Grand Opera House, Belfast
30th October 2018

Eric Bibb is a blues legend and tonight he proved why. Within the salubrious surround of Belfast’s Grand Opera House, he delivered a master class in a whole spectrum of blues. From beautifully paced laments to full head-down work outs, it was all on display tonight. Over five decades he has honed his trade to a fine art, and the audience laps it up.

Support on the night is provided by local man Ken Haddock who delivers a fine set, in a mix of his own material and some choice covers. Highlights, of a too short spot, were his own ‘The Sweetest Hour’ and a great rendition of perennial Joni Mitchell classic ‘Both Sides Now’. Sometimes we take our own local talent for granted. If you see Ken’s name on a gig, you can be assured of quality entertainment. On the basis of tonight, his new live album, due out soon, promises to be a bit special.

The last time I saw Eric Bibb was five years ago, when he played a solo acoustic gig in Belfast’s Elmwood Hall. Tonight, he is backed by a band of three special players, who produce a wondrous night of sweet melodious blues.

He is greeted on stage with polite applause and will leave with the crowd on their feet bellowing for more. From the opening chimes of ‘Silver Spoon’ to the last refrain of ‘Mole In The Ground’, this was scintillating stuff. Playing his acoustic guitar seated for the majority of the night, Eric seemed to smile for the whole gig, and that warm spirit spread through the stalls and circle of this prettiest of venues.

The rhythm section of Paul Robinson on drums, and Neville Malcolm on bass provided great support, but it was guitarist Steffan Astner, who almost stole the show with his effortless and sweet electric guitar solos. Almost! It is Eric we are to see, however, and while his acoustic guitar seems muted at times in the mix, his voice and emotion shine through.

Eric Bibb sings songs of discrimination and prejudice, he tells tales of times when the colour of a mans skin dictated if he worked. But he sings that there is more to unite us than divide. A lesson, we in this country could do well to listen to.

Got my own way of talking, got my own way to smile. Got my own way of walking, my own looking style. Got my own way of praying, my very own way to sing. Still, I’m connected to you and everyone and everything.

In hindsight, I don’t think I’ve heard a crowd give more respect to an artist than tonight. The songs rolled round, from a rollicking ‘A Dolla In My Pocket’ to the softly sung advice to his his children in ‘When All Is Said And Done’. Undoubted high point of the night was ‘Refugee Moan’ sung a cappella, and the only time Eric stood during the evening. Ot’s dedicated to “all those people desperately seeking a safe place to live”.

Eric tells us the song is from the ‘Migration Blues’ album, which was nominated for a Grammy in the best traditional blues album. The album was beaten to the gong by The Rolling Stones… Go figure.

Eric is full of these neat one liners such as “tuning is like airplane maintenance, worth it”.

He is joined on stage by his wife Ulrika who takes lead on the lovely ‘Maybe I’ll Hear From You’.

Ostensibly, he is here to promote new album ‘Global Griot’, (Griot being an African storyteller, poet or musician). However, we hear relatively little of it, which is a shame. The one track entitled ‘What’s He Gonna Say Today’ includes the lines:

Seems like a joke sad enough to make you cry. You got a president addressin’ the nation soundin’ like Family Guy…

What’s not to love?