The Godfather returns

When John Mayall formed The Bluesbreakers in 1963, he had no idea that because of the band members that would be in and out of the band, he would be forever labelled as ‘The Godfather of British Blues’.

John Mayall
John Mayall

And now he is undertaking a year-long world tour, with the UK leg, which started on October 16, ending on November 23.

Yes, I hear you say, many artists tour the world and play the UK. There’s nothing special in that.

But, the thing about John – who plays two dates in the North West over the next few weeks – is that he’s 80 years old and will be 81 in the week after the UK tour ends.

“Age doesn’t come into it.” He tells me from his home in California.

“I’m pretty healthy and as long as I’ve got the energy to perform, then I will.”

“As long as I can play my music, that’s the main thing.”

From an early age, John was attracted to blues music.

“I didn’t really have a choice,” he says.

“The Blues is all about expressing feelings and I never learned to read or write music, so I play what I feel.”

The Bluesbreakers provided a ‘leg-up’ to some of this country’s greatest guitar legends with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce (who went on to form Cream); Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green and John McVie (later Fleetwood Mac), Andy Fraser (Free) and Mick Taylor (Rolling Stones) all being part of the band at one time or another.

Plenty of prodigious talent there, but does anybody stand out?

John does not hesitate.

“Obviously, Eric Clapton is the first one that drew attention to our work. He was, and is, a great player and we shared a love of blues music.”

Although some great guitarists graced the band, it is not John’s main instrument.

“No,” he agrees. “The keyboard has always been my main instrument, but I tend to spread it about.”

“Each song suggests to me what instrument I play on it.”

John’s current band consists of himself, Texan guitarist Rocky Athas and two Chicago-born musicians in Greg Rzab (bass) and drummer Jay Davenport.

Together, they have recorded ‘A Special Life’, John’s first studio album in five years.

The album contains some new compositions by John, as well as some blues favourites.

“Everything I write is about real life,” John explains.

“I feel that I have had a special life – hence the title.”

The album’s tracks will feature in the show, which John promises will also be special.

“We really do a different show every night,” he says.

“There’s so much to choose from and they all have special meanings.”

“We’ll change maybe five songs from night to night.”

And it will cover the whole of his career.

“Of course, we’ll try and include songs from the earliest to the latest; it’ll be a good cross-section and,” he adds with a grin, “it’ll keep the band on it’s toes.”

John Mayall will be celebrating ‘a special life’ at The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, next Tuesday, October 28 (tickets from £30, box office 0161 907 9000)and at The Southport Theatre on November 12 (tickets from £30.50, box office 01704 500036).

Martin Hutchinson