BYE BYE BLUES BAND
Updated: Oct 6
The wind whipped them into a corner forty-two years ago, said Tom McGuinness, attempting to explain one day how the Blues Band were born. It was the day I told him that 'When I'm Dead and Gone', the song written by wee Graham Lyle and Benny Gallagher for McGuinness Flint, which scored them a Number 2 in the UK in November 1970 and impressed them upon music lovers around the world, was one of the first singles I ever bought. Graham and Benny went their own way. Tom and drummer Hughie Flint found themselves at the same table with former Manfred Mann singer and harmonica player Paul Jones. Hughie slip-slid out of there within three years, and Family's Rob Townsend stepped into his slingbacks. Way back, way, way back, yet only yesterday.
The wind came crying again. It blew the good old boys in across the Heath last night and whisked them into the Blackheath Halls, the latest stop on a Farewell Tour that won't come this way again. You know what they say about farewell tours. Not this one. With a combined age of some 379 years, they are calling it a day. No ageism to see here. You don't get this good unless you do it a long, long time.
Tighter than clingfilm and more indigo than midnight, this is blues that honours its originators and pays homage to the magic of yore. Blue enough to trouble the dead. Mavis, Pops, Cleotha, Pervis and Yvonne were in the house last night. You swore you could hear their harmonies on 'Get Right Church Let's Go Home.' Slide guitarist Dave Kelly summoned Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker. Tom cast his spell with echoes of Jimmy Reed running through his self-penned number 'The Happy Blues'. 'Oh, and Lesley-Ann,' he twinkled, I was glad that he did, 'this is for you.' They dig deep through the furs, through lions and witches and out through the back of a wardrobe crammed with blues standards, obscurities, their own originals, songs they've worn all too often as well as the fresh and new, even now. For more of which, check out the latest and last album, 'So Long'. A spirited rendition of the masterpiece written by Robin and Barry Gibb for Otis Redding, only he died before he got to record it, has been laid down by too many to name. 'To Love Somebody' never sounded so divine as in this live offering, though you do get Zoot Money on Hammond on the Blues Band recording.
On and on. Up steps the baby of the bunch (if you don't count Dave Kelly's son Sam, depping for our Rob on drums ... the latter being indisposed, but he'll be back). Gary Fletcher is folky, jazzy, a thinking man's bluesman in a soft and breathy way, summoning heartstops from a banjo and chasing storm clouds on bass. The Jones boy makes a new language on harp. We gaze in wonder. How can this child-man be turning 80 at the end of the month? Dave Kelly turns the dial to the Mississippi Delta and he's back on the road and in the studio with Son House. 'Robert Johnson?' he chatters through a sideways smile. 'I got it all down in the song. That'll be "Crossroads Blues".'
What do they do for an encore? Curtis Mayfield is in. People get ready, there's a train comin'. You don't need no baggage, you just get on board. Make that a fistful of one-way tickets to Woebegone. Ain't no future for the Blues Band, only a million miles of past. The road was long.