Introducing the final number of this show, Susan Tedeschi’s ‘Hurt So Bad’, Nicole Smit says that it was suggested to her last year by guitarist Charlie Wild, but she said to herself, “There’s no way I can sing that – Susan Tedeschi’s way too cool.” Aye right, as we say sarcastically in these parts. On this evidence, Nicole Smit is capable of singing any damn thing she likes.
Queens Of The Blues is one of a suite of shows presented each year on the Edinburgh Fringe by local band/collective The Blueswater, but this is the first time I’ve managed to catch it. Which is, undoubtedly, my loss. Backed by a tight band of two guitars, bass,drums and keyboards, Smit leads a show delivering great songs by both famous and scarcely remembered female blues singers. Apparently this was the first time her dad had seen her perform. Hopefully he’s now retrieved his socks, because I imagine his daughter blew them off big time.
Smit does a terrific job of selling the material, bopping around on the likes of ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and the foot-to-the-floor rock’n’roll of Mary Knight’s tongue-twisting ‘I Told You Not To Tell Him’, and getting a sassy groove on for bump’n’grind R’n’B like Betty James’ ‘Little Mixed Up’, on which Charlie Wild delivers a wang-dang guitar solo.
But it’s her vocals that are the real centre of attention. You want to get some idea of what she can do? Well, her take on Billie Holliday’s ‘Tell Me More’, covered by Nina Simone, is as emotional as it gets, while her bending and stretching a cappella version of Ma Rainey’s ‘See See Rider’ reduces the audience to stunned silence when she finishes.
But both of those are topped, I reckon, by her rendition of a Janis Joplin song. She introduces it by saying that she hadn’t been much of a Janis fan until a woman told her about witnessing Joplin’s Woodstock performance, and feeling that she provoked atremendous sense of freedom with her “don’t give a shit” performance style. After which Smit and the band go on to deliver a blazing, foot-stamping performance of raging soul on ‘Kozmic Blues’ that’s so intense we all need a breather when she’s done.
They show a bit of imagination too, by creating an excellent R’n’B mash-up of Helen Humes’ ‘Real Fine Daddy’ and Sean Costello’s ‘Talk To Your Daughter’, on which Jed Potts lets rip on guitar. And there’s more fun with scrappy Sixties R’n’B that is Etta James’ ‘It Must Be Love’, and Frances Burr’s ‘I Say No, No More’, which they embellish with an organ solo from Rob Harrison, a rollicking guitar duel between Wild and Potts, and a false ending – “No no, not yet!” Smit teases before calling them back in.
Which brings us back to their set closer of Susan Tedeschi’s ‘Hurt So Bad’, a torch song with a Fats Domino style groove, which needless to say Smit nails good and proper, wringing out the emotion of the song with all the presence, range and power in her locker.
This isn’t just my opinion - at the end my other half announced that she’d been blown away. Sitting in the front row, more by luck than good judgement, we got a close-up perspective on all of the humour, energy and musicality brought to the show by Smit and the whole band.
You’ll be hard-pressed to get a ticket for the one remaining performance of Queens Of The Blues on this year’s Fringe. But if you decide to visit to Edinburgh for next year’s Festival, book your tickets early.
The last performance of Queens Of The Blues on the 2019 Fringe is on Friday 23 August at 5.30pm.