John Mayall: Bournemouth Pavilion (Saturday, 25th November, 2017)
The first time I saw John Mayall was nearly 50 years ago and he was old then. Perhaps I should clarify. He was in his mid thirties and I was only 17, so he seemed old to me.
Yet on Saturday night, four days ahead of his 84th birthday, he played the Bournemouth Pavilion and not only was he looking fit and sounding great but he played a brilliant set. What’s more there’s a new album – Talk About That – and, inevitably, yet another line-up of amazing musicians.
That’s the thing you see. Back in 1968 John Mayall was THE man, a musician whose ever-changing band, The Bluesbreakers, had become a sort of finishing school for some of the finest musicians of the era.
By the time I caught up with Mayall, who was known as the Godfather of British Blues, many of his discoveries had already flown the nest. Eric Clapton had formed Cream and Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie had evolved into the nucleus of the original Fleetwood Mac. He did still have a young Mick Taylor in tow but within the year he would be off to join The Rolling Stones. The Mayall line-ups were phenomenal.
So it’s wonderful to see him keeping on, keeping on and with such energy and focus. Playing keyboards, harmonica and guitars, Mayall has settled on a stripped-down format for his latest band featuring just himself with Chicago session men Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums.
Both are astonishing talents and Mayall uses them brilliantly delivering numbers that span half a century of his own career. They included numbers like Acting Like A Child and The Bear from the late 60s, tracks from the new album and some superb covers of classics by people like Jimmy Rodgers, JB Lenoir and Sonny Boy Williamson.
Two thirds of the way through their 90 minutes set the band was joined on stage by blues guitar virtuoso Buddy Whittington. A one-time Bluesbreaker himself and leader of the trio who had been the opening act, Whittington turned what had been merely excellent into phenomenal. Now a four piece, the band stretched out into sublime versions of Nature’s Disappearing, a song about looming environmental disaster that Mayall penned decades before green issues made the headlines and California. An absolutely brilliant show.