ERIC GALES live at the Haymarket, Basingstoke, Hampshire Wednesday 8th June 2022
It’s fitting that, as the jubilee week unfolds at the seams, and the bunting sinks in the English rain, concert-goers continue to think of crowns as symbols of superregality.
After a weekend of loyal ‘n’ royal celebration, we probably all think of the crown as a representation of duty. But the crown also represents dignity. And it represents martyrdom. And also immortality. The radiant crown (seen for example upon the Statue of Liberty) represents energy… and that’s the type of energy that fuels independent thought, perhaps the thought of an oppressed person who yearns to break free from his shackles and chains.
The whirlwind blues-rock guitarist ERIC GALES whose lemon-pepper guitar & chocolate-orange vocals encouraged the audience to think of all these descriptions of the Crown while on stage at the Haymarket in Basingstoke this week, also claims other crowns: Blues Rock Artist of the Year (2019 + 2020) and nominated for ‘Artist of the Year‘ and ‘Guitarist of the Year‘ for the 2022 Blues Music Awards.
Gales came onstage like a honey cat in heat, prowling all over the setting…
But it wasn’t long ago that Eric and his wife, LaDonna, were stricken with COVID-19. In fact, both nearly died from the disease — both hospitalised and convalescing for a long period afterward. Musicians including Walter Trout and Joe Bonamassa brought others together to raise awareness of their plight and they organised a GoFundMe campaign that helped with the couples’ staggering medical bills.
But at Basingstoke, Gales came onstage like a honey cat in heat, prowling all over the setting, a space which also welcomed Red Rose Panic’s ski-masked smokin’ bassist SmokeFace, Nick Heyes on drums, Eric’s wife LaDonna on percussion and backing vocals, and the incredibly talented Jonathan ‘Love’ Lovett on keyboards and backing vox..
Cleverly plugging into the post-jubilee weekend vibe of “what the hell day is it today?” we’ve all been playing here in Brit-land, the Memphis born musician thanked the audience for spending Thursday night with him (it was Wednesday) and then thanked them again for spending Tuesday afternoon in his company.
He announced he was in Basingstoke to exchange energy and share the good shit. And he did exactly that, with his gloriously illogical, completely inverted style of play, and his frequent forays away from the microphone when he spoke in querulous tones to the audience, as if we were hometown neighbours in Greensboro , NC and he was just chatting over the fence. And in between his recurrent jolts of electric-guitar profundity he spoke with wisdom & clarity about his addictions, and the prejudices and bigotries that have harmed him.
Pay attention to what I have to say, he urged us, just before The Storm’s a cappella opening: “How can you love what I do… but hate who I am?” Then there was a flamenco flurry, tempestuous rhythms, and intoned bittersweet buttercream vocals. We guess the artist must have been a victim of abuse online (he’s not a fan of twatter, farcebook etc, by the sound of it!) However, bigotry backfired on the abusers on this occasion, because the musician used their ignorance to fuel his own revitalization.
After the number, he took a moment to reflect on all that has happened in thirty years. And it was a whispered confessional. Extraordinarily moving. “I don’t know why I did that,” he explained, once he’d finished his impulsive act of testimony. “Just so you know, I don’t do that every night. But the spirit forced me to do it tonight.” After much applause, he added, “I’m just here to be an example of hope.”
On “You Don’t Know The Blues” (visualizer video shared below) he almost punched the strings in purgatorial pain, while the organ spitballed splodges of sympathy.The lyrics seemed whimsical, maybe even cheery, but how many faces in the Hampshire audience had been in jail, slept on the streets, or been arbitrarily hassled by the law? So the lyrics were biographical, not impressionistic. Most of us could only sympathise – we’d never properly understand what it is like to live the blues. As if to confirm this notion, Eric’s guitar solo ached in agony, like a wounded king snake rolling on hot tarmac. This number was, all at once, sincere and intensely felt.
Eric’s guitar solo ached in agony, like a wounded king snake rolling on hot tarmac…
Eric’s voice was like burnt toast crusts and cinnamon sticks on the soulful tune Stand Up which was a number that delivered unassuming finesse and an incredibly moving solo. With electric waves of hope from Jonathan Lovett, this was, in reality, a song of defiance and stubbornness: how does someone face abuse and persecution? Calmly, unhurriedly and expertly How should a person beat bigotry? By becoming the better man!
We were reminded that the musician almost died of Covid when he played his song of endurance, titled “Survivor.” There were bleak, sepulchral, eclipsing guitar flecks, backed by funky-chop monoxide boogie beats, but the ‘believe‘ chorus rose like a firebird in the night, to bring burning hope to every soul in the audience.
You don’t have to have been dragged through broken glass to appreciate this man and what he has to say. Fortunately, ERIC GALES is willing to open his heart and encourage others to think about preconceived notions. He does this through the deftness of his guitar-play and the open heartedness of his song. This show was impressive and very touching.
And the man wears the crown, not the other way around!
Words: @neilmach 2022 ©
Images: photo credit Paul May