Blues artist Harry Manx to headline at SLAS Saturday

MORRISBURG – “The blues is timeless music,” said Harry Manx, one of the truly great bluesmen. “The music is as fresh now as it was 50 years ago. This music grew out of African rhythms, a simple formula, which makes it approachable to all. You can always connect with people through the blues.”

Harry Manx, one of the best known and most honoured blues artists in the world, is returning to the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage at Upper Canada Playhouse on Saturday, May 5, at 7 p.m.

He has won some of the music world’s most prestigious awards, garnered international recognition and praise, and has always established a deep and intimate connection with fans and audiences.

An artist who, over a long and varied career, has always explored the possibilities inherent in all types of music, Manx is known to many as the “Mysticssippi” bluesman.

His style has always been unique.

In the 1970s, already playing in a band, he haunted the clubs of downtown Toronto, where he got to see some of the great blues artists performing live. “I heard and watched them on stage. Their music was real and true. That music simply hit a chord in people.”

It decided him on his own musical direction.

But Harry Manx went farther.

He studied a number of years with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the Indian master who invented the 20 stringed Mohan Veena, now one of Manx’s signature instruments. Then Manx chose to blend these two supposedly disparate musical styles and created a link between east and west which found expression in his own music.

He produced a sound and a style that were utterly unique, and appealed to critics and fans alike.

“I have a passion for Indian classical music. I guess my soul is split down the middle between traditional blues and Indian music,” he laughed.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Harry Manx in 2018 is again exploring new “musical possibilities.”

He will be joined in his Morrisburg concert by special guests the Esca Quartet, a string quartet founded in Montreal in 2004.

Edith Fitzgerald on second violin, Sarah Martineau on viola, Camille Paquette-Roy on cello and Amélie Lamontaigne on first violin are the artists of Esca, whose repertoire ranges from purely classical to pop. The quartet has been described as “four ace musicians, passionate about their art and proud of their long standing collaboration.”

“I’ve been exploring new ideas,” Manx explained. “I love the sound of strings. About four years ago, as I was driving across country listening to CBC classical, I was suddenly struck by the sound of the strings.

There is power and beauty in their sound, and I said to myself, I can use that sound.”

He had heard Esca perform, and he made a connection with them.

“The are all wonderful, strong young players, who are doing very well. And they have proven to be wonderful in collaboration.”

How do they make music together?

“My keyboardist, who knows my style, has been adapting my songs. I wanted the strings to play melodies and solos, not just back up. We complement each other on stage: it’s as if the strings and I are having a musical conversation.

When I’m playing live on stage with the strings, I feel raised up as if I have wings lifting my music up.”

His latest release, Faith Lift, revisits many of his earlier classic pieces, this time arranged and performed with strings.

But the traditional bluesman still remains at the core of Harry Manx’s musical soul.

“There’s an old joke describing the blues,” he told me, laughing. “The blues, it goes, is not about feeling bad yourself, but about making other people feel bad.”

Harry Manx, however, makes people feel good when he performs. His passion is contagious, his love of music bracing. Audiences are drawn to him.

“My passion for music survives because I keep myself inspired. I reach out to family and friends and I also turn to meditation. The issues I look at through my music are love, life and death, and I put these elements in all my songs.

These themes, I find, seem to inspire people and to resonate with them.”

Harry Manx is thrilled to be returning to the St. Lawrence Stage on May 5. “It’s a beautiful venue at the Playhouse, and the audiences are wonderful. I’m hoping to give them classic Harry, and new Harry – all forms of Harry,” he laughed.

This is the final show of the SLAS 2018 season. Tickets for Harry Manx with the Esca Quartet, May 5, 7 p.m., at Upper Canada Playhouse, are $35 in advance and $40 at the door.