John Mayall 80th Anniversary Tour Sage Gateshead 11th November 2014
John Mayall at 80! Wow.
Blues legend John Mayall is out on the road again for his 80th, yes you read it right, 80th anniversary tour.The ‘Godfather of British Blues’, founder of the Bluesbreakers, who launched the careers of Eric Clapton, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Peter Green and Mick Taylor, was back in the north east last night to play a concert at the Sage Gateshead. Support came from top blues band King King.
Mayall has dropped the Bluesbreakers name for his current band to signal a slimmed down new line-up which features Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums.
The set went something like this: “You’re Too Lazy” (great start with white haired pony-tailed Mayall up front playing mouth harp from the word go), “Where Did You Go Last Night?” (Mayall on rolling piano and great guitar solo by Rocky), the lights dim and John picks up guitar for “Early In The Morning” which is a slow moody blues song “early in the morning and we ain’t got nothing but the blues” and which sees John and Rocky trading riffs, “The Sum of Something” (Mayall back to piano and powerful mouth harp solo ), “A Special Life” (the title track of Mayall’s latest, and 45th!, album), Mayall explains that the band are playing a different set each night on this tour to “keep things alive and keep us on our toes”, “Moving Out and Moving On” (Mayall back on guitar for some great guitar work and a stomping blues), then an old familiar tune: “Parchman Farm” (great chugging mouth harp and bass and drum duel/solo from Greg and Jay), “Speak of the Devil” (here he comes after you 🙂 – amazing mouth harp solo which receives a loud and well deserved round of applause), Otis Rush’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” (“we are going to do a blues” with an amazing guitar solo from Rocky to loud applause), and then a very welcome surprise – my favourite (and which I don’t believe he plays that often now) “Room To Move”, and a 100% amazing mouth harp solo from the master Mayall, drum solo from Jay and a tremendous bass solo from Greg. Then it’s back to Mayall’s harp and the familiar “Room to Move” riff. Took me right back. It really don’t come much better than this. The concert was pure class. Top blues played by the master. But you wouldn’t expect anything less. Long may he continue.
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John Mayall 80th Anniversary Tour Sage Gateshead 11th November 2014
John Mayall and Chicken Shack Gateshead Sage 2006
The last time I saw John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers was at the Sage Gateshead in 2006. This was another superb double bill, showcasing John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers alongside Stan Webb and Chicken Shack. I’ve already written about Stan the Man Webb and his fine guitar prowess, and will unashamedly use my entry today as a further excuse to do so. Stan is one of the best blues rock guitarists around, but in my view he rarely gets the credit he deserves. He mixes excellent technique with a real blues feel, and understands how to use tone and sound dynamics to great effect. My favourite Chicken Shack songs are the rock numbers from his early 70s albums, such as Poor Boy, and Daughter of the Hillside. If you get the chance listen to the track Poor Boy, and you’ll see what I mean about the use of dynamics. The song starts very quietly, but Stan and the rest of his band soon come thundering in with a great riff and drums, usually deafeningly loud. Stan’s not a bad blues singer either. This concert saw Chicken Shacl opening for the legend that is John Mayall, and his Bluesbreakers, who again featured Buddy Whittington on guitar. A great pairing and a great gig. The line up for the Bluesbreakers was Mayall, Whittington, Joe Yuele, and Hank Van Sickle. Chicke Shack featured Webb, Jum Rudge, Gary Davis and Mick Jones. From the programme: “Good Evening and Welcome. British Blues Legends John Mayall and Stan Webb join forces on a musical bill that promises blues at its very finest – it just doesn’t come better than this!”
I recently bought a live DVD of Stan and Chicken Shack. The tracklisting gives an idea of a typical set (although Poor Boy is sadly missing): So Tell Me; The Thrill Has Gone; Reconsider Baby; I Know You Know Me; You Are The Sweetest Little Thing/Hurt; Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack Opera; Spoonful; Doctor Brown 10. I’d Rather Go Blind; The Daughter Of The Hillside; Stan’s Blues.
Its been a few years since I’ve seen Stan Webb or John Mayall in concert; something I intend to put right when I get the chance. Mayall is promising to tour the UK for his 80th birthday in October 2014, which is a tour to look forward to.
John Mayall Chicken Shack Mick Taylor Newcastle City Hall 2004
The next time I saw John Mayall was on a strong triple bill of Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Stan Webb and Chicken Shack ,and Mick Taylor. I am a big fan of Stan and Chicken Shack. I’ve always thought that he is a greatly under-rated guitarist, easily on a par with Clapton and Page. The surprise for me on the night was just how great Mick Taylor was. I saw him with the Stones in the early 70s, where his playing really shone on the bluesier tracks like Stray Cat Blues and Midnight Rambler. I then saw him perform a quite shambolic concert in a marquee somewhere behind Gateshead stadium one night, some time in the 1980s. On this tour in 2004, Mick Taylor was back on form and gave the other guitarists Stan Webb and Buddy Whittington a run for their money. Stan and Chicken Shack were first up followed by an interval, during which I surprised to be greeted by John Mayall at the merchandise stall, so I bought his latest CD and got it signed. After the break, Mayall and his band took to the stage, with Mick Taylor guesting for part of the set. On this tour Mayall and the Bluesbreakers drew heavily from his back catalogue, probably more so than on other recent tours including a note perfect version of “All your Love” from the Beano album. When Mick Taylor joined, they also played songs from the Crusade album which debuted the guitarist at the yoin age of 18. Songs played included: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Walking On Sunset, Oh, Pretty Woman (from Crusade, an Albert King song and not the Roy Orbison track), and of course my own favourite Room To Move.
John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Peter Green’s Splinter Group Sunderland Empire 2000
When I was getting into music in the 60s I listened to a lot of white blues. Cream, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Ten Years After were never off my record player back then. My guitar heroes were Clapton, Alvin Lee, Frank Zappa and Peter Green. I would listen to Greeny and The Supernatural again and again, trying to learn how to play them on my cheap Zenta guitar. There was a feel and a tone about Peter Green’s playing which gave it an atmospheric quality unlike any of the other guitar greats of the day.
This tour presented a chance to see two of my heroes from those days perform on the same stage, in my local theatre. I went along with my friend Will. It was almost 20 years since I’d seen John Mayall in concert. We’d seen Peter Green more recently at a concert at Redcar Coatham Bowl, which took place a few years earlier. Peter had been coaxed out of seclusion by long time collaborator and fellow lead guitarist Nigel Watson. Peter and the Splinter group were on stage first and played a set which drew from blues classics and from his old Fleetwood Mac days. The line-up was Peter Green (guitar and vocals), Nigel Watson (guitar and vocals), Pete Stroud (bass), Roger Cotton (piano and keyboards) and Larry Tolfree (drums). I think they played Need your Love so Bad, Oh Well, Albatross, Green Manalishi and Black Magic Woman. It was just great to see Peter again, and glimpses of the old Peter Green came through from time to time, where his guitar playing was fine and as fluid and beautiful as ever. Nigel Watson was by his side, watching over him and at times stepping in to sing or take the lead guitar parts.
After the interval John Mayall and his Bluesbreakers took to the stage. The line-up was Mayall (guitar, mouth organ and vocals), Buddy Whittington (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass), and Joe Yuele (drums). This was the first time I’d seen Buddy Whittington on guitar; he really is outstanding. Mayall has described Buddy as “possibly the greatest Bluesbreaker of them all”. I found a setlist from the Albert Hall date of the tour: Hot Ticket, White Line Fever, My Country Girl, Always A Brand New Road, Maydelle, So Many Roads, Hideaway, Another Man Done Gone, Ain’t No Surrender, Nacksboro Highway, Dance With Me Honey, A Hard Road, Room To Move. Encores: Dead City, Checking’ Out My Baby
Peter Green was coaxed on stage to join John Mayall for the encore, reliving a music partnership that started in the 60s. From the programme: “Wow! John Mayall and Peter Green – can it be real- is it a dream? No! It is real, you are going to see two legends of the blues playing on the same bill – the Godfather of British Blues and the prodigal son – pulling E, G and A out of the air to weave their magic at your heartstrings…..Ladies and gentlemen, sit back and enjoy John Mayall and Peter Green in an evening of the best British blues you’ve heard fro a long time – if not ever!”
John Mayall Newcastle City Hall 1971 and 1972
I first saw John Mayall in 1971 and 1972 at Newcastle City Hall. I had the “Hard Road” and “Bluesbreakers” lps, and played them a lot, and I was also aware of the pedigree of Mayall’s bands over the years. The line-up for the 1971 tour was: John Mayall on vocals, harmonica, keyboards; the young Jimmy McCulloch on guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, and Keef Hartley on drums. Jimmy McCulloch was just 18 at the time, and had already had major chart success as a member of Thunderclap Newman. Larry Taylor joined Mayall from Canned Heat, and Keef Hartley was leading his own band at the time. McCulloch was just an amazing guitarist, and went on to join Stone the Crows and then Paul McCartney and Wings. Support for the 1972 tour came from American soft rock band Eggs Over Easy, who were quite good. I’m afraid I don’t recall which tracks Mayall and the band played that night, but it was, of course, some great blues. There is a live recording of the band from October 1971 on Youtube. Mayall was back at the City Hall the following year. I’m less clear who was in his band for that concert, but think it was probably like this: Keef Hartley on drums again, John Mayall (of course), Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Freddy Robinson on guitar, Clifford Solomon on sax. This was a much more jazz oriented band than previous years. Support for the 1972 tour was Matching Mole featuring the great Robert Wyatt. I saw Matching Mole a couple of times; the other was at the Reading festival. In 1973, Wyatt fell from a third floor window during a party, leaving him paralysed from the waist downwards. From that day onwards he has concentrated his efforts into solo recordings. I remember Matching Mole as being quite avant garde and, like the headliners, they were also quite jazz-rock influenced. One of my favourite Mayall songs at the time was “Room to Move” which was played a lot in clubs at the time. The live version would come towards the end of the set and always included a lengthy and impressive mouth harp solo by Mayall. At the time I saw him, John Mayall had already been playing for many years, and of course he continues to play to this day. The great man hits 80 (!) this year, and will be touring the UK next year to celebrate. It was many years until I saw John Mayall again after these early 70s gigs. He moved to the USA in the 70s and his visits to the UK become less and less frequent. I have, however, seen him a few times in recent years, on blues package tours with Chicken Shack and Peter Green and I’ll write about those concerts over the next few days.