There was a throng of Kenny Wayne Shepherd fans descending upon City Hall on a bright and warm spring evening in Salisbury, many had heard Kenny play before but few seemed to have even heard of Ben Poole – what a double treat they were being offered.
As the auditorium grew dark and the stage lights became brighter Ben Poole and his band struck the first note of electric guitar blues we were going to hear tonight, Let’s Go Upstairs is always a firm favourite and the band enjoyed playing and the audience were appreciative recognizing a band that had timing and the courage to play their own take of the blues. His band tonight was a collective of talent from the British Blues scene with Matt Beable on bass and drummer Craig Bacon making a rhythm section that would hold the beat while Ben could play the guitar and at times miss a note or even lag half a breath behind painting a musical tableau for Stevie Watts on Keys to paint over and embellish with a wide depth of tones.
The interplay between Stevie and Ben was intuitive and created a connection that flowed across the stage and into the audience; by the time Ben played his own tribute to a blues great, this is his own song which is inspired by and exudes the essence of Gary Moore’s guitar style. With a selection of tracks from his current album Live at The Albert Hall and other much-loved numbers, including Starting All Over Again, he definitely bonded with and warmed the crowd as the set progressed he was winning many new admirers of his style and skill. This connection was confirmed by the crowd around the merchandise stall after his set.
After an interval the excitement was palpable as we waited for Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band to come on the stage, the lights dimmed and the stage was dark and then the lights shone as KWS hit the first note. A real full-on blues with rock sound was immediately vibrating across the hall, with his opening number Never Look Back, there was no doubt that Kenny was the focus of attention with his stellar well-timed lead breaks and interventions of quality licks riffs and the hooks for Noah Hunt to shine vocally. Having Noah as lead vocalist since 1998 is definitely the key to the band’s success allowing Kenny to concentrate on creating that glorious sound from his Stratocasters that sing the blues to me. This is a guitarist who can use silence for that split second creating power and drama to the music; what control – it was a masterclass of perfection in the delivery of modern blues with a smooth rocky edge. The hall was soon rocking to a rousing rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s House is Rockin’; and there was a change in vocal tone as Noah picked up his own Strat and Kenny took over vocal duties with his distinctive voice that suited this number perfectly. Heart of The Blues was one of the many numbers that were a blues lover’s delight; and into the mix Kenny added some numbers from The Rides a trio with Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg; including a fantastic modern rendition of Elmore James Talk To Me Baby. The way the song was performed you could see what an inspiration this man of the blues had been on Kenny.
Tonight was a celebration of the Fender Stratocaster, whether one of his Signature series or a starburst vintage model, the dexterity, judgement of the tone and clarity was perfection creating lead breaks that reflected every track, they were all different and for me surpasses many on the circuit today including Joe Bonamassa. We were taken back to his first album with Deja Vue a journey back to 1995 we all enjoyed when this prodigious talent first came to our attention. The set was styled with class it was a random anthology of KWS his influences and the songs we love from his many albums. His BB King Medley was an inspiration as he seamlessly changed beat, key and style, pure genius.
This was not just about Kenny, his band gives the music a shape and tonal depth creating a tapestry that delights the ear, gets the feet tapping, how I wish this was not a seated gig you just wanted to get up and join in the fun being had on stage. The rhythm section of recently returned, Scott Nelson and Chris Layton augmented by stylish tambourine beats from Noah is the bedrock of the band and then that tonal depth that keys add from Riley Osbourn.
KWS and his band treated us to an object lesson on how to play the full spectrum of the blues; the timing was sensational, the licks stylish and the riffs full of interest. It was as if there was a telepathic sixth sense in operation. A broken string caused not a dropped note and new guitar was soon to hand sheer magic of live music in action! The encore was exciting and the oft-covered Hendrix number Voodoo Chile was given the KWS treatment that matched the master Jimi himself!
Catch him while touring the U.K. U.K. TOUR