ORKNEY BLUES FESTIVAL 2023 – September 22nd-24th 2023 – REVIEW

Words: Colin Campbell Pictures: supplied

Interview with Dylan Pepper Festival Organiser and Drummer with Andy Taylor Group

First I asked Dylan about the background and how he got involved?

When I was just a little boy, my mum used to take me up to it, and it was run by a clever guy called Colin Sinclair. So, he ran it and there was some exciting stuff going on. He had the idea to get Peter Green and the likes of The Blues Allstars. I can remember watching Andy Gunn with my mum when I was ten. Years later, I ended up knowing Andy very well. The festival was located all over Orkney and there were workshops and things too. And, you know, like what you got to remember, Colin is like, you know me, and you know Marcus Cordock and Andrew Taylor (All members of the Andy Taylor Group) we grew up in Orkney and obviously there was a lot of support for, traditional music in the schools. We wanted to play rock and roll! We liked The Beatles and wanted to play this type of music. So, Marcus’s mum and dad would take us up and they’d let us see bands. We would sit and watch Gerry Jablonski and people like that. We were only nine or ten years old at the time. I remember going to a workshop to play the drums and it was just really great.  Walter Gorman kept the festival going and then a little bit later, Marcus Craddock, they took it over, just to keep it going and it kind of went back to a basic set up but mainly located in Stromness in the pubs. We were playing like Jeff Healey and Gary Moore stuff, that’s what we were into, and we just got involved in playing blues music. This is maybe my 20th Blues Festival this year. I don’t see myself as a committee member because it’s run by a group of just music lovers committee, no one gets paid or anything!

When Covid hit, you realise, holy shit how much I got from the festival, but Marcus s parents were unwell, and he is an in-demand musician. I took it over and went in all guns blazing and changed the whole framework because there was an opportunity to do that. Things in Stromness were a bit different. Some pubs and things that were there, weren’t there! I saw this as an opportunity; ideas that have been at the back of my mind came to the fore! The festival is the most northerly blues festival in the UK! I thought. fuck it, let’s try and build the profile, keep what’s special, but bring some higher-class acts in. I know a lot of fellow artists who may be interested so got to work on contacting them! Last year was pretty damn good, it was a scary challenge to change the format but got a lot of positive feedback. There is a wealth of local bands that love that music as well. that is something that we celebrate too.  But just to think that there’s now a really respectable blues festival makes me so proud. I’ll be involved with it for the rest of my life in some respect!


Choosing The Festival Line Up

The geography of the Islands and Festival logistics are massive because we’re not in a financial situation to fly people in because the flights are really expensive to the islands. You know, if you live here, you’re lucky to get a discount! So, it’s not like It’s one gig we offer headline bands we offer three! I’m pretty sure about who I want next year but it’s approaching these people. We have four or five headline acts and then we bulk it out with our wealth of local talent. It’s not long before you hear the Cinelli Brothers, Kyla Brox, Rob Tognoni and The Animals and Friends, I’m looking for entertainers and all bands bring this with changes of musical styles. these guys are the best at what they do. The Animals bring nostalgia and a historical lineage. I want everybody singing House of the Rising Sun. They are only playing the one night, Sunday as a Finale, there was demand to have more music at the end of the weekend so after consultation and arranging schedules they agreed, lovely bunch of guys to deal with, we are very excited having them close the festival. Kyla Brox brings a big sound an incredible talent wonderful singer. Rob Tognoni is your guitar wizard, a rocky guy and then the Cinelli Brothers are at the forefront of the modern-day blues thing. There’s also The Violet Hours, which is a duo who are new, but obviously Chris Preston’s in them he was previously with Slack Alice, he teams up with Helen May with some Americana style. I always like to have a duo as well!


Local Bands

A few of the local bands playing include Andy Taylor Group, Bad Apple a rocky band, Almost Blue, a duo playing traditional blues, Saltfishforty, playing folk and blues also mention for John Dearness who mixes rootsy blues to the musical styles. Also of note are Stoatfinger, Pleepsin Joe and The Bluetones ’42.


An Island Adventure

An example of logistics; James Oliver played last year and was unaware of how far the journey was as he had booked to play at Barnoldswick after his weekend here! I’m looking at what excites me. It’s about what I generally think is going to work and over the three nights you’ve got three opportunities to attract different types of people for the audience, so they get to see all the acts not just in one day. Also alternating venues, this year we have Hoy that has a beautiful venue, The Gable End Theatre, Kyla is playing there. Also, The Deep South Blues Club will be located in St Margaret s Hope, The Cinelli Brothers will headline there, that should be very interesting!  Orkney has like 70 islands and o so many of them are inhabited and there’s little communities all over the place and people will come to see these bands play.  As a booker, it’s a great opportunity to put a band on elsewhere that have never had this calibre of act or blues music style.



This year there are three workshops; they are free. Rob Tognoni guitar, Tom J Jones harmonica and Mike Hellier has a drum workshop. It’s a chance to meet the artists and discuss all things music and learn and get tips from the professionals in a relaxed atmosphere. These have worked well in the past and we’ve had positive feedback, it certainly encourages younger people to hone their skills.


The Balance Between being an artist and Organiser of the Festival

I’m lucky because there’s a really great team of committee members who are dedicated. Everything’s well discussed as to how it works, and I shouldn’t need to be there for it to run well. I think last year I purposely didn’t play very much because, it was my first year, but now I think the opportunity to play with the boys more, is exciting. I’m really proud of the Andy Taylor Group and what we have achieved and look forward to the future, we must get that new album out soon!


Orkney Blues Festival as a destination

 It’s a small festival, it really is, but I think the quality this year is strong.  I’m getting more and more messages from people saying, hey, we’re coming up. People are doing the north coast 500 drive and getting the boat to Orkney and tying the blues festival in. I’m getting interest from all over the world. I just hope everyone has a really good time and supports it and I hope it can happen again and again and give back to the businesses and the people on the Islands. Also, for the younger generation to get what we got at their age, it’s a special thing.  I think the promotion has been really good this year. I think that things look and sound good. I think there’s been a good consistent, social media and advertising platform. Another new thing is the VIP ticket. All these details are on the website for all.   It’s good for the music community and getting to know everybody.  If we can pull it off this year, if we can logistically make it work, what a weekend this will be.


Festival Hopes

  To benefit the local businesses, and benefit the people of Orkney, the people that come to Orkney, and for it to inspire younger guys to get the opportunity to hear different musical styles. I don’t believe that you should have to travel out of Orkney to see excellent music; blues and rock and jazz, we want to bring it to Orkney! I also want to thank Blues Matters for their support and look forward to seeing you again at Orkney Colin, cheers!


For further details see website: https://www.orkneyblues.co.uk/

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