“Wooooohhh ma woman dun’ lef me and ma cat got fleas, I ain’t got nothin’ ‘cept for this infectious disease...”...yes, I’ve got the blues. Actually I haven’t (that infectious disease has cleared up a treat now too), but Davy Knowles, 23 year old guitarist and singer from the Isle of Man certainly has. A new name to me but he’s seemingly been wowing the blues guitar world for a while now, notching up appearances with The Who and Lynyrd Skynyrd amongst many others and recruiting none other than Mr Talk Box himself, Peter Frampton, to produce his latest album.
Musical genres may come and go but the blues has stubbornly refused to curl up and die since its birth way back at the start of the 20th Century. Originally the preserve of mainly African-American musicians it was, of course, adopted and adapted (with huge success) by the likes of John Mayall and Eric Clapton some 40 years later. Now here we are another four decades on and young Mr Knowles is keeping the flame alive in a world that arguably has as much to be blue about as it did back in the ‘20’s.
He’s certainly got the voice, a little gruffer onstage than it is on record perhaps. No doubt as he gets older, marries a no good ho’, hits the bottle and ends up smoking 60 a day and snorting coke off rabbits it’ll get even more bluesy. But it’s the guitar playing that really grabs you by the balls...that’s some talent there. I’ve sat and watched old clips of Clapton in his Cream prime, now I’ve seen Davy in his and it’s a close call. I daresay old blues fans will be sitting there casting a fatwa upon my name for merely suggesting such a thing (although a large portion of the audience tonight WERE old blues fans) but, to my ears, Davy’s playing has all the subtlety and inventiveness of Clappers himself.
Opening number tonight (with shades of Wild Wood era Paul Weller and perhaps a snatch of Dire Straits ‘Sultans of Swing’), ‘Tear Down the Walls’ started off well enough, a nice chugging riff and Davy’s ‘older than his years’ vocals. Then. Then...well...then we got nothing less than a spine tingling display of guitar playing that prompted my other half (who’s been to the odd thousand or so gigs over the last twenty years) to ask whether he was playing a ‘special’ guitar? Nope. The guitar’s normal, it’s the talent that’s special. I never saw Hendrix or Clapton live. Sure there’s loads of footage out there but you can’t capture the atmosphere, the crackle in the air that you get with a truly awesome live performance but, judging as best I can, and putting aside all emotion...hmmm...I reckon Davy’s THAT good.
Incredibly this was his first visit to Birmingham and his UK tours are all too rare (he’s based in the US at the moment) so he seemed pretty humbled by the turn out. The three blokes behind me seemed to be following him on all of his four dates...can’t say I blame them really. Although most of the songs followed the same pattern (verse, chorus, guitar solo...people swooning open mouthed...verse, chorus etc) I could’ve watched him forever. How he teased some of the sounds from that instrument I’ll never know, I’m sure he has 8 fingers on his left hand...that’s the only logical explanation...perhaps, in good ‘ol blues tradition, he’s sold his soul to the devil? Despite the talent here’s absolutely no ego there at all though. During a sublime solo in the middle of ‘Come Home’ someone’s mobile ‘phone went off (yes, I know, as Quentin Crisp so wisely observed, “other people are a mistake”), Davy gave a wry smile and carried on playing. At the end of the song he even made a joke of it, “Hey, I thought it was right in tune”. Bless him.
Other (more intentional) highlights included a fine cover of CSN & Y’s ‘Almost Cut My Hair’, new track ‘Catch the Moon’ and ‘Coming Up For Air’ (the title track of his new album). Predictably the near capacity crowd didn’t want to let him go and he came on for his planned encore ‘Messin’ then happily gave us another (not included on the set list). Afterwards Davy and the band pulled up a table and sold CDs as well as signing everything shoved in front of them. Tellingly a number of grizzled old blues fans were in the queue, clutching bits of paper, drum sticks and plectrums grabbed from the stage like holy relics, which is quite apt really. Back in the day there was a saying amongst serious music fans - ‘Clapton is god’. Maybe he was, but now there’s a new messiah in town. Hallelujah.
Tear Down the Walls
Coming Up For Air
Outside Woman Blues
Worried Down With The Blues
Catch The Moon
Almost Cut My Hair
...plus one other that he didn’t introduce...and I can’t guess what it was...’cos I’m a bit crap