Probably the most authentic and best-known blues band in Scotland, the festival organizers clearly knew how to end their 10-day extravaganza on the highest note possible with the Jensen Interceptors. Blast off was assured with Slim Harpo’s “Dynamite,” lead singer and harmonica player Gary Martin sounding like the original blues master himself.
Edinburgh guitar legend John Bruce and keyboard wizard Richard O’Donnell also took individual solos, a pattern repeated successfully during the set. The rhythm section comprising bassist Rod Kennard and drummer Jim Walker would remain solid throughout, providing the perfect platform for the three front men.
The distinctive riff of “Walking Blues” would be enough to gladden the hearts of the audience at the capital city’s Assembly Roxy and the thousands watching on line. Gary’s expressive, conversational vocal delivery and sensational harp blowing, Richard’s superb piano solo and John’s supreme slide work signaled the better times ahead after 14 months deprived of proper live blues. Gary was visibly upset as told the audience the sad news about the passing of former Jensen bassist Keith Johnston.
The emotion generated was channeled into “The Thrill Is Gone,” which became a tribute song — Richard’s gorgeous Hammond organ tones an appropriate backcloth to Gary’s impassioned harp and vocals. “T-Bone Shuffle” required no introduction as Martin launched into the opening lines, “Let Your Hair Down Baby / Let’s Have A Natural Ball.” After all, it was party time with O’Donnell showing why he is compared to Otis Spann, his nimble fingers gliding effortlessly over the piano keys. John Bruce played every note with his trademark precision, taste and intricacy, showing awareness of the spaces in between. Bruce has influenced the younger generation of blues guitarists across the city and beyond and fully deserves his impeccable status and reputation.
Martin announced that the band would now take it down and play some blues, the depth of the genre explored with a poignant “Lord Have Mercy” enhanced by Richard’s opening atmospheric keys. Gary’s powerful vocals and wailing harp complemented the piano in a call and response duet which was both hypnotic and moving with the desperate confession, “I’ve been a bad man, I didn’t want to be.”
The mood lightened with Bo Diddley’s “I Can Tell,” a rocking version with flowing Hammond organ giving the song a refreshing interpretation. It takes a very special harp player to cover Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bye Bye Bird” solo but Gary nailed it perfectly, a real showstopper. Gary hadn’t finished yet as he launched into “44 Blues” — his powerhouse vocals and dynamic harp attack making Howlin’ Wolf sound like a squealin’ cub. A quick fire instrumental and a slow blues number were followed by a boogie encore, Richard playing flamboyantly with high energy and a joy to watch.
Congratulations to the light and sound engineers for making the festival accessible and enjoyable both inside the venues and for those watching online. Hopefully, 2022 will see the return of real blues of the quality seen this year but with the interaction and camaraderie we have all missed for too long.
*Feature screenshot: Stuart Stott