“Please welcome the godfather of British blues”, Mayall jogs onto the stage with the agility of someone at least half his age. Beaming into the crowd, he asks them to pretend they’re watching the show in a club, everyone is sitting too “politely” for his liking, and indeed as his energetic show progresses you can feel the room loosen up.
The stage, which regularly hosts large orchestras, seems somewhat empty with Mayall and his Chicago born bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport. A small guitar leans up against an amplifier behind Mayall’s keyboard and organ, which stand side-by-side at front and centre. In the right hand corner another two guitars wait ominously.
The set begins with the rapid shuffle of Little Junior Parker’s Mother In Law Blues. Immediately Mayall’s sharp piano cuts through with light syncopated chords and occasional expressive licks. One might expect his voice to have deteriorated after almost six decades of performing, but it is still strong and holds all the subtleties and depth it has always possessed. Mayall is a multi-instrumentalist, and every now and then, he would reach along to the left hand end of his keyboard to pull out a harmonica and proceed to play a solo on it. Meanwhile, he played the keys with his right hand in an amazing display of musicianship.
Picking up the oddly shaped guitar that leans against the amp, Mayall says, “Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘what the f**k kind of guitar is that’“. He continued to explain that it started of as a normal guitar, but over the years he cuts bits off of it. Humor is a theme that runs through the show. When he introduces the song Give Me One More Day, he explained it is about when he quit drinking. Rzab asks, “Is that when you cut the bits off the guitar?”. Throughout the show, this relaxes the audience.
Mayall’s band are a supreme accompaniment to him. Rzab’s bass playing is aggressive; it is the driving force behind the band, especially in the faster shuffles. But, it is also groovy and subtle. There are a number of bass solos in the set, particularly impressive is the slap solo Rzab plays in Gimmie Some of That Gumbo. It shows off the mastery of his instrument. Even Mayall, who has played with Rzab since 2009, cannot take his eyes off him as he crafts an exceptional solo. The propulsive nature of the bass playing gives drummer Davenport room to be laid back. His drumming is funky and sophisticated. There is an almost frantic drum solo in Moving Out and Moving On, which seems to be on the verge of slipping away from Davenport. But he reigns it in, to the amazement of the audience and his fellow musicians.
Around half way through the set Mayall announces that, support act and one time Bluesbreaker, Buddy Whittington will be joining the band on stage. From then on Whittington really is the star of the show. He and Mayall gel as soon as he comes on, as would be expected given they played together for 15 years in the Bluesbreakers. Whittington’s guitar licks beautifully fill the spaces between Mayall’s vocal lines, and his soloing is expansive and imaginative. One can hear the the influence of some of the guitarists (Eric Clapton and Peter Green) that preceded him in the Bluesbreakers in his playing.
Mayall is at his best right now. He, and his band, play with a level of enthusiasm and skill which will leave you in awe of them. Mayall is energetic and engaging throughout, the smile that never leaves his face shows he loves what he’s doing.