Not long ago round the kitchen table I was talking with a friend about the musicians we keep going back to see. Who had I seen the most performances of in all my years of gig going? Patti, Bob or Robyn? (Smith, Dylan, Hitchcock -we’re on first name terms here at WHC HQ.) Of course it is none of these but someone much closer to home, queue drum roll, it’s Martin of course. Martin Blake that is.
Thirty years ago or so, Blakes 3, (Martin Blake, Rob Strawson and Mick Freeman) were the local group that we all used to go and see regularly, their gigs at The Nag’s Head in Canon Pyon were especially looked forward to. Back in the early days I remember hearing them with Kate Hardy who later went on to sing with Baka Beyond (last sighting of Kate at the WHC was when she was singing with Them Boonies). I even remember seeing Blakes 3 at Preseli Folk Festival in Wales where they were joined, perhaps surprisingly, by Nik Turner of Hawkwind. It’s true, I found the photos the other day, mostly of lots of kids with muddy boots. That festival was especially memorable for the performance by Moving Hearts of their album The Storm. Behind the band of Irish musicians the blackening storm clouds were building up over the Irish Sea – an unplanned cinematic backdrop giving added drama to the brooding Celtic swirl of their music. Hurricane Charley, when it hit a few hours later, brought with it a monumental deluge that washed many of us out of our tents. I took refuge, as did several others, in Gilly and Dave’s vintage Eccles caravan, the one and only time they took it on a road trip. A bottle of Jamesons helped maintain the peace until the calm after the storm. The next day, an unusually glum-faced Big Al was to be seen rescuing his sodden carpets and digging a trench to help drain the water from his tent.
So a few years later, 25 years ago in fact, when Stas I had our shotgun wedding party to which cowgirls, cowboys and cow-punks were invited, it seemed only appropriate to invite Martin to play. By this time, he had well and truly found the joy of Cajun and zydeco and had formed Bon Ton Roulez with an expansive line-up. They were great and I still have the cassettes of their music that Martin gave me, which is an indication of how long ago that is.
Over the years I’ve seen him play with all sorts of folks including US fiddle wizard, Dan Cassidy, but most often these days he’s to be heard with amiable accordion player, Aidan Sheehan, in the duo known as The Whiskey River Boys or with Aidan and a full band as Whiskey River. Their swampy Cajun country rock will always get people onto the dancefloor wherever they play, be that a Herefordshire pub or a Cajun festival in Burgundy. Their music has been further informed by trips to Louisiana meaning that Martin and Aidan are the real deal and so rightfully are the respected kings of roots rock in the county.