Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Little Toby Walker -- The Anvil, Basingstoke, 14/09/08

By M.D. Spenser

The fine American Blues guitarist Little Toby Walker brought his entire band to the show in Basingstoke and, as musicians do, he introduced the members to the audience.

There was his thumb, the bass player; his middle two fingers, the rhythm section; and his index finger on lead guitar. And an excellent band it was – one of the best one-hand bands you’ll ever see. Walker’s picking is quick, rhythmic, Bluesy and most of all great fun.

He is more than anything a highly skilled entertainer. He leavens his show with hilarious anecdotes and knows how to involve an audience: a crowd that started out quiet and wary soon found itself singing lustily. “Oh, I just turned you into Blues singers!” Walker exclaimed.

And his repertoire, a mix of classics and sparkling originals, is heavy on amusing sexual innuendo. ‘Big Meat Shakin’ On The Bone’ celebrates the joys of larger women. And ‘Your Buggy Don’t Ride Like Mine’, a traditional number, doesn’t have much to do with going down the road: “Don’t get mad/Your buggy don’t ride like mine/I got an easy ridin’ buggy/It makes me go baby all the time”. Suffice it to say that the singer rides his buggy at every opportunity.

His instrumentals are every bit as entertaining: Walker mixes a walking bass, sassy fingerpicking and a delightful slide to great effect.

He covers artists from Fats Waller to Hank Williams, from Muddy Waters to Rev. Gary Davis, but makes each song his own.

At times, Walker’s voice can seem a bit one-dimensional, though his singing is always exuberant. But his finale, a highly personalised version of Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, was movingly sung – bone-chilling in its acceptance of life’s choices and their consequences.

Walker is a master showman; by the end of the night, the audience was not just watching the show but had become part of it. And that suited Walker just fine.

“Music”, he explained, “is far too important to be left in the hands of professionals”. An evening with him shows you just how right he is.

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