My Blues Caravan visits must be into double figures now but I would be hard pressed to name a favourite year because each one has been so different from the ones before and after. In 2017 though the mix of musicians was an especially eclectic one: Funky sax from Vanessa Collier, RnB Soul from Si Cranstoun, and of course Blues – but from a black North Carolina man who discovered the Blues after arriving here in Germany. Oddly interesting indeed.
With recent visits by Danny Bryant, Bernard Allison and Blues Giants and Nine Below Zero just around the corner there is some competition right now for the cash of Blues lovers at Bonn Harmonie. Despite this though there is a good sized crowd, which is testimony to the faith locals have in Thomas Ruf to put an excellent show together each year, even with relative unknowns. 15 minutes of fame (well 45 each I guesstimate) with the chance to grab enough attention and come back with your own band next year is a pretty good set-up.
A young lady named Ghalia, from Brussels, certainly saw the benefits of a Blues Caravan appearance. She asked for, and got, a last minute supporting slot before the show proper and made a very solid impression armed with just an acoustic. I’m not sure if the world needs another ‘Rather go Blind’ but I did like her own composition ‘Hoodoo Evil Man’ with it’s rockabilly beat. I discovered that she usually has a backing band so keep an eye and ear out for Ghalia Vauthier and her band Voodoo Casino.
I’ve never seen or heard any of tonight’s acts before but they will be hard pressed to find a better set of backing musicians than those here tonight. Markku Reinkainen is a powerhouse on drums, Roger Innis, fresh from a three year stint with Laurence Jones, I keeping the bass rhythm safe and best of all, Laura Chavez is someone you dream of having covering your guitar playing. Laura can and does play anything and everything you could throw at her perfectly.
With a backbone trio like this no-one has an excuse for sounding bad, and indeed, none of the ‘frontmen/woman’ this evening need to lean on the band for support too much. Each brings their own style to the stage and plays with ease.
Saxophone wielding Vanessa Collier gets the first floorspot and instantly gets a rapore going with the audience by virtue of the energy she puts into her playing. Vanessa has some high profile gigs under her belt with the likes of Annie Lennox and Willie Nelson, not to mention cutting her blues teeth with Joe Louis Walker. I loved her funky take of ‘BB King/Bono’s ‘When Love comes to town’ and forgive her for some cringing song titles: ‘Tongue tied’, ‘Keep it Saxy’ and the wordy ‘Two parts sugar, one part lime’ for example. The latter made me think musically of Mr Hooker’s classic ‘One Burbon, one scotch and one beer’ but I guess that would not be a good digestive mix together. Vanessa Collier however was a very good mix of styles and very digestible music too. So much so that I gobbled up a copy of her new CD ‘Meeting my shadow’ and it’s a cracker too. Definitely the best saxophone player ever on a Blues Caravan by default as there hasn’t been one before, which is quite surprising.
Si Cranstoun has a lively musical history. Initially part of a Ska band, he spent twenty years busking in London and was famously ‘tipped’ 30p by then British PM Tony Blair before being ‘discovered’ by Warner Records. This evening he’s looking very dapper with braces, wide trousers and a vintage microphone. His songs are folky but with an RnB edge born out of his Ska background and love for Jackie Wilson style music – indeed his best number of the night ‘Dynamo’ bore more than a passing resemblance to ‘Reet Petit’. It had the audience singing along enthusiastically on the chorus but no-one could touch Cranstoun when it came to dancing about. Energy to burn. Am I jealous? A nice take of Magic Sam’s ‘All your love’ and the self penned ‘Coup de ville’ which sounded vintage 50’s despite Cranstoun’s relative youth were other highlights of a lively and entertaining set.
The Caravan usually has a more experienced figure to keep the youngsters grounded, and this year that task falls with Wilson Blount, aka Big Daddy Wilson, from North Carolina. Despite looking and sounding as if he was born singing the Blues, Wilson actually only discovered the music after moving to Europe to live here with his wife. The move is certainly our gain because like many a great Bluesman (Memphis Slim and Louisiana Red come to mind) Wilson has become a familiar and popular figure on the European Blues circuit. Further proof of his credentials is a friendship with the excellent Eric Bibb, his co-resident on the Dixiefrog label. Wilson’s voice has very similar qualities to Bibb’s.
It hasn’t been an easy start on the Caravan for Big Daddy Wilson though, with illness affecting his contribution for the last couple of shows. It certainly didn’t seem to affect his performance tonight thoughwith a warm, soulful southern country voice that went down as smoothly as warm honey on toast. The set peaked for me with the gumbo sound of ‘Neckbone Stew’ but ‘Cross Creek Road’ was a gem for true Blues afficianados.
Did I mention Wilson’s ‘one string diddley bow’? Seasick Steve brought the three string variety of cigarbox guitar back into vogue, but one string? I did love Big Daddy’s smiling exlanation as he struggled to get his ‘guitar’ ready though –“Might be only one string, but I still gotta tune it!”.
As I write Big Dady Wilson’s ‘Neckbone Stew’ is on the CD player and a sound recommendation to lovers of Blues and especially fans of Eric Bibb whose influence seems to radiate from every song. Very different from Tuesday’s show in fact, but that’s the nature of the Blues Caravan – putting muaicians together who don’t normally stand on the same stage and seeing what materializes. In 2017 the result is an enjoyable mix of styles and personalities. Small on egoes but big on entertainment. As always, a pleasure to be there Mr Ruf and recommended to Caravan visitors of the past. For those who haven’t yet set foot on the Blues Caravan – step on board!