fri 26/02/2021

Funke and the Two Tone Baby, The Blues Kitchen | reviews, news & interviews

Funke and the Two Tone Baby, The Blues Kitchen

Funke and the Two Tone Baby, The Blues Kitchen

Kent nu-blues artist sings with five instruments and manic energy

Funke: hands full

The idea of being a one-man band usually has a double edge to it, the pluckiness of independence undercut by intimations of ramshackle loneliness. Dan Turnbull, performing as Kent nu-blues musician Funke and the Two Tone Baby, touring his second album Balance, expresses the dilemma well.

The idea of being a one-man band usually has a double edge to it, the pluckiness of independence undercut by intimations of ramshackle loneliness. Dan Turnbull, performing as Kent nu-blues musician Funke and the Two Tone Baby, touring his second album Balance, expresses the dilemma well. Singing and beatboxing, while also playing harmonica, guitar, tambourine, stompbox and loop pedals, he brings a frenzied energy and multi-faceted sound to original, contemporary, blues ballads of love, awe and contemplation.

His songs usually begin gently, as he builds up the material to deploy on the pedals, often singing into one microphone and recording into another. Then he can instantly add layers of rhythmic texture, or phrases of guitar or harmonica melody, ramping up a chorus into a rousing, swinging cheer, sometimes, as on “Not Enough Bonobo” or “I’m Not Well”, with a hard-rocking edge.  

He’s a compelling performer live, the energy and concentration required to spin all of his musical plates driving each song to a climax of much sweat and adrenaline. The articulation of his lyrics, however, which on his recordings in clear, suffers in the excitement of a live gig, and makes it difficult for a new audience to appreciate his verbal craft.

'Tales of the Place I Live' is that musical rarity, a ballad about living on the Medway

In both theme and instrumentation, if not exactly in sound, Funke is for the most part a straight-up bluesman, many of his songs approaching heartache (“Anchor”, about his girlfriend), sin and judgement (“The Boatman and the Thief”, about being judged after a night’s wrongdoing), and depression (“I Should’ve Stayed in Bed” or “I’m Not Well”) with an intensity that would satisfy Son House or Muddy Waters.

His experiences of living on the Kent coast sometimes creep through too, however, betraying a folksinger’s appreciation of the psychological impact of landscape. One of his most popular songs, “The Storm”, describes the arrival of a violent tempest in Ramsgate, while “The Boatman and the Thief” and “Anchor” both use landscape allegorically. “Tales of the Place I Live” (not performed last night but on his new album) is that musical rarity, a ballad about living on the Medway.  

Like several other heritage musical niches, the blues scene has its purists, and there are (reputed to be) blues venues where angry biros will be scoring into a trainspotter’s pad that a given singer hasn’t announced how he felt on waking up in the morning by the end of the fourth bar. Funke takes the best of the blues tradition, its sonic palette and intense melancholy, colouring them with personal and local experience, and intelligently applied technology.

He has been inching his way into the mainstream consciousness, with airtime on Radio 6 Music, and a dedicated approach to festival appearances that would shame most religious pilgrims. He will almost certainly be playing at a festival near you, soon: he’s worth catching when he does.

@matthewwrighter

Funke takes the best of the blues tradition, colouring it with personal and local experience

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