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A Fine Live Album,
This review is from: Plays John Mayall (Audio CD)
I had the pleasure this year of witnessing John Mayall live in action for the very first time, still trying for a Cellar Tapes' interview with the man mind but you cannot have everything. Despite his years, his voice and execution is still as sharp as ever, certainly still deserving of his reputation as the King and Head of State of the British Blues, but where did it all begin?
It all started for John Mayall not far from the Cellar of Pure 107.8 FM actually, in the town of Macclesfield in Cheshire. Infused by his father with a passion for Jazz and the Blues, Mayall after serving three years of the Korean War hit the ground running, first joining Manchester Art College and then setting the local scene alight with his thirst for all things Bluesy. Even in these early days, Mayall found it difficult to hold down a steady band line-up, rotating his choice of company at will. In 1963 however, Mayall made the decision to leave Manchester and head for that Laanden, at the same time creating a new outfit called The Bluesbreakers.
It didn't take long really for Mayall and his new group (line-up subject to change obviously) to make waves in London, especially at venues like The Marquee. After a brief false start, The Bluesbreakers led by John Mayall settled on a line-up to at least release a debut album. This first line-up was John McVie, a bassist who would later put the Mac in Fleetwood Mac, Roger Dean on guitar and Hughie Flint on drums. This line-up in December 64' went to a pub in West Hampstead, London, called The Railway Hotel for the Klooks Kleek club night to play a very special gig, it happened to be a recording session for The Bluesbreakers debut album as well.
Released in February 1965 on Decca, John Mayall Plays John Mayall was the debut album for a man who would become the figurehead for the British Blues scene of the 1960's and beyond, as well as being one of the best live albums of the decade. The first thing to mention about this album is the marvellous way it was recorded; The Railway Pub just so happens to be right next door to the Decca Studios. Miking the band up, feeding the wires out of the pub window, through another window and into a desk in the Decca offices sounds more like a story from the Punk era, but that is precisely how this album was recorded.
The next significant thing to mention is the unexpected number of originally penned material on offer, especially for a debut release. It's also the type of material on this record which is a bit surprising, Mayall is obviously a blues connoisseur, but on this record he is the ring leader of the hard edged R&B circus with some tender moments, on a backdrop of a very passionate and appreciative audience, this album is a real cracker from start to finish.
This marvellous live debut has some great numbers on it, beginning with an enthralling live version of Crawling up a Hill and finishing wonderfully with Chicago Line. Also for a bit more interest, The Bluesbreakers are joined on stage a few times during the set by saxophonist Nigel Stanger, for me his finest moment is on R&B Time, vibrant stuff.
As with many albums in the Cellar, this album has been reissued over the years, and now includes some extra stuff, including a couple of stunners most noticeably the singles from late 64'/early 65'; Crawling up a Hill and Crocodile Walk. Clearly John Mayall would release a few follow ups to this debut which would heavily overshadow it. But before Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Mick Taylor stepped into the Bluesbreaker revolving door, John Mayall recorded one of the finest live albums from the 1960's here and surely not a bad debut overall.