Words by Stuart Stott and Colin Campbell.
First band up was the Glasgow-based Blue Milk, consisting of four excellent musicians: Johnny McGiffen (lead singer and guitarist), Taylor Whyte (drums), Ike Malinki (bass), and Leo Glaister (harmonica). Together they take the blues genre to a contemporary level, mixing their own feel and giving a very authentic, raw, powerful, and energetic performance.
Having seen this band the previous Sunday at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival in the magnificent Spiegeltent I was hopeful of a repeat which I did get albeit the P.A. mix was a little bit muddy to my ears so Johnny’s fantastic guitar & vocals didn’t shine as brightly as It could’ve. Having asked around after the jig (I’m sorry, but it’s always been a jig to me after hearing Billy Connolly referring to it as such when I was a kid and it’s stuck with me) the consensus was that the mix wasn’t great.
Anyhoo, it was what it was and I still enjoyed the original songs these lads expertly delivered; Leo’s harp sound was sympathetic to Johnny’s vox but soared at all the right times when required. Johnny himself is a fine songwriter, and his clever lyrics tell a story as his fingers and slide do the business on the fretboard of his various guitars.
Taylor is a force of nature on the drums and being the only Glaswegian in the band he enjoys winding up his non-native bandmates. He is an amazing drummer to watch, never content to just sit there and drum; he’s on his feet a lot of the time making full use of the kit. He did mention to me on Sunday that one of his drum heroes is Keith Moon, not because of the antics the great man got up to but for his powerful drumming technique that Taylor is intent on keeping alive.
His partner in the rhythm section, Ike, is a lot more laid back and is content to keep the bass playing smooth and cool in between gulps of lager out his can of Tennents. (He might be a weegie after all!) Their 30-minute set flew in and was given a well-deserved, warm reception by the crowd who had come to see Kingfish but got a bonus of having such a great support band and will hopefully get along to any other Blue Milk jigs in the future.
If the warmup band was fabulous then the main act had a lot to live up to, but this is Kingfish. The quality, passion and pure adrenaline guitar playing is on a totally different blues-infused trajectory. Initially, the other three members of the band took the stage – Paul Rogers on bass guitar, DeShawn Alexander on keyboards, and Chris Black on drums. Then we heard the lead guitar chords booming out from behind the stage. Although only a young man of 23 years he strolled on stage like a veteran, with so much stage presence he just oozes confidence and personality when in front of the microphone.
It was time to let loose.
Billed as the 662: Juke Joint Live Tour, the band’s repertoire was from his latest Grammy Award winning album 662, being a reference to the area code in Clarksdale where he resides. They kicked off with “She Calls Me Kingfish,” delivering the song to perfection, each chord better than the last. And when the band gets into the moment, that’s when the magic happens.
“Fresh Out,” from his debut album was next and his vocal delivery here was wonderful, holding the audience with every lyric – the rhythm section totally in sync keeping it all together. “Another Life Gone By” was sung with great emotions and feel; he just has that feeling for the blues that you are quite mesmerized by this man which was also noticeable on Michael Burk’s “Empty Promises” where he did a guitar solo that filled the hall and it really felt like a spiritual experience.
“Too Young To Remember” brought funk into the mix and was quickly followed by “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” just beautiful melodies ringing out to the audience. The tempo so far had been palpable and upbeat, so the next three songs were played acoustically by Kingfish. “That’s What You Do” was full of love and emotion. The Juke joint music continued a pace with his homage to Clarksdale on “Something In The Dirt,” then his stunning rendition of “You’re Already Gone” had added soul. Kingfish has a beautiful and spine-chilling vocal delivery. When the band cranked up the tempo it just took a journey of its own, with the keyboard slowing the pace but with so many layers and such a tight band.
“Not Gonna Lie” had some funky blues tones throughout a well-crafted song. “Outside Of This Town” was driven by the bass guitar tones. It was now time for Kingfish to get off stage and do a walkabout among the crowd who all had their mobile phones out recording what was an incredible moment for them all. This was showmanship Delta style, make no mistake – pure genius. He is the real deal full-package entertainer.
This segued into the title track “662” when he returned to the stage, his home environment. On a different level of musicianship, his facial mannerisms when playing guitar are extremely expressive, mimicking what he can do guitar and vox.
The band left the stage to a rapturous ovation but the ‘wan mair choon’ brigade made sure he returned for an encore. He gave us “Long Distance Woman,” which was full of quirks and tones, energetic keyboard playing, and guitar riffs aplenty.
The final song was his own interpretation of Jimi’s “Hey Joe,” which had a late-night jam feel to it – blending reggae tones at times with his sublime guitar playing pleasing an enraptured audience.
Kingfish left the stage saluting the audience and leaving his guitar reverberating on the stage floor: a fitting tribute to a fascinating night of music. The band was first-class, but it was Kingfish who stole the show with a stellar performance. This man is keeping the blues alive, no doubt about it. An absolute ambassador and excellence personified. Thank you, Kingfish.