You are hereLive Review: Emily Druce at the Regent
Live Review: Emily Druce at the Regent
The last time I went to see a British female blues singer was way back in 1990, when we booked Jo Ann Kelly for a night at the Three Horse Shoes in Doncaster. The night was memorable for three very distinct and poignant reasons, the first being that she was superb, the second being that she stayed at my house, and honouring her only request of loaning her a pair of mis-matching pyjamas (I've never been a PJ sort of bloke and it's the only 'pair' I could find). 'I have another pair almost exactly the same as this somewhere' I quipped.
The third (and definitely the saddest) reason I recall the evening so vividly, was that a few days later she was dead. The paranoid schizoid android in me still questions whether it had anything to do with my pyjamas, or worse, the breakfast I made for her the following morning, but alas it was all down to the failure of an operation she had undergone the previous year to remove a malignant brain tumour.
British female blues singers are very few and far between; good ones are as rare as a decent song on a Snow Patrol album. Emily Druce has come along to reminded us - whilst we think only in terms of hairy arsed blokes in plaid shirts wielding Strats and Gibson Les Pauls, yelling Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker songs into their Vintage FAT Shure Model 55 Microphones - that there is a definite lineage of women blues singers of equal standard to consider.
If Jo Ann carried an air of Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith around with her, Emily leans a little more towards Peggy Lee in a way, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. Yes, Emily can raunch it up like the best of them, especially on something like Tommy George's Long John Blues popularised by Dinah Washington with that classic double-entendre:
'He took out his trusted drill
And he told me to open wide
He said he wouldn't hurt me
But he'd fill my hole inside
Long John, Long John,
You've got that golden touch
You thrill me when you drill me
And I need you very much'
(I should perhaps remind you it's about a dentist)
But there is also a sweetness about Emily's delivery, something more along the lines of the classic jazz singers. I found her voice as clear as, let's say Eddy Reader, every syllable crystal clear and decisively audiable, yet with a rough edge of all the women blues singers she's so obviously been studying for more than a few years.
Emily writes songs in the spirit of the blues singers she admires but also pays tribute to her own personal heroes such as Big Bill Broonzy, Skip James, Odetta and Robert Johnson. The influence of American folk music is also very much a part of Emily's make up and the country blues standards that she performed tonight at Bob Chiswick's Monday Night Music Club at the Regent, rubbed shoulders very well with the likes of Dylan's I Want You and Down In The Flood, Woody Guthrie's Going Down This Road and Leadbelly's Where Did You Sleep Last Night, a song I can't possibly listen to these days without being reminded of Kurt Cobain's painfully heart wrenching swansong on the Nirvana Unplugged session.
Towards the end of the night, Emily led us into Country territory with a final song by Stacey Earle, Must Be Love from her delightful Dancin' With Them That Brung Me album and then as an encore Hank Williams' Weary Blues, which pretty much wrapped things up nice and neat.
When I was Seventeen I was convinced that if I ever heard a girl sing a Big Bill Broonzy song I would surely marry her. I'm now just content to limit that urge to an affair of sorts, as long as there's plenty of wine, a lot of late nights and a pledge to sing me to sleep every night with The Staples Singers' Slow Train. Ah, I ask too much!