Keeping faith with the blues

John Mayall
John Mayall

For once, the description of legend is not an exaggeration.

This is the man who took Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor under his wing in the Sixties as his Bluesbreakers led the British blues boom.

And he kept going.

Later compatriots included Walter Trout, Coco Montoya and Buddy Whittington.

At the age of 80, and after 60 albums, John Mayall continues to keep the flame burning as the unrivalled Godfather of British Blues.

How better to celebrate the milestone than with a year-long world tour with dates in North America and Europe and UK dates that include Sheffield City Hall next Tuesday.

His band also comprises Texan guitarist Rocky Athas, bassist Greg Rzab and drummer Jay Davenport.

Given the musicians he has performed with, Mayall’s praise of the latest line-up is fulsome.

“As far as I am concerned, it’s the most exciting band I have worked with,” he says. “It’s very creative, and it’s different every night. We get along great. We have been together five years and it really shows.”

After all this time, the enthusiasm has not dimmed.

“It comes from who you work with. Everybody is so talented and creative, and there’s a lot of improvisation every night, which keeps everything fresh. It’s all about the musicianship.

“It’s up to me to make sure we don’t get stagnant, playing the same thing. It’s important to have that creative urge and to reflect that in the music. It’s connecting with the audience that counts.”

The tour highlights A Special Life, the first new studio album in five years.

Mayall may be the esteemed bandleader, but he points out: “The album showcases everybody.”

It was Buddy Whittington who introduced Mayall to Athas. When Rzab arrived, he recommended Davenport, who is also from Chicago.

The names go into the who’s who of blues and rock that can be traced back to those early days, after Mayall, who had learned piano, guitar and harmonica, gave up a graphic design job and moved to London, putting musicians together under the banner of The Bluesbreakers.

John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce and John Almond all played and recorded with him at some time in the 60s

The tour of Europe alone has been over 60 shows, with only three days off, not that Mayall is complaining.

How does he keep going at, let’s be honest, such an advanced age? “You have to look after yourself and get as much sleep as you can.”

For the blues veteran, the Sheffield date is a return to fairly familiar territory. “Sheffield was a regular stamping ground in the old days,” he recalls.

He will supported at the City Hall by King King, the Glasgow four-piece led by guitarist and singer Alan Nimmo who have twice won Best Blues Band Award. They have become firm favourites at The Greystones, and fully deserve their chance on the big stage.