Diary of a Bluesman


Mike 'Dr Blue' McKeon is a bluesman with a voice like a bear who has been

singing and playing the blues for many years. Mike has agreed to write a diary to show us what a

bluesman's life is like, the venues he goes to, the characters he meets, his experiences.

He sends in chapters of his diary when he's ready. Who knows what adventures he will have.


Diary of a bluesman - Chapter 22: Getting Them Through The Door.

Listen to Chapter 22


I'm back stage tonight, unloading on a service road that runs behind tonights venue. The electric white light that illuminates the night, is reflected in the oily water that stagnates in blocked gutters. There is a large steel bin outside the back door of the neighbor's take away pizza restaurant ,which smells of decay.

Steam rises from a doorway as a drunk lurches back, shaking his shoe. It's 7.30pm on ' Black Eye Friday'. This town has been partying hard since lunchtime; some of the early casualties are already heading off Home.

I try to avoid the rainbow puddles and the rotting food, I'm glad of my chemical resistant boots this evening!

I am alert to the pizza delivery drivers who drive up, zip in and out with their nylon boxes and their blue baseball caps.

Unloading my gear I am excited at the prospect of playing at Sticky Fingers tonight. I have been met by a new sound tech who is young, keen and super professional, they offer to help carry.

I have already checked in with the lovely duty manager. I had a quick chat with the human- hill, that is our doorman. He is cheerful, chatty and watchful, constantly checking the punters in and out of his charge. This bar is full of a cross- section of Middleborough drinkers. It's not uncommon for two, sometimes three generations of the same family to be out together, along with the groups of mates, and couples. They are all dressed up for the night. When I say 'dressed', they are a hardy lot up here, not much sign of any knit - wear or over coats; phones, cash and fags are secreted in bras or back pockets!

The room is acoustically challenging, and we decide to bypass my guitar amp, using the EQ on my pedal board to isolate the feedback that is plaguing the sound check. Once sorted the sound tech has little else to do, they are good! The friendly crowd, are up for it tonight. they are keen to get going!

Mike ‘Dr. Blue' outside Sticky Fingers Middlesborough


After a couple of pictures with punters out front, and one request to fondle of my beard (consent asked for and given), I get going, the room immediately warms to my swampy slide, with songs about drinking and the devil. I throw in a remark about avoiding sacred ground, not wanting to burst into flames- this is the devils music and I am by proxy, one of his minions!

The night goes well, both sets warmly received.

My voice, has been struggling, carrying, as I am, a cold and chesty cough, picked up in London last week after a gig at the Blues Kitchen in Camden. I had a warning this weekend might be a challenge for my voice on Thursday night, at a restaurant/ bar gig in Brighton. However, an Arevedic preparation called Septillin and some ‘Jollop' have kept my voice working. Jollop is a preparation that I have used over the years, which is both a treatment for a scratchy or sore throat but is also, when taken daily during long runs like Edinburgh Fringe for example, (where three gigs a day is not uncommon), great at fending off colds and sore throats.

Jollop recipe:

2/3 cloves of garlic (crushed)

Similar quantity of fresh ginger (crushed or thinly chopped)

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Add boiling water and leave to steep.

After a couple of mins. (The water needs to cool a little, boiling water will kill off the efficacy of the

last two ingredients:

Juice 1/2 lemon or Lime.

A good squeeze of honey.

A spoon of high - grade Manuka honey a day, also helps. Don't bother adding Manuka honey to the Jollop as the temperature of the water significantly reduces its potency.

That's my regime for surviving long runs and gigs when the colds take hold.

I decline an after-gig drink at the venue and head for my hotel. I do have a quick drink with the duty manager who keeps me company while I decompress, wait for the adrenaline to drop out of my system and then head for my bed. I have a gig on the following night just down the road at the Saltburn Blues Club.

I have been booked to support the Starlite Campbell Band. I' m not familiar with their work; however, I am looking forward to meeting them.

Saltburn Blues Club


The gig at Saltburn went well. We played to a near full house, 70 plus. This was one of those rare nights where the audience was in to listen. More of a theatre-gig, than a boozy bar -night.

The good folk of Saltburn were lovely, warm and appreciative. Despite feeling like death warmed up, I sat down after my set, to watch the headline act; I was not to be disappointed. I had heard on the grapevine, that Suzy Starlite (bass and vocals) and Simon Campbell (guitar and vocals), the dynamic couple that front the Starlite Campbell band, were good. They were fabulous, great songwriting, awesome band, sharp and exciting. Plenty of energy and personality. Check out their album, Blueberry Pie, my nomination for Blues Album of the year.

We all helped pack up, said our farewells and headed back to the house that had been rented for us for the night. We all met up with our host Harry Simpson next morning, who very kindly stood us breakfast. I took the opportunity to sit down with him before I drove home, to have a chat about the Saltburn Blues Club.

Blueberry Pie


interview with Mr. Harry Simpson, Organizer and MC of the Saltburn Blues Club (SBC).

We were in the local cricket club, the location of last nights SBC. I was still buzzing from having supported the fabulous Starlite Campbell Band on the last night of their ‘Mince Pie Tour'.

I was curious to know more about the Saltburn Blues Club. The club attracts a loyal audience who get to watch some of the cream of the British Blues Circuit, all booked and introduced by Mr. Harry Simpson in person.

I started out by asking Harry how the club had started?

Harry spoke of a Rotary Club initiative, to run a ‘Grand Old Oprey' festival, as a fund-raiser in the town. Held over four nights, with a different genre of music represented on each night. One of these nights was a Blues Night. Harry had attended. The gig was packed, and having had a great night, Harry was left thinking:

“We need a blues club here in Saltburn”.

There were already two blues clubs locally, one in Redcar, one in Guisborough . Harry rightly assumed there must be an audience for this music. Despite having no experience “whats so ever”, Harry:

“Took the bull by the horns, and with some lovely assistance from the Redcar Blues Club, who offered advice and a list of contacts', went ahead and started the Saltburn Blues Club”.

I asked what had brought Harry to the blues?

As a teenager, initially he replied:

“I was a soul fan”, Tamla Motown , Atlantic and Stax, from the ages 11 to 14. “I then started getting into blues, British Blues, the prolific John Mayall Blues Breakers, the Rolling Stones when they were still a blues band, and some marvelous compilations, ………one example was a record called Blues Power. These records introduced you to the original blues musicians, you had never heard of before. (He) would listen to them and go, I like that, I like him, I like them', and so you went and got an album of theirs”.

Some of the greats he listened to were: Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters John Lee Hooker. Harry said he “really loved it” . Harry said something that many people have said to me when talking about the blues, when trying to find a way to express the power of the music, Harry simply said, it “spoke to him”.

As Harry got older, moved into his 20's, he moved away from the Blues and became interested in more contemporary music.

Hearing the Blues played at that Grand Old Oprey festival, had rekindled an interest in the Blues, so he went and dug out his old Blues L.P.'s

In addition to the blues club, Harry is a radio D.J. and produces his own blues radio show ‘Still Got the Blues' on the local community radio station. Harry enjoys playing the tracks he discovered as a teenager. The show: ‘Still got the Blues' is on Zetland FM on a Monday night 105 FM (locally) or online:

What are the challenges of running a Blues Club I asked?

“Getting an audience, selling tickets and getting bums on seats ”. Harry stated that he never knows who is going to turn up even if he has sold tickets. A nice problem, he has occasionally, is that too many people turn up, “trying to find seats for them can be a challenge”.

Harry said that they average 45-50 people for a club night, last night they had had about 70 in, which was a very good turn out especially as it was so close to Christmas.

Harry went on to describe the work required to run the club. There is the promoting of the gigs, (“you cant go away on holiday!” ), as there are posters to put around town, Facebook posts, media releases to do, Harry also goes to as many local gigs as he can, in addition to attending the blues festivals.

“It's time consuming and demanding, but the best bit is when I stand at that door over there, and as people are leaving, they say thank you. That's why I stand at the door, that's my highlight, What makes it all worthwhile”.

How do you decide who to put on, what's your booking policy?

Harry: “I'm very choosey for the want of a better word.” If he doesn't like a band, or a solo artist, “then that's it”. Harry qualified, by saying that there are bands “that are not my cup of tea but they are quality”. He feels he can recognize quality or talent. Harry wont book anyone he hasn't seen. Not all the acts he has booked, he has seen live. He will book a band based on live footage sent to him or posted on youtube.

Harry again:

“I will go with what I've seen on youtube,……... Here's a tip for bands, make sure you've got quality videos, if I look at something and its crap I wont bother, there's always someone with a good camera to take some quality stuff”.

Harry had in fact booked me based on the film footage sent by my agent (Fiona Long).

Harry spoke with great affection for the club's audience and regulars, “ I know my audience” he said, they are “ not a rowdy audience they sit there and listen”.

I had been left the night before feeling, that I was playing to a room full of my Blues' loving peers, they were receptive, incredibly respectful, warm in their applause and obviously enjoying themselves.

I asked Harry if he felt that the audience was unique to Saltburn or could someone else replicate it in another town?

Harry: “I do think that it is something people can replicate, there are people out there of our age group who might have lost contact with the music (Blues), they connect again, rediscover this music. The biggest problem is getting them out of the house , (in) bad weather, (they) wont come out”.

Harry Continued talking on a subject that is close to my heart.

“What we would like to do is introduce this music to a younger audience, the Saltburn audience is mainly my age group (60 plus years).”

I observed there were younger people in the audience on the previous evening. Harry said that,

Initially it's getting them here, once they are in, and they hear it (the Blues), they respond positively. Harry said that a problem is that many young people are not familiar with the Blues , “they don't hear it on the radio, they don't see it on the TV, and they don't know what it is”.

One strategy to encourage the younger generation to attend, that Harry has tried successfully, is to send out an email to his regulars, to those with teenage kids, saying: ‘Bring ‘em along, tell you what, Ill give ‘em a free ticket!'

Harry's enthusiasm is infectious, he is a true lover and ambassador for the blues in Britain, his energy and drive is obvious, the affection the club members hold for him was also apparent. We need more Harry Simpsons!

As I drove back south, I listened the Starlight Campbell's new album, Blueberry Pie, through twice without a break, something I rarely do. I thought how glad I was that Harry had gone to that Blues night, and that he hadn't thrown away his old blues vinyl!

Finally before I sign off, I want to add my own dedication to the long list of tributes to a fine Bluesman, Dave Raven who died recently. I had the pleasure of joining him on his boat to record an edition of Raven and The Blues back in 2012, when Dave kindly invited me to join him to talk about and play tracks from, my then new solo album – Heaven Bound. I bumped into Dave a couple of times, out and about on the circuit after that. He was always cheerful and interested to find out what I was up to. He was a knowledgeable, and experienced broadcaster, loved the blues, and had some great stories, a kind, enthusiastic and a sweet soul. He will be missed. Travel well sir!


Remember, ‘if it aint the truth it aint the blues'

More Soon. DB

Starlite Campbell Band