Seasick Steve sings the blues for a Brit

Former hobo, 67, is nominated for best international artist award

Arts Correspondent,Arifa Akbar
Wednesday 21 January 2009 01:00

He is an ageing bum turned blues musician who once confessed he could "clear out a room in two minutes" by picking up his guitar.

Yesterday, a lifetime of anonymity paid off for Steve Wold, better known as "Seasick Steve", when the 67-year-old cemented his late critical flowering by securing a Brit Award nomination, alongside the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z, Beck and Neil Diamond, also 67.

Wold's nomination in the best international male solo artist category comes two years after he appeared at the Glastonbury festival unknown to most of the audience. He became an instant sensation and was invited back last year to play on the main stage, where was one of the most popular acts.

The musician has been described as a hobo who has all the romance of a roving "song and dance man" – an epithet he prefers over the more serious title of "blues musician".

Wold plays a number of modified instruments, including a guitar with three strings and a Harmony pickup stuck to it with duct tape, a one-stringed diddley bow and a Mississippi drum machine (a small wooden box that is stomped on to create percussion sound). His lyrics often revolve around his early life of living rough and doing casual work.

Wold is believed to have left home at 13 to avoid abuse at the hands of his stepfather and spent many years living on the streets in America. He used to travel long distances by hopping freight trains, looking for work as a farm labourer or in other seasonal jobs.

In the 1960s he started touring and performing with fellow blues musicians, and was friends with the likes of Janis Joplin, but never earned a significant commercial or critical success.

It was decades later when Wold made his first British television appearance on Jools Holland's Annual Hootenanny, broadcast on New Year's Eve in 2006, that his popularity exploded. In an interview after the performance, he is quoted to have said: "I can't believe it, all of the sudden I'm like the cat's miaow!"

He received a Mojo Award for best breakthrough act a year later and was invited to perform at a number of American festivals. He has since duetted with KT Tunstall last year and performed at a sold out show at the Royal Albert Hall.

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Anthony Barnes, from Q music magazine, said that while Wold was "not the most glamorous of acts to make the Brits shortlist, his success has shown that a good solid ability can win through in the end, even at his time of life".

He added: "He is a raconteur and a magnetic performer and he has made the blues a viable mainstream musical form once again. There has been doubt about the authenticity of his rags to riches story, but it all adds to the charm of the phenomenon."

Wold has commented on his own late success with astonishment, saying: "Many times I think this is all a dream. I'm gonna wake up and I don't even have a family, I'm just a bum. I'm surprised anyone would want to listen to me. Ten years ago I could clear out a room in two minutes."

The Brit Award nominations were dominated by Coldplay and Duffy, who each gained four nominations, and the Manchester band The Ting Tings, who were nominated for two awards.

The reality TV pop stars Leona Lewis and the X Factor finalists were also nominated, alongside veteran acts Iron Maiden, AC/DC and Paul Weller, who was shortlisted for the British male solo artist award.

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