Always thought of one man bands as a man with a battered acoustic, a foot drum and a harmonica rack? Well, at the Harmonie yesterday, Canadian Steve Hill had all these – but a whole lot more. Meet the One Man electric Rock Band…
Definitely not the best of evenings to play a gig in Germany. It’s Sunday and televisions are on all over Bonn as the General Elections draw to a close. Outside the Harmonie I’m talking to a lone couple who came here after catching Steve Hill supporting Wishbone Ash in February. I missed that show, but I’m assured that Hill is a bit different from your average Blues-Rocker. By shows end I’m disappointed by the turn-out (no danger of being squashed against the stage or dying of thirst waiting for service at the bar) but I’m certainly not disappointed by that early promise of hearing someone a little different from the masses.
I knew things would be that promised little bit different when I saw a drumstick screwed onto the headstock of Hill’s Gibson. “It started out as a make-shift thing with duct-tape and such” Hill tells me later. When the gigs got popular though things had to be more permanent. Now those sticks are held on by a plate that screws in exactly where the machine heads screw in so that a valuable guitar isn’t damaged. There’s another clever bit of customization with the electrics too: an additional pick-up built to cover just the lower two bass strings enables Hill to do bass runs with his thumb that run out of a seperate bass amplifier. So much for the ‘simple’ one man band with a foot drum and harp-rack. But does it all work?
After a few minutes rocking out to the no nonsense ‘Rhythm All Over’ it’s quite clear that, as Hill proclaims “Got Rhythm now. Rhythm all over”. There’s a roughness about Steve Hill’s appearance that reminds me of the late, great, Lemmy Kilminster. This number is the sort of pedal on the metal rock that Motörhead so loved and if it’s not as loud it’s just because the speakers are smaller!
Steve Hill’s music has something of a novelty value of course, but there’s plenty of meaty musical substance on the bones of that ingenious musical backbone. They may not be hugely innovative, but Steve Hill’s songs get into your heart, the bass drum hits you full in the stomach, and his gravelly voice says this is a man who’s paid his dues on the road.
Set one is solid electric in all senses. Even the lightest touch of brass slide on metal roars out from Hill’s no-thrills slide attack. Set two though looks like it’s going to be more like my expectations of a one man band as the Man steps back up to the mike with an acoustic over his shoulder and – the friend of every folk playing busker from Cologne to Canada and beyond – a harmonica rack round his neck. The best part of the set for me was this energetic mix of Rock musician and Blues standard played out on the basics of acoustic guitar and Blues harp. Great attack once again on an irresistable combination of ‘Rollin and Tumbling’ with ‘Stop Breaking Down’. My favourite though was an all too rare venture into Folk with some fine finger picking on ‘Going down the road feeling bad’ to show that Steve Hill is a lot more than just a curiousity/musical freak-show. A clutch of Music Awards in his native Canada show the man has earned a lot of respect in the land that has brought me some of my favourite Bluesers, Jeff Healey, Jimmy Bowskill and Layla Zoe spring to mind. It’s a land of quality Blues music and Steve Hill shows that he deserves his accolades on the musical evidence this evening.
If you missed the show to catch the election then you will have the Blues now anyway for certain – I can’t help thinking this would have made a great concert after the results. Raw Blues against raw disbelief. We all need that raw emotion sometimes. That medicine from a bottle that doesn’t glimmer like a diamond or look like it cost a million dollars but nevertheless hits the spot with perfection. A damn good description of music Steve Hill style. The bottle gets a bit of polish as Hill leaves his drum/cymbal set-up for the first time on the last encore to play a dazzling Voodoo Child with a little Led Zepp thrown into the mix. Before the spotlight can find him though Hill is back behind the kit . “Move along, nothing to see here” he could almost be saying. “But I’ve got something for you to hear that will make you glad you came by…” I certainly was.
*** STEVE HILL INTERVIEW COMING SOON ***