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MARK TAYLOR'S BIG CITY NIGHTS
London, Hammersmith Apollo
22nd October 2011
Pics: Jerry Tremaine
It's hard to believe it was only a few years back that blues maestro Joe Bonamassa was playing the tiny Borderline here in the capital. A night when I foolishly walked past the venue because my date for the night had never heard of him, so we opted to go for a few drinks next door in the Crobar instead.
It's unlikely that we will ever get to see Bonamassa play a headline show in a small club again. He has enmassed a growing, dedicated following after a string of solo albums, also winning over some rock fans who would not normally get involved in the blues scene after seeing him in the supergroup Black Country Communion. All of this means that Bonamassa can now headline two nights at the prestigious Hammersmith Apollo... (Oh! All right then, the 'Hammy O'.
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Tonight, the man in shades has surrounded himself with another supergroup. Tal Bergman, who in the past has worked with Billy Idol and Rod Stewart, is a powerhouse of a drummer who, at times, makes the floorboards of Hammersmith shudder with his endless thumping. Carmine Rojas provides some solid chunky bass, and it's no surprise that David Bowie used him in the 'Let's Dance'/'Blue Jean' period, and countless other major stars require his services.
Little is known about keyboardist Rick Melick, who does a fine job and, from where I'm sitting upstairs in the circle, looks like Captain Sensible with his brightly-coloured shirt and what looks like a beret on his head (though I later discover my eyesight's somewhat lacking, as it's actually a bowler hat).
Joe Bonamassa coolly walks onstage at the beginning of the gig and stands on a red patterned rug holding aloft a tattered '61 Strat guitar. There's something very special about this one, as it was the very guitar used all the time by departed Irish blues legend Rory Gallagher. With this, Bonamassa launches into a rocking 'Cradle Rock', and then continues to play Rory's Strat for the first three numbers of the night.
Seeing Bonamassa with that work of history in his talented arms makes me realise how fortunate I am to have seen Rory Gallagher live at the East Anglian Rock & Blues Festival way back in 1989, bizarrely held at Mildenhall Speedway Track, and this brought back many fond memories for me.
We recently lost another rocking blues great in Gary Moore, and Bonamassa excels himself with some flying work on Moore's 'Midnight Blues', which has an intro which reminds me of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. Bonamassa is making full use of the stage and happily shows off his skills to those down the front by standing at the front of the stage when doing some serious axe work. His voice is improving all the time too and, like Gary Moore, will in time sing with a whole lot more emotion.
'Slow Train', 'Sloe Gin' and 'John Henry' are the highlights of the night. One Black Country Communion number is included, namely 'Song Of Yesterday', which includes a riveting extended solo. Bonamassa takes his time to invite a few friends up onstage. Joining him for 'Gimme One Reason' and 'Blues Deluxe' are former Whitesnake blues slinger Bernie Marsden and a young seventeen-year old lassie from Scotland called Eilidh McKellar who, according to Bonamassa, has been informed that she's better than him. McKellar is cool as a cucumber onstage and, no doubt, we will we be hearing a whole lot more about her in the future.
After swapping his many Gibsons for an acoustic on 'Woke Up Dreaming' it's soon encore time with another added guest, Sandi Thom, as they perform a pleasing cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Bird On A Wire'. This is followed by the sign of the Flying V on ZZ Top's 'Just Got Paid', with some dazzling and confusing sounds on the theremin with a snatch of Led Zep.
Bonamassa is a new god for a new generation.
When The Fire Hits The Sea
You Better Watch Yourself
Lonesome Road Blues
Steal Your Heart Away
Gimme One Reason
Young Man Blues
Woke Up Dreaming