Review: Paul Jones at Dereham Memorial Hall
06:30 14 July 2014
Perhaps it’s the humble origin of blues music which makes the art form more down-to-earth than some of its contemporaries – even among its most celebrated performers.
And there was certainly no starry nonsense from Paul Jones as he strode onto the stage at Dereham Memorial Hall to launch the town’s 2014 blues festival.
The Manfred Mann frontman and BBC radio presenter mingled electrifying harmonica playing with easy banter and genial anecdotes in a laid-back performance which had as little pretence as it had preparation.
The audience was told this show was an unrehearsed collaboration with the tight-knit foursome of the Dave Thomas Blues Band. But aside from a couple of pre-song debates over musical keys and when the drums should kick in, the music they produced during this two-hour masterclass proved that world-class entertainment need not be rehearsed and replayed to every last crotchet and quaver.
This was a performance of sumptuous musicianship held together with nods and winks, where invitations were cordially accepted to take a solo, to build a crescendo, or to hush Thomas’ lush improvisations down to the faintest whisper of strings across frets.
And at its heart was Jones’ soaring harmonica, ranging from guttural driving rhythms to the sort of plaintive melodies which you could imagine ringing out across Deep South prison yards.
He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself in this intimate atmosphere, revelling in the spontaneity of the show.
There was a genuine appreciation for his fellow musicians – often standing with his eyes closed, mid-stage, swaying to the 12-bar rhythms with a blissful smile on his face as he supped up the stylings of his guitarists. At the end of one solo, just off-mic, he remarked: “That was lovely”. And everyone watching could tell he meant it.
Jones’ radio charisma was equally in evidence, with the second half of the show becoming as much about story-telling as anything else, chatting to the audience about half a century in the business, dropping names like Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Jack Bruce and Sonny Boy Williamson.
All of which proved that if the Dereham Blues Festival organisers wanted to elevate the event’s status onto an international stage, they certainly found the right chap to set the ball rolling.