Edinburgh Festival Fringe music review: Mike Whellans, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Jim Gilchrist
MIKE Whellans is the ultimate syncopated man. Whether working up a groove with his kick drum, high-hat and thrumming electric guitar, hollering out classic blues, or taking us down the tracks on squalls and whoops of solo harmonica and explosive mouth percussion, he is the one-man blues band par excellence.
Sadly the first night of his run at the Acoustic Music Centre, a place where he has sold out in previous years, attracted a mere dozen folk, albeit well-disposed, which didn’t encourage the ideal vibe. Unfazed, however, he opened with the 12-bar drive of Jumping in the Neighbourhood, and on through covers of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s Cornbread, Peas and Black Molasses and the full-tilt harmonica moan and guitar licks of John Lee Hooker’s Baby Please Don’t Go, complete with personal reminiscences of hearing the great man himself in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens.
For Whellans has been about, through now ensconced in his native Border land, and while we didn’t quite get a Scottische from his dance band-playing alter ego, he did revert briefly to his early folk scene days with the unaccompanied Doric of the North-East bothy ballad Guise o’ Tough and a helter skelter of bairn sangs. Then it was back to the blues with the skittering harmonica solo of Smile on Your Face, hand feathering the harmonica between frenetic outbursts of beat-boxing.
He made a valiant effort to get the audience singing along in Champion Jack Dupree’s Shim Sham Shimmy, then, after a beguiling harmonica interlude on a catchy tune he picked up in Bilbao, it was further, fairly unstoppable boogie unleashing some demonically babbling wah-wah guitar. Mike Whellans is a phenomenon, and really deserves a bigger crowd.
ACOUSTIC MUSIC CENTRE @ ST BRIDE’S (venue 123), run ended
Published in The Scotsman on 29 August 2015
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