I arrived in London this morning (18 June 2012) without my luggage, which apparently has decided to travel without me for a while. The first thing I did was go out and buy a few clothes. Then I checked the schedule for Aint’ Nothin’ But the Blues, a London club in the Soho district that runs a blues schedule seven nights a week. To my delight, I discovered that it was jam night at the clUb, so I grabbed my harps (which my wife had insisted I put in my carry-on luggage, phew!) and went to check it out.
What a harp player’s dream this jam turned out to be. First, I was the only harp player in the place, so no worries about air time. Second, the guy running the jam, UK bluesman Niall Kelly, made a point of keeping the guitars at a reasonable volume–so even though I was playing through the PA (because my Digitech RP355 is in my luggage, wherever that is, not with me), I didn’t have to worry about being squashed by a wall of guitar noise. The players helped by calling tunes in C and A while I was onstage–I didn’t ask them to, but I’m glad they did, because when you’re playing through the PA you can cut through the band much more easily with an F or D harp than you can with a G or A. Finally, the place was crowded, and not just with people in their 50s and 60s, which is increasingly the case in US blues clubs–this audience was loaded with people in their 20s, with a smattering of 30-, 40-, 50-, and 60-somethings.
And those kids were digging it! It was like being back in the 1960s, with a packed club and a band playing loud, but not killer loud, through small amps onstage. (The jam I had in Madrid with a local blues band a couple of years ago had very much the same vib to it. I guess the Europeans haven’t figured out yet that they’re supposed to turn everything up until it’s louder than the Big Bang. I dunno if anyone actually heard the Big Bang, so maybe it wasn’t really loud, just big. But you know what I mean.)
The club is in London, but the players were from all over. I met and heard Philly Joe Colombatto from New Orleans, lead singer and songwriter for a NOLA-based band called Louisiana Love Act, and guitarists Alex McBain (Mexico), Luis Avila (Brazil), and Davide Mazzutini (Italy), all of whom were a pleasure to play with. The musicians were young but mature in both their playing and listening. I regret that I didn’t get the names of the bass player and drummer, both of whom are Japanese (notwithstanding that Kelly introduced them as being from Dublin and Belfast, respectively). The bass player in particular was very solid–he understood that blues bass is more about the thump of the initial attack than about big sustained notes, and he moved the grooves right along all night.
There’s another jam with many of the same players tomorrow night, and I may hit that one too. In the meantime, if anyone sees my luggage, please tell it that I hope it’s having a good time and it can come back to me anytime it likes, the sooner the better. If you happen to visit London, first, make sure to carry your luggage on the plane with you, and second, check this club out. This was one of the best and most harp-friendly blues jams I’ve attended in a long time.