Blues harmonica expert Johnny Mars – a singer songwriter with an impressive history of playing with, for example, Earl Hooker, BB King, Jesse Fuller, Spencer Davis – presented a stunning set with backing band led by local guitarist Julian Piper. For a musician like Mars who has played some big and memorable gigs it is always warming to see how such a professional will bring the same energy and commitment to a small town hall in Devon, working the gathering with his enthusiasm, demands for crowd involvement [which he got] and that dynamic harp playing, as well as excellent vocal. I can’t imagine the band had much time to rehearse the set, but it was a tight performance throughout, the empathy for the blues shared by all and translating to that felicitous playing - and it was endearing to see Mars so generous in praising the band, especially Piper’s solos. I was buzzed-out by every song, and closing on Crossroads was a blues-delight.
Stan Webb from the legendary English blues band Chicken Shack is a 69 year old maverick who played with his band a meandering set: at times disjointed, at times incendiary. Often working just this good existential side of chaos, it was mesmerising to watch and hear. I couldn’t understand the opening song until the end, discovering at the last moment it was The Thrill is Gone, but second Reconsider Baby was immediately blues-perfect. Always a fan of Stan’s singing, it was a surprise to hear how this hasn’t waned at all in its distinctive higher tone – not always liked by some – and Stan crooned it wonderfully throughout, holding long sustained notes and bolstered by an echo effect. At one brilliant point – when the band played the glorious I’d Rather Go Blind – Stan walked amongst the crowd serenading all. I have to say there were times where I felt he was hearing in his head something quite different to what he was playing for us, but that just added to the musical existentialism. Political correctness is clearly anathema to Stan, as is any concern for other gig proprieties – he is his own man, insistently. Much of the guitar playing was full volume wah-wah excellence and there were moments of sublime slide. What else could you want from the great idiosyncratic man - and that is precisely what we got.