John Mayall is just weeks away from his 82nd birthday but shows no signs of letting up at this, the last night of three at Ronnie Scott’s. Relaxed and at home in the intimate setting, he stands centre stage behind a Roland RD-700GX keyboard, a flamboyant presence with his white hair brushed back and a red and black patterned shirt accessorised with eye-catching jewellery.
He launches into The Bear from Blues From Laurel Canyon, his tribute to Canned Heat’s Bob ‘The Bear’ Hite, and the laid-back blues is executed like it’s 1969 again, Mayall at one point blowing a blues harp held in his left hand while playing keyboard with his right. His band – Texan guitarist Rocky Athas and Chicagoans Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums – have been with him since 2009, and it shows. There’s a telepathy at work: eyes shut, lost in the music, Athas’ rockin’ guitar rhythms become one with Mayall’s harp wailing on a cover of Eddie Taylor’s R&B shuffle, Big Town Playboy.
The crowd greet Mayall’s Hammond solo with roof-raising cheers
Mayall straps on a semi acoustic Gibson ES-125 to trade licks with Athas’ Les Paul on Dirty Water from 2002’s Stories, then announces “a change of pace” before launching into a cover of Charles Brown’s slow Drifting Blues from Mayall’s latest album Find A Way To Care, which features Davenport switching to brushes.
When Mayall returns to guitar for a blues rockin’ Nature’s Disappearing from 1970 album USA Union, then switches to Hammond XK-3C for Sonny Landreth’s New Orleans-styled Congo Square, it’s a bring-the-house-down moment, with the audience greeting Mayall’s Hammond solo with roof-raising cheers. Athas plays searing guitar and Mayall is back on Roland keyboard for pianist Walter Davis’ excellent slow blues Tears Came Rolling Down, before Mayall announces “our final piece” to audience shouts of “No!”
“It is quite long,” he adds defensively, before starting up on harmonica for Mail Order Mystics. It’s an opportunity for the band to stretch out and jam, with a grandstanding Rzab picking up a wine glass from a front-row table and using it to play slide bass, before giving us a thundering slap bass solo. When the music stops, Mayall raises his fists in the air, gives a thumbs up, bows and is gone, safe in the knowledge that his job is done. Over 50 years into his career, Mayall still educates, inspires and entertains.