Bringing the blues to Spalding

Split Whiskers. Photo: Spike Munro.
Split Whiskers. Photo: Spike Munro.
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Up-tempo blues musician Gilby Fletcher had the least likely early musical influence.

His late mother Gladys was known as Fenland’s Gracie Fields when the family was living in Weston Hills.

Gilby Fletcher. Photo: Melodie Strawbridge.

Gilby Fletcher. Photo: Melodie Strawbridge.

She performed as a Gracie Fields tribute artist all over Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, and Gilby (or John Gilby Fletcher) says now, “there was a striking resemblance” to their musical styles.

In fact Gladys so idolised the English actress, singer and comedienne – as well as star of both cinema and music hall – that this newspaper arranged for the pair to meet in a London hotel. Gilby recalls: “It was a very special day for her. They had a fantastic day together.”

Gladys also gave singing and piano lessons to children from the district, but memorably dismissed Gilby’s aspirations on the piano with the words, ‘Son, you’ve either got it or you ain’t!’

Nevertheless his mother’s energetic “mean boogie woogie piano playing” made a big impression on Gilby. Later, after the family had moved to Deeping St James, he was listening with a friend to blues guitarist Elmore James and felt an instant connection with the genre.

Another friend encouraged him to play the blues harmonica or harp and within two weeks he had a guest spot on stage at the Key Theatre in Peterborough. Two weeks later he performed his first gig in the city.

A daft band or two later – The Incredible Falling Over Band is an early example – and Gilby joined blues band Split Whiskers , Gilby singing and playing blues harp.

Eleven years on and a thousand gigs later, Gilby and the band are bringing their own version of up-tempo blues to the Red Lion Hotel in Spalding, playing on Sunday, December 20 (from 3pm). Entry is free.

They play big festivals as well as little venues, but Gilby says of his return to Spalding: “I am really excited to be honest. I am hoping some old school friends or old friends from the area might pop along.”

His sister Melodie Strawbridge, who lives in Deeping St James, will also be there. She too inherited the music gene, singing 70s rock in the Spalding area at one time.

The venue will bring back memories of their late father Tom for Gilby and Melodie as he used to drink at the Red Lion hotel.

The band plays the kind of music that makes people want to get up and dance – and they can do that at the Red Lion.

Gilby says: “We love to play. It’s up-tempo and people always have a smile on their faces. We are really looking forward to it.”

The band has played all over Europe and their ambition now is to tour the States and play the Chicago Blues Festival.