Ryan McGarvey. If the name is unfamiliar now it won’t be for much longer, especially if you’re a fan of Blues-Rock and incendiary guitar playing. Actually, I thought he would be a ‘Geheim Tipp’ as the locals say – someone I could watch, take a drink at the bar, then a leisurely stroll back to my place amongst the hundred or so clued-up fans around me. Reality though saw me at the Harmonie surrounded by a capacity crowd that left little room for more than raising my eyebrows let alone a kölsch.
Of course I should have known better when I saw the man stage left of McGarvey. Bassist Carmine Rojas should know a thing or two about talent, here’s a shortlist of people who’ve trusted Rojas to keep their beat: David Bowie, Julian Lennon, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Keith Richards… you get the picture? More recently he could be seen beside Joe Bonamassa. The split from Joe was, he says, a desire to get away from the big sterile arenas and back to the sweaty fun of playing up close and personal with the fans again. You don’t go from playing with Joe to playing with just anybody though, so, eyebrows raised in expectation , I await someone very special indeed.
I am not disappointed with the young man from Albuquerque. Take the humility of Rory Gallagher, the explosive blues runs of Gary Moore, the innovative approach of Jimi Hendrix and the feel of Stevie Ray and you will be prepared for Ryan McGarvey.
Not being familiar with the music Of McGarvey before this very evening I apologise in advance for errors and omissions along the way in this review. Ryan McGarvey was also in apologetic mood on Wednesday “You’ll probably get fed up of hearing me say this by the end of the night, but thanks for making me feel so welcome in Bonn!” he smiled after about the second number. He did repeat the thanks, but we didn’t ever get tired of hearing it because it came from the heart and because if we clapped long enough just perhaps he would stay and play a little longer…
Also very much from the heart was McGarvey’s guitar playing. One of that rare breed of players who sometimes appears to be played by the guitar rather than vice-versa. Normal Rock guitar he has down pat. Like he could do it in his sleep. When he steps up his game though, which he does on pretty well every number tonight, like Hendrix did you can see McGarvey pushing his instrument, looking to get a sound that’s maybe out of reach – but maybe not? Just tap on the neck during the solo for extra sustain? re-tuning mid-solo? He took a whole solo just toggling the switch note for note between pick-ups on his Les Paul – something I, who have seen my share of guitar heroes, have never witnessed before. Amazing stuff indeed.
There were times during 2007’s ‘Blued Eyed Angel Blues’ where a blink shut of my eyes would make me think Bonamassa, Clapton or Moore was up there. You’re getting the picture that I was impressed? He takes more than a hopeful tilt at Hendrix’ ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ managing to sound great without sounding (as many others do) like a Hendrix clone.
The songs are thoughtful and well constructed. The latest single ‘Memphis’ for example “Despite what the song suggests, I actually love the town” he pointed out. But you have to smile to the lyrical pun at the end here:
“Feels like I’m being held, by the weight of the sound. Ain’t no grace in this Land…”
So is there a chink in McGarvey’s musical armour? It certainly isn’t to be found in his guitar playing. Maybe he’s not the greatest vocalist in the world. People have compared him here to Joe Bonamassa rather than Joe Cocker which tells you where he’s at singing. He’s still pretty damn good as a singer though and, rather like Rory, any vocal limitations are more than compensated for by sheer emotional power.
The German dates are pretty well all finished on this tour but Ryan McGarvey is heading to England in October and if you have a heart for the Blues and yearn to hear someone who still believes there are new sounds that a guitar can make even after Jimi, Ryan McGarvey is for you. Now, time to get back to those three RM CD’s I bought at the show…
*** Mini-interview with Ryan McGarvey coming soon ***