Now here's a thing. Listening to his just released live album One Night InAmsterdam, you could be forgiven for thinking that Ian Siegal is content to delegate the limelight to hot shot guitar sidekick Dusty Ciggaar. Well, anyone catching Mr Siegal on his current UK tour with Ciggaar and his Rhythm Chief pals will realise this is far from the truth.
Let there be no doubt, in the flesh the main man is Ian Siegal. This isn't to damn Ciggaar and co with faint praise, because they do some heavy lifting. But essentially Siegal is a modern day itinerant troubadour, disseminating songs that resonate with him, whether his own material or that of others, sometimes culled from across generations. And while his band may be fellow conspirators in that project, it's evident that Siegal is the driving and guiding force.
|Ian Siegal and Dusty Ciggaar|
Part of that troubadour mentality, I think, is an interest in the words as much as the music. There's no doubt that Siegal is a student of musical styles, ranging across blues, country, folk, gospel and god knows what else. But he also trades in stories, characters, dramatic monologues, paradox and metaphor. All of these Siegal may conjure for himself, or conscript from others, interpreting them with a remarkable, gravel-laden voice, which he can bend to the styles of Howlin' Wolf, Tom Waits and others at will.
Tonight's set in Newcastle is based around the live album, but some of the highlights come in songs that don't feature on that release, such as 'Revelator (John The Apostle)', into which he inserts a chunk of the Wolf's 'Back Door Man'. This follows on from the excellent hill country blues of 'She's Got The Devil In Her', dedicated to Mississippi bluesman Robert Belfour, who Siegal knew personally (“we drank moonshine together”) and who died last month.
These songs rather give the lie to Siegal’s contention that “we’re not really a blues band”, but of course the set does range more widely. ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, now in an electric incarnation, features Ciggaar making use of a baritone guitar (my muso pal confidently tells me) to lend a suitably Hispanic tone to his two solos. His boss, meanwhile, delivers some tasty slide on ‘Early Grace’, and funks up ‘Hard Pressed’ to great effect.
Not to be outdone, young Dusty saves possibly his most blistering solo for the final encore, ‘Take A Walk In The Wilderness’. As a climax to the show this is more than just a guitar solo however. Dedicated it to its writer and another of Siegal’s friends, the late Glaswegian ‘Big George’ Watt, its gorgeously yearning chorus epitomises the spirit that imbues Siegal’s work, both live and on record.
I only have one question: why is this man playing in such small venues? As great as it is for punters like me to see him play in such intimate surroundings, he deserves to be heard by a much bigger audience.