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Mayall's Back With The Blues

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Mayall
John Mayall

Nearly three decades since John Mayall last played these shores, the elder statesman of British blues is back for a whirlwind nine-date tour. He tells MATTHEW BACKHOUSE of NZPA why the blues is as relevant as ever in these tough economic times.

Wellington, April 8 NZPA - John Mayall is a man seemingly possessed by the blues.

In a career spanning five decades, he's played with a veritable who's-who of British bluesmen and recorded almost 60 albums. Now aged 76, the multi-instrumentalist and band-leader says he'll keep on playing until he no longer can.

"It's the only thing I know," he says. "It's very invigorating -- it's a constant source of energy."

That energy has been evident throughout his career with the Bluesbreakers, the pioneering band he founded in the early 1960s. In the halcyon days of British blues, the group was a proving ground for up-and-coming rockers, first revealing the talents of the Rolling Stones' Mick Taylor, Cream's Jack Bruce, and several future members of Fleetwood Mac. The band's classic 1967 album with Eric Clapton introduced a new audience to the blues and staked Mayall's claim as a true icon of the genre.

When Mayall disbanded the Bluesbreakers two years ago, speculation of his imminent retirement was rife. But with a new album under his belt and an extensive tour ahead, he says the split was simply a chance to branch out with other musicians.

"The Bluesbreakers, we were together for so many years that I just felt it had kind of run it's course and I needed a break, so I took a leave of absence," he says.

"Then the record company came to me asking for a new album, and that got the ball rolling again. I put together a new band under my name, and here we are."

Mayall recorded his latest album, Tough, with a new five-piece group last year. The album's mix of moody ballads and guitar-driven blues-rock is not quite a reinvention of his trademark sound, but Mayall says it's certainly a reinvigoration.

"It's a whole new lease of energy. The band is very different from the Bluesbreakers."

One of the standout tracks, Tough Times Ahead, is Mayall's response to the human tragedy of the global economic crisis. The song's lyrics about bank closures, job losses and foreclosures may hit too close to home for some, but Mayall says that's exactly what the blues is supposed to do.

"It's the kind of music that enables you to speak your mind about any subject that you want to talk about. It's a very personal contact with what's going on with your life and what's going on around you," he says.

"There has to be a story behind everything, it has to be embedded in some truth."

Mayall says he's keen to play in New Zealand again after receiving "very receptive audiences" at his shows in the '70s and early '80s, most notably at the legendary Nambassa music festival in 1981.

"The most shows we ever did in New Zealand were probably four, and at the very most, five. So this is really, really a good chance to cover the country," he says.

Longtime fans can expect "a good feel for the whole history" of Mayall's body of work.

"I try and do a cross-section of all the albums, but there's so much to choose from, you can't possibly play everything in the course of one show. So if people trek around from one show to another, they're likely to see a completely different set."

After five decades in the business, Mayall says he can't imagine slowing down.

"The only thing that would ever interrupt it would be ill-health, and I'm showing no signs of that," he says.

"I'll just keep on going so long as I have the energy. That's the main thing -- to be able to really deliver, not rest on laurels."

Tour dates:

Auckland, April 15, Civic Theatre

Napier, April 16, Napier Municipal Theatre

Palmerston North, April 17, Regent on Broadway

New Plymouth, April 18, TSB Theatre

Wellington, April 19, St James Theatre

Dunedin, April 21, Regent Theatre

Nelson, April 22, Trafalgar Centre

Christchurch, April 23, James Hay Theatre

Hamilton, April 24, Founders Theatre

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