Will Johns : Bluesdaddy Tour
9th June 2021
Live music went away. Then it came back again for a bit last autumn. Then it went away again. It’s hard to know where you stand sometimes. Especially when you’re compelled to sit at gigs. But though gigging feels a bit strange and new and that will have to be the norm for now, music is coming back.
Anyone who had been harbouring the blues could happily shake them loose at The Komedia on Wednesday night, courtesy of Will Johns.
There can’t be many professions that involve executing highly dextrous skills with your eyes closed. Imagine bomb disposal, surgery, sculpture or assembly of plat-pack furniture carried out with lids clasped shut and a rapturous expression on your face. Being a virtuosic blues guitarist must be right at the top of that very short, niche list. To watch someone so crazily at ease with the tool of his trade ought to make any onlooker smile with admiration, as well as reflecting on their own ham-fisted inability to multi-task.
Johns didn’t merely give us big, bleeding-heart, slow-hand riffs and the kinds of playful, twiddly solos we’ve all played so well on tennis racquets when nobody’s watching, but he pinned down accurate, rasping vocals at the same time. As with a lot of Blues music, he shared soloist duties with the keyboardist, Stevie Watts, with frequent compelling interplay between the two. Watts could pull out some equally impressive lines. They left you wondering quite how many fingers he actually had, and wondering quite whether the soul of Ray Manzarek was possibly somewhere near.
In the second half of the show, Johns brought on additional guest guitarist in Benji Bartlett, who had further fast fingers, a mischievous grin and the lowest-slung trouser crotch in the house. On the funk-fuelled When Was The Last Time, we were treated (and I do mean treated) to intoxicating solos from all three. The rhythm section of a blues band doesn’t get to mess about so much. Underneath the overt showmanship, though, the engine room of Chris Gale on drums and Richard Sadler, the statuesque bassist, was rock solid in the production of rock that was in equal parts solid and fluid.
Either side of the interval we heard Crossroads and Oh Well. As any driving instructor will tell you, slowing down towards a crossroads and checking your mirrors is good practice. This version of Crossroads was one of the fastest approaches that you’ll hear. In other hands, that could provide a car crash. Here it felt like a joyride. Oh Well had all the brash, defiant energy that its lyric, “But don’t ask me what I think of you/ I might not give the answer that you want me to,” suggests.
Blues Police felt like it had a little of John Belushi in it. We partied hard in our chairs. The encore of I Just Wanna Make Love To You, in contrast, was a slow simmer that built to a rousing climax. You can make your own punchline to that. Suffice to say it was a most satisfying way to end the show.
“Stay safe. Be good,” was Will’s wish for us at the end, quickly followed by a corrective shake of the head and “Don’t be good,” more appropriate for the man who sang, “I’m a bad, bad boy” on When You Gotta Good Friend with such a wry smile.
Live photos by Fran May (Fran’s website)