What’s so hard about playing the Blues on a harmonica? Playing it so that people want to listen for more than two minutes is the answer. That a 23 year old Brit can manage to hold an audience spellbound for an entire concert is more than just a little bit special – but Brightons Will Wilde is not your average ‘bar-room blower’ as I discovered in Colognes Yardclub.
When I meet up with Will Wilde for a short interview before the concert I give him a copy of a photo I took from last years show here when he was in sister Dani’s band. The stage lights on that night were predominantly bright green and Will, with his muscular forearms, has an almost menacing ‘Incredible Hulk’ presence. In the beergarden though he’s very much Dr David Bannerman. Friendly, calm, and nothing like I would be if I was just about to start my very first show of my very first solo European Tour and I was just 23 years old. But there’s a steelyness about Will Wildes expression as he answers my questions – A quiet conviction that he loves playing Bluesharp and he’s in no doubt that the audience will share his love of the instrument. Of course he is absolutely right.
When they come onstage the band look like they could be part of a Blues Society at any Student Union in Britain. Four youngsters out to play a ‘bit of Blues’ on a Saturday night. Looks are deceptive though and John Chase nails down a confident rythm to Mark Earls solid backbeat with Stuart Dixons guitar perfectly colouring the music without dominating it. Thrills without the frills so to speak. Just the right base for Will ‘Harmonica’ Wilde to lay down his musical pizza of delights on top of in fact.
The bands first set is a solid and bluesy enough start. Highlight for me being the marvelous ‘rap’ in the middle of ‘Blues is my First Love’ – dedicated to a girlfriend of Will’s – not surprisingly, given the songs title,a former girlfriend. Close second favourite was Wills rousing version of Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin bout a Revolution’ that closed the set.
The real gems though came later in the evening. This is a band that take to songs like Little Walters ‘Too Late’ and Buddy Guy’s ‘A Man & The Blues’ like musical ducks to water; almost effortless, as the best music and musicians always seem to be. Don’t go thinking that the whole show is a Chicago Blues tribute event though. Will is keen to push his instrument in new directions and ‘HLS’ was a fine example. The title refers to an Animal Research Centre in the UK and whilst Stuart Dixons chilling guitar riff sets the scene it’s the brooding ‘other worldly’ harp playing on top that really cuts to the bone. A surprise but very welcome addition to the set for me was Springsteens ‘Cover Me’ which seemed ballsier’ than even ‘The Boss’ managed – Like being hit with a vocal hammer. A good time to say how much Will Wilde has come on as a vocalist. Impressive stuff. Canned Heats ‘Down the road again’ was a safe and steady crowd-pleaser of an encore but it was when Wilde stepped outside of the traditional Blues box that he really shone and where I think we will have lots more to enjoy in the future. It’s a fairly short tour, but catch a show if you can and you’ll be down the music shop next day to buy a harmonica. It looks so easy when Will Wilde does it. While you’re there you can buy a Stratocaster and play like Hendrix – just be sure to buy a large can of talent to go with it.