Tom Michell at the Jazz and Blues Festival – “He’s Good Isn’t He?”

tom-michellMidway through Tom Michell’s second set, as I was sitting at the bar listening and watching Tom play, the chap on my right turned to me and said, “He’s good isn’t he?” – and, indeed he was. Excellent in fact.

For the second year in a row, Tom played the Bull on Bell Street as part of the Brakspear Jazz and Blues Festival and last night a reasonably sparse but very appreciative crowd watched Tom perform two sets of his acoustic blues. Erroneously billed this year as playing with his Trio, Tom was in fact appearing solo this time – not that it mattered (and no offence to his band, they were very good last year).

Opening with Stray Cat Strut, Tom followed it with some truly superb guitar picking on his version of Hey Joe, the song most famously associated with Jimi Hendrix. Among other highlights of the first set was a real bluesy version of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus, and when Tom strips this back from the electronic-based original it reveals a really strong song that proves itself to be well suited to his version of the tune.

And anyone brave enough to attempt to cover Hawkins & Darnell’s The Thrill Is Gone using BB King’s interpretation of the song, when King turned it into a slow twelve-bar blues (and in the process giving BB the biggest hit of his career), is either mad or supremely confident in their musicianship, and young Mr Michell pulled it off with aplomb.

After a short break the second set was as good as the first, with a variety of great, foot-stomping blues tunes including Ray Charles’ I Got A Woman and Cream’s Crossroads. There was some fantastic slide guitar playing along the way and a well-deserved encore of Ed Cobb’s Tainted Love, turned in a lively blues with Tom’s fabulous guitar playing and passionate vocals, taking the song miles away from Soft Cell’s 1981 synthpop version. As Ziggy Stardust once said, “…but boy could he play guitar” – yes he certainly can, excellently, and he can sing fantastically as well.

A year ago your reviewer drove out of New Orleans in the USA and headed up Highway 61, the Blues Highway, on a road trip, passing through the birthplace of the blues – the Mississippi Delta – and on to Memphis and St Louis, then all the way up to Chicago (New Orleans to Chicago – Travelling the Blues Highway, Along the way he saw and heard old-school Delta bluesmen, traditional R’n’B bands, and more – and he says Tom Michell could hold his own against most of them. Tom Michell’s talent deserves a much wider audience. If you get the chance, go and see him play and he’ll remind you of what the Blues is all about.


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