Mike ‘Dr Blue’ McKeon is a bluesman with a voice like a bear who has been singing and playing the blues for many years. Mike has agreed to write a diary to show us what a bluesman’s life is like, the venues he goes to, the characters he meets, his experiences.
He sends in chapters of his diary when he’s ready. Who knows what adventures he will have.
Chapter 17 – Dr. Blue Goes Wild Down West!
The preparation for any gig or festival- appearance, begins for me at the end of the last time I was out. The equipment we use to perform with is expensive to replace and if not packed away and cared for, can easily become damaged. I like to set aside time to unpack, store away equipment and instruments, having first checked for wear and tear. Carrying out any cleaning, re – stringing or minor repairs that are needed. I had taken one of my guitars in for a minor repair after dropping it at a support gig recently (opening for Chantelle McGregor with the Rough House Trio), only to discover that it also needed re – fretting. Fortunately we are lucky in Brighton to have some great ‘ guitar mechanics ‘ .
Loading up at the Lock Up
For the trip down to the West Country, I started my packing a couple of days before the departure date. This involves spending a morning at my Lock Up drawing up a list of gear I will need, and packing it into a flight case and wheeled holdalls. The Lock Up is essentially an alarmed cupboard in a large commercial storage facility. In addition to being secure, I have 24 hr. access which is essential, as I am often unloading in the early hours, and I don ‘ t want to leave my gear in the van outside the flat in the street overnight.
I had been up in the North East playing a few of gigs, including The Darlington Blues Festival at the end of September. We had only then, just got back from a very busy Edinburgh Fringe Festival (60 plus gigs over the month), so there was very little time to ‘ decompress ‘ . The fringe this year was made up of a full run of Poetry Can Fuck Off at the Stand, playing and performing as part of the opening act at the daily ‘ Cult of Comedy ‘ show, as well as a number of solo Dr Blue gigs around the city. Many performers talk about the need to have a break after an extended or intense period of performing. For me, that had to wait.
Camping at Barnard Castle
The northern leg of my Autumnal touring started with a warm up gig in a lovely pub called The Golden Lion in Barnard Castle. My old blues buddy and the multi award winning Blues Broadcaster Gary Grainger had introduced me to the venue. I played to a lively and very friendly local crowd. After lunch the following day in the Golden Lion, I headed off to Darlington to check out my venue- The Voodoo Café.
I arrived in Darlington to find that the Cadillac Kings were on the bill. Unfortunately their slot clashed with my gig, so I wouldn’t be able to catch their set. l know Malcolm Barclay, their guitarist from the Monday night electric blues jams at Ain’t Nothing But The Blues, in the early 2000 ‘ s. This was the time when Ian Segal used to be the host. I was put in mind of Ian and his amazing body of work, when I saw a posting on Facebook advertising his latest tour, celebrating 25 years of being out on the road. Here ‘ s looking forward to another 25 (no pressure!)
At the time (2004/05) Malcolm very kindly agreed to play guitar on one of the tracks I had written for Dr Blue and the Prescription. He ended up playing a blinding duet with Dave ‘ Guitar ‘ Piggott on a version of Hear The Devil Calling. The Darlington Festival was well attended and supported by an enthusiastic crowd, willing to walk between the town square, where the main stage was set up, and the various satellite stages in bars and cafes. My heart sank when the act on before me finished and the venue emptied. I need not of worried as the friendly venue quickly filled up with a new, cheerful afternoon crowd. Darlington ‘ s Blues festival still retains the enthusiastic support of the local council, a key element in its survival , when so many other local events have been lost to cuts in arts funding.
After the gigs in Darlington, I headed up to Edinburgh along the very scenic stretch of the A1 that runs north from Newcastle. I had hoped to pop over the causeway and spend an hour or two on Lindesfarne, but the tide was up so I went and had a leisurely lunch further along the road. I have a standing offer to play in a very cool bar in Edinburgh called Ushers. This great bar found in the basement of the Counting House/Blind Poet/Pear Tree complex on West Nicholson street, boasts a micro brewery. I love playing there, able to combine two of my great loves, beer and blues.
On my return I made a start committing to memory a story telling show that I am going to perform at the Wellington Fringe Festival in New Zealand. I previewed the show at the Brighton Fringe Festival this May. It is now called Irish Jimmy. The show includes 4 songs that I have written and includes the single Silent Man. I have some solo gigs booked, as well as a short run of Fiery Tongues (formally Poetry Can Fuck Off), the hour long spoken word piece written by Heathcote Williams, that I wrote the score for as well as perform in.
Listen and watch Silent Man on my web site: www.mikedrblue.com
Dr Blue Goes Wild Down West kicked off with a bar gig in Salisbury. I had a leisurely drive from Brighton. I had decided to camp on the first night as the weather forecast was sunny. I pitched my tent on a site at the foot of the old hill fort of Sarum. The clear night meant both a sky full of stars and a frost. I don’t mind if it gets chilly at night I just throw on my Firin, a Kashmiri wool garment that gives the wearer the look of a hooded monk. It amuses me that if I am observed visiting the shower block late at night it might make the observer do a double take!
After setting up camp I had a nap and then headed into town to look for something to eat. Out on the road, eating can end up being a lot of service station sandwiches. I try whenever I can, to find somewhere to get some decent food. This night it was a Turkish /Persian restaurant offering mezze. My Romanian waiter is friendly and attentive. In between courses we discover that we are both in Salisbury for the same reason: Work.
The gig turned out to be a double birthday party, a lively party crowd who were up for a dance. It was a small intimate gig, no stage just a space beneath the dart board in the corner of a quirky ancient bar .The only down side of the night was that I was hobbling around, as the gout I suffer from had flared up. Thankfully the pills I carry for such an eventually, kicked in by the following morning, and I could walk and work without the use of a walking stick.
Day two was a gentle 60-mile drive to Sidmouth on the south Devon coast. After a late breakfast I was back on the road. Driving through this late autumnal landscape on a sunny day was a joy. I left the brown cattle and fields full of sheep in Dorset as I drove into Devon, climbing the Black Down Hills. The sound of Songhoy Blues pounding on the stereo provides a musical contrast to the rolling landscape . I stop to make a brew in a layby, before heading further south – west, to the sea front venue – Marine.
Sidmouth was blustery and chilly. I Had some amazing ice cream before setting up my gear on a surprisingly big stage with an awesome PA.
Marine at Sidmouth
The venue owner had offered to feed me so I was Keen to get there early and get set up as I would like to eat (and digest) before I go on. On arrival I was informed that it was a later start than originally agreed. The venue is a sports bar and there was an England game on. Great news. It meant I could have a beer and enjoy my supper at leisure. The bar is a long room with a pizza oven at the back. Supper was a fresh and tasty, chicken, mushroom and muscaponi pizza.
Lovely gig. Busy busy night. A load of people stayed after the England qualifying game. Happy punters, and a very happy owner, the football crowd joined the regulars, mainly young hotel staff out on a Friday night. They want me back – job done.
Having seen the weather forecast I decided to head north overnight. A storm was forecast. I had to balance up my concern about driving in stormy conditions in the dark, with the worry that if I set out in the morning there might be delays. With a 2pm call time at the Ilfracombe Blues Festival , I didn’t want to run late if there was flooding or trees down along this rural route.
I grabbed a quick coffee at the Exeter service station, sharing my late night break with the only other night owls, a couple of police officers who confirmed there was an amber weather warning out. The roads were understandably quiet at 2 am, just as well, it started to rain and by the time I got to Barnstable the roads were flooding. I arrived at the holiday camp without event and
put my head down for a few hours in the van. I later went down into town and found an early opening café . Most towns will have one, often found by the bus or railway station. On my return I checked in, showered and went off to find the tech. Like most professional sound technicians I have ever worked with, it was a quick hello, explain the set up and unload.
Saturday line up
Stage set up Ilfracombe Blues Festival
The gig was great, a packed holiday camp cabaret bar with a warm, generous crowd. I had the chance to chat to the folks after the gig and sell a stack of CDs. The performance of Silent Man went particularly well, it made a woman cry, (apparently in a good way!). I packed the gear away and then got to hang out and have a couple of beers before a very long and much needed nap. I have two rules when I am out gigging, eat well when I can, and sleep when an opportunity arises. My father could sleep anywhere at any time, and I seem to have inherited this ability. After waking up I grabbed something to eat before watching The Southern Brotherhood, who delivered a tight rocking set that got the crowd up on their feet dancing. I discovered that King King were now not playing on Sunday, I wouldn’t have been able to see them as I had a gig on the Sunday afternoon. I was sorry to hear that King King ‘ s lead singer was unwell and needs to rest. I wish them well. I hope to see them soon, I have heard so much about them but have not yet managed to catch their set.
Rising Sun. Knap
It was another stunning drive down through the Somerset Levels to the village of Knap (just outside Taunton), to play in the Rising Sun,. My warm and generous hosts
fed me a traditional roast before the gig. The 400 hundred year-old pub, brimming with exposed oak timbers and two open fire- places, promised a cosy afternoon. The very engaged audience were very sweet and generous with their praise. The owners had promoted the gig well and most of the crowd had been attracted to this very isolated venue by the prospect of a great Sunday lunch and some live music. The gig went well and my agent has already added this venue to the list for the UK tour, which is now scheduled for next June.
Bike Shed Motorcycle Club
I took a break for a couple of days out and caught up with family. The last gig on this particular trip is in the Bike Shed Motorcycle Club in London. This is a relatively new club but a great one. It’s a massive venue that boasts three areas, all under the railway arches on Old Street. The first arch is a cantina style restaurant/bar, which is where I play. The second arch has a barbers shop, seating area and bike shop. The third has a large conference/gig space. The whole venue is dotted with vintage style bikes that are for sale. It’s a friendly place that gets busy early. The night is punctuated with club members arriving on their bikes. For a venue with the acoustics of a barn/ cave, the owners have found a very elegant solution to the challenging acoustics. Instead of a PA with speakers set in one place, the house PA has a series of mini PA speakers distributed along the curved roof pointing down at the punters.
The Bike Shed gig is becoming a regular one for me and I am delighted to have a series of gigs there already booked in for 2017. In fact next year is already booking up fast. With a foreign tour and gigs at Brighton (fringe), Edinburgh (fringe) and Glastonbury, next year is going to be busy. For now, some down time, catch up with some writing, script learning and friends.
‘Remember, If it ain’t the truth, it ain’t the blues’
© Copyright Mike ‘Dr Blue’ McKeon for British Blues Archive