What can I say about Dick Heckstall-Smith? Brilliant jazz and blues sax player, composer and owner of the largest tea cups in history, and most importantly for me, my friend.
In 1998, I first met Dick Heckstall-Smith, at a recording session for his “Blues And Beyond” album. Soon afterwards I started running his official website, and soon after that, Dick asked me to be his manager. Dick lived to play on stage. He had semi regular gigs with The Hamburg Blues Band, then there were Colosseum tours, a jazz gig here and there, but that still left a lot of time to fill, gig wise.
In 2002, Dick wanted to put a blues based live band together. His ideal line-up would have included Clem Clempson on guitar and Gary Husband on drums. There hadn’t been much movement on this when we were contacted by Robban Hagnas of The Wentus Blues Band. They hailed from Kokkola in Finland. An accomplished blues act, they had found a unique way round the limited touring opportunities in Scandanavia by touring with classic blues artists such as Mick Taylor, centering their sets around each special guest. That way, they could tour several times a year, rather than just once.
It was agreed that Dick would go out on a Scandanavian tour with them, and and he was as excited by the prospect as I had ever seen him. I remember him dragging me around pretty much every army surplus store in North London one Saturday afternoon in order to find enough cold weather clothing to combat whatever conditions might be faced on the road. I was very aware that my main role with Dick was to maintain a level of hope in the future for him, and this tour constituted the most hopeful he had been for some time.
Once Dick had travelled to Finland for rehearsals and the tour itself, I got daily updates from him by phone. He was particularly impressed by The Wentus Blues Band guitar attack which reminded him of Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac. They had tailored their set to him, with numbers associated with Blues Incorporated, Graham Bond ORGANization and The Bluesbreakers, as well as numbers from Dick’s jazz orientated solo work, such as the song that had become something of a signature for him, “Woza Nasu.” Dick enjoyed the tour immensely, and felt, (as I did when hearing the live recording) that his playing was near his best. I recall one particularly “up” call from Dick. He was staying in an isolated hotel not a million miles from the Arctic Circle, and raved about His ride there, via Reindeer and Sleigh. Dick came back from the tour as invigorated and enthused as I ever saw him in those later years, and I will always thank Robban Hagnas and his band for that.
A few months later, I got to see Dick in action with the Wentus boys in action at a one off gig in Oxford. Dick drove myself and Pete Brown there, via Canada it seemed. Dick could be directionally challenged now and then. However, we did get there in time for the show, and it was wonderful how the band interacted with a true master of his instrument. This live album is testament to that wonderful interaction.
Pete Grant Porterville, CA February 2015