ITV Perspectives: Down By The River

Posted on May 31, 2011


Down By The River - Sprout Productions, 2011

I haven’t written a TV review in quite a while. Except for Doctor Who but I have an unwritten rule about not letting those moments pass me by. The fact of the matter is, I don’t get the time to watch a whole load of TV at the moment and it was only out of pure dedication and a little bit of fan-girling that I caught the latest ITV Perspectives programme from a few weeks ago.


In case anyone doesn’t know, the programme was called Down By The River: A Celebration of New Orleans Blues, and my reason for catching it was because Hugh Laurie is one of a select few people who I like to count among the “My Gods” column of the ‘About Me’ section.


A man who is so madly talented that anyone who doesn’t admire him would spend their days throwing up at the fact that when talent was being dished out, you ended up in the queue somewhere behind him and by the time they finished kitting him out, all the good stuff was gone.


So, before I continue, I’d like to share a couple of things I learned from Down By The River. They are:


  1. New Orleans Blues is seven shades of awesome.
  2. Hugh Laurie is a white man trying to be Robert Johnson.
  3. If Alan Toussaint gives you the double index fingered point, you know you’ve made it.


In conjunction with his latest album Let Them Talk (which is, surprise surprise, excellent) Laurie teamed up with Sprout Productions, part owned by Stephen Fry to make this charming documentary charting his trip to and through present day New Orleans.


He gets a kick ass car, wears a number of hats, plays with some extraordinary musicians, meets some legends and plays a gig in a New Orleans venue with Alan Toussaint’s boys. All in all, that’s a pretty good holiday.



What’s most striking about the documentary is Laurie himself. His knowledge of the genre is so incredibly dense. When he speaks about it you find yourself amazed that he has these stories just stored away in his mind, ready to come out. When he says in the programme (or possibly in recent interviews) that becoming a blues musician was really his main goal, you tend to believe him completely, even though most peoples’ exposure to him lies almost exclusively in TV, be it old episodes of Fry & Laurie, Jeeves & Wooster or more recently, his continuously brilliant role in House MD.


When played a clip of Otis Spann on Jools Holland recently, Laurie’s face contorted into something between immense pleasure and deep admiration – you could tell just how much he loves the music and how passionate he is about it.


The ITV programme was remarkable in so many ways – the talent on display was just one aspect of it. Because while it was the story of the music and a kind of ‘coming of age’ anecdote for Laurie, it was a trip through New Orleans for those of us who had never been there, but now, someday dream of going.


As an American friend remarked recently, ‘it won’t be the same after Katrina’. But, as the doc got across, the sound is still the same, the spirit of that most ear-piercingly beautiful music still remains the same. And in essence, that’s what the doc does without really meaning to. It reminds us that New Orleans is still there, still tipping away, back on its feet after a horrific disaster that caused so much devastation.


By the end of the documentary, having seen footage of Laurie’s album recording, his playing with Toussaint and Co, and listening to what has become my favourite song of late, ‘Tipitina’ you find yourself wanting to listen to more.


I found myself wanting to buy an old record player and doing it old school style – the haunting sound of scratchy vinyl because despite what anyone tells you about the quality of MP4 or 5 or whatever the hell we’re on now, nothing ever really sounds quite as good as vinyl.


If you didn’t catch this documentary, find some way of doing so.


I, am off to nick my auntie’s record player and hope that she has some Dr John or Professor Longhair lying around.


Also, one worded review of Let Them Talk – Awesome.


Posted in: Reviews