Monday, February 04, 2008

A Gentleman of the Blues

So, this was the dude I was so anxious to see over the weekend.

I had in fact caught him at Yugong Yishan on Friday (although my response then was only somewhat lukewarm - partly down to the unappealing ambience of the venue, and partly, I think, just down to being all bluesed out after 2 full hours of great music from the support acts before he came on); and he's due to play a few more gigs around town this week.

But..... Memphis Charlie at Jianghu? Wow, that was not to be missed. That is just such a great venue for an artist like him: dark, cosy, intimate. And for such a small bar, it has a really good sound system. And..... well, it's my 'home'!

The great man did not disappoint. It was billed as a 'workshop' session rather than a gig, so he took a lot of time out to chat about his life and about how he'd learned elements of his technique from the other blues harmonica greats - men like Little Walter and Walter Horton. Damn, it was like having my record collection come to life: these were names I knew only from my old vinyl blues albums (a collection I have, sadly, long been separated from) - and Charlie used to be friends with them! Definitely a starstruck moment for me. He's a very engaging speaker - gracious, humorous, laid-back. However, he did play and sing plenty of music as well, and it was marvellous stuff: an utterly spellbinding afternoon - the time fairly flew by.

The crowd was just right: the main room well-filled, but not oppressively heaved out; a handful of late arrivals making do with watching from the adjacent courtyard. They were almost all Chinese musicians, probably a hand-picked invitation list (Tianxiao the laoban is a bit of a muso himself) - with the exception of Charlie's two backing musicians, his wife, and Royce, the harp player from local blues band Black Cat Bone. And the only other laowai present were Jeremiah, Tulsa, The Artist and myself - a select group indeed.

Kudos to Tianxiao for setting that up - a very special experience, likely to remain one of the very favourites of all my memories of Beijing.

Jeremiah has already written a short post about this, including a link to one of Charlie's performances on YouTube. I thought I'd post a clip of him too, just to give you a flavour of the man, in case you hadn't heard of him. I particularly like this performance, accompanying his daughter Layla singing one of his own compositions, In Your Darkest Hour. Enjoy.

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