Harry Manx: A cloud ready to rain music

Gulf Islands Driftwood | August 07, 2002 | Circulation: 4,200

In the quiet moments between songs, the audience sighed almost audibly with wonder at Harry Manx’s unique blend of slide guitar blues and milleniums-old Indian ragas.

Manx, a Salt Springer rising in fame around the world, soothed the crowd into a dreamlike reverie and got their feet tapping at the same time at a packed ArtSpring appearance last Tuesday. The Festival of the Arts event filled part of a brief visit home in between touring Europe and Canada.

But it wasn’t just the music that impressed — Manx’s laid-back, personal stage presence brought the audience up close. Part-way through the show, the crowd brimmed with admiration when he announced his wife had recently given birth.

“I’ve never heard anything like this from anyone before,” said audience member Amrita Bruce, speaking about his music. “I would like to dance with it, actually.”

Bruce was originally from Germany, and she mentioned Manx is rising to quick popularity in that country.

“Wherever he goes they love him,” she said, grinning with admiration. “I think he will get big all over the world.”

But it’s not just Manx’s distinctive, eclectic style that distinguishes him, nor is it his “veena,” the 20-string guitar he plays which was invented by his Indian teacher.

Manx is also unique in his easy-going stage presence. During his ArtSpring concert, he joked with audience members after forgetting to plug in his guitar, sending feedback through the speakers before one song.

When he announced his next song, “Don’t Forget to Miss Me,” someone shouted out from the back: “Don’t forget to plug in your guitar.” Manx grinned and joked about it the rest of the evening.

The talented slide guitarist soared through a set with songs ranging from deeply reflective sitar-like ragas to blues and gospel, often bringing them together in surprising ways.

Many of the songs were off his new album, Wise and Otherwise. And he even wailed through a passionate cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady.

Three days later, in his small home on Upper Ganges Road, Manx rocked his new baby over his right arm as he chatted to the Driftwood.

Hector Oswald Manx was exactly two months old to the day, Manx said.

Behind him, his wife Najma Manx peeled potatoes on the counter. Najma stays on Salt Spring throughout Harry’s whirlwind tours across Canada, Australia and Europe, because Hector doesn’t enjoy travelling, she explained.

So when Harry learned she was having the baby in the middle of a packed concert in Omaha, Nebraska, the concert organizers offered to ask every person in the audience to chip in a dollar to fly Harry home the next day so he could see the new baby.

In one corner of the Manx home are a number of unusual instruments and strangely shaped cases.

Harry explains their names one by one. This one is a tamboura, he said, pulling a deep, resonant thrum out of the strings with his fingers.

And this one is called a dilruba, he said, picking up a smaller stringed instrument. It’s one of Najma’s favourites.

Harry and Najma often play Indian music together, at least when Harry isn’t on tour. And two-month old Hector has been exposed to the sounds of Indian music even before he was born.

“I was playing for him before he was born,” Harry said, swaying Hector face-down next to his chest. “He would certainly get into it.

“You could feel his feet kicking in the womb.”

Being on tour so much has posed some challenges for the family, Harry said, since being away means he can’t spend much time with either Hector or Najma.

Only three days before his Salt Spring concert, Harry played for a crowd of 15,000 in Calgary.

He went on to describe the massive crowds on his recent Australian tour, when he opened for Ben Harper and Taj Mahal.

Glancing down at Hector, though, Harry admits those big names in music don’t mean much to a baby.

“This guy here, he doesn’t care who I’m opening for,” Harry said. “He just wants me home once in a while.

“It gets tough sometimes. We need to keep that connection all the time. We talk on the phone every day. You should see our phone bill.

“Then you remember why you’re doing it, and what you’re doing it for — because I have these guys at home. If I didn’t have [them] it would be easy to get lost in the whole thing.”

For Harry, touring as a rising-star musician is worth the challenges.

“I was learning for many, many years,” he said. “Now I feel like a sort of cloud ready to rain.”

He’s now heading on tour across Canada, playing his unique music at packed blues and folk festivals on the way. It will be just him and his only roadie, Jordy Sharp, in his white van.

Sharp, a good friend of Manx’s, also serves as a reminder that the musician’s heart is still with his family here on Salt Spring. Sharp is also little Hector’s godfather.

“It’s a big inspiration, to have the opportunity to make a living doing what I like,” Manx said. “It gives us the opportunity to create a lifestyle for ourselves.”

Wise and Otherwise, his most recent album, was released in April.

His debut CD, Dog My Cat, was also honoured at the 2002 Canadian Independent Music Awards for Best Blues Album.

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