The London Blues Scene
...Or, "Don't ask Why?"
(First published: Feb/March 1998 Big City Blues, Michigan USA)
Photograph taken 1997
A friend of mine recently sent me an email asking me if I would like to write an article for a prestigious blues magazine in America. I agreed and, on advice, dutifully wrote a piece about growing up in Newcastle Upon Tyne and how The Blues influenced me. The response back was fairly immediate:
"The Editor loved the Article David and will print it ... but not this month."
"You've now got six hours before deadline to write explicitly about The Blues Scene in London"
"Coo, lumey, blimey, er, oh um - okay" I thought.
So, Da Dum: Here it is: "Searching for The Real Blues Scene in London."
Only one small problem ... there isn't one. Nothing, not an electronic sausage, not even some crusted Mustard to put on it. I had thought, mistakenly as it turned out, it would be a snap ... visit the store, buy a few "What's On" type magazines, reach out for a copy of "Bluff your way in Journalism" and hot-dog with onions, off you go to the computer to type. Alas "Time Out", London's biggest events magazine, has not one entry with the word "Blues" in it, not anywhere in it's 194 pages this week. It's got folk, reggae, jazz, dance, rock, samba, funk, soul, well loved Tibetan goat herding themes, but THE BLUES ?... Nada. Kind of begs the question "Why?" or rather "Why not?" So, with a nervous glance at my clock, 11.10am, five hours to go to the Editor's deadline and a quick phone call to cancel lunch, off I went in search of answers. There is a Tibetan Buddhist saying about never asking "Why?". I don't know why (I didn't like to ask after reading it), but I was beginning to think it would be the same deal vis-a-vis "Why Not?"
Not being entirely without the resources to search for the all- elusive, groovy, London, Blues Scene, I did what every intrepid investigative journalist does ... I switched on my modem and visited the weird wired web. Ahh... The hum of life on the super highway, metaphor, slash dot, simile, blah de blah, flim flam, waiting to load, blah blah, talk amongst yourselves, hit the Search Engines ... I type "The Blues + Uk," 'That should generate about a billion entries,' I figure.
Alta Vista comes up blank, so does Excite, Lycos too, Webcrawler: "Unable to find a match" ... Can't be? Why?... Don't ask. I mean even the Yeti generates 200,000 sightings on the net. How come nobody at www.co.uk ever heard of The Blues? Time zipping along. Fear now setting up house in the form of a fresh, but interestingly persisting, underarm presence. Oh dear. I try again: I type "The Blues Scene London" hitting Enter ... Yes! Happiness!! A result!!! "The Blues Scene London" Bliss, an entire Website dedicated to the exact subject. I'm saved - Hoorah - lists of Clubs, cool Artists, in fact everything a good Bluffer could possibly steal is here. There's only one small hickup ... it's for London, Alberta, Canada. Shoot, I didn't even know there was a London in Canada.
12.20am, less than four hours to go. The thought of pretending I thought they actually wanted me to write about London Canada, flickers hesitantly for a second, but even a veteran bluffer like me has to concede this wishful fantasy has no legs, no wings. It's a veritable Dodo. It occurs to me at this point that the Blues is all about asking why? ... or more precisely "Why Me?" 'Hmm. Probably explains why there aren't any well known Tibetan Blues players,' I muse.
Seventeen phone calls to friends, now former friends (plus several bleeding ears) later, I think I might have some theories and some answers, but that the Blues has reached whole new levels of invisibility here in the UK in 1998 is apparently the deal and we may as well be honest about that.
Scoop: The Blues has been marginalised.
Aha! By gum, bet you didn't know that? Yeah, not much. Despite what the "literary giants" of our age like Noel "after all, you are my wonderwall" Gallagher, seem to want us to believe, with their Hey Jude rewrites and Yellow Submarine videos, believe me, it is not the swinging-sixties over here - the Blues, regrettably, has not been seriously re-discovered since 1966. Why? Don't ask. That said however, that people are still playing, and listening, to the Blurs, [Two hours to deadline. The Blurs? Who they? Prime Minister en famile???] I mean the blues, can be in no doubt.
So, this is what I now know: Major International (i.e. American) Blues Artists visiting England will tend to play at jazz venues. Okay scratch "will tend to" ... They will play at jazz venues, just as surely as they will arrive in airplanes, because there simply isn't one prestigious, blues venue here. Astonishing but true. To me jazz is jazz and blues is blues, but not so apparently here in England anymore. If the blues gets played on radio, guess where the first station to find it is? Right Jazz fm ... Go figure. I'm also unreliably informed that there are a number of venues "prepared to stage blues" acts (the London Agent I'm speaking with uses the word "blues" like a Doctor describing the ebola virus); however, if you really want to catch it, you might find it at the Blues Bistro and Bar in Soho, which is basically a bistro with a jazz band (!), Ain't Nothin' But The Blues Bar, 20 Kingly St, W1, allegedly the best "real" blues bar in London, on a typical night would offer food, but also put on acoustic blues acts with maybe a lean towards delta blues. Cheap Charlies Richmond St. London is alleged to exist, The Other Side, York St. London, EOA 1205 Dundas St. London, also. Old Chicago, 153 Carling St. London, Scandals, 341-Wharncliffe Rd. S. London, 100 Club, 100 Oxford Street, W1 0171 636 0933, a Rock Venue which will, on occasion, put on a blues act, Station Tavern, 41 Bramley Rd, 11 Russell Gardens W14 is an R&B club essentially. Blues Basement at Big Easy Restaurant, Soho, Rock and Folk Venue, the Half Moon, in Putney, 93 Lower Richmond Rd, SW15, 0181 780 9383, once allegedly had a blues jam, sometime between the two Great Wars and last, but not least, the Jazz Cafe, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, NW1 0171 916 6000, being a Jazz venue of course (you're with me right?), it regularly features blues luminaries and, ahem, under-employed singer-songwriter types, who do a spot of freelance journalism, too I hear... So hey ho there you go. You now know everything I know.
3pm, still a little time to spare. How to mop all this crud up, so that it resembles the real article, rather than mad diary of an aromatic fool ? I do what all us professional freelancers do at such times. No, I don't mean I console myself with the thought that people only buy magazines to read the adverts anyway, I do something much more constructive: I turn to Luggage, the Joy Bringer, my dog and ask him what he would do if he were in my predicament? The answer is emotional and direct: "Don't ask me why Dad, I wouldn't bother Mate, bow wow. I'd chew on this here bone instead. That's what us labradors are really good at doing Man. Here, taste this bit, it's fantastic." So there it is from the dog's own mouth and if you think it's a bit of a shaggy dog's tail, don't ask "why?" unless of course you want to sing the blues. Well, I'm off to do a spot of strimming, erm, I mean strumming ... 'Wonder how my organic compost is doing?...'
© David knopfler 15 1 98
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About The author:
David Knopfler, founder and former member of Dire Straits, was born in Glasgow Scotland and grew up, with brother Mark, in Newcastle Upon Tyne, in England’s then Industrial North. The owner of a variety of rag tag-and- bobtail do-it-yourself publishing and record companies, composer of scores for film and Television, author of "The Bluffers Guide to Rock" and with occasional sorties into journalism, he currently enjoys a solo recording career (with seven albums to date). For these he has increasingly garnered excellent reviews, “perfectly mirroring” says the author with a wry smile, “his decreasing sales”. He is also Webmaster of a fairly gargantuan website www.knopfler.com where his records can [please] be purchased online.