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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
IAN SIEGAL AND HIS BAND The 100 Club, London, April 12th 2007
Ian Siegal
Telecaster, Stratotone, pin-striped jacket, Cornell amp and Jim Beam Black...
Eagle-eyed readers may remember that I recently wrote that hot-shot USA guitar sensation Joe Bonamassa liked to wear his influences on his sleeve. Well move over big boy (did I mention that Joe appears to be aiming for Gallagher’s girth as well as his guitar technique?), English blues prodigy Ian Siegal has gone one better. He wears his influence on his left arm, where he sports a huge tattoo of McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters, who along with Chester Burnett (the Howling Wolf) are probably his greatest inspirations. You can hear this on his excellent 2005 album Meat and Potatoes, but if you want to get the full impact of this British take on an urbanised Delta style, then you must see him live with his equally excellent band. It’s quite simply a blues sensation.
It’s another steamy night in the 100 Club, with a highly partisan crowd, many of whom are regulars at It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues, where Siegal had a virtual residency last year. There are the usual horde of hoary old blues hands, and a notable contingent of ladies of all ages, many of whom take to the front of the stage as Siegal’s performance progresses. The layout at the 100 Club isn’t the best in the world – and I’m perched in front of a pillar a few feet from stage centre almost eyeball to fret board with Siegal. Believe me it’s uncomfortable taking notes at such a visible proximity, so apart from a few scribbles I adopt the same rather vacant and witless expression of a blues guitar anorak (which comes remarkably easily) as do most of the males around me, and instead write up the gig in the cab on the way home. And it’s a Thursday – no beer, no wine. Siegal
Andy Graham Siegal takes the stage in an ill-matched pin-striped suit and snakeskin cowboy boots clutching a bottle of Jim Beam Black. He picks up a 1950s Harmony Stratotone H44 (pick-up apparently held on only by sellotape) and lashes into the first tune (title unknown, apparently from his forthcoming new album), followed by a blistering version of John Lee Hooker’s ‘Groundhog blues’ and ‘Cath 22’ (not a spelling mistake, a new song, but I might have misheard). The guitar (he’s using a bashed up Cornell amplifier) has a fantastic crisp sound – the groove is pure Delta meets Chicago, driven by drummer Nikolaj Bjerre and bassist Andy Graham who occasionally sounds like Norman Watt Roy. Anyone would think he had two sets of hands!
And what shines out even more than Siegal’s intense playing is his voice – it’s a mastery of styles, mainly Waters and Wolf. But it’s not pastiche, it’s more about vocal technique and style – here’s a quote from Robert Palmer’s Deep Blues (talking about Waters) that explains exactly what Siegal was up to: “he screws up the side of his face and then relaxes it, opens and contracts his throat, shakes his jowls, constantly readjusts the shape of his mouth cavity, all in order to get different, precisely calibrated vocal sounds, from the purest falsetto to deep, quivering moans to a grainy, vibrato heavy rasp”. The only time it gets uncomfortably close to copying is when Siegal dispenses with his Harmony (did I mention it was a Stratotone H44?) to sing ‘God don’t like ugly’, best described as a bit of a Tom Waits moment. Siegal
The second half of the set sees Siegal playing his gloriously battered Fender Telecaster (it might have been the ’69) as he works his way through a few songs from Meat and Potatoes – ‘Sugar rush’, ‘Revelator’ and ‘She’s got the devil in her’ (during which he finds time to smoke a Black Devil and shift half a large glass of bourbon). His songs are good – with interesting structures (despite the restrictions of the 12 bar medium) and darkly witty lyrics (even if he does go a bit Apocalyptic on ‘Revelator’). On the Telecaster his playing is as strong and aggressive as on the Harmony (you know – the Stratotone) until he moves to ‘conventional’ single string lead guitar style where he’s not quite as convincing – but hey, then neither was Muddy Waters. He leads the band along a sometime unpredictable path – they seemed as surprised as us when a verse and chorus of ‘Fulsome Prison Blues’ came out of nowhere in one of the earlier songs. For the final tune Siegal is joined on stage by harmonica player Johnny Mastro, who with his band the Mamas Boys (their first gig in the UK) had played a rollicking support set, and his guitarist Dave Melton for a hastily agreed ”Muddy Waters blues in G”. He then returns, as the clock pushes eleven o’clock, with ‘Falling on down again’, an R&B ballad that Stax would have been proud of. 
So our Mr Siegal is quite a piece of work, both CD and live performance highly recommended. Mature song writing skills, a great and versatile voice, a seriously studied blues vocal style, a fierce and frenetic guitar technique, an engaging and authoritative stage presence, a bit of the sexy stuff thrown in, and he has a 1950s Harmony Stratotone H44. Oh yes – he likes bourbon too – but I suppose you can’t get everything right … - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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