Album review: THE BLUES BAND – Live At Rockpalast

Repertoire [Release date 10.06.13]

The Blues Band ‘Live at Rockpalast’ is that rare thing, a live DVD that connects as much with the viewer at home as the band did with the audience on the night.

Too often a multi camera shoot manages to miss the spark by concentrating solely on the players and bypassing the essential relationship between audience and performer. This DVD & CD is the opposite, partly because of Paul Jones’s inherent ability to work a crowd, as much as the way the band makes the most of its resources.

Paul Jones and Dave Kelly swap lead vocals, while the Kelly and Tom McGuinness guitar interplay is the result of countless gigs and the fact that the ship is always being anchored by drummer Hughie Flint and the effervescent bass player Gary Fletcher.

Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction and The Blues Band probably had to pinch themselves back in April 1980 as the Brit blues veterans and a young bass player Gary Fletcher made a quantum jump from the pubs and clubs of the UK to the 10,000 strong Grugahalle in Essen.

The very fact that The Blues Band existed at all was partly due to the seismic shift in the UK live music scene, which had seen punk and new wave come to dominate. But there was pay off for real musicians in the shape of a back to basics live music approach that saw Manfred Mann veterans Tom McGuinness and Paul Jones team up with former Blues Breaker Hugh Flint and south London blues legend Dave Kelly. The missing piece in the jigsaw was the relatively unknown Gary Fletcher who provides the back beat and quite literally the bounce in a one person keep fit exercise class.

‘Live at Rockpalast’ finds the Blues Band at the top of their game with any rough edges perfectly in sync with the ‘suck it and see’ feel of the night. The band must have thought they had pitched up in heaven as a wildly animated crowd roars them on through the Dave Kelly slide-led ‘Talk To Me’, and remarkably sticks with them on the potential banana skin of the mournful ‘Death Letter’ blues.

In his introduction to ‘Can’t Hold On Much Longer’, Paul Jones announces: ‘This is the Blues Band and this is the blues’, and though his voice is partially exposed on the track, his harp playing is a conversation in itself. ‘Flat Foot Sam’ ups the tempo and includes a harp and drum breakdown that connects with the crowd, as Paul slips into the riff from ‘Stone Fox Chase’.

The band’s set list perfectly matches the moment as Kelly slips into the mid-tempo ‘Someday Baby’ climaxed by a loose guitar joust with Tom on the outro. The call and response of ‘Boom Boom, Out Go The Lights’,  Dave’s version of ‘Nadine’ and the 4 part vocals of the then topical ‘Maggie’s Farm’ adds fuel to the fire and it’s amazing to think that they were the opening act on a four band bill.

The quiet to loud dynamic of Roy Head’s ‘Treat Her Right’ provides the perfect finale before they return for a two encore finish with the jump blues of ‘Flip Flop & Fly’ – a very popular cover song on the London club circuit at the time – which finds Paul Jones leaping into the crowd to encourage a final sing-long.

The post gig interview is interesting if only to remind us that even back in 1980 there was talk of a blues revival. The Blues Band were also about to celebrate their first birthday and in that context ‘Live at Rockpalast’ is a potent reminder of a band who provided a catalytic spark to the blues scene and the live music scene in general. Recommended ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

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