Blues Matters Magazine 2003

Alexanders Jazz Theatre, Chester

John O’Leary does not venture in the North Western direction too often, so I was looking forward to this gig, Unlike the Kent Duchaine performance of a few weeks ago, I did not expect too many stories of ‘running the road’ but then John puts all his experiences into his music. I was keen to have a chat with John prior to the performance and hoped that he would have a play list because I was going to write this review. Unfortunately he told me that he was still playing around with the new band format and was not sure what he was going to play or when so tonight I would be wearing my flying goggles and leather helmet.

The first two numbers and my cryptic notes reveal (1) ”Born In Chicago”; 1944, up-tempo, walnut bass feel and (2) ‘Snatch It back & Hold It”.  Not bad so far but what’s this ‘walnut bass feel’?  Well, David Hadley, the Philadelphian bass player was playing a funky walnut ‘flat’ finish five string bass guitar that looked like one of the Ibanez SR Series, but was probably some spooky American machine. The Junior Wells number “Snatch It Back & Hold It” began to reveal the true extent of the band as I found myself attempting to listen to John’s vocals as well as Jules Fothergill’s guitar lines and simultaneously watch Dave’s blues-fusion bass guitar technique.  Next “Early In The Morning” and John had “One drink of wine and two drinks of gin….”, and I had half a pint of ‘Director’s’.  The slow, Morganfield, “She’s Nineteen Years Old” further extends the band, after vocalising the song’s narrative, John backs away to leave space for his two guitar men to improvise.  As the band reaches midway, drummer Joachim Greve hits double time and Dave proceeds to taunt Jules with “I can do something you can’t do, so learn from a brother” before launching into a funky slap bass solo drifting in and out of Stanley Clarke territory. Jules was not so easily intimidated, he had his own jazzy tinged blues environment that he inhabited with feeling and speed.  Having listened sympathetically listened to his comrades musical banter John unassumingly resumes his position front centre stage to lay down an edgy staccato solo quietly emphasising why it is his name on the band.

The band has recently undergone a few personnel changes with Jules replacing Lol Sanford and Malcolm Bruce replacing Dave ’Munch’ Moore on keyboards. Unfortunately on the night Malcolm had other commitments son the band was a keyboard free zone, which perhaps caused the band to lose some of its gospel touch which John had been infusing into some of his songs lately.

A misty rail-yard harp line leads into Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking”, which is an easy one to answer because it’s Dave whose infectious one line rapport before, after and during songs generated considerable friendly audience feedback. “No more Doggin’” highlighted Joachim Greve’s idiosyncratic drum solos containing unexpected pauses and scat time keeping on the drum framework and rear wall!

The second set opened with ‘Look On Yonder’s Wall’ and ’Let My baby Ride’ before Dave took over on vocals for an up-tempo version of the King’s ‘Thrill Is Gone’, sneaking in some lilting reggae bass lines during the middle sixty-four.  He then suggests that it was Jules’s turn to sing something. Having been comprehensively stitched up and sensing revenge, Jules announces that he is to play something that the band has not played before, putting them all on the spot. ‘Let I Shine’ starts and continues at a cracking shuffle pace prompting Dave to shout ‘I wand more money for this shit’.

A slow touchy feely slide guitar weaves its soulful way around the introduction to ‘I’ve Been Drinking Again’ in which John tells us that he’s “been looking at my future from the bottom of a whiskey glass”. The bass line and chordal offbeats tug at the cymbals with just enough tension to stop the tempo from drifting ahead of the song.  Dave explores his modality paying passing homage to Jaco Pastorious while Jules add some neat open-ended McLaughlinesque chord shapes.  Still in drinking mode and a swing feel version of ‘Champagne’ and finally a storming version of ‘Black Cat Bone’ for an encore.

John really has put together a potent band with this latest line-up, his harp anchoring the ensemble with the classy Chicago feel at which he excels while Dave Hadley’s bass adds a funky feel and the possibility of taking the band into fusion type directions……………..Nigel Rose