The relationship between jazz and blues has always been a bit of a puzzle to me, yet across the world there are jazz and blues festivals a-plenty which seems to imply some form of musical symbiosis.
Some wag once said a jazz band was nothing more than a good blues band falling down a flight of stairs, which is rather unkind. Good music is good music and that’s that.
So it’s hats off to the organisers behind the Fife Jazz Festival who seem to have followed that ethos. It has been a great success and who brought the curtain down on the event on Sunday? None other than one of the most critically acclaimed home-grown bluesmen, Ian Sigal. No jazz in sight.
To be fair, Siegal, who, although having served a long apprtenciceship only really caught the public eye with the album Meat & Potatoes in 2005, no longer sees himself confined to the blues genre. He can comfortably slip between blues, folk, country and traditional.
Like Lucinda Williams, whose initial arrival was also on the blues scene, Siegal is a siginificant writer and that is coupled with a distinct voice, giving him his own sound so no matter the genre he moves into, it still sounds like Siegal. That’s a rare talent.
Although now more commonly the front man of a touring band, Sunday evening’s concert at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews saw Siegal perform solo for just under two hours, with nothing more than two guitars and a bottleneck.
Switching between Open and regular tuning, and resonator and standard acoustic, his set was eclectic but always entertaining, interspersed with anecdotes and tales of life on the road.
And while the audience had such diverse treats as Tom Russell’s ‘Gallo Del Cielo’ (Rooster from Heaven) and Rudy Toombs’ ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch One Beer’, everything still had the definite stamp, and stomp of Siegal.
And while it really would be unfair to pigeonhole him as simply a bluesman, he does provide a distinct and quite unique interpretation of the blues. But while the set list had nods to Charley Patton, Sonny Ledbetter, Mississippi Fred McDowell and, of course, George Thorogood’s ‘One Bourbon’ (though with more colourful sections!), his own compositions feel as timeless as those masters’.
It was a treat to hear a pared-down version of his acclaimed ‘I am the train’ while his near unaccompanied ‘John the Revelator’, with only foot and guitar thumping providing the ryhthm, probably brought the loudest applause.
The concert was a fitting climax to the Fife Jazz Festival, though tinged with a little sadness as it marked the closure again of The Byre. However, all the theatre’s events had been near sell-outs which has to be a plus for the future. And it shows with the careful selection of acts the Byre can draw full houses, though consistently finding artistes of the calibre of Ian Siegal would be tough.
Before leaving the stage after his encore, he invited his audience to buy him a red wine at the bar. At £17.50 for two glasses, a couple of CDs is a better investment but, then again, my tipple might just have nudged The Byre a little bit closer to solvency.