The Blues Band

If you’ve ever checked out the links on the right side of this website you will be familiar with Paul Jones.  If you haven’t, please do so now and then come back to this post (don’t worry, dear reader, I’ll wait).  I’m sure you were glad of that – the best Blues radio programme in England and available every week for your listening pleasure!  Now, back to Blues Music and Paul Jones as we make a vist to the Harmonie last week to catch Jones with The Blues Band in action…

It seems a bit presumptious to grandly call yourselves ‘The Blues Band’, and in 1979, when Paul Jones, Dave Kelly, Gary Fletcher, Tom McGuiness and Hughie Flint chose the name for their new musical venture it probably was somewhat presumptious.   Thirty eight years on though and having played alongside Howling Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Otis Spann, Sonny Boy Williamson, Alexis Korner and practically every icon of The Blues you could name (Tom McGuiness was sharing a stage with Eric Clapton when EC was a mere teenager) the quintett have earned their right to genuinely be THE Blues Band.  With only one personnel change along the way when Rob Townsend from Family replaced Hughie Flint on the drumstool in 1982,  the band and the music have both remained as vibrant and captivating as ever.

No one, not even Joe Bonamassa, plays the Blues because they want to be famous.  Guitarist Gary Fletcher once famously said that “The music industry doesn’t bother us, and we don’t bother them” and that’s reflected in the fact that a band who have made a massive impact on the UK RnB scene never had a hit record in their own right, although Paul Jones had serious pop credentials all along as Manfred Mann’s ‘Do Wa diddy diddy’ and ‘Pretty Flamingo’ amply demonstrate.  What they did then, and indeed what they do now, is the key to their existence when so many others have come and gone – playing Blues music not to become famous, but because they actually love to play it.

Tom McGuiness – Clearly still loving the Blues

Following last nights excellent crowd for Henrik Freischlader I feared tonight’s turnout would suffer.  In fact though, there was even less space in the hall this evening.  A pleasing age range was to be found too as I looked around me at 7.30pm – with those old enough to have seen the band in the early days mixed together with youngsters whose parents even probably weren’t born when Muddy Waters passed away.

A part of this ‘cult’ following, especially amongst aspiring musicians, of course is down to the presence of Dave Kelly.  Jo Ann Kelly, Dave’s sister, was a bright light in the British Blues Invasion of the 60’s, so much so that Johnny Winter and Canned Heat both tried, unsuccessfully, to relocate her to the USA.   A feel for the real Blues and it’s context is in the family then, and whereas most of us would be pleased to date one of this evening’s highpoints ‘How can a poor man stand such times and live’ as a 70’s number from Ry Cooder,  Kelly takes it right back to the 1920’s and the historically obscure figure of Blind Alfred Reed.

For me it’s the traditional Blues numbers, more often than not introduced by Kelly, like ‘How can…’, ‘Laura Lee’ and ‘Statesboro Blues’ that are the evenings highpoints.  Especially when Kelly digs deep into that brassy and deep slide sound – the complicated part of simplicity is knowing what to leave out in it’s creation and Kelly keeps it perfectly sparse and emotional.

Sharp dressed men CAN play the Blues – Paul Jones

Paul Jones in that respect is a perfect counterpoint.  Whilst Kelly dryly announces his songs and their origins, Jones produces copies of the albums they are on like a magician pulling playing cards out of his sleeve – “this one is available on the 1988 CD, titled… and available from the little merchandise table over there…” and you would be irritated by the references if it wasn’t for that impish grin that I’m sure would get him aquitted for murder if required.

Why do I occasionally think of Cliff Richard when I look at Jones?  Partly it’s that ageless enthusiastic smile that says he’s 21 years old going on 75.  It certainly happens when Jones introduces ‘Suddenly I like it’ the title track of his solo 2015 release, because it’s the sort of perfect pop sound that would have been a hit on Top of The Pops in the 1970’s.  Indeed it’s the commercial appeal of Jones, countered with the ‘BluesProfessor’ appeal of Kelly that gives the Blues Band both it’s weight and balance.  Maybe I should re-title that ‘Blues Doctor’ as Jones has actually been made a Doctor of Music from the University in my Home Town of Portsmouth.  He’s certainly been instrumental (pun intended) in keeping the Blues alive in England.

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Dave Kelly sliding on it

Not that Paul Jones is all candy-floss pop of course.  A man who champions the Blues genre with his own BBC Radio programme knows his Hooker Memphis Slim’s from His Memphis Minnie’s and isn’t afraid to take numbers thrown at him spontaneously.  During the mid-concert break I hear a request for ‘People Get Ready’.  There’s a short conversation with Dave Kelly as CD’s are signed and a half hour later onstage the band play the song so perfectly that I’d swear they rehearsed it for an hour beforehand (certainly a benefit springing from the band’s personnel longevity).

It’s a slower, even more gospel tinged version of the song than that played by Curtis Mayfield but spellbinding nevertheless, as is Jone’s Pure Gospel ‘Down to the River’.  The latter particularly shows the sheer power and range of Jones as a singer as he seemingly takes the upper keys with ease, hitting falsetto and going back down again with a power and confidence that makes me forget that I’m watching a man most famous for his chops as a harmonica player.  Visually it’s impossible to forget because there are a half dozen holders for harps filled up on his mike stand along with a steel case full of them at his feet.  Very often they are there for colouring the simpler guitar melodies of old Blues numbers and, like Kelly on guitar, Jones knows when to dig in and when to lay off on every melody.

Kelly & Fletcher – Fancy meeting you here!

The CD’s magically displayed by Jones before many songs also show how busy the other band members have remained – in a long career there are plenty of solo outings to choose from, and Gary Fletcher’s ‘My Love made you wrong’ is an excellent proof that the band has strength in depth for sure.  A bit of guitar showmanship from Tom McGuiness was also fun (and he also stepped confidently ‘up to the bat’ for some lead vocals) but for me the highlights were inevitably songs involving Kelly, and more often than not his sublime slide playing.  A nod to the memory of one of Kelly’s heroes was also welcome in the late, great, Chuck Berry’s ‘Nadine’ but it was the real Blues numbers that did it for me.  How about these for lyrics?:

“If I don’t love you, baby
Grits ain’t grocery
Eggs ain’t poultry
And Mona Lisa was a man”  (Titus Turner – Grits ain’t Groceries’)

Lovely stuff for sure, but lyric of the evening has to go to one of the night’s best known numbers (from BB King):

“Let the good times roll,                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Let the good times roll.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Doesn’t matter if you’re young or old,                                                                                                                                                                                              Everybody let the good times roll!”

On the night it really didn’t matter how old anyone was – the good times were rolling!

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