Gig Review by Cat Onisko with Gig Photography by Drew Kirkland

John Mayall

What can be said about the great John Mayall? At 80 years old, the legendary blues singer, songwriter, harpist, organist and guitarist is still going strong, and I find him in the middle of his aptly named “80th Anniversary Tour” at Birmingham’s beautiful Symphony Hall. Receiving an OBE in 2005 for services to music, Mayall has continued to make music for over 50 years, and, as BB King once said of his friend, “John Mayall, he was the master of it all.”

John Mayall

It was 1963 when Mayall and his band The Bluesbreakers began gaining considerable attention, with a young Eric Clapton as guitarist, to be replaced over the years by true legends such as Peter Green, Mick Taylor, and Harvey Mandel amongst others.

In November 2008, Mayall announced the dismantling of the Bluesbreakers, and tonight he is billed as a soloist, with the help of guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab, and drummer Jay Davenport.

King King

King King

Tonight’s support act came in the form of Glaswegian blues-rock 4-piece King King. As frontman and guitarist Alan Nimmo strolled on stage in a black shirt, tartan kilt and dessert boots, I immediately sat up in my seat. These were certainly not your average looking blues band. Having won ‘Best Band’ for the last three consecutive years at the British Blues Awards, I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Opening with track ‘More Than I Can Take’, it’s clear these guys have a grittier rock-infused feel about them. With Nimmo’s smoky vocals and instantly foot tapping heavy guitar riffs, the crowd immediately took notice. The band oozed energy and charisma; every song performed with such vigour and passion, taking us all on an epic journey from heartache, euphoria, and everything in between.

King KingKing King

King King performed a solid 45 minute set infused with funk and soul, gospel and rock, with the finale an absolutely heart rendering performance of ‘Old Love’, taken from their debut album ‘Take My Hand’. Just as I thought they couldn’t top their flawless performance, the lights faded out completely until King King were almost invisible in the darkness. As the bass and percussion faded out, Nimmo turned the volume on his Fender Strat down to zero and played a magnificent 5 minute guitar solo with no accompaniment whatsoever. His stunning guitar work left me, and undoubtedly the rest of the audience, in complete awe. As the lights faded back, Nimmo was met with a rapturous applause, and rightly so. Keep an eye out for King King, I have a feeling they’re going to make it all the way.

John MayallJohn Mayall

After a short intermission, it was time for the man of the evening. Considering John Mayall is about to hit to big 8-0, he saunters onto stage like a man half his age. After a short introduction to the rest of the band, Mayall and co kicked off with Big Town Playboy from his latest album ‘This Special Life’; a playful blues song featuring Mayall playing harmonica and keys simultaneously; pretty impressive stuff. Next up was Sonny Boy Williamson’s 1963 12-bar blues song ‘Help Me’, closely followed by ‘Gimme One More Day’. As Mayall warms up and begins to be more animated, the rest of the band seem to take a step back, as if making sure he’s the centre of attention throughout. Next up is ‘The Sum of Something’, an all-round jazz infused number; as is the majority of the set tonight. Mayall was in full flow now; head rolling, shoulders shrugging as he performed ‘Not at Home’. The mood shifted slightly for next song ‘One Life to Live’, written while Mayall was, through no choice of his own, serving in Korea through National Service. With its heavier guitar riffs and almost aggressive feel, it was clear that Mayall felt strongly about this one, with such lyrics as ‘They say I’m fighting for my country, well that’s just a lie. We got one life to live, and it ‘aint supposed to end.‘, the song painstakingly encapsulating his distaste over having to go to war against his will.

John MayallJohn Mayall

‘Speak of the Devil’ was next, another track taken from his new album, performing an astonishing harmonica solo after signalling the band to stop playing. As the bass kicked back in followed by the rest of the band, the song continued, drowned out by a huge applause from the audience.

John MayallJohn Mayall

The set continued with a  much slower-paced track ‘Heartache’, a Louis Jordon number ‘Early in the Morning’, gospel infused ‘Broken Wings’ , and culminating in jazz soaked ‘California’; with Mayall stepping to the side of the stage to watch Athas, Rzab, and Davenport perform a magnificent instrumental.

John Mayall

The set finished with the audience on their feet, whistling and clapping and shouting for more. Mayall did not seem tired in the slightest considering his age and, after the band disappeared for a couple of minutes, returned on stage to perform ‘Maydell’, taken from 1993 album ‘Wake Up Call’ after mentioning the passing of Jack Bruce, the Scottish musician known mostly as a member of British rock band Cream.

John MayallJohn Mayall

As the set drew to a close, it was clear that Mayall and his band relied very little on visuals tonight, simply playing an uncompromising set spanning over 50 years of Mayall’s diverse and wonderfully crafted material. Anyone who can still create such wonderful music at the age of 80 years old, is thoroughly deserving of the title of ‘British Godfather of Blues’.

John Mayall

King King: Alan Nimmo (vocals/guitar), Lindsay Coulson (bass), Wayne Proctor (drums) and Bob Fridzema (keys)

John Mayall and his band: John Mayall (vocals/guitar/harmonica), Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums)

John Mayall

One Response to “John Mayall 80th Anniversary Tour + King King at The Symphony Hall, Birmingham, UK – 5th November 2014”

  1. james bruce Says:

    Saw king king at the ipswich regent,brilliant band ,had the place rocking and got a standing ovation !!!..sorry to say it was downhill after john mayall came on ! long live king king !! getting such a cracking band as support is always risky for the headline band .

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