Review: Seasick Steve

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'Got any spare change, Stevie?' yells a Scot from the back of the sell-out crowd. 'I do now, brother,' replies Steve. 'An' it's mostly yours', he drawls as an afterthought. This is all that has changed as a result of Steve’s increasing popularity following his performance on Jools Holland’s ‘Hootenanny’, and more recently at Glastonbury. In all other respects he stays true to his roots as a hobo who spent years on the streets of Mississippi after leaving a broken home at the tender age of 13. Dressed in denim dungarees, an old cap and sporting a grizzly grey beard, Steve roars through his intensely personal brand of blues with a crazy tramp’s gusto. His songs are underpinned by his own grim experiences, which he tells with razor-sharp wit and honesty. One of the most striking aspects of the performance is the modest equipment Steve uses. He plays a one-stringed ‘Diddley Bo’, a Mississippi Drum Machine (a wooden box that he stamps in place of percussion) and most impressively, a battered three-stringed guitar. Most bands would refuse to step on stage with such sub-standard gear, but for Steve it is part of the magic of his set: from these instruments he draws a thumping, knee-slapping blues rhythm that resonates throughout the hall. Like his equipment, Steve’s voice belies his gnarled exterior. There is little of the gruffness his appearance would suggest, as he sings with richness and composure, whilst the atmosphere remains visceral. Throughout the set there are moments of tenderness in his tribute to his dead dog, which manages to avoid mawkishness due to its obvious sincerity, and ‘Fly By Night’, Steve’s “song for the ladies”. It is ‘The Dead Song’, though, that is most poignant. Again it is based on his memory of the past – this time, of his own near-death from a heart attack. The crowd sings the haunting refrain ‘There ain’t nobody coming back from the dead’ back to Steve, who conducts his choir, eyes twinkling with delight. This is the pinnacle of Steve’s union with his audience, but the Edinburgh crowd, amongst which there are many old fans, has stayed captivated throughout. No one can resist stamping to the driven blues beat, joining in with the memorable choruses, or eagerly anticipating his next story from the streets, but at the heart of it is the fact that Steve is genuine. He seems constantly thrilled to be on stage, yet he also seems bemused by this new-found fame. ‘Girls used to cross the road to avoid me, but now I’m on stage with a guitar they all want to talk’, he says coyly. There are no inflated rock egos and no pretensions of stardom and this is clearly refreshing for the crowd. Despite the obvious incongruity of a hobo from the Deep South in a room full of Scots, fundamentally it is only the stage that separates Steve from the audience. The set culminates in the fans’ favourite ‘Dog House Boogie’, which receives rapturous applause. An autobiography set to a droning blues riff that moves to a wailing chorus, it encapsulates the spirit of Seasick as energy, wit, candour and emotion combine to leave the audience howling for more. It is difficult to see how Steve can continue to generate fresh material without becoming predictable, whilst sticking as he must to his winning formula. For now though, Steve’s live act is a truly memorable performance that looks set to delight wider audiences as his reputation justly expands.

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