The Continuing Adventures of Whistling Willie Ramsbottom
|I first ran into Tom Doughty ten years ago. Literally. I collided with him at JFK airport, with the pair of us en route to International Guitar Seminars, a blues and slide guitar workshop at Colombia University. I gratefully accepted his offer of a ride in the limo that he'd booked, leaving my fellow recently arrived Brits to bake in the hot sunshine as we rolled into Manhattan.|
What I heard later on that week was both interesting and surprising. Describing Tom's music as unique would be pushing it, but with the combination of expressive, mellow vocals and lap slide guitar work that owes much to improvisation, it was clear that there weren't many like him around.
In the decade since, this native of Northwich, Cheshire has steadily built himself a widely dispersed fan base with appearances at concerts, festivals and the odd radio gig, most notably on the Paul Jones blues show on Radio 2. Have a taste of This, his latest release will ensure that the following continues to grow.
The blues influence is evident, but if that's not your first choice of musical genre don’t be put off. This is that form at its most accessible and there's enough from other directions to satisfy the keenest of curiosities.
Things get under way with Down by the River a Charlie Patton-esque collection of riffs, but that's as straightforward as it gets. The next track, Journey Blues, a nod to the artists of the 20s and 30s who have left such a legacy, is a whole load more complex. Attempting to pick out the different lines is like watching a firework display and trying to concentrate on the individual strands of light. Sit back and let the whole wash over you.
While there is traditionally influenced material here, Doughty is a skilled interpreter of contemporary work. There's a feisty version of Dylan's Spanish Harlem Incident, and Randy Newman's Louisiana 1927, about the floods in that region which were doomed to be repeated, is sensitively rendered.
Best of all though is Delia, derived from a Reverend Gary Davis song that has been covered by many, Martin Simpson amongst them. But while Simpson’s version is intense and frenetic, the one here is laid-back, tinged with regret and heart-achingly beautiful. There's a sample on Tom’s Myspace page listed at the bottom. If you do nothing else, go there and listen to it.
Other tracks defy categorisation. Doughty's love of a good melody is never far from the surface and the instrumental numbers, such as Queen of Tarts, demonstrate this best. It's played in two parts, the bass overdubbed with a melody, and the instrument of choice is a Bear Creek Weissenborn. These little guitars are as light as Balsa, but produce an incredibly rich tone that almost defies belief.
So who, you might wonder, is Whistling Willie Ramsbottom? At that workshop all those years ago, the emphasis was on jamming, and learning from some of the most spectacular acoustic guitarists on the planet. There was a chance to do your stuff individually though, at the student concert, where Tom billed himself as Whistling Willie, a reference to one of Mike Harding's comedy creations.
Harding theorised that the blues originated not in the US, but from Manchester, on the banks of the Irwell Delta and the zebra crossing outside Woolworths. The chief proponents were Blind Lemon Clegg, Sonny Boy Entwistle, Sleepy John Arkwright and the much troubled Whistling Willie Ramsbottom who 'had a lot of problems'. You need a smattering of blues history and northern wit to get the gag, but if you do, it will always raise a laugh.
It might be too late for poor Willie, but if you're stressed, worried, or have just had a shitty day at work, then kick off your shoes, pour yourself a glass and put Have a taste of This on the cd player. You'll be feeling better within the hour. This is a quietly sparkling gem of an album that won't be out of place in anyone's record collection.
- Emotionally-Challenged Melon Carter
Tom Doughty appears at Northwich Folk Club on 9th July and at Bury Met on 16th July.
Tom Doughty Official Site
Northwich Folk Club
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