There is, tucked away on YouTube, a video of Stevie Ray Vaughan from 1986 with his trademark hat. Behind him, in a similar hat, is a 21 year old Bernard Allison matching Stevie Ray lick for lick. Reason in itself to be at the Harmonie on Sunday night. Was THIS man THAT good?
A lot of other people seemed to think Bernard Allison was worth a visit too. By shows start there was room to swing only the smallest of cats. Talking of cats – there is in fact one cool cat onstage right now…
His name is George Moye, and George, aside from playing a funky bass, is doing all the between songs talking. It’s the talking done on fretboards that speaks the loudest this evening though and Allison’s custom made Blade RH-4 guitar has a Milky Way star pattern on it that matches the mans playing this evening – out of this world.
I’d heard reviews in the past that Bernard Allison played a little too indulgently at times, but I could listen to indulgences like this all night! The band in itself is a pretty impressive outfit too. Andrew ‘Blaze’ Thomas I remember seeing a few years ago giving Ana Popovic a real Rock punch on drums and his meaty rhythm is always Rock Solid and no flash playing. I know the man doing most of the talking and all of the bass licks is named George Moye because it’s written on his guitar strap, but a look online and CD covers doesn’t turn him up anywhere which is pretty amazing since he sounds like he’s always been there. There’s another guitarist too, in the rangy shape of Michael Goldsmith and curiously enough, although he seems like the new kid on the block Goldsmith seems to be the one mainstay of live bands and records – at least recently. He doesn’t get much chance to shine of course – it’s Allison’s gig, but shimmer he most certainly does when occasion allows as with the twin guitar solo on ‘The Other Side‘.
So everyone is a great musician, but hey, what’s even better is that everyone onstage seems to be enjoying being there and feeling the buzz of a band that gels perfectly. It seems odd at times that the centre of the music isn’t actually standing stage centre, and good as George Moye was at MC’ing the show I’d like to have heard more banter from Bernard himself. He really only chats when it comes down to mention of his father, the late and great Luther. “For my Daddy – he’s with me everywhere I go” smiles the talented son before launching into a favourite from ‘Daddy’s’ repertoire the deep bluesy ‘Serious as a Heart attack’. In contrast the band is fast and furious on Luther’s ‘Backtracking’.
As Allison once said in interview though, music fans have discovered that, yes, he has a lot of his dad in his music – but also a lot of something else. Might that even be a lot of someone else? There’s a whole chunk of Stevie Ray in his playing style, echoes of Robert Cray at times, especially so on ‘The Way loves meant to be’ and really and truly a whole, WHOLE lot of Jimi both physically and musically. There is no excessive guitar acrobatic to accompany Bernard’s virtuoso version of ‘Voodoo Child’ but I can’t imagine anyone coming as close to pinning down the Hendrix Magic onstage. If ever there’s a film in the making of Seattle’s most famous Blues son then THIS is the man for the job.
The second set of the evening sees the band stretch out and get a solo each. Nice one especially Andrew Thomas, I seem to remember him literally playing a blinder of a solo with Ana Popovic a few years back literally with a blindfold. This time without the blindfold, but still a blinder. Lots of fun for all follows: smatterings of ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Purple Haze’ and guitar solo walkabouts too – although I don’t know how Bernard managed that. I couldn’t even squeeze my way from stageside to the bar through the crowd. Guess I should take a guitar with me next time and people will make room! It’s good time fun for all by evenings end. ‘Give me back my wig’ get’s an airing, and there’s a bit of reggae played as seamlessly as everything else this band puts out.
Taking up George Moye’s smiling suggestion that we ‘Take Bernard home with us’ I checked out a copy of his excellent latest release ‘The Other Side’ for an autograph and a few words. On the CD Allison has a vocal style reminiscent of Muddy Waters at times. Was it true that he got to meet the legendary Man? I ask. I’m incredulous since Allison himself isn’t exactly one of the old guard of Blues. He’s looking tired under the weight of CD’s for signing, but is alert in an instant at the big mans name. “I guess I was only 12 or 13 at the time” he remembers. “So I never got to play with him” he says almost ruefully. I’m envious that he got to see Muddy and then I spot a youngster at the bar in a Rory Gallagher T-shirt. I guess I’m lucky too, and in forty years time the youngsters here tonight will be counting themselves lucky to have seen the great Bernard Allison play guitar.
In Blues, there’s always something great that’s gone and something great that’s coming. The trick is to find the great in the here and now. Enter Bernard Allison…
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