James Oliver is justly famed for being one of the hardest working artists on the circuit – but it takes incredible dedication to play a gig in Devon at lunchtime, and then drive all the way back to Brecon for tonight’s very welcome return to the Muse. And it was immediately apparent from his warm-up interview with BB Skone that James had lost none of his irrepressible energy and sparky wit.

‘Can blue men sing the whites?’ – BB Skone and James Oliver

Conversation ranged erratically and at times hilariously over a wide range of topics… from lost false teeth through to an unforgettable (however much you might want to) performance of 12-bar blues on the fart-gun and duck-whistle. But somewhere amid the hilarity, a theme emerged for the evening: can you really play the blues when you haven’t truly suffered? And when is a band really playing the blues, as opposed to more generic “rock” – where is the distinction?

Thankfully we didn’t have long to ponder such weighty matters: we were just about to find out the answers, as James took to the stage with his band: Patrick Farrel on bass and Ian Colfer on a wonderfully retro looking drum kit.

James Oliver

Immediately they blew away all such distinctions and dispelled any possible doubts about their own authenticity, with a punchy, tight vintage rock & roll sound that was steeped in the blues and propelled along energetically by Patrick and Ian.

Patrick Farrel

It’s very rare to get the Muse audience up on their feet and dancing right from the beginning of a gig (normally we have to wait until a pint or two have worked their inebriating magic) – but their music was irresistible from the start.

Ian Colfer

The most entrancing aspect of their sound was, of course, James’ virtuoso guitar “twang” – but this time there was another star of the show: his newly acquired 1954 Blackguard Telecaster. James proved to be an expert at coaxing the most wonderful vintage sounds from it, at times with fingers blazing up and down the fretboard, and then occasionally picking out and bending sublime harmonics.

Their eclectic selection of material didn’t disappoint, with a smattering of James’ own compositions – memorably his ode to the joys (or otherwise) of American cars – mixed in with plenty of classics from the greats: some BB King, a little Merle Travis Americana, a lovely pulsating rendition of Albatross, and some absolutely blistering versions of Chuck Berry’s Nadine, and Dr Feelgood’s Roxette.

All too soon it was over – but we were left to marvel where on earth James gets his energy and drive from. The band certainly established their ability to deliver an exciting mixture of the blues, rock & roll, and just about anything else they want to, with unquestionable authenticity, engaging charm, and bucket-loads of commitment.

Massive thanks as always to the Muse and to everyone who helped to put on this show.
And to everyone who attended: please come along again soon, and wear your best dancing shoes.

Photos by Barry Hill
Review by Jim Kerslake

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