John Mayall, Perth Concert Hall 14 November 2011
At the start of the 1970s I bought (from a second-hand record stall at Shudehill Market in Manchester) an LP by John Mayall called Looking Back. This was a retrospective of the already impressive career of the man whose Bluesbreakers band had given early opportunities to Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie, Henry Lowther and many other great British musicians. Mayall was old enough to have served in the Korean War, for heaven's sake.
So when I saw a tour by John Mayall announced my first thought was "Mayall's ALIVE?" (you have to imagine it in a Brian Blessed voice). Followed rapidly by "Where do I get a ticket?"
I am pleased to announce that, only a couple of weeks short of his 78th birthday, John Mayall was not only alive but very definitely kicking. You would never guess his age to look at him: the grey hair would lead you to think he was in his sixties, maybe, and very well-preserved (lean, fit, and full of vigour).
First up were the support band, a very good guitar/bass/drums trio called the Oli Brown Band. OB was the guitarist, and very competent he was too. I thought they were interesting rather than gripping, but they certainly showed that British blues playing has a secure future.
After the break Mayall and his band (no longer the Bluesbreakers - he retired that name several years back) came on. His band is all-American: Rocky Athas from Texas on guitar, Jay Davenport from Chicago on drums, and the extraordinary Greg Rzab - also from Chicago - on bass. First of all, John came on by himself and played a harmonica solo, in case we'd forgotten what his main instrument was (after all, on The Blues Alone he played a wide variety of them). In the course of the evening he would play plenty more harmonica, along with keyboard (mostly configured as piano rather than organ) and guitar. And of course he sang. His voice isn't quite as powerful as it was in his youth, but his playing skills are undiminished. I was a little sorry we didn't really get to hear him on organ, on which he was always a master.
I couldn't tell you all the numbers he did in his set, though I did note Nature's Disappearing, Mail Order Mystics and a stonking version of Room To Move. The entire band was terrific: I suspect getting into any of Mayall's bands is as much a badge of achievement as making it into the Magic Band or the Mothers of Invention. To think they were being (brilliantly) led by a guy who was already 21 when I was born beggars belief. Sometimes when you see legends they disappoint, sometimes they donlt. And sometimes they exceed expectations: this was one of those times. The audience may have been fairly small, and mostly of my generation, but it made up in enthusiasm what it lacked in numbers and youth.
Oh, and when Mayall and his band came back on for an encore, they brought Oli Brown back on with them to trade solos with Rocky Athas. I thought that summed up the generous spirit of the one and only father of British Blues.