Greetings! How very good to see you here. If you're wondering where 'here' is, this is the great terra incognita between getting agent (hurrah!), and getting publisher (fingers crossed). But you are most welcome, whatever your relationship is to books, or words, or writing. I hope you enjoy - and please tell me if you do. POSHTOTTY

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


Many a writer takes the plunge and tries to bring music into their writing - to re-create in words the experience of listening to, or playing, or otherwise being transported by a melody; to bridge the gap between notes and words. I think this gap has already been bridged, but the other way about - writing into music - and it's been done by the Blues.

Forgive me, this is the zeal of the newly converted, I know it. But one thing music and writing do have in common is the fact that they find you, rather than you finding them, and just as some wonderful new book (for me, most recently, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet), beating you about the head with its covers, will have you extolling it to all your friends, so breathtaking music will have you doing the same. Welcome to the Chicago Blues Fest 2011. Yup, you've all known about the Blues for years, like you all read Jacob de Zoet already. I'm playing catch-up here.

I never knew I had been listening to the Blues before, but of course I have, all my life. Listen to it for 3 days solid (mouth open in wonderment the while) and you realise you have been hearing, and do still hear it, in everything. Frank Sinatra (duh, of course), Ry Cooder's Trouble, hiding behind his tree. Culture Club - 'Black Money'. My nephew, who can get a tune out of a bagpipe - out of a bag, in all probability - says that if two musicians who have never met before want to play together, they play the Blues. It's a universal language, he says.

You're telling me. The lyrics of the Blues, the story of the song, is in the music - a hoochy-coochy stripper, chickens scratching in a yard, a train going off into the night. The wail of the abandonned, the sobs of the lost, the contempt of the heartless, the creepy conviction of the utterly mad - they're all there in the guitar, the piano, the mouth-organ (or Mississipi saxaphone, as I learned with joy it is called). The thump to the beat of the Blues is like the prose in the King James' bible, insistent. Corpuscular, teeming, organic. There's something inescapable about it, and relentless too, it's big music. Sit on the grass before the stage and you feel it bumping up through your tailbone, not weaving its strands round your head. It's merciless too, big enough to be threatening - people get killed in the Blues (and even then, sometimes they come back); nothing is ever forgotten. A proud boast from the stage - 'my daddy played this, my graddaddy too'. Shemekia Copeland was crowned the new 'Queen of the Blues' on stage on Sunday, now there's inheritance for you; when Eddie Clearwater played it was as if one shimmer of the air, one little zone-out, and back you would be kicking along a dirt-road, 80 years ago.

The words, by contrast - the lyrics - are so compressed, so multi-layered, they're what you have to tease apart into different lines and staves of meaning. Here's an idea; take a line of a Blues lyric 'I still love you baby, 'cos you don't know what it's all about', and write the story that led up to it. How much sad knowledge is in those 13 words? You have conversations with everything in the Blues - trouble and misfortune, rapture and joy, death, despair, love, infatuation, madness, the black snake in your room, the Blues themselves, as they walk up to your front door It's a mostly one-sided conversation, it's true - even with your darling, we have to take your word for it about that real good feeling you get talking on the phone, but by the time you're growling 'TALK to me baby,' at the end of the song, and doing that kick Blues players do, like they have to stamp on the song to keep it under any control at all, we all know what you're really talking about. Oh, I get the Blues. I SO get them!


  1. why o why can't i post a comment? hiss snarl gnash wail (having another go - a 4th go - it just stroppily told me that i don't own my wordpress account - but i do, i do, i say back, but it believeth me not).

  2. right. here's the proper comment, after i've had to sign up for another blogging account which i don't need, because i already have a wordpress one - google wants my soul and no mistake. not sure that meeting Google at the crossroads and playing fiddle for my soul is likely to happen, but its quite a bluesy thing to think about.

    if you want the blues - then try Solomon Burke, in particular his great album Don't Give Up On Me, a classic - and classy - blues and soul collection. tracks to go listen to on YouTube right now are: Fast Train, None of Us Are Free (with the fantastic Blind Boys of Alabama on backing vocals), and Flesh & Blood, which sends the chills up my spine. hmmmm. blues and the summer go together for me - something about the perfect crossover of linear and cyclical time + isolation - there's probably a groovy equation in there somewhere, just a bit too much for my tired Sunday brain to work out.