JOHN MAYALL Live At The BBC (BBC/Decca/Universal)
Collating the BBCs entire surviving Mayall archives for the first time, this slim release features 12 tracks recorded for Saturday Club between 1965 and 1967, and two from a 1975 Old Grey Whistle Test. Calamitously, exact details of the musicians employed on these sessions no longer exist: considering that the roll call at Mayalls blues boom finishing school during this period included Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Aynsley Dunbar, Peter Green and John McVie that constitutes a fairly significant omission.
To these less-than-blues-soaked ears the tantalising suggestions of legends at play are more interesting than the music. The earliest recordings sound like little more than a harder-edged version of what The Yardbirds had already accomplished (Crawling Up A Hill, the leather-lunged harmonica workout Bye Bye Bird), or are diminished by chintzy novelty (Crocodile Walk). The flailing voodoo of Im Your Witch Doctor is somewhat undercut by the casual misogyny of Cheating Woman, a close cousin to the Blind Joe Reynolds song Outside Woman Blues that Cream performed on Disraeli Gears. The January 1967 session arguably represents the optimum blend of ability and content here, running the gamut from the acoustic No More Tears through the full band Riding On The L & N to the countrified Sitting In The Rain. Even here, though, Mayalls music is still pretty charmless. The albums low point is undoubtedly the risible So Much To Do, effectively a musical diary of a band of roadhogs in and out of Holiday Inns, the arrangement ramshackle and overcrowded like something by Delaney and Bonnie or Leon Russell.
JOHN MAYALL WITH ERIC CLAPTON Blues Breakers (Vinyl Lovers)
Much as I admire Clapton’s work with The Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith, I’ve never really appreciated the fruits of his brief association with blues boom godfather John Mayall. “Blues Breakers” always seemed a bitter pill to swallow, a textbook example of an album that should have done me some good but somehow never did. It sounded too much like amped up pop music, something that might be acceptable from, say, “Five Live Yardbirds” but not from a record with this towering, deity-making reputation.
Perhaps that’s the reason that the instrumentals here work best for me, such as the rip-snorting assault on “Hideaway” or later Cream concert staple “Steppin’ Out”. The handclaps ‘n’ harmonica stomp through “Another Man” is sparse enough to satisfy, and “What’d I Say” – basically a vehicle for Hughie Flint’s interminable drum solo – is fun, with Clapton sneaking in the riff from The Beatles’ still dewy fresh “Day Tripper”, an idea Roxy Music would pilfer half-a-dozen year hence.
Unfortunately Vinyl Lovers haven’t treated “Blues Breakers” with the respect that even I’d grudgingly acknowledge it deserves. Whilst the sonics might be more conducive to long term listening than their Joe Jackson reissue, the sound still elbows its way out of the speakers in an uncouth manner that suggests a source other than the original master tape. Also, there’s the mixed blessing of four live tracks slung onto the end of the album; whilst they provide a degree of rough-edged insight into the band’s club sound, albeit hampered by foggy sound quality and fade-ins that dump the listener mid-performance, it’s not a brilliant idea on a format where sound quality and playing time generally have an inverse relationship. Even less forgivably, the running order of what used to be side two has been jumbled for no apparent reason. In sum, the Vinyl Lovers edition of “Blues Breakers” is not a recommendable release.