Coco Montoya has the pedigree of being, like Eric Clapton, a former ‚Bluesbreaker’ with John Mayall. Meena and Shakura S’Aida are less well known but all share two things in common: They are all acts on the 2010 RUF Blues Caravan Tour and they all know how to present the Blues at it’s foot stomping best.
Blues Caravan tours are always an early highlight in my year. The law of averages says someday they will produce a dull show – but it hasn’t happened yet! After last years super ‘New Blues’ with Oli Brown, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Erja Lyytinen this years bands hit the road under the slogan ‘Blues Without Borders’ but could have been headed ‘Ageless Blues’ given the varied birthdates of the headlining acts.
By the time young Austrian Blues singer Meena steps onstage there is the usual scrum of cameras around the front microphones. These shows are a magnet for photographers and Thomas Ruf is a smart marketing man who knows the valuable free publicity a Flikr gallery offers.
At times like these I thank my parents that I’m over five feet tall to see over a few heads, particularly when the musicians are like the diminutive Meena. Not that she goes unnoticed. “A great set of pipes” was how Thomas Ruf described her to me before the show, and he wasn’t kidding. Comparisons with Janis Joplin are inevitable both vocally and in appearance. Truth to tell I prefer the rather more restrained sound of Meena’s brilliant ‘Try Me’ CD to the live article right now. The stage just seemed too big at times. Put the girl in a smokey barroom with a cigar chomping pianist and it would be a different story I’m sure.
Shakura (not to be confused with Shakira!) was the total opposite. Her sheer charismatic presence seemed to make the Harmonie stage shrink to dolls house proportions. Franz from ‘Bluesroad’ Radio had already spelled the virtues of Shakura and her guitarist Donna Grantis to me beforehand but they still took my breath away. An object lesson in how to present timeless classic jazz/blues vocals, Shakura had the audience in her hands before singing a single syllable. Heck, here I have to introduce a whole new adverb: ‘to walk smoulderingly’ which is how the Lady slunk sexily onstage to the equally sexy bass driven backbeat of “Gonna Tell My Baby”.
I’d had to lean round people to take pictures but I was glad not to be front row when the man ahead of me got asked by Shakura to stroke Donna’s guitar during a solo. He took it like a man: stammering something about not knowing how to play a guitar before Shakura stunned him into silence with one sexy stare from her saucer sized eyes. To cut a long story short – If you see a billboard with the name Shakura S’Aida on it go to the show even if you have to postpone your wedding to do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t (and if the wife doesn’t understand then she’s not the one for you!)
It must be even more difficult to follow after Shakura’s set than it is to be followed by her so I didn’t envy Coco Montoya. Maybe though because he isn’t a female vocalist with legs long as a giraffes neck he didn’t feel in competition. Instead he looked unphased, even nonchalant, as he picked up his left handed Fender and got stuck in to ‘Hey Senorita’. He did have the odd Ace up his sleeve of course: not everyone can say “Here’s one I did with John Mayall” as he introduced ‘Have You Heard’. Montoya has come a long way since getting a gig with Albert Collins as a drummer in the 1970’s.
On the subject of drummers – resident Caravan drummer Denis Palatin is in fact now on his third Caravan Tour and still has the cheeky smile of a schoolboy who’s sneaked onstage to try out the drums during the break. It’s a trick he keeps getting away with – probably because he’s one of the best drummers around. I’d heard too that Birmingham born bassist Roger Inniss was good and he was every bit as classy as last years Mike Griot.
As we’re the English-Network I should also give a mention to the keyboard player from London who worked for some time with the great Elkie Brooks – Johnny Dyke. Thanks for the chat about the english music scene Johnny. I will check out ‘The Hoax’ sometime!
If there was a fourth star on show this evening it would have to be Canadian guitarist Donna Grantis who had a gloriously raw rock touch to her sound but still keeping it blues. She’s pretty talented all round – co-writing most of Shakura’s new CD and presenting her own fashion jewellery collection which is a clever concoction of bracelets and pendents fashioned out of guitar picks and used strings (I never saw that on Blue Peter!)
Many thanks to Thomas Ruf for another First Class evening. The new Blues Caravan has only just started rolling, I recommend getting onboard as often as you can.