Many years ago Keith Richards and Brian Jones asked Paul Jones to sing in a group they were forming. The rest, as they say, is history. He turned them down. In retrospect a wise decision career-wise, try as I might I can’t imagine Jones writing ‘Satisfaction’ and unlike Mick J’s, the pouting lips of Paul J are generally put to better musical use on the Blues Harp. Which they were at the Harmonie this week when premier British R&B purveyors The Blues Band came to Town.
I should hate Paul Jones. Not only is he a successful singer, musician, actor and presenter of the BBC’s premier (only) Blues Radio Show, he was also at Portsmouth Grammar School; a feat I only managed by dint of the School going Comprehensive in the 70’s. Still, on the other hand, he did put my birthplace on the musical map. Maybe they should have a statue of him instead of Nelson?.
His acting career ensures that Jones knows how to communicate onstage of course, and he really is a delightful talker between numbers. As when he announces a Ray Charles tribute with the observation that “When Ray died we wanted to celebrate his passing… um, I mean, we wanted to celebrate his LIFE!”. But although the jokes are funny, it’s the music we’re here for, and as you would expect from a man with a Blues Radio show, and another man (Dave Kelly on guitar) who’s played alongside Howling Wolf and John Lee Hooker, there was some classic Blues material presented.
‘Let the Four Winds Blow’ by Fats Domino and ‘Lets talk it Over’ a tribute to the late Etta James kicked off the set. Dave Kelly, already looking laid back courtesy of a stool in the corner of the stage, delivered the first of many super slide performances on ‘Before You Leave Me’. with Tom McGuiness providing laid back vocals on ‘Laura Lee’ as well as some equally laid back guitar thoughout the evening. It might even be said that having Kelly and McGuiness on guitars is about as close as you can get to having Eric Clapton and Peter Green onstage together without actually having Clapton & Green onstage together! If they did have a fault, it was that they’ve been playing so long that it all looked effortlessly easy. The same can be said of Paul Jones’ performance. He announces a song by Little Johnny Taylor “Who has been featured on my radio show, so you should know him – if not, listen to the show!”and he’s off bending notes on the harp and singing with an enjoyment for the moment that belies the years he’s been playing these same tunes. Which is not to say its all oldies but goldies being played. There are a number of tracks from the new ‘Few Short Lines’ CD – my favourite being a smooth rendition of ‘Living with the Blues’ with the characteristically Peter Greenie touch of Tom McGuiness on lead guitar and vocal. Another favourite of the evening, although somewhat older, was Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Statesboro Blues’ courtesy of Dave Kelly, for whom such classics seem made to be played.
I’ve made no secret over the years of being a huge Blues Harp fan, and with guys like Jason Ricci and Will Wilde about the humble harmonica is literally in good hands. Paul Jones’ hands may be somewhat older, but when he Was the age of Wilde and Ricci one of the true greats passed away. Like any good musican he found words for the loss and played out his feelings at the time with the help of Jack Bruce on bass. More than fourty years on Dave Kelly is the only accompaniment as Jones plays his tribute to the legendary Sonny Boy Williamson ‘He’s Gone’. It’s one of the most moving Blues Harp performances I’ve ever experienced live and a reminder of how very much, less can be than more, when playing music. In short, magical.
The second set of the evening got off to an emotional slow Blues start then. Indeed, between ‘He’s Gone’ and 10.30pm the pace picked up without actually really ripping along. Paul had everyone singing along to his song about the joys of being back home after touring ‘Suddenly I Like It’ with an ease that, as with everything he does, seemed effortless. Again, if I have a criticism of the show it is the lack of an ‘edge’ to the music, but it seems rather mean to penalise a band for being so good at what they do. Even when Tom McGuiness plays his guitar Hendrix style behind his back he makes it look easy, no big deal. He could play it with his hands tied together and wearing woollen mittens and we’d still say “Hey,that looks easy. I could do that”.
The show is at it’s paciest for the old Blues Band standard ‘Green Stuff’ and the even older and even more of a standard Muddy Waters classic ‘Can’t be Satisfied’. The latter is played despite calls for the Band’s famous version of ‘Maggies Farm’. “We can’t do ‘Maggies Farm’ it’s gone” answers Dave Kelly. “Anyway, it’s Meryl Streep’s Farm now!”
Maybe they were pacing up for a big finish. The house curfew of 10.30 put paid to that though. As Rob Townsend hammered out his drum solo the others could be seen stage right in discussion with the Management. “As we’re over time, Gary Fletcher has heroically agreed to sacrifice his bass solo” announced Jones. The band may not have been rocking, but they would happily have continued rolling.
On the sleeve of their latest ‘Greatest Hits’ disc (the third such package or “Our third best songs” as Jones jokingly put it) their is a quote that Paul Jones started up the Blues Band in 1979 because he used to race from the theatre where he was acting to listen to bands in the local pubs and just wanted to play blues again after Manfred Mann. Now, more than thirty years later, he is hosting a BBC Blues show and seemingly more in love with the Music than ever. What is it that captivates him to keep singing and playing the Blues? The last word comes from a chat I grabbed with him after the show. “Why do you still do it?” I asked. Without batting an eyelid he replied: “I keep on trying to get it right I guess”