It’s hard to describe John’s playing without stringing together an ever upwardly spiralling string of superlatives, so I’ll try and avoid it, but believe me it’s difficult. It was one of the best performances by a musician and band that I’ve ever seen in my life, and believe me I’ve seen a lot of cool dudes play. His solo set was enthralling. I looked around the crowd and could see the intense concentration and awe on people’s countenances as they watched this phenomenon unfold in front of them. There were blues tracks to make your soul weep and soar, amazing instrumental pieces that strung together rock, blues, Indian raga, African string picking, aboriginal drones, boom-box percussion and amazing chutzpah. It’s almost impossible to believe at times that one man can make such huge soundscapes on his own with a guitar and an empty box he bangs on. People said this of Hendrix, fellow musicians asking where the other guitar players were who were making this immense spectrum of noise. And it’s true of John as well, whether he plays with his band or just amplified acoustic strings.
At times his virtuosity beggars belief, but it isn’t show-offy or grandstanding, the skill working to further the song and the atmosphere, rather than just displaying high-level noodling for the sake of it. The songs move you, are fresh, original and entirely unclichéd, with multiple layers and a profundity that only comes from years of hard practice, living the life, playing with others and truly projecting the art in his soul into song. There is a pure energy and vitality provided by his percussive skill on the boom-box and its integration with and counterpointing of the string’s keening and emanation. We saw beautiful finger-picking skill, chaotic hammering of the frets to produce symphonious harmony, soulful lyrics, novel and innovative chord changes and above all pure unadulterated talent.
When joined by Justin Kool on bass and Toby Murray on drums, the venue bounced on a wave of devastating energy. Rock songs that demanded and received your attention dominated the set. But blues and ‘world music’ influences were there throughout and cacophonous, joyous verve ran through every song. The crowd lapped it up and it was great to see brilliant players having a good time and responding to the energy of The Trades knowledgeable and appreciative clients. No rockstar aloofness here, just a genuine sense of enjoyment and joy at being alive and being able to bring life to people’s lives through the medium of rock and blues. Several encores were demanded and received, and if anyone there that night did not thoroughly enjoy themselves, and fall in love with rock and blues all over again, then they should hang up their hi-fi’s and call it a day. The final treat was a rendition of ‘Voodoo Chile’ that Jimi would have loved, both in the way it was played and the way it was received. The spirit of Jimi is alive and well in the guise of a Lancashire lad from Wigan. If you are a rock enthusiast and you haven’t heard John’s music or seen him play, rectify this situation immediately, you’re in for a treat. Here endeth the lesson.