Ipswich: We’ll carry on gigging until we’re found out says The Blues Band

When you form a band and it lasts a few years, you’re very happy. When you decide to get a few mates together to play a few shows and that lasts more than 30 years, well that’s something special.

That’s what’s happened with The Blues Band.

“Paul Jones brought it about,” says McGuinness.

“He rang me and said he’d got Sundays off and did I want to get a band together to play some blues and do a couple of gigs.

“I said yes, but I don’t want to be driving up and down motorways at all hours – and here I am 33 and a third years later, driving up and down motorways at all hours,” he laughs.

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Formed originally in 1979, the band consisted of ex-Manfred Mann vocalist Jones, Dave Kelly, who had formerly played with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker; both members of McGuinness Flint, guitarist McGuinness, also ex-Manfred Mann and drummer Hughie Flint plus bassist Gary Fletcher.

In the intervening years Fletcher and Flint have left and been replaced by Marcus Cliffe and Rob Townsend respectively.

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“Paul was so enthused as punk had brought music to a more enjoyable level, you could play in pubs with no frills and just play the music, so we made a few phone calls and we were ready to go.”

McGuinness and the band got quite a shock at their first gig.

“It was at a place called The Bridge House in the East End. We’d had a sound check then went to my place for a bite to eat before the show.”

What happened next will live long in the band’s memory.

“We drove back to the gig and couldn’t park anywhere near the pub. We all thought that there was a function on, but it turned out that they had all come out to see us.

“After that first gig the phone started ringing and six months later we had an album in the charts.”

That first album, The Official Blues Band Bootleg Album, reached number 40 and was followed soon after by Ready which got to number 36.

Albums like Bye-Bye Blues, Homage, Green Stuff and Thank You Brother Ray - a tribute to Ray Charles - followed, with the band moving away from covering blues standards and performing more original material.

Their latest album, Few Short Lines, was released last year.

McGuinness, a sprightly and humourous septuagenarian, explains why the genre is still so popular.

“The blues can be classed as all-purpose music. It’s very emotionally direct, has no frills and you can dance to it. It’s pretty much worldwide as there are blues bands everywhere.

“Also, it’s quite easy to play at the start and then you can build on it.”

Of the great blues artists, McGuinness picks out some legends.

“There have been geniuses like Muddy Waters and B B King, plus it’s led to the likes of Joe Bonamassa. To put it simply, it communicates emotion and a feeling.”

Plus, McGuinness has found time to be in another band.

“We formed The Manfreds in 1991 when I had a special birthday and we all got together for a party. Sadly, Manfred himself was touring and couldn’t make it, but he sent a nice message.”

“The old Manfred’s got together to play at my 50th birthday. Tom Robinson played bass and he really got into the part as he wore a black polo-neck shirt with horn-rimmed glasses.”

Since then, both bands have toured extensively and on one tour in 2001 The Blues Band acted as support to The Manfreds.

“Wow, yes, I remember that tour,” says McGuinness. “We had Benny Gallagher of Gallagher and Lyle with us.”

I thought there might be a problem keeping the two separate?

“No, not at all; it’s easy to keep them separate, although we occasionally get someone calling for Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, which of course we don’t play when we tour as The Blues Band.

“Although,” he recalls, “there was once a guy who was calling out for it and eventually said that if we played it, he would give �50 to charity so for that one occasion, we did – and he paid up.”

McGuinness is keen to point out that their version of the blues is quite accessible.

“There’s a bit of soul and rock and roll – we’re not purists.”

Despite all his years in the business - The Manfreds will be undertaking a 50th anniversary tour later in the year - Tom still enjoys playing live.

“It’s the best thing about being a musician. The buzz of performing with people you respect is terrific. I’ve played from back rooms to 60,000 seater football stadiums; the buzz may be different, but it’s still the buzz.”

The aforementioned album, Few Short Lines, has been well received.

“It was a long time coming. It was supposed to come out in 2009 but wasn’t finished until last year. In fact, of the four years it took to record, we only spent about three or four weeks in the studio as we were either touring or the various members of the band had other commitments.”

Despite that – it sounds pretty good.

“I don’t listen to it much as I’m always looking to the next one, but even though it was recorded a bit piecemeal it all sounds pretty organic to me. We have some nice guests on it like Linda Lewis, Southside Johnny and Maggie Bell.

“We haven’t had reviews on our albums for years, but we’ve been getting some very good ones for this one.

“In fact, we have two albums out, as there’s a best of just been released. They have come up with a very original title for it... The Best of The Blues Band.

“Does what it says on the tin,” he laughs.

When the band appears in Ipswich, McGuinness doesn’t exactly know what they’ll be playing.

“We try not to have a set-list. One of us will call a title out and we’ll do that. It keeps you on your toes.

“There’s a lot of album to pick from and we’ll probably be playing four or five tracks from the new one.”

Apart from The Manfred’s tour, I have to ask if they have any planes for the future?

“Yes,” McGuinness quips, “not to die too soon. Actually, we don’t plan very far ahead – We’ll just carry on gigging until we’re found out.”

The Blues Band are the Ipswich Regent on Saturday, May 5.

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