Latitude 2009

Latitude: Seasick Steve

Michael Bonner

"I had a dog. He died about a year ago. His name was Boss. This is for my dog. I miss my dog."

There he is, in his dungarees, doing his thing with a guitar and a fuzzbox, singing songs about his dead dog. On a massive, open stage in broad daylight. You might, for instance, want something a little edgier, in a more noctural setting, in a small and tightly packed venue, for Seasick Steve that the Obelisk Arena at teatime. But, strangely, he works incredibly well here in this leafy setting.

As I walk up to the Obelisk Arena, I pass a group of kids -- 6 or 7 -- miming Steve's gutsy Blues riffs on air guitars, their faces scrunched up in mock-concentration. Elsewhere, families sit on rugs munching on their dinners, soaking up Steve in the background, and his somewhat idiosyncratic interpolation of the Blues. "When you get home," he says, "I want you to take off all your clothes. Especially your socks." It's kinda funny, extremely likable. He's there on stage, with a drummer, a harmonica player and a bassist -- who're all sitting down for much of the set, and all look like they could be played by Billy Bob Thornton in the film of Steve's life.

He pulls out a one-string guitar -- which I think he calls "Diddley Bo," before announcing "It sounds like shit." It looks like it was carved by Appalachian Indians at the turn of the last century, and he coaxes out of it some primal, fiery riffs. I'm reminded, in the way he holds the crowd's attention, of Leonard Cohen 's power over the crowd at the 02 on Thursday night. I wouldn't wish, of course, to suggest Steve was on a par with Cohen, but there's something in the way one man of a singular approach to music can bewitch an audience.

We miss your dog too, Steve.

Anyway, Elbow are on now -- gotta motor.


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