Couple serve up a taste of the blues

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Husband-and-wife team Rag Mama Rag travel up from the south-west of France for a date at Chichester’s Chichester Inn on April 17.

Their repertoire is 20s and 30s blues based, but extremely varied, encompassing Mississippi blues, east-coast ragtime sounds, early white-country tunes, original compositions and many other regional styles of the 20s and 30s period

As Ashley Dow explains: “We have been living in France for about 21 years now. We moved to Brittany back in 91, and then we moved down to the south-west about 12 years ago, near Cahors.

“Originally we just wanted to travel about. We had a small house in Colchester, and we decided to buy a camper van and travel around Europe for about a year and a half, playing music to get by.

“We ended up in Brittany because some friends had already moved there. We went to stay with them and we found that things were developing well for them. We decided to buy an old 16th-house which we decided to renovate. We spent 12 years doing it up and learning French and trying to establish ourselves.

“And then we moved down to the south-west. It was the weather really. Life is good down there. There is a not a lot of work to be honest, but we travel all over France and Belgium and Germany and back in the UK. We moved around, and we’d have to move around whether we were living in Brittany or the south-west.

“The band is my wife Debbie and me. It’s just the two of us. We formed the duo when we went to France. That was our only means of survival really! We didn’t speak French in the beginning, but playing music is something that you can do in pretty much in any country.

“We play 20s, 30s, 40s American music. It’s a mixture of early blues, Mississippi blues and rag-time blues, early country styles. You could loosely call it American folk or roots folk, but it is quite blues based. We also do quite a lot of our own material. We have done seven albums over the years, and we have also released a DVD.

“I am the guitar player. I really like the idea of playing the guitar like a piano, using the thumb and fingers. That’s what a lot of the old blues players did, like Robert Johnson. You play the bass line and the melody of the top. Debbie plays harmonica and also percussion and washboard. She also plays the spoons occasionally. With the different guitars that I use, we create a full sound. I sing most of the songs, and Debbie sings on some of the choruses.

“The French audiences are great. We speak pretty good French now. We do introduce the songs in French and give them a bit of background about the music, which they really appreciate. A lot of bands that play in France just get up on stage and give the introductions in English and then play the music, and the audiences don’t know what they are singing about. We explain in French, and they really do appreciate knowing a bit more about what we are playing.”

As Ashley says, between them, he and Debbie create an exceptionally-full and hard-driving rhythmic sound which soon has audiences feet tapping.

The duo, who have been featured on Paul Jones’ radio show, are currently back in the UK on an extensive tour. Over the years, they have clocked up over 2,000 concerts and have played at many major festivals in France, Belgium and Germany.