I sat in a pub garden
overlooking the river Meon in the county of
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
Its 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; weve got the Meon.
He paused for a moment to reflect. Of
course we dont 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 doesnt have much of a delta either,
he added, 'allthough it spreads out a bit when it
passes through Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.
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, Ive 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. Theyd 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.
secret of playing great Meon valley blues?
I digressed from our original discussion to focus
Ill tell you,
said Meon Swan, picking up a guitar.
Youve 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
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
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. Youd
just mentioned poverty and hardship.
Meon Swan paused, clearly
deep in thought. You know, youve 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 thats why weve had
all those problems with the lyrics.
What do you mean
about problems with the lyrics? I asked.
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
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.
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
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).