CW Stoneking – O2 Academy Liverpool 31st Aug 2010
CW Stoneking is the son of American parents who was brought up in an Aboriginal community by his father. He started playing at age 11 and began performing in bands at 13. At this stage he concentrated on pre-war acoustic blues and his repertoire has since developed to include jazz, jungle and hokum.
He came on stage with his 'Primitive Horn Orchestra' which consisted of drums, double bass and brass section. The audience, which consisted of a wide span of ages, gave them a great reception. Banjo in hand, Stoneking hesitantly twanged away tuning the instrument before the stuttering banjo cued the rest of the band to launch into the opening song 'Early In The Morning'. We were all immediately transported to another age; to a sleazy 1920s or 30s blues club deep in the Mississippi delta. The audience were mesmerised by the throbbing rhythm and heavy atmospheric brass. The brass got even heavier with the second song, 'Handyman Blues' before Mr Stoneking introduced the band to us.
The first half of the set was surreal, almost haunting; the occasional funeral-like dirges totally captivating. The more up beat 'Brave Son Of America', with it's New Orleans carnival feel followed and then we were firmly fixed comfortably in about 1925 with the sublime guitar and brass of 'The Jungle Lullaby'. By contrast, the shouting two-way conversations on 'Dodo Blues' exhibited some raw deep south traditional blues.
The story telling now began. We were treated to the tale of when he was confronted by a lion whilst mining for gold. To cut a long story short, he ended up being sentenced to 25 years by a judge who was a monkey! 'Talking Lion Blues' showed another talent, that of yodelling over an acoustic guitar backing. The whole mystique of his persona is enhanced by his storytelling and period attire.
The long story of the origins of the song 'Don't Go Dancing Down The Darktown Strutters Ball' followed. He tells us it was written in New Orleans whilst he was employed sweeping the floor in the Hoodoo Doctors, he told the tale of a Canadian who went missing before his wedding and ended up busking in a lemon coloured see-through dress. The song itself was slightly haunting due, in no small way, to the pounding southern dirge of the rhythm section.
The tempo and mood were uplifted by the big, catchy, New Orleans blues of 'Rich Man Blues' and the big brass of 'Going The Country' which followed. The remainder of the set was generally more up-beat than the first half and the audience participation and appreciation grew with each song.
'Charley Bostock's Blues', 'She's A Bread Baker', 'I Heard The Marching Of The Drum, 'Jungle Blues' and 'The Love Me Or Die' completed the set. The audience demanded more and the band politely came back on stage for one more.
I doubt very much if Liverpool had witnessed anything like this since the 1930s; it was so unique and original. CW Stoneking is one of a kind and his pre-war blues, jazz, jungle and hokum, held together with his tall tales, delivered something that I have never witnessed before; a truly stunning performance.