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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Hampshire Person Blues

I sat in a pub garden overlooking the river Meon in the county of Hampshire, England.

I watched the flowing water in that chalk stream, and pondered on its twenty-one mile journey from near East Meon in the north, to the point where it joined the Solent at Hill Head - the local analogy to the mighty Mississippi flowing on its 2,320 mile journey from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico.

I had undertaken the journey down the A32 to meet with Meon Swan Morrison and talk to him about the influence of the Mississippi Bluesmen on the music of the Meon valley.

‘It’s pretty much the same here today,’ Meon Swan began in a pronounced, stereotypical, southern American accent, ‘as it was in the Mississippi delta way back at the start of the twentieth century. They had the Mississippi; we’ve got the Meon.’ He paused for a moment to reflect. ‘Of course we don’t get that many steamboats on the Meon. The Mississippi was a mile wide, and you can step across the Meon in some places. The Meon doesn’t have much of a delta either,’ he added, 'allthough it spreads out a bit when it passes through Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.’

‘What about comparisons of poverty and of the local people?’ I asked Meon Swan.

‘They were certainly poor in the Mississippi delta at the time of the Delta Bluesmen,’ Meon Swan replied. ‘Those black sharecroppers certainly knew about poverty and hardship.’

‘Isn't that a bit different from the Meon valley, today?’ I questioned. ‘For example, I’ve not seen a black face since I joined the A32 at Alton.’

‘I know, I haven't seen one in the Meon valley since 2005,’ Meon Swan responded. ‘They’d sure be welcome, though. Anyone can play the blues, although there are some folks around these parts who still think that you can't play real blues unless you're white and you're able to see.’

‘What’s the secret of playing great Meon valley blues?’ I digressed from our original discussion to focus on music.

‘I’ll tell you,’ said Meon Swan, picking up a guitar. ‘You’ve gotta press down these string things onto those metal strips that stick out of the long, thin, wooden bit.’ He formed a chord shape on the guitar fretboard. ‘You then take your other hand and twiddle your fingers about near this hole in the big, box-shaped part.’ He pointed to the sound hole.

I recorded his words verbatim in my notebook. It was not every day that I received a master class from a Meon Valley Bluesman.

‘The tricky bit,’ Meon Swan continued as I sat with my pen poised to capture his next insight, ‘is to get the notes in the right order and to do it all quick enough.’

I glanced at the rows of new four by fours in the pub car park. ‘We were comparing the early twentieth century Mississippi delta with the twenty-first century Meon valley,’ I recalled. ‘You’d just mentioned poverty and hardship.’

Meon Swan paused, clearly deep in thought. ‘You know, you’ve made me realise that those two places and times are not as similar as we folks around here like to think.’ As he spoke I noticed his accent gradually change from stereotypical southern American to one I associated more with north-east London. 'In fact, they share almost nothing in common. I suppose that’s why we’ve had all those problems with the lyrics.’

‘What do you mean about problems with the lyrics?’ I asked.

‘The Mississippi Bluesmen wrote fantastic tunes,’ Meon Swan replied. ‘Their lyrics, however, talked about things like living in ramshackle shacks, harvesting cotton, poverty, starvation, general hardship and so on.’ He pointed to the expensive vehicles in the car park. ‘This is one of the most affluent areas in the country. Many people live in big houses and commute to well-paid jobs in London - and there are no cotton fields.’ Meon Swan paused. ‘Of course, they still get woman trouble, or partner trouble as they call it now, but, for the most part, it sounds daft for white, southern, middle-class English people to sing the original lyrics.’

‘How do you deal with that?’ I asked.

‘Some just carry on and sing the original songs,’ Meon Swan replied. ‘Some of us rewrite the lyrics to fit better with a southern English, middle-class lifestyle.’

I seized my opportunity to make an authentic audio recording of a Meon Valley Bluesman. ‘Could you play one of the old delta songs with your modern lyrics?’ I asked, removing my recorder from my bag.

‘Sure thing,’ Meon Swan replied, once again lifting his guitar onto his knee. ‘Mississippi John Hurt wrote Richland Woman Blues. That has a wonderful tune, but I could never get on with the words.’

Then he began to play…

Click Here to hear that recording of Meon Swan Morrison performing Hampshire Person Blues (mp3 format).

Click Here to view a pdf document containing the words and chords of Hampshire Person Blues by Meon Swan Morrison (tune by Mississippi John Hurt).