Billy Branch was discovered by Willie Dixon, the “father of modern Chicago Blues”, while Billy was still in college. Billy began touring with the Willie Dixon Chicago All-Stars, giving Billy the opportunity to travel and work as an understudy for the legendary Carey Bell, who was planning to leave the All-Stars and form his own band. When Carey took his leave, the young Billy Branch took his place, touring with Willie Dixon for 6 years.
Since those early days, Billy has played on over 150 different recordings, including 12 under his own name. He has recorded with Willie Dixon, Johnny Winter, Lou Rawls, Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, Honeyboy Edwards, Syl Johnson, Lurrie Bell, Lonnie Brooks, Ronnie Baker Brooks, John Primer, and Taj Mahal, amongst others. He has received three Grammy nominations (losing out once to BB King and Eric Clapton). He served two consecutive terms on the Grammy Board of Governors, and founded the Grammy Blues Committee. In addition, he has won multiple W.C. Handy Awards from the Blues Foundation, an Emmy Award, an Addy Award (like an Oscar for television ads), two Chicago Music Awards, and numerous humanitarian achievement awards. Billy Branch has become the ambassador for the Chicago Blues. During his 6-week tour of Turkey, he represented the USA in Turkey’s Parliament, teaching political party leaders to play harmonica! Thousands of fans showed up every night of the week to experience the authentic Chicago Blues! He and his band, the Sons of Blues, have delivered this cultural legacy around the world, having made over 70 international tours. The 2007 Chicago Blues Festival honoured the thirtieth anniversary of Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues with a 3-hour performance. In fact, they also headlined the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival.
Billy is a Blues education pioneer. In addition to his recording and performing, he has taught thousands of children around the world. His internationally recognized “Blues in Schools Program” is committed to teaching both young and old about the Blues as the roots of America’s music. He has brought his interdisciplinary programme to Europe, South America, Asia, and most recently to Mexico where he taught his two-week programme in Spanish. In addition, he teaches in the Grammy Museum Music Revolution Project.
Giles Robson has been building up a head of steam as one of the leading international blues harpists of his generation, blessed with one of the best blues bands in the UK: Andy Knight (guitar), Jeff Walker (bass) and Darren Crome (drums). Billy, Giles and the band first met and played together as part of the Harp Explosion package tour, also featuring harp legends Magic Dick and James Harman. They were heard together to sensational effect on the BBC Radio 2 Paul Jones Show, where they performed an awesome version of Junior Wells’ Hoodoo Man Blues and a slow tribute to little Walter “A Walter Shade Of Blue”. Paul Jones said of the band that they “have absolutely got what it ought to sound like behind those harmonica players” and praised the “marvellous session”.
The Burton Agnes Jazz & Blues Festival, which began in 2007, is uniquely set in one of the UK’s finest Elizabethan stately homes. Over twenty five bands provide a weekend of Jazz and Blues from a main stage on the manicured lawn, and inside the ornately carved Great Hall.
Fifteen generations have filled Burton Agnes Hall with treasures, from magnificent carvings commissioned when the house was built in 1598, to French Impressionist paintings, contemporary furniture, tapestries and other modern artwork in recent years. Simon Jenkins, author of ‘England’s Thousand Best Houses’, described Burton Agnes Hall as ‘the perfect English house’ and as one of England’s twenty finest houses, alongside Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Chatsworth House.
More artists will be announced during the coming weeks as they are added to the line-up of this unique boutique festival, which has grown year on year and is now firmly established within the festival calendar. Please visit their Facebook page to be kept up to date.
Tickets for the full weekend, and day or evening only tickets, are available now at early bird discounted prices via the website.
You can also buy tickets by phoning the estate office weekdays 9am to 5pm on 01262 490 324 or by visiting Burton Agnes Hall and its courtyard shops.
Photos: Billy Branch - and (c) info: all rights go to original recording artist/owner/photographer(s).