Eric Bibb’s bittersweet performance in Australia

Eric Bibb
Words by David James Young

No matter how many times Eric Bibb comes to Australia – and, trust us, there are too many times to count – the veteran bluesman always finds himself in a sunny disposition as soon as he touches down.

“I’m in Sydney today,” he cheerfully reports. “The sky is blue, the sun is shining… it’s a beautiful day. I don’t know, whenever I’m here everything just appears to go smoothly.”

Even after all these years, Bibb can still remember the first time he hopped a plane and came Down Under to perform his unique blend of folk, blues, roots and world music. “It was such a big deal to be able to do it,” he recalls. “You never feel as far away from where you’ve started out than when you’re in Australia.

“I’m just so chuffed that people are just as enthusiastic about my music here as they were when I first started coming over. Through the years, it’s come to feel like a real home turf of sorts. I can’t even say exactly what it is about Australia and I – all I can say is that it’s a good fit.”

The Grammy-nominated troubadour is touring around Australia in support of his most recent album, 2018’s Global Griot. A double album described as “a full bag of stories to tell from around the world”, the 24-track effort is Bibb’s most collaborative and farthest-reaching effort to date. Upon Bibb’s arrival in Australia, however, the new music is being performed on a bittersweet note.

“We found out that Solo Cissokho passed away just recently,” says Bibb. “Solo was a wonderful kora player, and he came from Senegal. He was just an amazing musician. Originally, I was trying to get him out here as a part of this tour – but, sadly, that was not meant to be.

Global Griot was the last recorded work of his, and I am so humbled and honoured to carry that with me. I’m blessed that I got to play with this incredible man and this unbelievable musician.”

Bibb notes that he will be playing some of the songs that Cissokho worked on from Global Griot during his upcoming shows. “We’re gonna share his story,” he says. “It deserves to be heard.”

Beyond those songs, expect a mix of tracks from across Bibb’s entire career, as well as a few covers and standards that Bibb and his band have cycled in and out of the setlist. “Because I haven’t been here in awhile, I’ve been thinking a little bit about what songs drew people out to come and see me in the first place,” he says.

“Some of those songs really stand out for me – not just musically, but lyrically they’re conveying a message that I still really want to share. The band and I know exactly what it takes to put on a good show – we’re a real unit now, and it feels really good when we’re playing together.”

Bibb points to a recent residency the band completed at London jazz club Ronnie Scott’s as the proof in the pudding – a week-long run that included an unexpected but very special guest.

“The first night we were playing, we had the great Van Morrison get up and do some songs with us,” says Bibb. “It was a real hip thing, man. Van has this reputation for not wanting to do shows, but I think he’s mellowed out a bit. We met at a Lead Belly tribute night that happened at [Royal] Albert Hall some years back, and we got on really well.

“While we were in town, I took a chance and asked if he’d want to do it – and we were fortunate enough that he said yes.” Do you think you could persuade him to come back to Australia someday? “I’ll tell him, man! It’s time!” Bibb replies with a laugh.

Eric Bibb comes to the Thornbury Theatre on Thursday May 23 and The Fyrefly in St Kilda on Friday May 24 (sold out) and Sunday May 26. Grab your tickets via the respective venue websites.