A few years ago, a friend introduced me to the music of C.W. Stoneking and I was hooked. It confused me as well, in a good way as I wondered why this mate of mine decided to send me blues from the 1920s, then realising C.W. Stoneking is from the present and gives us mere mortals the chance to hear and feels the music from those who created it. It’s an education listening to him bringing us calypso, rock n roll and blues from influences of an era belonging to Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie or Tampa Red, a thread like this will grow.
C.W. Stoneking is a 40 something Australian with albums Hokum Blues, Jungle Blues and Gon Boogaloo all comprise of wonderful music, storytelling, interactions and humour. C.W. Stoneking tells of his unique life travelling the world, working as a voodoo doctor’s assistant and being shipwrecked in West Africa and now he plays the union chapel in London.
Upon entering this beautiful structure, the voice of Angie McMahon already caresses the historical building. The Australian is touring with her country counterpart C.W Stoneking. Angie, a singer-songwriter speaks elegantly to us in the pews, her voice grows with power and sentiment that reminds me of a Chrissie Hynde as she performs tracks including “Pasta” about the time she ate too much lasagne to push down some uncomfortable feelings.
9 pm, on comes C.W. Stoneking to a rapacious applause, acoustic guitar in hand with no band behind him. This is a stripped-down tour, just him, his guitar and his sense of southern drawl humour. He opens with “Charley Bostock’s Blues”. The venue is perfect for his talent, the sound travels to the rafters and as Angie McMahon says, it flows up to Jesus.
A great opener to hear his voice flow around the chapel. “Down in the Country” is where he begins with a skit. He does this by changing the voice for us to follow the characters. This is the same as when some of us have conversations in our head and give ourselves answers. C.W does it out loud and puts it on record.
“Dodo blues”, “Way Out in the World” and “The Zombie” the latter comes with audience participation. “Love Me or Die” is about his time as a voodoo doctor’s assistant, telling us of a love potion ingredient, before stopping, he smiles and carries on with his highly engaging personality, it’s exceptional and befits the music he loves to show us. I’d be happy to listen to him tell stories of where he’s been and what he’s done, all evening. He has an amazing gift in making them funny and feels real, such as his time when getting shipwrecked at the Bermuda Triangle.
A tune I was looking forward to at the Union Chapel is the Yodelling song, this comes with info concerning how Tarzan’s yodel is more of a Swiss yodel, and how Jimmy Rogers yodel made him a fertility God in Kenya during the 1930s. “Talkin’ Lion Blues” an imaginative story as C.W. Stoneking produces his yodel cascading around and up the chapel. His powerful effortless vocal strength easily grabs the people in the pews. The lyrics are about mining for gold in Africa until he comes up against a lion– “The Lion said Buddy, you’re plum out of luck, he made a lunged for me and I had to duck…I jabbed that lion right clean in the jaw (a yodel) right clean in the jaw. Picked up its tail dragged him across the floor”. Great stuff.
Moving on to a few ballads, but before, he tells us of his sharpie issue when signing posters for fans at past venues, he took one with a swift movement from a fan who didn’t notice the switch. His mate Stewart told him when that sharpie runs out, you’ll die, playing on Stoneking’s superstitious mind. Since then, he’s continued to collect/borrow/steal his fans sharpies and stay alive.
His ballad’s float out the building in mesmerising fashion with “Handyman Blues”, “Jailhouse Blues”, and finishes with “Jungle Lullaby”.
He’s a unique performer and one that needs to be seen if you love blues, calypso, rock and the occasional banjo you’ll love seeing/hearing C.W and his band. I wonder how many sharpies he took this evening I wonder as we wander to the dark night of North London.