Review: Little Toby Walker at the Harbourside Club, Liverpool – 15th May 2007

Posted on: Thursday, May 17, 2007


This event represented the third appearance in the North West in the space of two months of a member of the premier league of contemporary American blues artistes. The other two members of that elite group to have graced the region are Doug MacLeod (at The Harbourside in March) and Geoff Muldaur (at Worthenbury in April).

Little Toby Walker delighted the audience in March last year and more than matched that achievement on this occasion. He is a supreme performer, who embellishes his considerable singing and guitar playing talents with a wealth of amusing stories. After opening with Charlie Patton’s “Pony Blues”, he provided some wonderful finger-picking on a song about hot cookies and Blind Boy Fuller’s “Cat Man Blues”. He then delivered a distinctive, vibrant version of “St James Infirmary Blues”, which he claimed was guaranteed to upset jazz, folk and blues fascists in equal measure. He introduced a number in honour of Jack Owens with a story of how he found the old bluesman in the township of Betonia, which included a sample of the incomprehensible deep Mississippi dialect. Amazingly and in stark contrast to everyone else in the room, four people from Wigan understood every word. For that number and the subsequent rip-roaring instrumental, Toby switched from acoustic to steel guitar to confirm his versatility.

He began the second set with an a capella railroad workers’ chant, with Paul Etchells and yours truly unconvincingly miming track-moving actions. On “Staggerlee” and “Sundance Rag”, he once again demonstrated his prodigious finger-picking brilliance before easing into the leisurely shuffle, “Beefsteak When I’m Hungry”. It was then time for another dose of humour with “Gimme That On-line Religion (at G-O-D dot com)”, which afforded the lively gathering the opportunity to belt out the chorus with commendable enthusiasm. “That’s all you have to do,” Toby reassured those who feared divine retribution. “I’ll take all the chances.” Two numbers enhanced by more intricate slide work on the steel guitar were followed by a wonderful display of virtuosity on harp to embroider a whimsical narrative that encouraged more banter from the audience. “Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” completed the programme before a magical, instrumental interpretation of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” brought everyone to their feet in warm appreciation of a superlative performance.

Lionel Ross
(photograph by Gordon Ariss)

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