Joe Camilleri of The Black Sorrows talks about the band’s resurgence
The Black Sorrows bring their blues to Dubai
When you are entering your fifth decade in the music business, instinct and experience keep you going.
These are the twin principles that sustained Joe Camilleri throughout his career, which had him reach the peaks of pop stardom in his native Australia with world tours in the late 1980s, leading him to become an independent and respected artist over the past two decades.
Despite commercial highs and lows, one aspect of the 70-year-old’s career that hasn’t dimmed is his elegant songwriting, which traverses the guitar-territories of the blues and rock.
Backed by his band, The Black Sorrows, Camilleri has established himself as one of Australia’s finest contemporary songwriters, and it is only recently that ears outside of the island-continent are beginning to pay attention once again.
The UAE will get the chance to sample that musical class when the band return to Dubai for a performance at Yalumba on Sunday.
“It is kind of funny,” Camilleri muses.
“I have been in the wilderness for about twenty years without a record deal and all of a sudden, I hit 70-years-old, and I have a record deal for Europe, and after that, I get a record deal in Australia. This is kind of bizarre because I am so used to doing things on my own.”
The cause of the latest buzz is The Black Sorrows’ latest album Citizen John. Released in Europe earlier this month, it is another fine collection of roots and blues gems by a craftsman with nothing left to prove.
From the rootsy stomp of the opener, Wednesday's Child to the bluesy howl of the harmonica drenched Do I Move You? and the tasty guitar licks of Messiah; the album is a slow burner in the best sense. The songs all leisurely unfurl, and Camilleri’s voice is as healthy as ever as he smoothly transitions from weary croak to a raging howl.
The production sounds sleek yet organic with the atmosphere akin to the band performing these songs on a front porch at sunset.
“When talking about making this album I will have to use an Australian colloquium in that it was an “all in brawl,” Camilleri says.
“That means that I did this album together with the band. Each one manned their battle stations, and off we went. It is an album that was recorded together and is meant to be played together.”
You get the sense of the band’s spirit in their sprightly take of Bob Dylan’s Silvio. Camilleri feels the original 1988 track was under-appreciated considering it was released during a period where Dylan’s star was on the wane. “Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the original, and I prefer it, but what I was able to do with this version was give it a different intro, which I think gave it an extra sense of lift or a different set of legs,” he says.
“I also remember finding that song by accident and I always thought it was a little gem that felt misplaced for whatever reason. Dylan may have gone through a time when making this record where people weren’t interested in him. That can happen.”
Camilleri is all too aware of that sense of career drift. His 1989 album Hold On to Me, and its follow-up Harley and Rose, released a year later, propelled the group to the top of the Australian charts. However, the past two decades have relegated the group to the status of indie darlings and respected elder statesman of their native blues scene. The vocalist is unperturbed and takes it all in his stride.
“You know, when you are young, you have this connection with the universe in a different kind of way. I mean, I just knew that when I was younger, this band would really do something. But now, as I am older, I don’t have a sense of that,” he says.
“What I do know, is that I have a good bunch of songs that can make an album and that’s it really. What I have now, as I get older, is a sense of conviction.”
Camilleri says he and The Black Sorrows are looking forward to making the best of their Dubai stay as it is the final show after an expansive tour of Germany. But don’t expect the band to be chilling beachside at the Palm Jumeirah. He is looking forward to sampling the atmosphere of Deira’s Naif souq once again. The last time I was here I managed to sample a bit of the underbelly, in a sense, of Dubai and that was great,” he says.
“I loved walking in the markets and seeing what’s going on. I remembered the days and nights were so hot, but once you get involved, it is just great.”
The Black Sorrows perform at Yalumba, Le Meridien Dubai Hotel & Conference Centre, on Sunday. 7pm. Tickets start from Dh279 and include beverages. For details go to www.yalumbadubai.com