Whilst all here at home shivered in the arctic winds and battled through snow blizzards, Babajack were enjoying glorious sunshine, warm 'early summer' temperatures, with only a sniff of the wet stuff in the early hours of Saturday morning.

I know, because fortunately I had boarded the same plane bound for Toulouse and the European Blues Challenge.

The difference was I only had to watch, as Blues bands from all over Europe musically jousted for the crown; a sort of Eurovision Song Contest, only talented musicians, without the razzmatazz, TV orchestrated, politically weighted, clap trap we all love to hate?

No flag flying stuff here, an appreciative blues loving audience and a panel of 'expert judges' from some differing backgrounds and nations, but only a panel of six.

Each band had 20 minutes to present a set, with intervals of only five minutes to change around the bands.

Two nights would see 22 bands cold starting, trying to go straight to full power and wow the gathering, along with the panel holding court.

First band was a three-piece with boogie woogie piano, double bass and drums from Latvia, Gints Zilinskis Trio.

They reminded me of a regular trio from Upton Blues of past years Danny Mccormack, Al Gare and Dean Beresford, though probably not as good. 

Probably tough opening the party, a short set and off; the artists of nations followed on, Luxembourg, Heavy Petrol, bordering heavy metal; Austria complete with a brace of sax; Romania, Soul Serenade, a young nervous trio, with a folk style reworking of blues such as 'smokestack lightning', a good female vocalist with guitarist and mandolin player.

Enter stage right, Babajack, and straight into ' The Moneys All Gone' from Rooster.

The 20 minute set gave us 'Running Man' and 'Hammer & Tongs' from the forthcoming album, along with 'Sunday Afternoon'' and 'Skin & Bones' as a finale.

The crowd loved them, certainly they stood out as the best act presenting roots blues complete with self penned music.

Hammer & Tongs, I particularly like; it pitches Bec's exceptional vocals, alongside Trevor who lowers his handmade wine box guitar and concentrates on the harmonica.

Now I have to say, the harp did not come over that strongly, and would have been more prominent with a bit of lift, this seems to me to have been the case throughout with any harp playing being slightly subdued.

It may have been just my position but I've certainly been more aware of Trevor’s ability on harmonica, and here it seemed a bit low.

Skin & Bones is always popular, and so it remains, a good fast run down the home stretch, with Becky on cajon, with her powerful voice and Trevor back on the wine box, slide, and harp, it was a grand finish, everything I would expect from this great professional band, they never fail to give 100 per cent.

I saw two more bands before the last Metro at the stroke of midnight, The Sunnysiders from Croatia, and Chino and the Bet Band from Spain, good fun band that seemed to go down well.

The following evening would prove longer, I had till 01.00 for transport back to the city but there were some impressive performances.

Raw hard hitting blues from a female bass playing singer with attitude, all the way from Helsinki.

A fun frenetic, crowd pleasing band representing the host nation of France, Shaggy Dogs.

A superb young Dutch band, Sugar Boy & The Sinners.

Head banging blues rock from Switzerland with Fabian Anderhub, followed by the surprise winning band from Italy.

Femme fatale Veronica Sbergia and her band The Red Wine Serenader’s.

The style was Romany camp fire folk with the personable, visually magnetic, vocally expressive, Veronica wowing everybody; blues it was not, wonderfully entertaining it was.

Veronica's main instrument, her voice aside, one battered washboard, rubbed and beaten with a pair of wired hairbrushes!

Overall, for me a very enjoyable weekend of music, what really impressed was how smoothly the organisation worked, like the proverbial well oiled and fully tested machine.

The timing of the evenings were well controlled, 5 minute turnarounds between bands, a top quality sound system in a superb setting, Le Bikini.

I spoke briefly to Becky following there hectic round trip, she says that although not winning an award, it was an extremely productive visit, fuelled by their 20 minutes on stage.

Plenty of potential for future festivals on the continent, and serious interest in their promotion and forthcoming album, Running Man.

The Blues have grown out of America, laid deep roots in Britain and spread throughout Europe, where its producing a fantastic yield, as EC said in one of his songs 'Let It Grow'.

Review and photographs by Graham Munn