Dubai gets the blues

Going Back to the Crossroads bring blues to the Wafi Rooftop

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UAE music fans are in for a treat in February, which is shaping up to be an extremely musical month. Alongside Dubai Jazz Festival’s headliners on February 16-18, featuring big-name acts such as Jools Holland, Train and Macy Gray, there are also concerts scheduled at Gulf Bike Week on February10-12, with Pharrell Williams, Amy Winehouse and Mike Posner taking to the stage.

It’s not often live music fans in Dubai find themselves so spoiled for choice, with several new open-air events joining the more established festivals on this year’s calendar. One such newcomer is Wafi Rooftop’s Blues in the Park gig on February 1, featuring international blues band Going Back to the Crossroads, themselves veterans of the Dubai scene. ‘Coming back to Dubai and doing the Middle Eastern tour with Crossroads is a high point for me, and has been every time,’ says singer Jimmy Thomas. Having visited Dubai several times before, Arkansas-born, London-based Thomas is keen to return. ‘I’m a lover of the desert – I always have been. I don’t know why, but I’ve always written my best songs there, such as in the western part of America out in Arizona, where you get miles and miles of sun and sky.’

But it’s not just the desert he’s looking forward to. The 72-year-old blues veteran mentions his fondness for once-popular comedy spot Jimmy Dix, a bar at the Mövenpick Bur Dubai, and is surprised to hear it has long since closed. ‘It’s gone? You’re kidding – that was a great place!’ he exclaims. ‘That’s a real shame.’

Fortunately, he’s undeterred and, like many visitors from chillier climes, decides he’ll work on his tan instead. ‘It’ll be good to have a nice cold drink in a nice hot climate. We’re going to be like kids in a sweet shop, soaking up all the good weather out there,’ he laughs. ‘I’ll be lying out on a rooftop somewhere getting some sun.’

The ‘we’ he refers to are fellow blues singers and instrumentalists Deitra Farr, Angela Brown, Imelda May, Michael Roach, George ‘Jackie’ Lee, Bobby Parker, Johnny Mars, Danny McCormack, Paul Corry, Matt Cowley and Roger Inniss, who make up the 12-strong group. Upon taking the stage, the collective will play a series of classic tracks, charting the history of the blues movement throughout the 20th century.

Like many of his band mates, Thomas got his start in the business back in the ’60s when a family friend, blues guitarist and singer Albert King, introduced him to soul duo Ike and Tina Turner. He wound up singing with the pair for a large part of the ’60s, before releasing a few of his own records and eventually moving to the UK, where he settled in London suburb Shepherd’s Bush.

‘I set up my own little record company and label back in the early ’80s, and started producing a few other people, and continued with my songwriting and publishing, which is what I’m still doing now,’ he explains.
Even after 50 years in the industry, Thomas is adamant he still enjoys every aspect of his work, from the writing to the performing, but reveals a real passion for travel. ‘I really love travelling and meeting people. I loved it for as long as I can remember. Seeing new places and meeting new people is one of the most rewarding things about life,’ he explains, laughing at any suggestion he should be enjoying his old age by kicking back in an armchair while being plied with cups of tea. ‘I have no desire to be waited on!’ he laughs. ‘I can make my own tea. It ain’t that bad – it just sounds like it because of the mumbles,’ he laughs, poking fun at the ‘old person’ stereotype.

This indifference suits him, given his outlook on life – asked if he knows anything now that he wishes he’d know when he’d started out, he is quick to respond in the negative. ‘The journey wouldn’t have been so exciting,’ he explains. ‘In the cases where I was naïve, I’m glad I was naïve. In the cases where I thought I was smart, I’m glad I did. The learning curve is never-ending, because I’m still learning things I thought I knew.’

Back to the Crossroads play Blues in the Park at Wafi Rooftop on February 1. Tickets are Dhs145 per person, including food. For info, call Kersh on 04 324 4100.

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