Seasick Steve

The man from another time returns to where it all began, writes Eddie Mullan

He mightn’t look it, but after experiencing sudden fame in recent years - which rescued the blues genius from his previous life as a tramp wandering the Mississippi - ‘Seasick’ Steve Wold is making ‘serious spare change’ these days, even if he does say so himself.

And who could be more deserving? After a TV appearance on Jools Holland with his three-string ‘Trance Wonder’ guitar, life changed dramatically for Wold. Singing songs about living hand-to-mouth, sometimes ending up in jail, drinking to get drunk and getting beat by his mean stepfather after his parents split when he was just a toddler, Wold's truly is the sound of worldly experience.

Dressed in a yellow sleeveless shirt revealing his tattooed arms, Wold starts the last night of the Open House festival with a song about drinking a particularly low-end fortified wine known as 'Thunderbird', accompanied by stickman Dan Magnusson in red and black checked shirt, whose flailing arms and grey-white hair are a sight to behold.

‘Have Mercy!' howls Wold in the quickly followed ‘Cheap’, in which we get an idea of what it's like to sleep under a newspaper behind a grocery store - it ain't fancy. 'It sure is nice to be back,' Wold proclaims, and the feeling is mutual.

Things really take off in the marquee with one of the highlights from Wold's latest album, Man From Another Time. In ‘That’s All’, Wold imagines he can escape incarceration by soaring over the jail's high cement walls. Simple ideas like these so passionately conveyed fuel the appeal of old Seasick. Then a female fan gets 'the best seat in the house', serenaded by Wold onstage with a surprisingly romantic turn in 'Walking Man'.

With the audience adding their rhythm section contribution - Wold calls this ‘a little Mississippi disco’ - the next stomper ‘My Donny' gets the floor shaking, and the temperature continues to rise with the audience bellowing 'Burning Up'.

Next up, Wold shows us 'if you play with only one string you can't go wrong' in 'Diddley Bo', and treats the crowd to a rendition of 'I Started out With Nothin'' on a guitar made of Morris Minor hubcaps. Then he climbs into the crowd to shake hands with those closest to their hero.

After a brief exit, Wold arrives back on stage clutching a towel, and addresses the crowd: ‘We didn’t mean to go off and back on like rock stars, I just needed to wipe down.' Then, with the sweat mopped off his arms, he plows headlong into a special extended version of his classic ‘Dog House Boogie’, sparing no details of his tough childhood.

Magnusson brings it all to a close, destroying the drumkit in a scene of glorious carnage. For a couple of pensioners, this duo put most of today’s ‘rock stars’ to shame.

Wold recounts that after a period of illness, coming to Belfast to play shows at the King’s Head and John Hewitt Bar at the Open House Festival five years ago gave him the confidence to keep going. ‘It all happened from here,’ says Wold humbly. ‘And I ain’t ever going to forget it.’

With his image beautifully captured in a bronze plaque now affixed to wall in the John Hewitt, and performances like these, this ex-train rider doesn't look to be losing momentum any time soon.