John Mayall is almost eighty one. He was old when I was young, when I first discovered the British Blues scene. I can’t remember ever seeing him play back then though I accept that I may have done, given his links to the Manchester blues scene. I have mixed feelings about going to see musicians in late career for the sake of ticking them off a list. But I couldn’t say no to the opportunity to see him in Buxton, with a small group of friends that have shared connections to our teenage discovery of the Blues back in the sixties.

Of course, when someone has reached a ripe old age you can’t help wondering what they can do and can they recreate their past. In the same way that you can’t help but be impressed by the youthfulness of some talented musicians, you fall into the same trap with older performers. Age, old or young, becomes a distraction.

I need not have worried. There were some strange aspects though. I don’t think anyone in the audience was as old as John Mayall himself. His band weren’t the young turks I remember from the sixties, but half way through the concert I realised that they were considerably younger than him. In the same way that he encouraged and introduced younger musicians to a wider audience back in the day, he was repeating that particular piece of history here. It’s just that all of us had moved on a few decades. Even though he was close to where he had been born, Macclesfield, there were no old school mates there! There was, however, still a hint of the North West in his accent. He’s not the only musician from that area to have been seduced by California.

The stripped down stage set, the intimate atmosphere of Buxton Opera House and its great acoustics set the scene. The set list covered decades, bringing up memories and associations. ‘California’, ‘The Bear’ and ‘Walking on Sunset’ made me want to go there. His own back catalogue and Freddie King, Louis Jordan, Otis Rush and J.B. Lenoir covers reminded me of why I had found this music so inspiring and beguiling.

He has put together an amazing band for this tour. He’s a master at guitar, keyboard and harmonica, and his voice is as distinctive as ever. Jay Davenport on drums and Rocky Athas on guitar are world class. Greg Rzab is the most mesmerising bass player I have seen for many years.

Later I chatted to someone who had seen him in London in 1966. He commented that Mayall didn’t want to talk to him about it...And why should he? He’s performing in the present, not living in the past.

King King supported. Winners of the best band and best album British Blues Awards 2014, they set the scene with a fantastic performance and a standing ovation from the audience. One of my friends said they were worth the ticket price alone! It’s not often that happens and it made for a great night. I heard on the grapevine that they went and played an open mic night in a Buxton pub after the show. What a treat!

Blues at its best. A night to remember.

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Commenting On: Opera House, Buxton, 30/10/2014 - John Mayall

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