Postcard - Buddy Guy In London
November 2001©Nigel Spiers
I’ve always wondered what a Hashish Den was like and now I know.
I squeeze into the smoking lounge at Bangkok Airport - the size of a telephone box.
Faces appear and fade in the swirling mist, eyes rolled back in the ecstasy of the
long distance smoker.
Now this is more like it – I’ve just checked into the London Vanderbilt Hotel – a
very stylish converted Regency terrace house in South Ken. What a lovely area –
matching, elegant cream houses as far as the eye can see. Shiny black doors and
brass door knobs. Oh Oh! I can feel a little My Fair Lady coming on as I skip and
swoop from railing to railing “on the street where you live”.
Down to breakfast – The Times, bacon, eggs, black pudding, toast in a warm napkin
followed by The Independent, English breakfast sausages and of course baked beans.
Yes but surely there’s something you don’t like about London – mmmm not really. I
even like the crowds, witty posters and the dirt on the tube. Bloody hell! – it
must have taken her hours to wriggle into those tight pants and every man on the
train is very glad she made the effort.
But most of all I adore being part of the “big picture”. The Afghanistan war even
takes on some reality and each night I lean forward and soak up the TV BBC news.
This week’s big story is Tony Blair’s plan to reform the House of Lords. Step 1 –
remove the automatic rights of the hereditary peers of the realm. Sure the upper
house has it’s fair share of deadwood, chinless wonders and perpetuates an
outdated class system. At the other end of the world we have an image of a group of
jodpured cronies, driven mad by fox hunting lust and falling asleep in the warm
plush red velvet of the upper chamber. However the reality is that members are
more widely representative and include for example the Bishops of England. I
thought the whole idea was that these folks of largely independent means and
outside the petty constraints of the party political system are meant to bring
a degree of self sacrifice, experience and wisdom to the running of the country.
Is there a place for this system in a NZ Government made up of a mediocre layer
of self-serving, failed car salesmen spread thickly over the NZ Labour and
Yeah well it had to happen - I've finally met somebody famous in London. Met
is maybe a little strong - Jamie Oliver lives right by the entrance to our London
office in Swan Yard and behind the Highbury Islington station. I know cos I've
just seen him leaping out his front door onto a smart new Moped and not a camera
It’s Friday Night and I’m meeting up with a couple of old friends at the
Cooperage Pub under London Bridge. Over many pints of Old Wallop (lovingly
brewed on the premises) we scheme and plan a famous English victory over the
upstart Australian convicts at Twickenham tomorrow. While we are at it we plot
the downfall (and a bloody good rogering) of the feckless Irish by the mighty
All Blacks at Lansdowne Road for the following Saturday. We seal it with a last
pint and wend our way back over London Bridge inured against the Arctic blast
and marvelling anew at the majesty and twinkling lights of the Thames.
Sunday, I’ve got the Timeout magazine in-front me and I’m of a mind to spoil
myself rotten. Aaah the annual London Jazz festival is on at the Royal Festival
Hall. Now which artists are not coming to Christchurch in my lifetime? All of
them – right I’ll go and sit in the front row and experience the passion and power
of Buddy Guy – yessssss!
The audience waits expectantly & hopefully. Everyone is well aware of Buddy Guy’s
notorious reputation for performances varying wildly from the sublime to the
ridiculous. Looking surprisingly youthful and desperately handsome, belying his
age and a lifestyle that would have bowed lesser men, Buddy walks on stage smiling
First-up a very funky and sexy version of Willie Dixon’s “I just want to make love
to you” which leaves many of the women in the audience bright eyed and licking
their lips in anticipation. I knew he could really play the guitar but I am knocked
out by his voice – not just the falsetto vocal pyrotechnics he is so famous for
but also the sheer power of a deep baritone voice and just the merest hint of an
You know it’s going to be good when the stage includes a B3, RD600 stage piano, 2
Mic’d Leslie cabinets and not a synth in site. Buddy has brought his own sidemen
from Chicago – piano, rhythm guitar, bass, drums and sax. We are transported back
40 years to the hey day of the great Chicago rhythm sections. The drums and bass
are fundamental but at the end of the night you can’t remember a single note or
beat they played. The gangly white kid on guitar is the living embodiment of
Jimmy Rogers – I’ve never heard a rhythm guitarist play so little to such great
effect. The sax man is given 2 solos and makes the most of them but undoubtedly
the star of the show is the big guy on keyboards resplendent in baseball cap
and Hawaiian shirt. After a break where he almost dismantles the B3 under a
murderous attack of fists and elbows a youth sitting in front of me turns to his
dad and asks, “what the fook was that da?” His father just smiles benignly with
a look of deep contentment on his face.
The highlight comes towards the end when in a moment of silence Buddy screams in
indignation “Damn right I got the blues”, the band lay down a huge driving beat
and Buddy flays us unmercifully with his strat. This is one of his best known
songs; the audience knows it and howl for blood.
Buddy then walks down the steps at the side of the stage his guitar like a
writhing snake, barely controllable and pouring venom over an hysterical crowd.
Then the strangest thing happens!
He walks straight over to where I am sitting in the stalls, bends over me, looks
me straight in the eye and gives me 12 bars of sheer pleasure. I can't breath,
start to panic and then burst into tears and I can't stop crying. All the while
I want to touch him but my hands won’t move and I know that you can’t just
reach out and touch a God.