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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

The Spitz, Spitalfields Market, London, August 18th 2007

Well I know everyone’s going to say it’s been an awful summer –they always do, don’t they? But it’s been another blisteringly hot day in London and we’re crammed like sardines inside a tiny airless venue, melting.

We’ve rallied across from the West at speed in a Sweeneyesque vintage BMW (yes, I know they drove a Consul GT but believe me it just feels like we should be in the Sweeney) with our hot-rod companions for the night. We’re upstairs at the Spitz, “a bloody holiday camp for thieves and weirdoes”, nestled away in the corner of the remaining late Victorian buildings of Spitalfields Market in the East End – Gilbert and George are just around the corner in their Huguenot weaver’s cottage, and it’s Jack the Ripper heartland – the Ten Bells is just across the road. It’s sad that having built up quite a reputation for alt.music in almost every genre over the past few years the Spitz, with its very nice downstairs bistro (yes Serge, sad to confess, very good hamburgers) will be closing shortly – to be replaced, one imagines, by some sort of typically bland chain restaurant. In all likelihood, the music venue will close.
David “Honeyboy” Edwards
We’ve been entertained for an hour or so by veteran British blues player Dave Peabody, and for the last few songs of his set, by 3 Mustaphas 3 founder Ben Mandelson on mandolin. It’s very superior folk club stuff – Peabody has been voted ‘British Acoustic Blues Artist of the Year’ three times and it’s evident that he really knows his stuff – both musically and historically. But the longer he goes on the more I begin to get nervous. You see we’re here to see David “Honeyboy” Edwards. The blues singer from Mississippi. He was born in 1915. That makes him, by my reckoning, 92 years old. And the longer Peabody plays the more I worry that we’re being strung along, waiting all night for a ten minute less than cameo appearance from a performer way past his prime. I shouldn’t have worried.
After a short break Edwards takes the stage at about 9.30 and he performs for almost an hour and a half. He gets settled in his seat in the centre of the stage with Peabody to his left accompanying on guitar, and to his right on harmonica Michael Franks, founder of Edwards’ current record label, Earwig Records. They provide a subtle backing – Franks is very accomplished and plays in what I would call a narrative style, it’s a slightly laid back Little Walter. Peabody gently fills in here and there. Both struggle to keep up with Edward’s unfathomable timing – but they’ve done it before and know what to expect, or rather what not to expect, which is a sustained twelve bar structure. This is real “in the groove” hypnotic Mississippi bottleneck blues, with a Chicago twist (particularly after Edwards changes from acoustic to electric guitar – which is also when thankfully someone turns the air conditioning on). Edwards is, as they sometimes say, “in the place” and he changes chord at will.
If you want to know about Edwards you can read his autobiography, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing, which comes highly recommended, and there’s also a film about him. He took to the road at the age of 16 beginning a career as an itinerant musician that lasted ‘till he settled in Chicago in the early 1950s. He travelled and played with the likes of Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson, Big Joe Williams (who was his musical mentor) and most famously Robert Johnson, who courted (if that’s the right word) his cousin Willie Mae. "He was a nice person," said Honeyboy in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, “he wasn't a hell raiser, but he loved whisky and was crazy about women: that was his downfall." Edwards, along with, some say, Sonny Boy Williamson, was at the house-party where Johnson was (by popular consent) poisoned having flirted drunkenly with the jook-joint owner’s wife. As such he has an indelible link with the roots, not just of the blues, but also of modern rock and roll – but it’s a point that he’s reticent about. “You can talk to Honeyboy after the show”, says Peabody, “and he’ll be happy to sign autographs, just don’t ask him about Robert Johnson”.
I couldn’t tell you all the songs he played – his groaning voice is quite mesmerising, more like a chant than singing, but it’s hard to make out the lyrics to some of the tunes. I could hear (I think) ‘Sweet home Chicago’, ‘Big fat woman’, ‘Shake ‘em on down’, and ‘Rolling stone’ (he plays ‘Chicago’ again when he takes up his electric guitar). But what with the heat and the lack of space you could just about think yourself back to a crowded cabin in the steamy Delta. Edwards
Edwards may not have been, or be, the best blues guitarist in the world but he carries the real spirit of the music and the place with him, and his performance is compelling – every minute of it. It’s also dignified and thoroughly understated. And when he does finally run out of steam he sits happily for another thirty minutes or so chatting and signing autographs on a rapidly diminishing pile of CDs for a crowd of excited admirers whose ages range from about sixteen to well above sixty. What a treat! - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)
Kate's David Honeyboy Wilson photo album

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