Hellhound on your trail: the titans of blues are here
Copenhagen Blues Festival 2012 – Maybe you didn’t sleep in the pines last night with the blues falling down like hail. And maybe you don’t have one foot on a banana peel and the other in the grave. I know it’s a century and more since the blues became synonymous with the music of the first generation of African Americans born after emancipation. But though none of us rides in dusty old Jim Crow cars, and ‘Kaffeplantagen’ is a Copenhagen café, metaphorically speaking, you can still have a hellhound on your trail.
Not only is the blues an emotion just about as human as they come, it’s also one hell of a musical genre. Now, Copenhagen has got a lot of things going on in the festival department (especially if you include Roskilde), but I think the annual Blues Festival, now in its 12th carnation, is particularly special. The best blues musicians add something to the musical landscape that is both refreshingly candid and wonderfully bad-ass. Arguably, that combination boils down to an essential thing. The chord patterns are durable, verging on timeless, as they cycle elegantly through a sea of stunning, expressive notes. And, without getting too deep or analytical, there’s a dimension of sadness and anxiety, but also hope, flowing from that magical gap between the root chord’s third and minor third notes.
So how do you access this terrific musical realm where things are so bad they’re good? You basically stay in town from the 26th to 30th and hit a few bars and music halls. No less than 55 gigs will cater to your every need at 17 different venues – whether that means folk, country or ragtime blues, to say nothing of the other varieties on the programme: acoustic delta, Piedmont-style (aka East Coast blues), West Coast ‘jump and jive’, urban Chicago, funky New Orleans, swampy Mississippi, bristling Texas boogie, power blues-rock and velvety soul-grooves. One of the festival’s goals is to balance the traditional and cutting-edge. This is done by having both legendary old-schoolers and up-and-coming rookies bring their respective chops to the table – often at the same show.
Most of the must-hears and international acts will perform downtown at the central venues of Mojo, Huset (that’s in Magstræde) and Amager Bio. The time schedule makes it possible to attend at least two exciting gigs a night – and more if you head out in the afternoon. So don’t stay black and blue where the stars refuse to shine, as the old lyric goes: follow the blood-red river to the rising sun.
David Lindley (USA) – If you missed ‘Mr Dave’ when he visited Copenhagen in 2000, here’s your chance. The 68-year-old multi-instrumentalist defies categorisation by alchemically fusing traditional American blues and music elements from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Turkey. His inimitable performances feature the old master himself on mandolin, lap steel guitar, sitar, bouzouki, cümbüç, and … Suffice it to say, it’ll be amazing.
Amager Bio; Thu 20:00; tickets 275kr
Walter Trout (USA)/ Wolf Mail (CAN) double-bill – Born and raised in New Jersey and a former member of The Canned Heat, Trout was turned on to the guitar after hearing Mike Bloomfield and has played with such legends as John Lee Hooker and Big Mama Thornton. His playing style is characterised by catchy riffs and licks and, as the programme boasts, provides a rich musical experience aimed at your soul, heart and feet. For the guitar fans out there, Wolf Mail is definitely a must-see. Affectionately nicknamed ‘the missing link between Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan’, he launched his career while still a teenager in the ’90s with a ten-year tour of the US. His sound is a combination of rock, traditional blues and soul, highlighted by a remarkable singing voice and jaw-dropping guitar skills.
Amager Bio; Fri Sep 28, 20:00; tickets 250kr
Eddie C Campbell (USA) – Born in Mississippi in ’39, the ‘King of West Side Funk Blues’ learned to play the guitar as an eight-year-old in a rough Chicago neighbourhood. He was motivated, incredibly, by Muddy Waters’ promise to take him on stage when he’d learned to play. At the age of 12 – and ever since – he’s been a blues musician to reckon with, with a career that’s a who’s-who of the Chicago blues scene. One of the last post-war blues greats, Campbell is known for his original catalogue, his deep sound, the reverb cranked way up, and not least his trusted purple Fender Jazzmaster.
Husets Café; Fri Sep 28, 20:00, tickets 150kr
Mighty Mo Rodgers (USA) – It was in Indiana, the steel town of East Chicago, that Mighty Mo Rodgers first became inspired by blues and jazz performers. Nowadays, Rodgers takes inspiration from blues and rock, combining soulful, gritty vocals with driving rhythms. His blues debut album, Blues Is My Wailin’ Wall, has received a Handy Awards nomination.
Husets Café; Thu 20:00; tickets: 150kr
James Harman (USA) – James Harman calls himself “your full service bluesman since 1962”. He certainly has the experience behind him. As a young man, Harman slipped into a Florida nightclub wearing a fake moustache and became totally seduced by the blues scene. Since then, he has had over 30 releases on different labels and toured in 23 countries.
Mojo; Fri Sep 28, 22:00; tickets: 100kr
Mem Shannon + The Membership Band (USA) – By the age of 15, Mem Shannon could play the guitar and clarinet, but it was seeing BB King perform that spurred Shannon to take his own musical career seriously. Mem Shannon + The Membership Band formed in the early 1990s and Shannon’s experience driving taxis in the 1980s inspired their first album, A Cab Driver’s Blues.
Husets Café; Sat Sep 29, 20:00; tickets: 200kr