It was: ‘a different kind of gig altogether- sun came out, loads of people sitting on the grass, kids, dogs- a real summer- time one'.

We moved on to talk about their two nominations in the British Blues Awards, Trevor and Becky saying what a bonus they had been to them. ‘If we win it would be amazing'. The musical pair acknowledged it was great to be nominated by their peers. A bonus that the nominations had brought, was that they were now being viewed in a ‘different light with promoters'.

Baba Jack started off, like many of us, playing at open mics, then got into pubs and other venues. They have been doing 2-300 gigs a year. They both reflected that being a musician is a tough life, you have to like traveling, going to places you have never been before. Maryport was for them, a microcosm of the blues scene. They had played three different venues that weekend, with three very different vibes. ‘You have to be in that place, feel the vibe of the place - feel it, do it', they said. We enjoy what we do, we love the traveling, but it's tiring sometimes. Becky reported that Trev had asked her what did she want for Christmas? Becky replied: ‘Roadies -I have to say, the only down side, is lugging the gear around, but we feel privileged to do what we love, the blues scene is very friendly, and you get to meet people you would never meet'. Amen to that!

I was really sorry to have to cut the interview short, but I, like BabaJack, had another gig to play at 5pm. I was delighted to hear when I got back to London that BabaJack had won the runners up for the Best Acoustic Act and that Becky had won the British Blues Award for ‘Other Instruments'. Both Trevor and Becky are great people and a fab act. I wish them luck over the coming year.

On my return to the camp- site, I bumped into Nat Martin from the Nat Martin Band.

He was dealing with a punctured airbed, but was excited, having just played a rammed Captain Nelson (one of the Trail venues). I asked Nat about his band.

Nat described the band as being primarily influenced by the blues, and a lot of funk. Nat has also played jazz over the last few years; it was a subtle, less obvious influence. Among the blues greats who have influenced him there has been: Albert King, Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Stevie- Ray Vaughn. Nat has also been influenced by Robin Ford – ‘I wanted to develop my own jazz based style' said Nat. Other influences included soul music, a favorite of their bass player. Nat said that he had written his1 st album on his own. He usually starts a new song with a grove or it might be lyrics. For the next album he plans to involve the band more.


Nat talked about how much he was enjoying the festival, feeling that there was a lovely atmosphere, that everyone was really friendly. I asked him if he had a festival story to tell. He laughed, as he described how on the first night of the Maryport, he developed a nose bleed during a particularly energetic guitar solo, and this was whilst playing a white guitar- not many can claim they play so hard it makes their noses bleed!

Coming Soon- Blues at the Edinburgh Festival.

Remember: ‘ if it aint the truth it aint the blues'

More soon