I introduced Sunday night’s 3rd Annual Fitzroy Blues Night with an apology to anyone who had arrived looking for a Church service. By the end I wasn’t so sure I should have.
The evening was an outstanding musical event. The unique arrangement of the choir’s introit Going To Sit Down On The Banks Of The River was followed by a plethora of superb vocal performances. Norman McKinlay, Dave Thompson, Gary Bradley, Gary Burnett and Caroline Orr all gave the blues their genius. Caroline’s Nobody’ Fault But Mine conjured the spirits of Billie and Janis. Dave’s Moses and The Lamb revealed how he gets stronger as a singer as the days go by. Norman’s Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down gave his voice a
new power. Gary Burnett and Caroline dueting on Shelter Me Lord did Buddy and Julie Miller proud and when Gary Bradley shook his tambourine as he sang Judgement Blues, if you had closed your eyes, you were back at a late sixties Stones gig. With players like Hicks, Mitchell and Auterson on the robust back beat rhythm John Trinder played lead guitar with poise and precision, guest star Martin McVitty astounded in ways that would compete with Gary Moore and Ken Frame’s banjo added texture and variety. That variety went an extra hue with Peter Greer coming off his Hammond organ chair to play some tasty acoustic for Jacqui Lewis, another guest we know very well in Fitzroy, whose vocal on I Want Jesus To Walk With Me was as strong and soulful as I have heard her before.
This year’s guest Brian Houston is always a ferocious live act and tonight he made his guitar weep and praise and preach and pastor.
His first big hit from twenty years ago Jesus Again brought the pain of the blues into testimony and ending the song with a verse or two from Jesus Loves Me was a artistic and theological trump card. 5$ On Your Dashboard from his brilliant record Shelter benefited from his story driving through Toronto and ending with Gospel Train mixed blues with the Spirituals in a Springsteenesque song of eschatological hope.
Gary Burnett is the creator and curator of this annual event. Currently writing a book on the subject of blues and theology he did an amazing job tonight in giving us an informative, if sweeping, history of the blues, looked into why it might have been lazily lumped as the devil’s music before bringing us to the vast repertoire within the genre that brings us clear as crystal to the Gospel itself. I really can’t wait for the book and am off to seek out Walter Trout and Kelly Joe Phelps!
And... if you had ears to hear... or have read between the lines of this review you will see why I questioned my introductory remarks.
For sure it wasn’t traditional Church in the strictest sense of the word.
However, it missed nothing of what happens in Church. Scripture Readings were there, most obviously in Moses and The Lamb and John The Revelator. Hymns were there in Going To Sit Down By The Banks Of The River, Jesus Loves Me and I Want Jesus To Walk With Me. Confession was there in Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Shelter
Me Lord was prayer made song. There were sermonettes too, particularly in Judgement Day Blues, Brother’s Keeper, $5 Dollars on Your Dashboard and You Gotta Move. Indeed conversations since have suggested that people got the sermons loud and clear and are carrying their 5$ equivalent but also hoping that they have more than dollars or pence to give as a contribution to God “saving the poor beggar from going to hell.”
When I ended the night with a quick reprise, “So go and be your brother’s keeper, keep 5 dollars on your dashboard and when the Lord says “Move” you better move” it was only scratching the surface of much more than a great musical blues night. Sometimes Church is so contrived it fails to be Church and other times Church leaps up in places where it is less expected and meets us, ministers to us and missionally sends us... guitar solo... amen!