By Garth ApThomas
If you ask a friend to name a famous blues musician there’s a good chance they’ll think of a guitarist hailing from the Mississippi Delta rather than the Manchester Ship Canal.
But Norman Beaker is the man to change all that.
After more than four decades on the road delighting audiences across the globe with his incredible guitar playing and soulful voice, Manchester lad Norman has become the latest inductee into the Blues Hall Of Fame.
In his typical modest manner Norman, born in Longsight 66-years-ago, says the honour has come as a “complete shock”.
But in truth the award is no surprise to the legion of fans who flock to his concerts, whether they be held at home or abroad. After all this is the man the great BB King described as being “like a white Freddy King”, and no-one gets compliments of that calibre unless they’re the real deal.
“I am thrilled and humbled to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. This is one of the proudest moments of my career,” said Norman.
The treasured certificate he has received states: “Norman Beaker is officially recognized and inducted as a legendary blues artist from England – The Blues Hall Of Fame.”
Those simple words mean the world to Norman, but they can only begin to hint at the incredible story of a man who has dedicated a lifetime to perfecting his craft.
It was a twist of fate as a little boy that saw Norman begin his journey into the world of the guitar. Through the combination of a God-given talent and sheer bloody minded determination he somehow managed to turn adversity into pure joy.
Norman explained: “I started learning after a road accident that confined me to bed for a couple of years. My father, Frank, bought me a guitar to help pass the time.
“I began by making chords with my left thumb like Richie Havens, as my hands were too small to deal with this instrument of torture.
“It was a slow process, but gradually and after many hours of bleeding fingers I started to get to grips with it.”
Norman took his first tentative steps in performing for crowds as a shy youngster by winning a talent contest in North Wales. But the boy grew up to be a man who would go on to work with the likes of blues giants such as BB King, Chuck Berry and Buddy Guy.
And as for giant sized venues, Norman’s extensive CV can even boast appearing for three three nights at London’s Albert Hall with Van Morrison and Chris Farlowe.
Despite these massive achievements Norman has always been grounded and never forgotten his roots. Family has always been very important to him, and he remains forever grateful for their support right from those early days.
“My father died when I was 10, so life was a bit of a struggle. But my mother, Elsie, was a genius for making her little money go a long way,” said Norman.
“My brother Malcolm, who was a drummer and three years older than me, had started a few bands and was very into blues. He used to regale me with stories about seeing Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon.
“I’ve played professionally since the age of about 16 with odd jobs taken when money was tight.”
Father-of-three Norman is married to Wendy and lives in Stockport.
Talking about the delight he gets from playing the guitar and entertaining crowds, Norman said: “Blues music is a wonderful outlet for stress, and is very inspiring for performer and audience alike.
“I always feel great at the end of a gig, after releasing energy and emotion.
“I have been inspired by so many people over the years. I suppose from a guitar point of view Freddy King was and still is my favourite. In the UK obviously Alexis Korner was a great inspiration, but my biggest influence has to be Jack Bruce. He taught me a lot, just watching him drain his soul every night.
“Otis Rush, Peter Green and Eric Clapton of course were heroes of mine. Lately I’ve been touring with Larry Garner whose playing I also really like. And Stevie Wonder has been a huge influence on so many musicians right across the board.”
Norman said he was so lucky to have met some of the blues greats and be paid for doing a job that he loves.
“I could not have enjoyed anything more, and to be given this award is wonderful for me. But part of it goes to my band and the musicians that have made my life so special, and of course the wonderful fans and friends I’ve met along the way.”
And Norman insisted there were still plenty of miles to be clocked up on the road with his band. He shows no signs of slowing down.
“This is going to be another busy year. We will be travelling to Eastern Europe in March, and then a big tour with Larry Garner in Germany, Austria Switzerland Hungary and the UK,” he added.
“There are festivals lined up in the summer, hopefully getting home to record a new album. In September we will be touring and continuing work with Chris Farlowe.”
Picture caption: Hero of the blues Norman Beaker
Picture credit: Paul Wolfgang Webber