Sunday, 25 April 2010

Guitar Gabriel and some boogie woogie piano

A friend introduced me to Guitar Gabriel recently. Like all great bluesmen, he's now dead but thanks to the magic of YouTube we can still enjoy his slightly drunken Blues ramblings. Gabriel is the guy singing, hammering the ivory is Henry Gray of Howlin' Wolf.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Takin' the Blues Back Home

Once a month I review albums for a magazine called Blues in Britain. It isn't a bad job, not least because it means I get to expand my CD collection for free and usually I get to choose which artists I want to review from a great big list (that I later memorise and use to sound knowledgable).

So today, whilst sheltering indoors for fear of the first few planes allowed up falling back out of the sky, I received that joyous list in my inbox. Scouting around the internet to see which artists I liked, I got listening to a band called Call Me Albert.

I strongly recommend everyone listens to the free songs on their website. If any of you aren't convinced by their catchy, rock'n'roll name, maybe you'll be swayed when you hear they're a Welsh Blues band...

In particular, one song stands out, and not just because it's the first one. Called 'Never Gonna Dance', it boasts the unusual feature of a lead mandolin. This seems really folky and I admit I nearly classified it as 'not proper Blues', made a noise of impolite derision and moved on down the list when I heard this song. I'm glad I didn't though. Blues and Folk have become two very different genres in British music but they needn't have, their roots are inextricably tangled.

Take Rory Gallagher, arguably the man who started the British Blues Rock movement. In interview, Gallagher would always talk about his folk influences, sometimes even describing himself as a folk musician (he played the mandolin too). In 2003, 8 years after he died, Gallagher's label posthumously released an album of Folk songs Wheels Within Wheels.

I'm not suggesting that Folk is intergral to the genre because one great Blues musician liked it. Rather, Rory Gallagher picked up on the fact that the Blues came from Folk music, and quite a lot of what's great about one is there in the other.

Whilst you can argue for days about how the Blues started (and there are forums available if you'd like to), most people are agreed it has some connection to the music of black, American slaves. The songs these people were singing were mostly game songs and work songs, both using the music to keep time.

Listening to these tunes (there's a great album of recordings by Alan Lomax called Afro-American Blues and Game Songs available from the Library of Congress here) you can hear that they've got lots of the same lyrics and themes as Apalachian folk music. Early Blues was the fusion of those songs, the songs of the slave owners, with the more rhythmic music of the slaves themselves. For the first generations of slaves to be born in the US, it was perhaps the only bit of culture that was truly theirs; sung in the language of the country they were born into but with links to their cultural heritage.

If that's where Blues music came from, why should it seem odd to hear folky Blues sung by a Welshman today? The pioneers of electric blues, guys like John Lee Hooker, were carrying on a tradition. They were making the music they identified with relevant to their experiences and culture. So why shouldn't British Blues musicians do the same?

Saturday, 17 April 2010

"Hello there, come on in..."

Welcome to my humble blog.

Please, make yourself at home. Can I get you a cup of tea?

Starting these things is alway the hardest part. It's bad enough when I'm writing an article, or even a letter for that matter. I have been to known to blankly stare at emails for up to half an hour, willing the first few words into existence.

So I thought the best thing to do would be to invite you all round for a chat, to let you know what this blog is going to be about.

Biscuit anyone?

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Jon. Each week I plan to update you on what's happening in the world of the three things my life revolves around: Blues music, art and books. It is likely to be in that order. Not least of all because I have an Editor at the magazine Blues in Britain who likes to send me CDs to review. But there will be plenty more than just that. There will probably also be the odd insight into the unfurling of my life.

Feel free to comment on anything you see or read here, and to contact me if you want me to tell me about something you're doing or just fancy a chat.

So that's what you have to look forward to. Now you know where I am, feel free to pop in any time you like.