Britain’s Mojo magazine once called him “The lovechild of Howlin’ Wolf and Big Mama Thornton”. His best solo CD ‘Man & Guitar’ was recorded at the prestigious Royal Albert Hall, but tonight Ian Siegal is making a short stopover in Bonn – and, as luck would have it, has brought his battered National Resonator guitar along. There’s beer and wine on the table in the conservatory for the break, but first lets take our seats in front of that resonator and a plank of wood on the carpet on which a snakeskin boot is tapping the Blues…
There’s a pendant with the image of Charlie Patton around Ian Siegal’s neck. People talk about the Blues being black American, but the man considered Father of the Delta Blues was part white, part black and part Cherokee Indian as Siegal is keen to explain. The Blues is not just a music, but a heritage. Siegal takes up his guitar to give us a snatch of Patton’s playing style. “I can’t play like him, but I’ll do my best…”. It’s a reverence for the music that remains throughout a magical evening of acoustic music.
Pretty well all the names that matter in Blues get a mention, or more often, a song. Son House, Robert Johnson (‘Come on in my Kitchen’),… especial mention to Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf. Ian proudly mentions he has Muddy and the Wolf tattooed on his left and right arms. Both are clearly just as tattooed in his heart and soul. Close your eyes and you can even see the giant frame of Howlin’ Wolf growling the Blues and howling at the Moon on ‘The Howling Wolf’.
The shirt won’t be coming off to show the tattoos tonight though, Siegal is clearly suffering from the flu bug that has left a smattering of empty seats tonight despite every one of them being booked long ago. The red bandana hanging from the back pocket of his denims is sopping wet from the constant removal of sweat from a fevered brow.
So how do you explain the almost superhuman force of ‘John the Revelator’ this evening? Siegal’s guitar becomes a drum and his voice is a hammer nailing out that John is indeed a-coming and so are the Apocalyptic events he foretold. Stunning is a word I don’t use too often on this website, but it’s the only one to describe what I heard so it will have to do.
There are firm roots between Blues and Country Music as Ian Siegal is quick to point out before playing some Willie Nelson. There is no predefined sequence for the evening’s music he admits, but he’s building a sequence anyway. There’s some re-tuning needed “As Willie says, tuning your guitar is a politeness” smiles Ian before playing Nelson’s ‘Crazy Old Soldier’.
I’m not sure what the ‘link’ was to introduce Stephen Collins Foster’s ‘Hard Times (Come Again No More)’ but it’s the very kind of song that Ian Siegal warms to and champions. Published in 1854, part of it’s importance is that it’s tale of poverty and hunger is still sadly relevant one hundred and sixty four years later. It’s also a sad indictment of ‘Tin Pan Alley’ at the time as Ian explains after the show. Collins Foster, who also wrote enduring classics including ‘Kemptown Races’ and ‘Oh! Susanna’ died himself sick and in poverty.
Closing the evening’s marvelous and varied one man tour de force, Siegal chooses a typical mix n match of songs – picking up his guitar, only to put it down again and select another guitar for a completely different song. The set-list really is written nowhere but it still seems to make cohesive sense. There’s a return to his own early catalogue with ‘I’ll Fly Away’ originally on ‘The Dust’ from 2013. A first encore of ‘Jersey Girl’ from one of Siegal’s favourite composers, Tom Waits. Finally, totally off the wall, I hear the name Eric Bogle mentioned. If I remember correctly Ian recalls Bogle’s son teaching him the chords to the song, and admits that, not only do the words of the song change from concert to concert but he’s never actually heard the original. It’s not Bogle’s famous ‘Band Played Waltzing Matilda’, but needless to say ‘Play Me Some Bob Dylan’, with it’s tale of a harassed folk singer always hearing no applause for his own songs, but always the request for ‘some Bob Dylan’, has a twist in it’s tale.
So here we are at shows end. An audience that for the most part knew little of Ian Siegal or the Blues has now been very much enlightened on both subjects. Mission accomplished. Back in that conservatory sipping wine and talking to Ian about this and that he’s really the man next door so to speak. Then the conversation somehow turns to the Pogues and Shane MacGowan’s 60th Birthday bash where Siegal met Johnny Depp and I’m reminded that he actually isn’t the bloke next door at all but he just might be that lovechild of Howlin’ Wolf and Big Mama Thornton.
Lots of pictures and words, but let the music speak. Here’s Ian Siegal in action from a 2007 appearance…