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 21 – Wear Sunscreen!
‘The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday’.
Mike Dr Blue
This jobbing bluesman had a busy Autumn (2017) working on his Chap Book ‘Sin’, and his spoken word performance. A Chap Book is a short collection of poetry, usually self- published. It is the equivalent of a music EP, a step towards your first full- length work.
Cover of Sin
I had a number of poetry gigs to do around National Poetry Day (28 th September). The first was at one of my two favourite Brighton Open Mic Nights- Shine So Hard, (the other being Vapour Vox). ‘Shine’ as it is affectionately known, is run and hosted by Karen Withecomb, it is a wonderfully inclusive night, everyone is welcome and the poetry is eclectic. Karen does a great job cat wrangling the poets, who are apt to hang around outside, admittedly chatting and catching up, but not in the room where the reading is held. These nights are invaluable if you are working on new material, be it poetry or storytelling. Roy Hutchins and I road tested the scenes of a new show (Bear North) at both Shine and Vapour Vox.
Song writing and poetry is essentially the same thing for me. It’s a set of creative muscles that need to be regularly exercised. I find that writing and performing poetry helps me with the song writing and visa versa.
The National Poetry Day gig in Eastbourne was a drive down the coast to a venue I have heard much spoken about, i.e. the Underground Theatre in Eastbourne. It’s a marvelous community theatre in the basement of the local library. It was a mixed night of readings from a range of south coast poets. On the 30 th I took part in another reading, this time back in Brighton at the Nightingale Theatre (opposite Brighton Station). This had both music and poetry and was a benefit gig, raising funds for a local homeless charity.
At the beginning of October I performed at Aint Nothing But (ANB) in Kingly Street round the back of Regents Street. I had been booked to play one of the early evening, solo, 1 hour spots, a warm up for the bands that play later in the evening.
I have a great fondness for ANB, a venue I’ve played in a lot over the years. Kevin Hillier who runs it has does a great job, and works hard to keep it open, to maintain it as a live music venue. If you get a chance to support it, do. I haven’t played there for a while and I was sad to see that they had painted the wall in the stock room downstairs, which also doubles as a dressing room of sorts. The walls used to be covered with autographs of the many artists who have performed there over the last 20 years. There were some big blues heavy hitters represented. The gig went well, its never quiet in ANB. If you are a blues muso or fan and you are in London, it’s a must.
Aint Nothing But a Blues Bar
The nights drew in and autumn rambled on, with a trip for me back up to the north- east, now a regular stop on my touring circuit. There were gigs in Middlesborough, Darlington, Newark and again back in Brighton.
I popped up to Scotland to perform Irish Jimmy (story telling show with songs) at the Dundee Rep after a preview at the Sothern Belle in Hove.
October and November was busy helping Roy Hutchins to realize a new show to be called Bear North. There are plans to perform a short run of it at Brighton Fringe 2018. We did a version of it to friends just before Christmas. To use the theatrical parlance – the show has legs!
I spent a couple of afternoons in the studio with my old friend Chris Whyat remixing some tracks I am working on at the moment. The run up to the festive holidays was busy with pre Christmas gigs, I topped off the year with a New Years Eve gig at Brighton Blues HQ – The Ranelagh.
2018 started quietly, but my ‘blindside’ moment was to be late evening on the 21 st January, when I suddenly became very unwell. I was rushed into hospital where I received the most amazing treatment and care from our wonderful NHS. I was eventually diagnosed with a viral condition, which left me temporarily unable to work or drive for 6 weeks. After a short stay in hospital I was released to recover at home.
Anyone who is self employed knows that any period of financial inactivity can be a strain. On the advice of the doctors I had to cancel all my engagements for a month, as they had initially banned me from driving. This included a short tour in the N.E. of England as well as gigs in Kent and Brighton and an appearance at the Broadstairs Blues Bash. I was deeply disappointed to have to miss these gigs. My wonderful agent Fiona Long rang round for me and spoke to everyone concerned. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and understanding of all the venues and their staff, many sent messages of support on hearing of my predicament.
This was a wonderful reminder of the kindness and the heart of the Blues community. I was touched and encouraged by everyones kind wishes, and the promise of re-bookings as soon as I was well again.
This situation would have been far more stressful for my wife and I, if it had not been for my incredibly supportive family and friends. In addition, both the Musicains Union and Help Musicians UK stepped in, providing me with moral and financial support to get me through February and March. I can’t thank them enough.
Musicians Union Logo
Help Musicians UK
By the time Brighton Fringe came around (May) I was well again and keen to get back on stage. I had been working with my old performing buddy Roy on a new show that he had been writing over the winter. He had recruited an old performing friend of his Sue Bradley (violin/vocals), who is a very talented and seasoned performer having, amongst other things been a member of the award wining Pookiesnackenburger. Tom my youngest son, who is a professional dancer, was brought in to bring the bear in the show to life. The lineup was completed with the addition of my daughter Caitlin, who was to read the poetry in the show written by Roy, Caitlin and myself. I was to provide accompaniment on guitar, drum and sing. For me it was a double pleasure as I was able to share the stage not only with the two very experienced performers, but also with my two younger children- result.
Bear North Promo Pic
We did a short run at Brighton Fringe ( brochure description below ), which was well-attended, favorably received and great fun to perform. I had to pull out of being directly involved after the Fringe run, due to other commitments, but I wished them well as they took the show out to the streets to develop it as a ‘street and festival show’. We did one last performance together at the Shaftesbury Fringe Festival in June along with my ‘Nothing But The Blues ‘ show, supported by Roy on keys and as MC.
A comic combo including a dancing bear – yep, probably the only show in the Fringe to have one. Created by multi-award-winning comedian and director Roy Hutchins – recent winner of the ‘Best ensemble production’ at the Wellington Fringe for ‘Fiery Tongues’. This new show conjures up Cajun folk n’ blues on bears, beavers, bugs and buffalos. Sue Bradley (Perrier winner for her work with Pookiesnackenburger) is on fiddle, Dr Blue’s on guitar, Roy’s on synth and we’re proud to introduce the golden voice of Caitlin Mckeon and the dancing talents of her brother Tom – aka THE BEAR
Brighton Fringe( 2018)
The Bear North gigs were staged during the first couple of weeks of Brighton Fringe. I had planned to relax for a couple of weeks after that, and spend time concentrating on my own writing and seeing some shows. However this was not to happen as I received two calls, from two different producers offering me some paid work- always nice!
The first was from a friend and performer who some know as Monski Mouse. Monica (her real name) has a popular show called Monski Mouse’s Baby Disco, which plays at the festivals to packed houses. However it was not this show she had me in mind for. Monica had some cash she wanted to use to develop a new show, a cabaret show for under fives, with ambitious plans to use puppets, dancing as well as songs. It was booked to play in the ‘World Famous Spiegal Tent’ over four days at the end of the 2018 Brighton Fringe. Monica had been let down and needed a musical director to step in at short notice. She had gathered a fab team of musicians and dancers. We spent four days in rehearsal in London ahead of the Brighton performances. The show ran well, to packed houses. I hope we will be performing together again very soon.
Monski’s Baby Cabaret
The second call was from John Robertson, a comedian originally from Perth (Australia), but who now resides in London. He called and set up a meeting, wetting my appetite with a brief description of what he wanted. He too had been let down, had a new show in development, and was in need of a Bluesman at short notice.
John is a super talented, intelligent, fast talking comic with a wicked sense of humour. He has a great reputation in the comedy business and is in demand all over the world, performing his interactive 80’s themed live game show, called The Dark Room.
When we met he described what he needed, I paraphrase; He wanted to write a fast blues, a slow blues, a country rock number and to beat ‘ Sh*t out of some metal and do a Tom Waites Sword Fish Trombone homage kinnda thing ‘!
I said I could manage that. I asked had he written the lyrics yet and he said no, he added he was already booked to do a full run of the show (as yet unwritten) at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August?
My hopes of going into the studio to immediately start rehearsals were dashed when John explained that he was headed back to Australia where an online version of The Dark Room was in development and due out imminently. In addition he was working on a book project that is due out in 2019. Busy man.
6 weeks later, and true to his word, we got together and worked up 8 songs (over 2 days) just in time for the Edinburgh debut of Mr. John Robertsons new show: Sexy Sweaty Party Party.
Sexy Sweaty Party Party
Opening night was an adrenalin fest, but I should not have worried. John is an awesome improviser, and the show quickly developed into an anarchic romp, more like a jazz gig for me in that, I usually knew the key or the musical theme of a song he wanted to play or improvise on the spot. The rest was brought to life by the talent and mischief that is John. Most nights we would get through two or three of the rehearsed numbers, but more often than not, John would have got distracted by something and created a hilarious scenario, captivating the audience, filling the room with shock, surprise and delight, as well as an awful lot of laughter. I loved working on the show. We were blessed with a marvelous tech called Richard Lomax. As it turned out a very talented muso also. Over the run we started talking about making music during the post gig beers. I hope to work with him very soon. Check out his work on line:
After a couple of weeks into the Edinburgh run I asked John: “Have you had to ask Richard to do anything?”
“No” was Johns reply
“That’s how good he is,” I said.
Good technicians are often the unsung hero’s of the music/theatre world. In 40 years of performing I have been lucky to work with some truly great ones. Richard for me is up there with the best.
‘Remember, If it ain’t the truth, it ain’t the blues’
© Copyright Mike ‘Dr Blue’ McKeon for British Blues Archive