The Blues Band was originally formed in 1979 and consists of five musicians who were all integral parts of the 1960’s British Blues Boom; with guitarist Tom McGuiness and singer, raconteur and BBC Radio 2 Blues Show presenter Paul Jones on vocals and harmonica both from Manfred Mann, singer-guitarist Dave Kelly who toured extensively with Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker, bass player Gary Fletcher from Sam Apple Pie, and drummer Rob Townsend from Family.
They have toured in one format or another ever since and bring a living History of the Blues to every venue they visit and have an extremely loyal following.
Regular readers will know I love The Blues, but on a night like this I have to hide in the shadows as songs come from all avenues of the Blues Highway with many originally being by artists I’ve never heard of and if I did know the writer it’s likely that the song will be so rare even they couldn’t remember writing it!
The first set opened with Paul Jones taking the lead on a track from his latest solo album and the mood was set when he pulled a CD from his jacket pocket and announced that it was for sale in the foyer at the break! The joke carried on during the next half hour; with every song being introduced by the singer with the adage – “That was from my latest solo/band album……and it’s available to buy in the foyer!”
Lead vocals were passed around like a hot potato with Tom McGuiness looking (and playing guitar) uncannily like Hank B Marvin on Living With the Blues from the band’s latest album FEW SHORT LINES, and his soft voice reminded me of JJ Cale.
I can’t think of an American band to compare them to, as the Blues Band are as far removed from being a bar band as you can get. While their set is mainly cover versions; they pay homage to the originators in a very special way that has to be seen and heard to be believed.
All five band members look as if they are dressed for a church social or perhaps shopping at Marks and Spencer, but when Dave Kelly runs his metal barrel along the guitar strings or Paul Jones blows into his harmonica you know that you are in the presence of giants.
One of the highlights of the first half was Little Johnnie Taylor’s If You Love Me (Like You Say) which made the Theatre into a Southern Juke Joint for 4 minutes, with Jones making his harmonica wail while Kelly and McGuiness’ guitars set a new standard for White Men playing the Blues.
My only disappointment was the lack of young musicians in the audience as this truly was a Masterclass; with guitar solos being kept to a minimum but when they came they blew your mind.
Each singer had their own distinctive style with Gary Fletcher getting a few turns in the spotlight and his version of You are True was one of the highlights of the evening for me; as his gruff voice sounded like my hero, Lee Brilleaux from Dr. Feelgood).
After a short break; when the Merch Stand did a roaring trade the band had taken their jackets off, to show they meant business and; as my notes have three and four stars next to each song – they knew exactly what they were doing.
While most songs in this set were quite up-tempo; my heart nearly burst during How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? I’ve only ever heard it once before; but tonight in the one time Coal Capital of England the sentiments of this 90 year old song weren’t missed by the local audience who cheered at the end as if their football team had won the FA Cup!
There were two more surprises to come; Dave Kelly gave a drunken audience member a history lesson when they had called out “The Allman’s” when he introduced Statesboro’ Blues and then proceeded to do things with his bottle-neck that are still outlawed in 7 States! You may never have heard of Dave Kelly; but I urge you to scour the internet looking for his work; you won’t be disappointed.
Although not the last song Paul Jones described first hearing Gil Scott Heron singing Blue Collar and I think I felt the same after hearing this contemporary Jazz track turned into a Modern Blues that was truly amazing.
The evening ended with an astonishing version of People Get Ready and eventually a rocking Little Queenie that had Tom McGuiness playing his guitar behind his head and scores of ‘mature’ fans swaying in the aisles.
I had a wonderful night in the presence of 5 wonderful musicians who still love playing the music they grew up with in a style that will never come into or go out of fashion.