Goodbye 2023 – it’s been a blast

As the proverbial dust or should I say sauerkraut (subtle reference to our last gig to those who were there) settles on 2023 and we take a little Christmas / New Year / bad weather break, I just wanted to reflect on this past year and our inaugural year as Leeds Blues Club.

It has been a year of incredible highs and very few lows but overall has been amazing.

Starting with the wonderful Trevor Babajack Steger who along with his trio, drove all the way from the west country on a cold and wet February night to kick everything off with some high quality rootsy blues, winning over many new fans in the process. Following Trevor we had more bad weather issues – what do you expect for Leeds in February and March I hear you say! – when Jube had to cancel last minute with heavy snow. Thankfully we were able to rearrange and Julie and Bennett treated us to some sophisticated, laid back jazzy blues with wonderful vocals and masterful keyboard playing.

In between we had a last minute appearance from Mark Pontin and his group who happened to be in the area and were looking for somewhere to play. It was all a bit last minute so attendance was not brilliant but the band were brilliant with some high powered energetic blues rock.

The low attendance for Mark was eclipsed by our sold out show the following night when we crammed 58 people into our room for the magnificent Dom Martin for the first of his two shows that he did for us this year with an acoustic set of sheer beauty and brilliance.

Moving into the spring we had a disappointing setback when Brad ‘Guitar’ Wilson pulled out less than a week before his scheduled appearance. In some ways you can understand their reasoning – we were the only venue they were playing on the UK and their trip to Leeds involved a ferry crossing, hire car and 2 night’s accommodation and ticket sales for a band which are not well known in the UK were not great to be honest, so we were grateful when local band Dr. Bob and the Bluesmakers stepped in and gave us an exhilarating night of entertainment.

Heading into the summer we were treated to some great Southern rock from Yorkshire lad Tom Killner and his band who blew the roof off the Cross Keys in so many ways. Tom is a great talent who is deserving of some bigger recognition.

Our biggest gig of the year came next when we stuck our neck out by taking over the Irish Centre for the second gig with Dom Martin and this time he turned up with his band. We also had to call on the services of a professional sound engineer and Liam and his team did an amazing job. Dom had a great time as did the rest of us there to witness the continued development of the guy who is surely destined to become a major star.

Talking of talent – Greg Brice came next in July. A genuinely nice guy with a passion for his craft with some great guitar playing and cleverly crafted songs. He was supported by local lass Hayley Gaftarnick who is a massively understated talent. I’m not sure she appreciates just how good she is. Her vocals are powerful and gravelly and her range of self-penned songs have quality and depth.

We took a bit of a summer break then and next up in September we had a temporary change of venue when Lightning Threads performed for us at Mad Frans. We had been looking for a larger venue to host some of the bigger acts that we would like to put on and Mad Frans appeared to fit the bill. Lightning Threads are very much a young band at the start of their journey, and they played 2 brilliant energetic sets with a huge smile on their faces and absolutely wowed everyone there – a drummer who plays keyboards at the same time? Wow!

The plan then was for one of the fastest emerging bands on the circuit – Brave Rival to appear at Mad Frans but the day before they were due to play, I received a call from their management to say that one of the band had been taken ill and they were going have to cancel. It was a major disappointment – we had booked a sound engineer who was literally travelling from North Wales to Leeds when I contacted him and told him his services would no longer be needed as well as other accrued expenses, but I guess these things happen. Hopefully we can get Brave Rival back sometime.

As we headed towards Halloween, we had the Voodoo blues trio of Jo Carley and the Old Dry Skulls. These guys were just so original and created a great atmosphere with their skeleton double bass and visual stage show.

Another big night followed in November when Emma Wilson travelled from Teeside for what was a quite brilliant and memorable night. She absolutely owned the room and her band just rocked till they dropped. It was heightened by the surprise guest appearance of Paddy Wells with some outstanding harmonica playing. Everyone was literally dancing in the aisles, and we immediately took the opportunity to book her again for the same time next year and we can’t wait.

To our final gig at the weekend and what a treat with Andres Roots heading all the way from Estonia for a mini-Yorkshire tour. I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone like Andres. The sounds he gets out of his guitar are just amazing and we upped the Estonian theme of the night with some Estonian food which went down well with everyone.

A final note to say a few thank yous. To my good mates Ian, Joe, Steve and both Nicks for their help with various duties from manning the door, humping speakers up and down stairs and selling raffle tickets as well as being good mates and coming to all the gigs and handing over their hard-earned cash for the privilege. Thanks also to all the people who have joined as members and bought tickets for the shows. They wouldn’t happen without you.

Thanks also to Ed and his team at the Cross Keys who look after us so well.

Finally, a special mention to my good friend Steve ‘Beastie’ who has been a guide, mentor and inspiration in this journey and will forever be associated with Leeds Blues Club.

Onwards to 2024!