Next year will mark 50 years since the Alban Arena opened its doors. Over the years many musicians have graced its proscenium stage, from Dire Straits to Jethro Tull; but the first performer was none other than the Godfather of British Blues – John Mayall. His sold-out return to the Hertfordshire venue is, therefore, something of a cause for celebration. Now 83, Mayall has released a new album, Talk About That and has taken his band on the road for 36 dates across the UK.
Pretty much any musician worthy of the name has played with Mayall over the years from the Bluesbreakers and beyond. His ability to draw in first-class musicians as band members familiar with not only blues music, but rock, jazz and funk is second to none. It's little surprise therefore, that he is accompanied on his tour by a stellar percussion section in the form of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums). In classic Bluesbreakers fashion, Mayall encourages his band to improvise at times, allowing a mixture of styles many of which were reminiscent of his own fusions over the years. Mayall changes his setlist from show to show, but as you'd expect there's a cross-section of music here such as the sassy Do I Please You from 1977's A Hard Core Package to newer material like Mother-in-Law Blues and Talk About That. The band cover some classic blues staples like Jimmy Rogers That's Alright and Sonny Boy Williamson's Checkin' Up On My Baby with just the sort of fluidity and ease you'd expect.
The opening act, Buddy Whittington was a Bluesbreaker from 1993-2003 energising the band with a clean sound and soulful playing. With nods to Pete Green's Fleetwood Mac along with his own material, Whittington is everything that we Brits have grown to love about sweet Southern blues music; and even adding a flavour of the old Chicago blues that Mayall took his influences from, bringing the music full circle. Whittington also joined Mayall and the band on stage for a few numbers later on in the set, including an astonishing performance of California from the 1969 album The Turning Point.
Mayall's commitment to blues music has helped define the genre for half a century and his initial zeal to experiment with guitar sounds and style paved the way for other musicians (and some ex-band members) to develop blues-rock and progressive styles. The influence of John Mayall is as far reaching as it ever was and the Godfather of British blues certainly shows no signs of deflating his dedication and passion anytime soon.