Fine Living | The Reconnoisseur

A bluesman for the 21st century

Watch out for the man with the hat and the harmonica

A bluesman for the 21st century

November 04 2010
David Cheal

If you follow a certain kind of music – rootsy, soulful, bluesy – you may have noticed in recent years that a familiar figure keeps popping up on stage alongside a range of performers in these genres. Although his face is rarely seen, he’s easily recognisable thanks to his rakish ever-present hat and his sharp 1940s-style suits; I last saw him a couple of weeks ago on Later With Jools Holland alongside Cyndi Lauper, where he played harmonica as she hollered out a brace of stunning R&B tunes. He plays a mean, howling harmonica, and he goes by a peculiar name: Son of Dave.

In fact his real name is Benjamin Darvill, and in a previous incarnation he played harmonica and mandolin with a Canadian band called Crash Test Dummies (they had a one-off hit in 1993 with Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm). But in the past few years he has re-emerged as a bluesman with a very distinctive look (the hat, the suits) and a highly idiosyncratic way of playing. He performs solo, but on stage he uses sampling technology, via an array of pedals, to record and build up layer upon layer of loops – a burst of harmonica, a bit of vocal, some heavy breathing and percussive noises – to create a sound that’s gritty and textured and multilayered, but still recognisably bluesy. Basically, he’s a one-man band for the 21st century.

Catch him, if you can, on his short solo tour; it’s a fascinating, absorbing experience. And if you don’t, doubtless you’ll spot him soon on stage in his supporting role, hat tilted, blowing that haunting, inimitable harmonica. I’d also recommend his latest album, Shake a Bone, released earlier this year, which is boozy, bluesy and atmospheric.

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