It’s Good, We Trust: Harry Manx Tries to Adjust to Island Time

Monday Magazine | February 6, 2008
On the sunny morning we chat, Harry Manx is standing in front of his kitchen window looking out at a sea of green Salt Spring forest. He’s enjoying the jump from the urban concrete of New York to being back on the Island. “It’s a beautiful state of mind,” he says. Although born on the Isle of Man, as a teen the musician—known for his mastery of the lap slide guitar and the Indian mohan veena, a 20-string slide guitar that Manx reckons there are only two dozen of in the world—spent time on Quadra Island and he knew at one point he’d be back to the B.C. coast, after spending years living all around the world in pursuit of his music.

I teasingly ask Manx if this coast had any influence on Dog My Cat, his smash 2000 debut, while we’re on about Island time and all manner of things coast-flavoured.

“My Indian music sounds like the blues and my blues music sounds Indian,” he says of his folk-world-blues sound. So while there may be a bit of the West Coast thrown into the mix, Manx agrees there is such a thing as “Island time” and he’s trying to adjust to everyone else’s slower pace—if only he was home on Salt Spring more often.

What keeps Manx away is touring to promote recordings like the one made last spring for a CBC Radio OnStage concert at the Glenn Gould Studio or his new album, In Good We Trust, with long-time collaborator, guitarist Kevin Breit (reviewers are betting it’s a surefire Juno winner this year). He’s also just won two Maple Blues Awards for Songwriter of the Year and Acoustic Act of the Year (along with Breit) and has released an instructional slide guitar DVD.

Manx’s Vancouver Island shows are on the heels of a landmark—and sold-out—gig performing for the Royal Albert Hall Project, a tribute to Bob Dylan’s legendary (and infamous) 1966 Albert Hall concert where Dylan played an electric guitar. Manx’s most recent trip to New York also had him playing with Ritchie Havens and guesting on the Woodstock icon’s 27th release. “I came [to Salt Spring] in 2000 with just a suitcase and my guitar, hoping to get a gig here and there, you know, a bar or café or something. You can see where my sights were set,” he gently mocks himself. “[Now] I can count among my fans Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen.”

This would explain the Springsteen cover of “I’m on Fire” on In Good We Trust. In 2006 Manx played the Nebraska Project at the New York Guitar Festival, a tribute to Springsteen’s seminal 1982 Nebraska album.

“I learnt [that] song in the car that morning on the way down,” Manx recalls. On stage that night he played a homemade cigar box guitar and was grooving out when he saw Springsteen sitting in the front row. “I almost crapped my pants,” he laughs. Springsteen came over after and said he’d really been digging the cover (despite the fact that song isn’t from the Nebraska album), so Manx gave him some albums and then they went for a drink and jammed together on a few Woody Guthrie songs.

Some critics—not many—carp that Manx’s music isn’t technically “the blues,” but rather it’s highly unconventional blues. It seems a pissy complaint given the man’s groaning shelf of awards. “I remember people saying that about Jeff Beck,” he says. “How do you classify blues? I feel a groove. If you can play it, you can own it.”

So what is his take on the intersections between British Isles folk music, Indian ragas and Mississippi mudflat blues? “Maybe they see me as a breath of fresh air,” he says. “You know, the old stuff has bored enough people.” One reviewer—happily—dubbed Manx’s music “mysticssippi” and it’s a moniker that seems to work. “Okay, so the intersection of all those [genres],” he says, “is what happens when you’re in the ‘Harry Zone.’” First, he explains, he has to get into the zone himself before he can turn on a crowd. “Then I look out and see all these people with their eyes shut and their mouths hanging open and I know they’re in the ‘Harry Zone’ with me,” he says.

As for the Indian ragas that Manx studied for five years while learning the mohan veena under Rajasthani Indian musician Vishwa Mohan Bhatt (himself a Grammy-winner with Ry Cooder for A Meeting by the River), he thinks an older reference for folks is Ravi Shankar or George Harrison. Today, he says the orientation is likely indo-techno or bhangra. But the difference is negligible because as he puts it, “Everyone’s got a little Indian in them. They just came to it differently.”

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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