When you live on B.C.’s balmy coast, it takes a guy with stern stuff indeed to venture into wour Alberta weather.
Luckily for the man of many strings, Harry Manx, though, this weekend’s weather report reads as being close to seasonal norms when he plays The Banff Centre’s Eric Harvie Theatre on Saturday, March 12.
Manx, on the strength of a fifth Juno nomination for his 2009 release Bread and Buddha and the release of his 2010 best of album, Isle of Manx, The Desert Island Collection, is crossing Canada once again to present his unique east/west mix of blues and world music to audiences.
Actually, it’s just as well the weather is warming up, as Manx’s fusion of western blues and eastern/Indian ragas is best heard when you don’t have to brave a -30 C evening on the way home.
Manx, who plays everything from four strings (banjo) to six strings (acoustic slide and lap steel guitar) to 20 strings (Mohan Veena), will play Banff solo, although for some of the gigs on his present three-month, 50-gig tour he’s performing with an Australian pianist.
“I like to get to the valley every year to two years,” said Manx recently from Toronto. “I always enjoy playing there.”
While Manx enjoys trips to the Valley, he’s not so keen on trips to whatever city is hosting the Juno Awards. In fact, he’s yet to take in one of the industry events – and this year will be no exception.
“It’s the fifth time I’ve been nominated,” he said, “but sometimes I think they’re just toying with me. I never attend them; maybe I don’t want to jinx it?
“And I’m in the blues category, but my music is not really blues in the true sense. Really, I have one foot in the blues and the other in Indian music.”
On this tour, Manx will perform songs from his Juno nominated Bread and Buddha, as well as new material and favourites from Isle of Manx, the best of album dreamed up by his producer and record company.
“They thought it was a good idea,” said Manx, “but I couldn’t come up with a list. I said don’t ask my what my best songs are, I’m not sure any more. But they came up with a pretty nice mixture.”
The idea for Isle of Manx is a response to the old question, “if you were shipwrecked on a desert island, what album would you want with you?
“I think it’s a hell of a record, but I pity the bastard who only had that one with him.”
Manx, who was born on the Isle of Man before moving to Canada at the age of six, had his musical start at the age of 15 as a sound man – including at the El Mocambo club with blues legends.
He began performing on his own when he was in Europe while in his 20s – busking and playing the slide guitar – and, now 56, hasn’t looked back as a musician since.
“Sometimes after all that time you think you should be playing better,” he joked. “I paid my dues in Europe and Asia and I never had the intention of being successful as a touring musician. I started out with street music and have never really played in bands.
“I’m lucky; I think I landed on my feet with unique music and something that people will listen to. I’m just glad people can appreciate it.”
Manx’s incorporation of Indian music came about after studying for five years with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the developer of the Mohan Veena (a cross between guitar and sitar) and countless hours of practice and learning complex ragas – while throwing in occasional blues licks.
Along with learning to play the Veena and ragas, Manx spent time in meditation with several masters, which has resulted in the incorporation of a spiritual quality to his music.
Today, after writing 140-ish songs of his own and putting his own touch on some of the covers he performs, Manx has put out nine albums and continued with his solo career.
“Solo is probably the strongest thing I do. I do also play drums with my feet, which is a unique sound, but I think if over the years I had played with others, I might sound like somebody else.”
Developing a unique sound has proved to be successful, as Manx’s Juno nominations attest.
“Those nominations do raise your profile and it says a lot about you that you’re in the running, but I’m kind of against competition in the arts. It’s nice that there are winners, but that also means somebody’s a loser, and I think the arts are about what’s inside you and how you present it.
“I think the arts are about passion, not awards.”
Once his present tour is complete, Manx intends to take some time off to work on an upcoming collaboration with Torontonian Kevin Breit – dubbed Strictly Whatever – and enjoy life at his Saltspring Island home, where he plans to help his youngster build a treehouse.