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Preview: Harry Manx

By Mark Harrison

Tuesday 24th November,
Charlotte Stree Blues, 74 Charlotte Street, W1T 4QH

On more than one occasion, we at Blues in London have noted the lamentable situation whereby some really top-notch and highly individual artists from the US and Canada do tours of the UK that do not include a London date. They go to all sorts of other places in this country, but not to London. Many of these artists are on the acoustic side of things.

Straight away, I must point out that there are venues where such artists do appear and top of that list is the wonderful Brooks Blues Bar in Putney, where Ann and Tony are at the forefront of bringing such artists to London. The Green Note in Camden is one of the best venues you could wish to find anywhere for acoustic music, and they have some very good blues artists from time to time. Now, on the evidence of this gig, and others, we can add Charlotte Street to the roster of venues doing something much needed in the blues, and it is to be hoped that this gig represents a welcome aspect to the booking policy there.

Harry Manx, over from Canada for a tour, is one of those highly individualistic artists who ploughs their own very distinctive furrow in what can loosely be called blues. His ‘thing’ is the fusion of acoustic blues with Indian music – ragas and the like. Personally I tend to head for the hills when I see the word ‘fusion’ because it generally indicates types of music being shoehorned together when they shouldn’t be in the same room, the result usually something rather earnest and not very good. Not so with Harry Manx, where the two styles blend together perfectly to produce something both very listenable and very interesting.

Originally from the Isle of Man, he grew up in Canada, and then spent a great deal of time travelling and living in just about every corner of the globe. He’s spent quite a lot of time in India, absorbing and learning not just the music but the whole spiritual ethos behind it and he brings all that to his own music. In concert, he says, he builds a bridge between ‘heavenly India’ and ‘earthy American blues’.

His latest album, the just out ‘Bread and Buddha’ shows him in top form. It’s full of excellent original songs and some nice covers, with varied instrumentation. The songs are all very accessible, and delivered by Manx’s strong but not shouty vocal style. He can do quiet and wistful and he can do uptempo and rousing. He’s a terrific guitar player and his style shows a blend of blues playing and the kind of scales he’s copped from his immersion in Indian music. He also plays the 20-stringed Mohan veena, a sitar/guitar designed by the renowned Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, perhaps best known to Western ears for his Grammy-winning collaboration with Ry Cooder and something of a mentor to Harry Manx.

Harry Manx’s live performances have attracted huge praise as very special occasions indeed, the haunting nature of his signature style drawing audiences into a kind of spell. Expect slide guitar blues, Indian folk melodies, a bit of gospel and a warm and uplifting atmosphere. Expect some instruments you don’t see every day too.

I know that there are people out there who think that it ain’t blues if it isn’t electric and it doesn’t consist of lengthy loud guitar solos burying any trace of an actual song. Not so, of course. If you already know this, take advantage of the chance to go and see someone who might well be right up your street. If you don’t know this, go along and find out that you’ve been missing out on some of the most interesting and moving music being made today.

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