The commercial viability of bumper box sets can be puzzling. Anyone contemplating shelling out a tidy sum for one is almost certainly going to be a big fan of the artist and therefore already have much, even all, of the music; anyone who isn’t already a fan is highly unlikely to throw often hundreds of pounds at a musical blind date.
In which case the big question from the former about this 35-disc collection from the Godfather Of British Blues is: “What’s in it?” Because they’ll already know how hugely influential John Mayall’s benchmark Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton was on a whole generation, with ‘God’ on fire. Or how his next (another ‘every home should have one’) album A Hard Road gave "Beano" a run for its money, with ‘unknown’ guitarist Peter Green flooring listeners – and every budding blues guitarist – with his exquisite touch and melodic flair.
They’ll nod and say: “Yeah, I know,” when you mention killer golden-era Mayall albums such as Crusade (with yet another head-turning guitarist, Mick Taylor), The Turning Point, Bare Wires and Blues From Laurel Canyon; or the excellent but strangely unsung brassy double Ten Years Gone that sounds 30 years younger than its 1974 vintage, or the intriguing and also unsung Jazz Blues Fusion (live), with percussionist Ron Selico in the driving seat and injecting some bits of funk when the purists aren’t looking, superbly recorded for the period.
Even non-fans must marvel at the list of top-drawer musicians that have passed through Mayall’s bands/blues finishing school over the decades, in which he was often the catalyst rather than the star.
As for the aforementioned big question, the answer is: all of the albums just mentioned, plus the rest of the treasure trove Mayall recorded between ’65 and ’74 (all remastered).
These include compilations, a bucketful of previously unreleased material including seven gigs from ’67-70 (among them Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival ’67 and a feisty Berlin ’69) dotted with some particularly thrilling performances, as are 28 BBC tracks from that Clapton/Green/Taylor purple patch, plus with-extras, mono and stereo versions and remixes.
Mayall continued after ’74, of course, but most fans would agree that of his huge catalogue, the stuff here is the gold. While listening to that gem-studded armful of British blues you can read the box set’s two books, and decide which wall to put the two posters on. It’s a limited edition, so if it flicks your switch move fast and order (£275) from Burning Shed.