Of course, the question is how do the next generation of blues artists break out of the clubs and bring their sparkling talents to a much wider audience? It probably won’t be via the major record companies, they’re no longer what they were and certainly not run by people who live and breathe music. Oh no, record companies are now run by accountants who see only figures and a ‘product’ that has to be exactly that – accountable. What would have become of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and all those other legendary artists with massive and still highly profitable back catalogues if they’d have surfaced in today’s narrow-minded markets. Perish the thought.
With those thoughts in mind, Hi Fi Plus took up an invitation to attend a showcase gig at the Jazz Café in London. We were there to watch a triple header, a coming together of some of British blues’ most promising talents. The place was heaving, with a sense of tingling anticipation I haven’t felt at a concert for some considerable time. The first of the three acts should have been Jay Tamkin but unfortunately he was unable to attend, so his place went to a young trio going by the name of Virgil and the Accelerators. I have to confess to knowing nothing about them, only that lead singer/guitarist, Virgil is 18 and the drummer weighs in at a very tender 15 years old!
They treated us to a foot-to-the-floor set of blues rocking numbers and showed surprising maturity for ones so young. Virgil clearly comes from the Stevie Ray school of mastery and while this is as good a place to start as any, if they are truly going to make their mark and stand out from the pack they need to inject a little more originality into their repertoire. That said, they have time on their side and are clearly talented, so watch this space. Joanne Shaw Taylor had flown in from Detroit with only 3 hours under her belt when she took the stage. She remained quietly patient whilst technicians sorted out a glitch in the sound system, but once up and running this young Brummie made her intentions clear to the crowd with a set culled from her terrific debut, ‘White Sugar’. Your Time Has Come found her prowling the stage with her eyes closed, feeling every note as deep and sensuous sounds burst from her Fender Strat. Blackest Day, one of ‘White Sugar’s defining moments, floated in on a flush of caressed guitar. Her honey-smoked voice wrapped itself around the song as it built towards a finale of red hot soloing – I swear I saw flames coming off the fret at one point! The sound this girl gets in the studio is highly polished but live she’s a totally different animal, preferring to beef the sound up with less soul and a whole lot more blues. On the rattling shuffle of Bones the volume went up a notch or two and her vocals got drowned out in the mix, but there’s no denying the talent Joanne possesses. She works a fretboard like she’s been doing it for half a century, yet she’s only 22 years old. The six songs she played were enough to convince me and the packed out crowd that Joanne Shaw Taylor has what it takes to lead from the front.
Last up to hit the stage was 19 year old Oli Brown, the prince of modern blues. In his pin-striped suit and purple shirt and with chiselled good looks and tapered flowing hair, Oli looks more like a film star than a bluesman. Oozing confidence, he struck up an instant rapport with the crowd, commanding the stage like a veteran. He belted out Open Road, the title track to his debut CD, with gusto and power as the crunching chords reverberated all round the walls of the Jazz Café. The tender blues of Love’s Gone Cold came next and nestled sweetly in the lap of our emotions, building and building before settling to an almost jazz-like pace. When this guy plays he puts lots of space between the notes; he never wastes a single one and always makes each one count for something. The less-is-more approach is where he’s at. However, when the need arises he can give the sound more muscle or dress it in velvet – and he often does it all in the same song! It’s not art for art’s sake, it’s a gift that only the best possess.
One of my favourite numbers got an airing next. Roxanne fizzed and crackled and sounded so fresh and vibrant in a live setting. Oli projected the vocal with real panache and the way the band weaved and flowed to the chorus was pure delight. Midway through the song Oli stepped back from the microphone with his guitar draped by his side and proceeded to sing to the crowd in true unplugged fashion. It showed the immense power he can unleash with that voice and sent a shivery tingle up the spine. After a wander upstairs where he serenaded the dining punters, he returned to the stage for a rousing stab at Ram Jam’s Black Betty. He was clearly enjoying himself and wanted to carry on playing, but the dreaded 11pm curfew kicked in and he left the stage to ringing applause.