Dave Gelly (b. 1938) - musician, noted jazz saxophonist, writer and broadcaster - is a renowned jazz critic from the UK. He was named Jazz Writer of the Year in the 1999 British Jazz Awards  and has been awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), granted by the Queen of England for his contribution to the UK.

 

 

             Ludwig Balmoral Manhattan is a Germaican. How else would you describe someone with a German mother and a Jamaican father? There can't be many Germaicans in the world. Indeed, Ludwig himself is an imaginary character, but his creator, Mike McKoy is the genuine article, a real-life Germaican. What's more, he was brought up in England and went to universities in France and Mexico. No wonder he grew up to become a linguist as well as a musician. He insists that Ludwig isn't a fictional version of himself, and that their joint heritage is “only a point of departure” for the magical tale of Ludwig's adventures on his journey to happiness and self-reliance.

The story is told in Mike's spoken narrative, interspersed with a series of what I can only call “real songs”, with real tunes which you could, if you were so minded, whistle while walking down the street – a phenomenon so rare these days as to be almost revolutionary. Among them you will hear probably the only 12-bar blues ever to be sung in German, and a lavatorial swing number ending with the words, “Don't forget to flush!”

Beneath this tuneful surface is a coming-of-age story, in which the hero experiences hope and despair, falls prey to temptation, gains confidence as he learns to make his own decisions, and emerges as a strong and fully mature person. There are innumerable tales in which the hero gains wisdom through hard experience – A Pilgrim's Progress, David Copperfield, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and many more. They are popular because they illustrate a universal truth about human life and experience, and Ludwig's story is part of this long tradition, with a small dash of The Wizard of Oz thrown in for good measure.

The music, made by just five musicians, has exactly the right informal feel, with some intriguing and unusual effects scattered through it, especially the haunting and mysterious didgeridoo. And listen out for Toni Belenguer's slippery trombone and Ignacio Aguilar's blues harmonica - they're outstanding. Above all, and at the risk of labouring the point, it's full of melody and attractive turns of phrase. This comes as no surprise to anyone who heard Mike McKoy's first album (some years ago, admittedly), which featured the music of the great bossa-nova composers, especially that supreme melodist, Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Mike says that the story was written “with older teens in mind”, although, like all good fables, allegories or myths, it could actually appeal to anyone. There are pictures and subtitles to go with the music and narrative for live performances.

Putting that all together, Ludwig Manhattan's Germaican Blues is absorbing, thought-provoking and, above all, fun.”

Dave Gelly

 

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