Rowledge Village Hall 2011 – Blues in Britain Country blues in the quintessential English country – well Surrey to be exact! You couldn’t really say that the village hall in Rowledge resembled a juke joint, although there were certain similarities. The makeshift bar in the back room, doing a good trade in local beer (as well as wine), the main room with its array of tables and chairs and the support from the locals, all grabbing an opportunity to catch up with friends and enjoy a Saturday evening. Oh….and not forgetting the appearance on the compact stage of Rag Mama Rag, taking their interpretation of good time blues and rag music to the people as part of a busy UK tour, away from their home across the channel. The main room was packed, leaving standing room only near the bar by the time Deborah and Ashley Dow began their first set with the ever popular “I Can’t Be Satisfied”, followed by a rolling “Walking Blues” that got the toes tapping and generated good applause. The next forty five minutes or so took the audience on trip back in time, in the company of respected musicians such as Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson and Blind Boy Fuller, courtesy of Ashley’s magical National guitar and vocals, plus Deborah’s superb rhythm on washboard, percussion or her dexterity on the harmonica. “When I Was A Cowboy” and “Jitterbug Rag” kept up a nice pace, interspersed with a handful of slower numbers featuring Ashley’s Hawaiian guitar, before “Brownsville” and an atmospheric “Crossroad Blues” gave way to enthusiastic audience participation during “Minnie The Moocher” that generated a good thirst, judging by the queue at the bar during the break and added pressure on the village hall’s toilet facilities. The break in the live music also saw the tables and chairs nearest the stage being moved back a little, creating some space for a handful of dancers, keen to loose their inhibitions as soon as Rag Mama Rag returned with some up tempo boogie woogie and the Elmore James’ classic “Dust My Broom”. The band’s equally enjoyable second stint included another variety of styles, including country and Cajun influences, introducing the punters to the lyrical talents of former roving entertainers like Skip James and Scrapper Blackwell, plus homage to the rail system in the form of “Freight Train”. A link was drawn between between the current age of austerity and the Great Depression with “You Can’t Get The Stuff No More”, appropriately around the time the keg of beer in the bar ran dry. “Your Cheatin’ Heart” prompted another sing along, the dim lights preventing too many accusing glances being picked up by any deserving recipients, including an increased number on the makeshift dance floor by the stage, while the finale perhaps reminded one or two present that they were only a day or so away from commuting to the City as the musicians promoted the attractions of “Sweet Home Chicago” in fine style. This was Saturday night entertainment in its most basic and attractive form and, if the queue for the band’s cd’s was anything to go by, hopefully not the last time this marvelous duo find their way to this neat village in the future. Check out rag-mama-rag.com for details of the band’s other appearances on these shores, to pack up your troubles for an evening!
– Darrell Parsons