David "Honeyboy" Edwards: Bringing the Delta Blues to Norwich
Norwich Arts Centre
October 1, 2009
David "Honeyboy" Edwards walked slowly across the stage of the Norwich Arts Centre, settled himself into his chair at the centre of the platform as the sell-out audience's warm applause gradually subsided, strapped on an electric guitar and asked "Y'all ready for the blues?" The crowd yelled and whistled in answer, then settled down to enjoy an hour of songs from a man who, at 94 years of age, is the world's last remaining direct link with the original Delta blues.
Edwards was joined on stage by long-time friend and manager Michael Frank on harmonica and support act Les Copeland on guitar, who brought some added musical color to the evening in support of Edwards' guitar playing. Frank's harmonica was most effective in his subtler contributions, adding a delicate tone to Edwards' rhythm playing. While Edwards' voice is often fragile, he still demonstrated a clear sense of how to phrase a lyric, and he remains capable of some strong rhythm guitar work. On one or two tunes he also demonstrated some delicate slide guitar action, playing with a metal tube on his little finger.
The trio began the night with Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues." They followed on with one of the standout songs of the evening, Edwards' own "Apron Strings" from his album Roamin' And Ramblin' (Earwig Records, 2008) with guitar and harmonica driving the tune along as Edwards sang a warning to his mother-in-law. Edwards' version of Robert Lockwood Junior's "Little Boy Blue" was another highlight, the song's loping guitar part leaving room for Frank to add some atmospheric harmonica fills. Throughout the set Edwards appeared to enjoy playing and relished the appreciation of the packed crowd. His determinedly individual approach to ending the songs occasionally caught Copeland and even Frank, who has played with Edwards for over 30 years, by surprise, but these two musicians took it good-naturedlytheir affection for this blues veteran was clear.
At the end of the set Frank helped Edwards to leave the stage, but the audience's demand for more was soon answered as the musicians returned. Acting as Edwards' spokesman Frank thanked the audience and said that they hoped to be back for a 95th birthday tour. A brief discussion ensued as they tried to decide on a closing song, before Edwards agreed with Michael Franks' suggestion of "Bricks in My Pillow" to bring the night to a close. The suggestion was an inspired one, the song's powerful imagery brought to life by Edwards' vocals.
This tour had been billed as Honeyboy Edwards' final trip to Europe: despite Frank's announcement about a possible return in 2010, many in the audience were aware that this performance could well be Edwards' last gig in the UK. This valedictory performance was a fitting one for British fans to remember this singular bluesman.