Reviews 2018

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

Rag Mama Rag

Bryn Phillips 09 March 2018

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It is eight years since Rag Mama Rag last appeared at the Woodman. Somehow they lost touch, they thought maybe the club had closed down, and then found us again on the internet. Thank you internet, and of course Derry and Debby for booking them.

Rag Mama Rag are a blues duo, living in the South of France, and we were the third UK venue on their March 2018 tour. They comprise Ashley Dow on guitar (Acoustic, National Resonator, Weissenborn Lap Steel and Ukulele) and Deborah Dow on Percussion (Doumnek Drum and Washboard) and Harmonica. Ashley provides the main vocals in an authentic blues voice, with Deborah providing backing vocals. What a combination! It is one thing to hear music from a CD or streaming service and quite a different thing to hear and see it created in front of you. I was very fortunate to have a seat in the front row and I could see the care and precision that went into the side guiitar playing, with the strings expertly damped and the slide picking out the notes perfectly. The wonderful harmonica playing was a great complement to the guitar, following the "less is more" rule.

The material they perform is a combination of old country blues songs and Ashley's own compositions. Often when blues performers turn to songwriting they leave the blues behind, but not in this case. The self-penned songs were very much in the blues tradition, only with some-up-to date well crafted lyrics. With the blues songs we were treated to some great renditons of material from Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Rev Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Tampa Red and some others I didn't note down. Of all the material played my personal favourite was "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues". Up to now the Skip James version has been my firm favourite, but this has now been overtaken (I know that's heresy, but it just goes to show how impressed I was). They also did a couple of folk numbers. One, "She Moves Through The Fair" was played magnificently on the lap steel after Ashley introduced it as a folk song written for the lap steel. It wasn't, of course, but after listening to his version it could have been. They also treated us to a civil war song (This is a song from the 60s ... the 1860s), "Rally Round The Flag", as well as a couple of sing-alongs. Here, I need to congratulate the audience who did a spectacular job of singing along to "Minne The Moocher".

Not only did Rag Mama Rag provide us with an excellent evening's entertainment, they also provided the PA system, and looked after setting up the sound for the Woodman support artists, Dick Woodhouse and Velvet Green who did an excellent job starting off the evening, and then myself in the second half.

One of the hardest parts of being an MC is telling the act when their time is up. Tonight I was so tempted just to let them carry on playing, but sadly that's never an option and so we'll just have to wait for next time. Meanwhile I'm listening to their latest CD, which is now on its third play.