Well, well, well, look who’s back…
Son of Dave says that people often ask him, “What kind of bluesman comes from Winnipeg in Canada, but has lived in London for more than 15 years? What kind of bluesman gets drunk at a party and does the dishes to avoid chitchat? What kind of bluesman doesn’t abandon his illegitimate children to go adventuring?”
You might also ask, “What kind of bluesman has had a book of columns written for award-winning The Stool Pigeon music newspaper published? What kind of bluesman is a raconteur that actually gives a shit about keeping people entertained? What kind of bluesman has a YouTube channel, on which he posts covers of improbable songs like ‘Bonkers’ by Dizzee Rascal and anarchically reviews the latest singles by Beyoncé, Stooshe and Kendrick Lamar?”
Son of Dave – Benjamin Darvill – will decide what this bluesman will do and for his fifth album, Blues At The Grand, he says: “I decided I was going to make a happier record and stop screaming about the hell I was in. I won the trust and custody of my kid, I won the hearts of audiences and I finally found a good woman. I have a new baby in a blues ranch on the hill, and I will fight anyone who says that isn’t cool as fuck. The hardest road you can take is full of love and sacrifice; sticking your neck out to do something different.”
But rewind a second. When Son of Dave was first on Later… with Jools Holland in 2007, he played ‘Hellhound’ from his then-forthcoming third album, 03, in the style that made his name – as a one-man band with a harmonica, a shaker, his voice, a stomping foot and a looping pedal. Beats de la bouche and a trunk-load of funk. He took that show around the world and then, in 2011, he stopped by Steve Albini’s famed Electrical Audio studio in Chicago. The album that came out of those sessions, Shake A Bone, was the best one-man band record Son of Dave could ever have hoped to make. He satisfied himself, and his fans. It was time for a change.
Blues At The Grand puts the rhythm in rhythm’n’blues. It’s a full-band record – guitar, bass, drums, percussion, organ, piano, saxophone, backing vocals and, of course, harmonica. This being a Son of Dave record, however, he plays many of the instruments himself.
When Son of Dave says his “blues ranch”, he means his home in northwest London. It was there throughout 2011 and 2012 that he wrote the album and recorded home versions. Always intending to make a “bigger party” with this record, he enlisted the help of super-producer Jimmy Hogarth – a soul fan and local man with writing and production credits on countless monster-smashes by the likes of Amy Winehouse, James Morrison and Corrine Bailey Rae. Other friends from the area came to the studio, too, including sax player Martin Slattery, double bassist Arnulf Lindner and singers Josephine Oniyama, Martina Topley-Bird and even comedian Jessica Hynes.
Son of Dave was born in the winter of the summer of love and used to be in the Crash Test Dummies. So much has happened since then. “I’ve had hard knocks, sure,” he says. “That’s where the desire for revenge comes from. But people don’t want to hear what kind. To hell with the phony hobo blues. Fuck the divorcée mid-life crisis blues. Here’s my new record. It’s more joyful than my previous ones, has great musician buddies on it and covers a lot of ground. I wrote it on piano, guitar, bass and drums, like the old days of R’n’B, though I still play too much harmonica.
“I have really earned my night out – played more real shows and covered more ground than any young punk ever will. I would love to stay up until daylight doing more dangerous drunk stunts, but I can’t. I have a train to catch in the morning, either to the next show, or back to face the hard knocks at home. Bills to pay. That’s life. The life of a bluesman is long and hard. If it’s short, it must be very dense.”
“Well, well, well, look who’s back,” he sings at the opening of Blues At The Grand. “I’m right on track, and I’m here for a while.”