Harry Manx is one chilled dude. He exudes calm and cool. His music combines the smooth, mystical sounds of various open tuned acoustic instruments with a little bit of blues grit and groove. This is hardly surprising given his background. Manx is known for forging links between Indian raga music and American blues. He was a sound man at Toronto’s famous El Macombo club where he observed many blues legends at close hand; he also spent five years in India studying with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the inventor of the 20 stringed Mohan Veena, which Bhatt introduced to western audiences through his stunning collaboration with Ry Cooder, A Meeting by the River. If you don’t know this recording, you really need to get acquainted with it as soon as possible — it’s simply sublime.
Manx played two superb sets at the Thornbury Theatre last night, aided and abetted by special guests Yeshe and Kerryn Tolhurst. There is something both compelling and admirable about the way Manx goes about his business. He has a warm, inviting presence, and a droll sense of humour, but it’s his music that draws the listener close. There’s something special about the tonal quality of a metal bar sliding across steel strings in the hands of a master that I can’t quite express. Perhaps it has something to do with the way notes don’t stop at designated stations, but just float through the barriers between them. In other words, frets don’t act as tonal gatekeepers, so the music just slips and slides around notes creating a mesmerizing effect.
Manx supplemented his own songs with a few choice covers from the likes of J.J. Cale, Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix (his take on Voodoo Chile was a highlight), and the small, appreciative audience lapped it up, giving Manx a rousing ‘sitting ovation’ at the conclusion of proceedings — it was a cold, inhospitable night, after all. The night may have been bitterly cold, but Manx warmed the soul in the small, intimate surrounds of the Thornbury Theatre’s recently refurbished ground floor room. The sound engineering was outstanding, and I’m sure this had something to do with both the venue’s new PA system and the dizzying array of pedals and gizmo’s at Manx’s feet.
I’d never heard of Manx until a few weeks ago, but I’m so glad I made the effort to head north last night. Shit, I most definitely like.