SEASICK STEVEPhilharmonic Hall 12/4/15
By 2005, and after too many hard years trying, SEASICK STEVE had given up. “Even the yard dogs outside never wanted to listen to my music”, he was once quoted as saying. Then came a call from Jools Holland’s people with a request to play the Hootenanny. Forced to play with a borrowed practice amp, he hated every minute, seeing it as nothing but a pointless exercise. He even picked up the speed halfway through Dog House Blues, so keen was he to leave. The day after it was broadcast, however, a call came in from the Eavis family, and a Glastonbury invitation opened the doors to the rest of Steve’s amazing life. And he’s grateful.
As he takes to the stage at the spectacularly refurbished Philharmonic Hall, he finds himself bowing to an audience that are venerating him before he’s even had a chance to sit down. He appreciates every clap, cheer, and smile, and constantly reminds us of this all the way through this incredible two-hour show. Here to promote the new album Sonic Soul Surfer, he takes his place under the fairground lights strung across the stage and, armed with nothing but a bottle of red wine and a battered guitar, he launches into a set of blistering dirty backyard blues, beginning with the beautiful Treasures. It’s a packed hall, but Steve’s playing and raw, scratched baritone voice lend an intimacy that makes us feel like we’re sat on the front stoop of his farmhouse, where this new album was written and recorded. Sonic Soul Surfer is the seventh studio album to come from that farmhouse so far, and marks a step away from the simple bottleneck guitar sound of recent years. The sound is dirtier, and somehow heavier than before, which is no mean feat, given that the only accompaniment he needs is his old friend Dan Maddison’s loose-fitting drum playing, and the occasional addition of Georgina Leech on mountain fiddle.
As the wine flows, the energy grows, building into a tornado of distorted and overdriven blues grooves of new songs such as recent single Summertime Boy, Roy’s Gang, Barracuda ’68 (named after his car), and an extended version of Bring It On. The all-out funk of old favourite stompin’ mountain rock tunes like Keep On Keepin’ On and Prospect Lane feels grittier than usual, and sits alongside the new material comfortably. There’s often, in Seasick Steve’s shows, an opportunity to select a young lady from the audience and sing Walkin’ Man to her, and he wastes no time at all in taking that opportunity this evening. It’s difficult to tell who’s happiest with this, the singer, the girl, or her husband, who’s grinning broadly from the front stalls. He’s clearly in love. He probably likes his wife, too. There’s room for a couple of covers too, and Baby, Please Don’t Go is rolled out in superfast tempo, before the delicate rendition of Gentle On My Mind is dedicated to his 17-year-old hitchhiking self.
More thanks from our man, then it’s a finale of the classic traditional mountain song, Silver Dagger, and the stomach-churning Thunderbird, before the regulation standing ovation, and a smiling exit, empty wine bottle in hand, stage right.