17 – 21 March 2022

By Iain Patience. Photos: Claude Adam

Usually the opening festival of the season, Terri’ Thouars, is always a welcome event, no more so than this year. Following two years of Covid lockdowns and cancellation, the festival kicked-off with its usual mix of local, French and international blues artists. About fifty miles south of the Loire, Thouars is a fairly typical French market town.

What helps set it apart is its thriving blues music passion and support with French association, Blues & Co, based there. The society not only runs the event but also publishes a bi-monthly magazine featuring the usual range of interviews and reviews..

This year, Cognac-based bluesman, Sam Mr Tchang, delivered an excellent opening salvo with his Bluz Explosion, and fine guitar mastery in a packed-house bar. Backed by a truly wonderful saxophonist, drums and bass, his voice is gritty, whirling and blues-infused. The band delivered much of their current album, ‘Tribute 2 the Kings,’ featuring music from Albert, Freddie & BB, together with other blues standards, including the ever welcome ‘Born Under a Bad Sign.’ With a packed crowd celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in tow, the set was a hearty opener appreciated by all.

Events then moved from the bar to the town’s principal, town-centre theatre with French picker Fabrice Falandry, followed by leading French drummer and touring side-man Denis Agenet, who led his own band, the Nolapsters – named after NOLA, of course – on a varied set that at times sounded a touch Rockabilly to me, but featured almost exclusively his own compositions. This, the Friday night, ended on an absolute high with Italian bluesman, Mike Sponza, and his band ripping the place apart with a festival-defining set that went down a storm.

Sponza is no newcomer to Blues Matters pages, his albums have generally been very well-received by our reviews team over the years, and his sheer quality in live performance actually out-performs the studio versions. This is a musician to catch at any opportunity. Even when a string broke on his Gibson guitar on the final number, he went on to deliver a cracking encore with five-strings alone.

Saturday, again saw the theatre crowd given a treat with an excellent opening set by Scottish born, Chicago-raised, now French resident, acoustic picker, Dik Banovich being rewarded by rapturous applause for a set that featured a wide range of classic blues and Americana numbers. Again, like Sponza, Banovich is no stranger to Blues Matters and his set was easily a festival highlight greatly appreciated by the full-house crowd.

Banovich gave way to French acoustic/electric picker Ronan and harpist Marko Balland, a pair that delivered an enjoyable set of originals which again caught the mood and feel of the hall perfectly. Bringing the festival to a close for 2022, Austin, Texas, picker Janky – aka Scott Lindsay – turned in a cracking set that again had the theatre crowd howling for more as the night drew to a close. Backed by Denis Agenet and the excellent French upright bassist, Abdel Be-Bop, Janky comes from the Mississippi Hill Country school of blues but has a tad more standard blues blood running through his veins. The result was a genuinely surprising set that featured mostly his own work and writing, while managing to feel rooted in tradition.

With the season now underway, the next major event is Cognac Blues Passions, one of the biggest events in the country and one that has a strong line-up in view, followed by the longest established French Blues Fesitival, a personal favourite, Cahors, which for 2022 includes our own Kaz Hawkins, now a French resident and signed to Parisian Dixie Frog Records, alongside some top-dollar acts from Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram to Whitney Shay, Kyla Brox, Fred Chapellier and Popa Chubby.