The John O'Leary Band

The Torrington, London Sunday 18th July 2004

Review by Pete Feenstra

It’s doubtful whether any of the of the blues fans attending this gig could have anticipated just how good John O’Leary’s band was going to be. And they were better than good! The crowd appeared to be a mix of Torrington regulars, general blues fans, a gaggle of Savoy Brown fans and the rest it seemed, came courtesy of a radio plug.

So much for the marketing analysis and now for the music. With a classic twin guitar attack topped by one of the most impressive harp tones in the capital, The John O’Leary band powered their way through one of the most enjoyable blues sets the old venue has seen in years. For a man who has been on the European blues circuit for 35 years with Savoy Brown, Mainsqueeze, Champion Jack Dupree, The John Dummer band and who has fronted his own band for the last Dave for the last three years, harmonica player O’Leary is still a breath of fresh air on the live blues scene.

Together with one of the most exciting line-ups in London, this 5 piece blazed their way through an inspired set. And above all this was a band effort, with German drummer Joachim Greve and the redoubtable Nick Townsend on bass holding down the bottom end with panache while and John subtly coaxed the best from his two young guitarists Jules Fothergill and Tim O’Sullivan.

The band took the stage for an untitled funky instrumental, allowing each member just enough room to blow away the cobwebs, before O’Leary led the ensemble into an original reading of “Born In Chicago”, bolstered by a rhumba beat. In fact both sets were infused with as much Latino rhythms as shuffles. Isaac Scott’s “Let My Baby Ride” for example, offered a full blown rhumba beat with Jules Fothergill teasing out as splendid jazzy guitar run. John added a delicate harp solo to another funky Latino arrangement of his hero Junior Wells’ ”Snatch It Back”, and threw in an emotive vocal line and repeat harp excursion on the nicely understated “Who’s Been Talking” The second set gave full reign to the band’s virtuoso talents and even the most potentially predictable of songs such as “Black Cat Bone ”, became transformed into a funky workout complete with (don’t laugh) a climatic and humorous drum solo. By the time dived into a raucous encore of “Rock Me Baby” – complete with original Muddy Waters lyrics, and flailing guitars – the audience volume nearly matched that of the band.

In short The John O’Leary band came, saw and beat fresh life into a ragged old genre