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Harry Manx in Concert|
Soap Box, Wilmington, North Carolina
January 20, 2006
by Arthur Shuey
Deep respect for and enjoyment of the music of Harry Manx led this critic to
urge many friends to attend this show. I didn’t know at the time that I was
understating its appeal. Billed as a Harry Manx performance, advance
publicity did not mention his bandstand partner, Southside Steve Marriner,
regarded as one of Canada’s top blues harmonica players. That Marriner
distinguished himself 1/20 by providing beautiful tone, judicious instrument
and effect choices and comprehensive backing accompaniment proves that he is
worthy of all the praise he’s receiving on two continents (soon to be three,
with an Australian tour alongside Manx coming up) and a consummate
professional with the unique ability to support his front man and suppress
his own ability and likely desire to cut loose a time or two during each
show. This ability is rare in popular music, even in the top tiers; the best
known sideman in rock, Keith Richards, has always had to step forward a time
or two during every show.
It was, however, by billing and by Marriner’s own sideman role fulfillment,
a Harry Manx concert. The Manx sound has been summed up as “Mysticssippi,” a
blend of Eastern music and blues combining soft, narrative, soulful song
selection, slide guitar, some flashy additions like banjo and cigar box
guitar and his trademark mohan veena, an obscure guitar / sitar hybrid. It
is a sweet, expressive sound.
Hard listeners, excited, showed up early. Most walked to the edge of the
stage before going to the bar to inspect the instruments. The Manx arsenal
included two acoustic guitars, one quite fat bodied, an electric guitar, the
mohan veena, a banjo and the cigar box guitar he’d shared the previous night
backstage in DC with Bruce Springsteen. An EQ pedal and one other arcane
stomp box sat on the floor in front of Manx’s stool. Steve Marriner’s area
included a box of diatonic 10-hole harmonicas, at least one chromatic, and
what appeared to be a Line 6 effects pod. Marriner switched back and forth
between his stand mic and a Green Bullet. All stage mics and instruments
went directly into a Mackie mixer on stage, which sent one signal to the
house sound man, whose primary task was, then, getting volume right. He did
so, anonymously contributing a great deal to the show’s quality.
Local press announced a 6:00 start time, though online promotion from Manx’s
own team listed 7:30. The first song, “Baby, Please Don’t Go,” played lap
slide style with some nice call and response string stings and sung softly,
actually kicked off at 7:08. The duo kept a lot of balls in the air
throughout the show. Marriner’s choice of harps to accompany Manx’s
switching among stringed instruments was fascinating ... chromatic with
mohan veena, etc. Manx’s feather light slide work was effective both as to
sound and to the sense of reverence for the sound and instruments he
displayed while playing. Reverence was also evident in the crowd, which was
hushed, silent, and in complete consensus that this was a concert rather
than a bar act. The rare reward Manx gave his audience was taking the
perfect music from inside one’s head and putting it out on a bandstand.
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