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Sometimes late discoveries are great, but more often their mere age and location seems to qualify legend status. This is not the way it needs to be. Any musician capable of playing has a right to the blues, no matter where they happen to be from. So there is no reason for British musicians not to play the blues. But where it all falls down is when these musician’s pander to the decisions that shaped most Budweiser adverts in the big hair 80’s. Namely, they sing about stuff they know nothing about. And wear cowboy hats. And sometimes cowboy boots. Dave Arcari does not wear a cowboy hat.
Front man of Glaswegian alt-blues rockers Radiotones, (currently on indefinite hiatus), Dave. Arcari cuts an imposing figure on any stage. Six foot of black clad bearded Scotsman in a variety of Ramones T-shirts and , he has been careering around the country playing one night stands the length and breadth of the British Isles, stomping both booted feet and damaging stages wherever he goes. The number of miles he’s clocked up in the last three months is as fearsome as his live performances. He’s already killed off one van this year!
Anyone who has ever heard his recordings (see our review here), either solo or with the band, will know how uncompromising his sound is. Bright driving bottleneck National steel guitar, pounding in a way that’s reminiscent of Bukka White without being derivative, backs up a voice that strips back emotions to raw nerves. But that voice, while undoubtedly ‘bluesy’ never looses its Scottish accent, and is all the better for it.
But even if you have heard him on record, the live show is where it’s at. This is a man who loves his work. He romps around the stage like no blues performer I’ve ever seen. More like Joe Strummer in 1977, but with a resonator. He bobs and weaves and rushes the front row of the crowd. The guitar swings back and forth. The eyes roll, and he laughs so loud during the guitar breaks that even off mike he’s heard at the back of the room. All the while the feet are stomping along to the two-step rhythm in a way that makes my feet ache just thinking about it. He steps up to the microphone and screams out these songs of heartache and redemption. And it’s all relevant. It all works.
Tonight Dave is playing the Electroacoustic Club in Clerkenwell. This is a bastion of singer-songwriters, and tonight is no exception. His slot on the bill is sandwiched between a less mellow Jack Johnson-alike and a Chris Martin-alike with better lyrics. By comparison Mr. Arcari may as well have been beamed in from Mars. Or so you would have thought. But this is a man who’s played a lot of gigs and knows how to work a crowd, who had sat through the opening act in reverential silence, sipping quietly at their drinks. That was about to change. He starts with an almost reserved rendition of ‘Dreamt I Was 100’, no stomping, picking more gently. By song three, (‘Another Chance’), the audiences ears had adjusted and normal service was resumed. Feet were tapping along and applause getting louder and more beery. Strangely, when the next singer-songwriter came on, everyone seemed to have sobered up a bit.
Wrapping up with ‘Hot Muscle Jazz’, a Chris Scott song covered on the last Radiotones album, Dave announces to the crowd that he thought it was one of the best contemporary blues songs he’d ever heard, but that the media just thought Scott was taking the piss. He wasn’t and neither is Dave Arcrai. This is real emotional music. This is real blues. Even if it isn’t from Clarksdale.