CELEBRATING Marlborough Jazz Festival’s 30th glorious year this weekend is a special guest from Alabama. Leon Atkins, aka Lil’ Jimmy Reed, who has been described as “the last of the great Louisiana blues artists”. He will perform on Saturday.
Atkins was born just outside Baton Rouge in the late 1930s, and in childhood he experienced the hardships and
discrimination from growing up poor and black in the Deep South. Music was a way to escape the cycle of depression caused by grinding poverty. One night in a blues club, he got his lucky break. Jimmy Reed, the legendary blues musician, was scheduled to perform. Leon had always wanted to see him and here was his chance to do that. This night would change his life forever. Jimmy Reed had arrived drunk and Leon was asked to take his place. “They snuck him out back and came and got me,” Leon recalls clearly. “Mr Reed was just too drunk to play.” He gave a showstopping performance and so was born ‘Lil’ Jimmy Reed’. He was awarded the Alabama Blues Treasure Award in 1995, named Blues Harmonica Player of the Year by the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame, and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2014.
He will be supported at Marlborough by Bob Hall (piano/ mandolin/vocals) who has been twice voted Instrumentalist of the Year at the annual British Blues Festival, Hilary Blythe (bass/guitar/vocals) and a visiting drummer. “It’s great news for us,” says festival coordinator Nick Fogg. “We’re getting one of the greatest exponents of a style of music that is under threat and of which the genuine article is rarely seen in thiscountry. The reasons for this demise are obviously good. It is the music of adversity, of poverty and of discrimination. As these have lessened, the need for such music has declined, although much of its influence has been felt elsewhere. Yet it is sad if such a haunting and rooted form of music should cease to be in its authentic form. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear it.”
Marlborough International Jazz was founded in 1986, and takes place annually in many venues across the town. The
festival kicks off tomorrow (Friday) and runs to Sunday.
As well as individual concerts, a major feature is the ‘Stroller’ – tickets that enable the holder to see a large number of bands in more than 20 locations on Friday evening from 6pm until the Sunday Marquee finishes.