Legendary acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb is a two-time Grammy nominee and multiple Blues Foundation award winner in what has been a five-decade career of performing all over the world. His music fuses blues, jazz and world influences to create an exquisite and welcoming style that draws people in and together. He played to a packed audience at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, along with drummer Paul Robinson, bassist Neville Malcolm, and guitarist Stefan Astner. Ulrika Bibb joined the band for a song and local singer-songwriter Ken Haddock played a delightful supporting set.
1. Playing and listening to the blues can make you feel good. Eric Bibb kicked off his set with a John Cephas number, Going Down that Road Feeling Bad, which he prefaced with the comment, “which I’m not!” And neither were the rest of us in the packed, beautiful, oriental-style, old theatre, the Grand Opera House in Belfast, as we went down the road with Eric and his band for the next couple of hours. An evening with Eric Bibb sends you away with a huge smile on your face, which will last the rest of the week.
2. Always listen to your mother. Eric’s mom told him always to include his Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down in his concerts. Good advice. He had the whole place rockin’ with this one. And good advice with “don’t let nobody turn you around.”
3. You don’t have to play at 120 decibels or make squishy faces to be an awesome guitarist. Stefan Astner, Bibb’s long time guitarist, noodled away effortlessly on his Tele, almost in the background, tastefully adorning the songs, before stepping self-consciously forward on a few occasions for some terrific solos. Actually, truth be told, he could have done with cranking the volume up a bit.
4. You don’t tour with jazz legend Nina Simone for 20 years without becoming one of the most artful drummers I’ve seen. Boy, was he all over those drums, making full use of everything at his disposal, and – not often you’d say it of drummers – he was musical.
5. If you’re playing the blues, the spectre of racism isn’t too far away. Eric played With a Dolla’ in My Pocket from his 2017 Grammy-nominated album, Migration Blues (he should have won that Grammy), the story of someone he knows who escaped lynching in Mississippi, travelling to safety in Chicago. The genesis of the blues is in the Jim Crow South and songs like this are a stark reminder of the horror of those days – and a call-out to the racism that persists.
6. An unaccompanied song can be a powerful thing. Eric Bibb stood up from his normal seating position to sing Refugee Moan, also from Migration Blues. A stark reminder of “all those who are looking for a safe place in the world.” Wayfaring Stranger, sparsely arranged, was superb too and continued the theme. More on this in his newly released album, Global Griot.
7. In his sixties, Eric Bibb has hit a rich vein of creativity. He’s performing with as much energy and verve as I remember from first seeing him twenty years ago, and his song writing continues apace. He only performed one song off Global Griot last night – so the next tour is definitely one to look forward to.