Bo Diddley at the Jazz Cafe, London, 17th July 2006
The show was a sell-out, even though Bo had also played there the day before. I didn’t see anybody I knew, Keith was unable to get in as all tickets were sold by the time he got there. I was lucky in managing to get a ticket on the night, but the price had gone up since last year. £32 no less, and over £3 for a pint of lager!
But it was worth it as I got a place at the centre front of the stage about two feet from Bo. If I reached out I could touch him, or his unique square guitar (no, I didn’t!). A couple of guys to my left reached out to shake his hand, which was pretty annoying as Bo was in the middle of his act. He not so much shook the first guy’s hand as slapped it away, and when he wanted a second handshake Bo quite rightly refused. How can he play his guitar when he’s shaking hands?
To Bo’s extreme left a young man sat on the edge of the stage in the yoga position thoroughly enjoying the show, but looking like a throwback from the psychedelic ‘60s. Very dark shades, and frizzy long black hair down all over his face and cascading down over his shoulders. Reminded me of the caricature in the old IT magazine. Not many Teds or old rockers were visible, Bo seems to have an entirely new audience nowadays, which is good.
It was fascinating being so close and seeing exactly how Bo gets those fantastic sounds out of his very strange guitar. He doesn’t use a pick, just his bare fingers. He clips something on the strings for certain songs, I’d seen this before. But he also has a switch which when he hits it makes the guitar go from bass sound to a kind of distorted high sound, I don’t know the technical terms, but it was most interesting to watch at close hand.
Bo’s performance, backed up by his very tight New York band (strangely all white, and including two females) lasted one and three quarter hours. It consisted mainly of bluesy songs and guitar riffs, or slower versions of his older recordings like “Crackin’ Up”. (“Roadrunner” was on the song list, but he didn’t do it Monday night.). He did do “Mona”, “I’m A Man”, “Hey Bo Diddley” and “Who Do You Love”, plus lots of others I was less familiar with.
I find it quite refreshing to hear Bo do different stuff, including his rap-type number and “Bad Scene”. There was probably more guitar playing than actual singing, and Bo also talked quite a bit and told a joke (‘to give the drummer a rest, as he works even harder than I do’). The drummer certainly gets that Bo Diddley beat going, as do the rest of the band members. Bo said he’d been in Rock’n’Roll for 51 years now, and sung the song where he mentions many famous people he’d been on stage with, many like Elvis, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix no longer with us. A member of the Dave Clark Five was apparently in the audience, according to Bo. Sorry, didn’t catch the name.
Then, when we all thought it was the end of the show after “Who Do You Love”, Bo got up from his seat and handed his guitar to the guy who sits on the stage and makes sure everything runs like clockwork (very professional – Jerry Lee could do with someone like this). But instead of leaving the stage he stood and joined the drummer for quite some time, with both of them playing percussion together. Then he moved over to the woman on electronic keyboards, and sat down next to her and they both played the instrument in organ, rather than piano, mode.
I could have got some fantastic photos being so close when Bo was sitting down singing and playing, but I didn’t have my camera on me. In any case I was far too close, it would have been literally ‘in your face’ to take a flash of Bo when he was about two feet from me. A camera flash would have temporarily blinded him at that close range, so I wouldn’t have done it.
As a finale, Bo sat down on the seat again, without his guitar, and sang some more, including the message, to the Bo Diddley beat, ‘if you drink don’t drive, if you drive don’t drink’. And added if they did drink and drive, it might be Bo Diddley who they hit.
He assured us he’d be back, even if he came back as a vampire, saying you might have difficulty seeing him in the dark, but he’d be there ‘I can fly’. He cracked some good, un-p.c. jokes, such as telling one guy if he didn’t behave he’d move into his neighbourhood and instantly lower the value of his house!
Maybe the new laid-back Bo isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I always enjoy his shows. His voice and guitar playing are as good as ever, he just takes things at a slower tempo than in the old days. Expect funky blues, rather than wild Rock’n’Roll, and you wont’ be disappointed.
Considering his state of health (diabetes I believe) and age, Bo looked to be in remarkably good shape. Like some of those other old Blues guys, let’s hope he’s around for years yet.
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