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.
Special Report – Dundee Blues Bonanza
Listen to Special Report :
Brighton Picnic in the Park
I had a couple of gigs before we headed north. The first was at the Mid-Summer Festival in Ilford (Essex). The stage is set up in a local shopping centre and showcases local talent. It was a gloomy day but the performers put a smile on the faces of the shoppers, many who stopped to listen in the rain. My set went well, and as I was warming up to finish, my good friend Chris Wyatt (one of the organizers) sidled up and asked if I could keep playing, as the next act had rung to say they were stuck in traffic. Not needing to be asked twice, I carried on!
Down to Brighton on the following day, to play at the Picnic in the Park. This was a community event held in Queens Park, up at the back of Kemp Town. The venue was a natural bowl in the park, surrounded by trees and ringed by a collection of stalls.
The stage was a raised platform with no cover. I was equally pleased (good sight lines) and appalled, (rainwater and P.A.’s!) in equal measure, but impressed by the organizers faith. I need not have worried, as the clouds parted, and the sun started to shine when I took to the stage. I had invited Pete Durgerian an old musical acquaintance of mine to join me on harmonica. Pete is a local musician I have known since the late 70’s. Pete is a great singer, guitarist and harp player and we had a ball.
Me at the Party in the park in Brighton With Pete Durgerian on harmonica
Back in London we had a couple of days working the day- job, before preparing to drive to Scotland. We had arranged to break the 8-hour journey in York, visiting some friends, a welcome distraction from the monotony of the A1.
So, Dundee? What do I know about this town? Apart from marmalade and the famous cake, I know that the town boasts to be the home of the Beano and the Dandy, my childhood reading of choice! I met one of the artists who draws the modern version in Adelaide, earlier this year; his name – Kev Sutherland. He performs an adult puppet show called the ‘ Scottish Falsetto Puppet Theatre – watch it if you get the chance, it’s absolutely hilarious.
Me on stage in Dundee at the Friary opening the International Blues Extravaganza
The journey to Dundee was uneventful. We checked into our hotel and drove down to the Friary, the host venue of the International Extravaganza Event. I was opening the night and the festival. Dago Red, an Italian band who recently won the Italian Blues Challenge, were on stage finishing their sound check, as I walked into this barn of a place. The Friary boasts a large stage, set high above an ‘old school’ sprung dance floor, clear evidence of its former life as a dance hall. The organizing committee were obviously expecting a good-sized crowd.
I kicked off the night with an acoustic set and received a warm welcome from the lively crowd. Bob Hall a keyboard playing local-legend, who has played with many of the greats, and was himself, an early member of the Groundhogs, joined me for my encore. We left the crowd warmed up, with an enthusiastic version of the Torrens River.
Bob Hall stayed on stage and treated us all to a rousing romp through the world of boogie woogie and blues piano. This was a man of with a 24-carat blues pedigree, having played with the likes of Savoy Brown, Alexis Korner, Peter Green, and Spencer Davis. The list of the American greats he played with, reads like a who’se who of the blues, It includes: John Lee Hooker, Howling’ Wolf, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lazy Lester and Eddie Clearwater.
Following Bob Hall were the fabulous Dago Red, they entertained us with their own brand of acoustic blues, teasing us at the end with a laid back version of ‘I’ve got my Mojo Working’. They invited me to join them later on Sunday, to blow some harp with them at a gig over at the local Repertory Theatre. Dago Red took the night up a gear or two, warming the crowd further, leaving the stage with the audience roaring for more. Next up, Deitra Farr, considered by the Living Blues Magazine as one of Chicago’s ‘top vocalists’, took to the stage and sung up a storm.
Deitra sang with a deep, soulful throaty style, clearly influenced by gospel as well as the blues. This multi-talented artist (poet, song writer, singer and painter) dominated the stage, chatting to the audience in between songs, obviously enjoying every moment. A great singer and a great lady. Sadly exhaustion drove me to my bed, and I missed Kat and Co, but I caught the start of her set on the following evening.
Saturday morning was a grey one, much like the rest of this very wet summer we are having. We headed into town to Blues HQ, located at the top of the marble stairs in the old Chamber of Commerce. I had some business to sort out, signed the festival guide, autographed a guitar, which was to be raffled off over the weekend, leave some CD’s and pick up a map of the venues. We left to the sound of young service men and women being put through their marching paces outside the high school in the rain, Today is Armed Services Day.
I popped into my first venue to check out the availability of power points, sight lines and access. With ‘Trail gigs’, at festivals, it’s always worth checking out the venue before a gig. If it is one that usually hosts live music then there is not usually a problem. My first venue was well set up, so it was off to the ‘Ketchup’, one of the restaurants offering discounts to performers, for lunch.
On the menu were such delights as Who Killed Bambi, a Bangkok ‘ Alec’ Salmon or the Jumping Jack Flash. I chose a Zorba The Greek (Lamb burger with goats cheese)- it filled a hole.
My first gig went ok. The audience in this rather austere wine bar, was a mixture of committed blues fans and, a younger ‘professional’ crowd out on the piss.
We headed back to the hotel for a snooze, before I went out to have a look at a few venues and listen to some blues. My first stop was the unlikely and acoustically challenging East Chambers. Werner Linden from Germany, fronting the ‘Flamming Statman’, was playing with my old musical buddy Terry Duggan on bass. Werner is a regular visitor to the Coach and Horses Jam in London.
Werner was playing in front of the stained glass panels of what I suspect was an old committee room. The audience were set up at quite a distance from the musicians, which did not help the atmosphere. Despite this, Werner rose to the occasion and treated us all to a good show and a Buddy Guy inspired walk- about through the audience, smiling and soloing as he walked among us lesser mortals
I was watching Buddy Guy a couple of years back at the old BBC theatre in Shepherds Bush, when he went on his famous walks through the audience playing his guitar. I had gone up to the bar to pick up a couple of drinks when I became aware of an increase in light around my immediate vicinity. I turned round to be momentarily blinded by a torch, held above the head of a black suited security guard, standing behind the great man himself, soloing in front of me. I smiled…………, Buddy nodded…………., I offered him a drink, he said, “No son, I’m working here”.
Back in Dundee I walked over to the Old Bank, now a busy city centre bar. I found punters spilling out of this packed venue onto the pavement. Inside, Jimmy C was delivering a master class of rocking, electric Chicago blues. The place was rammed.
As Jimmy banged out a stomping version of Johnny B Good, people were, dancing, shouting and jostling to get a view of the grinning genius. Jimmy C is one of the most cheerful looking Blues Men on the circuit; he really does look like he is having a ball. When he looks towards the audience and smiles that joyous smile of his; you think he is smiling at you. He’s a bit like the Mona Lisa, that smile of his, follows you around the room.
Dr blue blowing harmonica with Jimmy CB
I headed back to the Chambers because I wanted to see Kat and Co who, I had missed the previous night.
When I arrived, Kat had just finished her sound check and was surrounded by photographers clicking away. She got up and started her set, immediately trying to bridge the gap between the stage and the audience. This women is an experienced performer, immediately connecting with the audience: ‘You want this” she challenged the audience? Kat prowled up and down the stage like a panther, proclaiming to the punters, it was like a revival meeting, every so often catching the eye of the crowd over a shimmying shoulder.
I moved on to Connoys, a bar across the road to try to watch Blues Positive. Another lively crowd was enjoying the music. Sadly the harmonica of the lead singer was drowned out by the rest of the band. The only place I could find to watch was by the entrance to the toilets and quickly discovered why it was vacant, the drains were obviously not coping, and I went outside to join the smokers in the fresh air.
I headed off to a nightclub located to the North East of central Dundee. You entered the main premises via a lift, and I was immediately transported back to the 1970’s, as I stepped into the disco ambience of ‘Soul’. Snakewater were well into their two hour musical romp, they were a playing a rock solid, driving- blues inspired set. Certainly the clearest and best sound I had heard anywhere in the festival. This Manchester based three- piece band were a class act – keep an eye out for them. They had apparently missed the previous year’s festival because their van broke down on the way up to Dundee.
Dr Blue off to the German BBQ
I performed in the Arctic Bar on Sunday afternoon. I really enjoyed playing to the relaxed and, I suspect, slightly hung- over crowd. I found myself performing in the space left when the pool table has been covered and moved to the side. This reminded me of one of my livelier gigs in Adelaide where I had played in the pool room of the Austral Hotel.
After taking advantage of the German BBQ that was set up outside the bar, Sameena and I headed off to watch Jimmy C and Dago Red performing. I was lucky enough to get up and blow some Harp with both bands- Great Fun.
I caught up with Giuseppe Mascitelli, lead singer with Dago Red for a quick chat, I couldn’t keep him long as the band were off to watch the football.
Dr Blue with Dago Red from Italy Playing harmonica at the Dundee Rep.
Giuseppe spoke of his enjoyment of being in Dundee. The change in temperature had been a bit of a shock though, when the band had left Italy it was 40 degrees, Dundee was a mild 13! Giuseppe said that he was enjoying playing in Scotland and sharing the singing with the talented Paola. The band was started in 1998, originally a three piece which has grown to the current line-up of 5. The band had come to play in Yorkshire three or four years ago, and picked up a gig in Dundee at short notice, and have been coming back ever since.
The musical influences of the band are very eclectic, ranging from Prog Rock, Funk, Progressive Jazz and of course Blues. The current bass player is a choir master. Giusepppe himself likes to listen to blues and folk music, both influences very clear in both their recordings, as well as the Dago Red live show. Giuseppe studied English at university in addition to growing up listening to music performed in English. Giuseppe felt that the UK has had an important role in maintaining the interest and influence of the Blues internationally. Giuseppe argued that if the British had not taken and developed the blues in the 60’s, that the Blues would not be as big and as influential as it has become.
This put me in mind of a great moment in the history of the blues. When the Rolling Stones first went to America, they were asked what were they looking forward to doing in the States, and they replied they wanted to see Muddy Waters. The interviewer asked, “where was that”!
For me this interview was the end of my Dundee festival. Sameena and I went off to get something to eat ahead of an early start back home, on the following morning. I want to say a big thank you to Bob, and all the organizers for pulling off the near impossible. Despite all the logistical nightmares, the challenge of working with many, sometimes antagonistic agencies, and the weather, once again the Dundee Blues Bonanza was a success. Happy 18 th Birthday Dundee Blues, I look forward to visiting you again sometime soon.
On Wednesday of that week I caught up with Jimmy C at the Coach and Horses in London and had a chance to talk and ask him about his Dundee Festival and playing in general.
Jimmy was in good form having opened the Blues Jam with a stomping great set (link below):
Jimmy said that this years’ visit to Dundee was his fourth, each time a ‘notch higher’ on the rosta. This year he was able to play 3 gigs with the band and a couple with his keyboard player. Jimmy is a busy bluesman playing at least 3 times a week, which means that he can keep his head above water financially. Jimmy is off to France soon where he will be playing in places like Djon and Bordeaux. Jimmy likes to go over to France once or twice a year, enjoying the touring and the chance to meet new people and to play different venues. Jimmy, a hard working musician is keen to spread and develop his ‘brand’ of blues, building, at the same time his profile and getting ‘himself known’.
Jimmy’s musical influences are no surprise, if you have listened to his dynamic set. Jimi Hendrix, T Bone Walker and Albert King are his big three. But “ it was Jimmy Hendrix first”. Jimmy said that when he heard Jimmy Hendrix he discovered Albert King, and when he listened to Albert King He heard Jimmy Hendrix. It was T Bone Walker, that had inspired him, to be a front man of his own band.
I am getting ready to head off north again to play at the Maryport Blues Festival (Cumbria). I had a short set on Saturday at a local festival at Fairlop Waters (Essex). I have recently been talking to a couple of musicians who may be joining me on the next album, which Sameena and I are about half way through writing. The album will have to wait as I am due at the Edinburgh Festival straight after Maryport. In Edinburgh I will be gigging, busking, doing a spot of promoting for Sameena’s show as well as possibly working some shows as a sound tech. The work of a jobbing Bluesman is never done!
‘Remember, If it ain’t the truth, it ain’t the blues’
© Copyright Mike ‘Dr Blue’ McKeon for British Blues Archive