Vanja Sky and Morgane Ji down at the Crossroads

Down at the Crossroads. In musical mythology, it’s where musicians go to sell their souls to play the Blues. In Bonn it’s where music fans go to hear new bands every year as a part of the Rockpalast Festival. It was popular to get a four day ticket and, to quote Forrest Gump and his famous box of chocolates comparison, you never know what you’ll find. Tonight you will find Croatian Blues Rocker Vanja Sky and Reunion born World musician Morgane Ji treading the boards.

Whether it’s down to Covid, or the rapidly rising cost of living crisis, I get the impression from the regular faces I see that tickets are more often being picked and chosen for particular nights. Understandable, but a shame nonetheless. Wolfgang Koll (Kolli) was particularly concerned when the Hamburg Blues Band called to say that band leader Gert Lange had Covid. With four days to go Vanja Sky stepped in to fill the slot. and had created a good enough impression in 2018 with RUF’s Blues Caravan appearance, that only a few tickets were returned for refund. The sympathetic Croatian Rock ‘n’ Roller went on to prove worthy of playing under the legendary neon Rockpalast sign (now available on a German stamp!) with a blistering performance and a superb band.

Vanja Sky aka Devil Woman

‘Rock ‘n’ Roller Train’ is a typical medium paced rocker to get the band and audience warmed up but already I was thinking this sound is a quantum leap from the Vanja Sky I heard four years ago. From the second number ‘All Night’ they were locked into a groove that lasted, well, all night. You can watch the whole show on the Rockpalast website, but here for me were some of the highlights:

‘Devil Woman’ saw Vanja don a pair of devils horns and give us a tantalising taste of what the new disc will sound like. The downside being her announcement that we will have to wait until Spring/Summer of next year to hear it. That seems like an eternity based on just how good this band sounded at the Harmonie in front of the cameras. ‘Voodoo Mama’ and ‘Hard Times’ are already popular tracks onstage and also rockingly enjoyable. That’s not to say Vanja can only play Rock and Blues. She was ‘Tritt-Sicher’ as the Germans say with her singing on the old classic ‘To Love Somebody’. Her voice has so much more confidence now than the nervous young lady on her first tour with RUF all those years ago. It’s not just noticeable in her singing, but also in her banter with the crowd.

I remember enjoying a chat with Vanja after that Blues Caravan show in 2018 and being impressed by her enthusiasm for what she was doing. That enthusiasm comes across to her audiences, and it’s nowhere better shown than in her song and her personal credo – ‘Don’t forget to Rock ‘n’ Roll’. For that reason it was somehow strangely prescient to hear during the evening that possibly the Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself Jerry Lee Lewis had died. Jerry never forgot. Nor should we. Life is too short. Don’t forget to rock ‘n’ roll!

Hamburg Blues Band fans who kept their tickets were rewarded by the appearance of the band’s guitarist Krissy Matthews joining Vanya for a blistering ‘Shadow Play’. A few years back Vanja Played Rory Gallagher’s ‘Bad Penny’ in her set, now she has the confidence (and band) to go for broke with one of Rory’s finest live songs. It did my old heart good to watch and listen on the balcony, looking down on an audience jumping, waving and singing happily along to this classic. I’m sure Rory himself would have loved to see it too. Three guitarists onstage. Did any one of them come close to Rory’s magic? Well no. That would be miraculous, but I would happily have listened to Krissy Matthews solo for another five minutes. Cudos also to Günther Haas for taking his solo on a Dire Straitsian direction on a cherry red Strat of course. I really enjoyed the contribution that Haas made to each song this evening, always inventive but never showy – a difficult tightrope to tread but he managed it all night.

Günther Haas – impressed on guitar with Vanja Sky

Some southern fried rock in the shape of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Simple Man’ and a grandiose ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ brought a stellar set to an end. You can find out more about Vanja’s past and influences in MY INTERVIEW fom 2018, but expect to hear a lot more from Vanja Sky and her band in Rock Music circles in the future. Looking forward already to that album next year!

I had no idea what I might get from Girard Morgane. I knew only that the British Press had labelled Morgane Ji ‘The Creole Queen’. That ‘chocolate box’ of Forrest Gump was about to be opened though. First surprise – the lady standing centre stage when the lights came back on was holding a banjo. She didn’t look like George Formby. Her stance suggested the earnestness more of Pete Seeger. She certainly didn’t sound like George either. “When World Music Rocks” is how Girard Morgane’s sound is described on her website. It stems from her steel banjo, an effects box standing half as high as the lady herself, and not least from a musical sound carpet amalgamated from African/Indian/Asian roots, not to mention a healthy dose of Rock music dynamics.

Morgane Ji

Morgane’s music swirls around almost menacingly. Together with bassist Olivier Carole and drummer Nogan Cornebert she adds two further layers of rhythm with her banjo and sound effects box. Even a large part of kilt-wearing guitarist Eric Lapleans’s contribution is towards adding another rhythmic layer. It’s a heady mix and a sound that is impossible to categorize yet impossible not to feel in every bloodcell.

Morgane Ji’s music has a seriousness about it. Every song is seemingly a protest or a statement. Or is it just the way she delivers them? ‘Woman Soldier’ has every emphasis on the word ‘Woman’ behind it’s thundering African rhythm. Or how about ‘Time Bomb’ with it’s lyric “Do you remember me? I’m the doll you once left on the ground, have the guts to face me!”. Heavy stuff indeed, but hypnotically delivered. The set had a weight to it that never let up right through to the anthemic ‘Gundog’ to finish. What is it that she sings in the chorus? “I’m ready, I’m ready, to offer my soul”? I can quite believe it. Heavy rhythms and unforgettable vibes. Having only seen this one evening from this year’s Crossroads festival I can’t be certain – but I doubt there was a better one.

Great music then from two very different but equally committed bands of musicians – playing from their hearts to our hearts. If you were one of those Hamburger Blues Band fans who asked for your money back – big mistake. Another varied and great Crossroads show – On this evening’s evidence that neon Rockpalast sign is not just a paper stamp but a stamp of quality too.

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