JOHN ILLSLEY AND HIS BAND AT NELL’S JAZZ AND BLUES
I’m glad I found out about last night (June 3rd, 2018) as it turned out to be one of the best musical experiences I have had in a long time and I never would have known about it had it not been for one of our pupils who got tickets for James and me – thank you!
The venue was Nell’s Jazz and Blues, the fantastic and oddly located venue in a quiet part of West Kensington – I remember playing a few open mic nights there when it had just reopened under its previous name Black Velvet (the mildly inappropriate nickname for Elvis’ voice) and more recently I saw a memorable solo show by Tim O’Brien there. Interesting fact: the venue is near the flat where the last part of Trainspotting was filmed (when Renton moves down to London), which in turn is next door to the former site of the Nashville Rooms, the legendary music venue where U2, The Police, Pretenders, Sex Pistols and many others played. All nice reminders of why I first became so fascinated with London.
What a night. The show was by John Illsley, the bassist for Dire Straits and, with Mark Knopfler, the only remaining member when the band broke up. The set was a perfectly balanced mix of mostly Dire Straits hits, mixed with some of John’s excellent originals – Long Shadows stood out. John’s mesmerizing (rock solid, loud and hypnotic) playing reminded me about just how important and underappreciated the bass is in defining the unique sound of a band (Duff McKagan comes to mind), something I’ll be thinking before I crack another bass player joke. John’s scruffy and expressive vocals (not too different from Mark Knopfler’s) soared on top of the bass lines, beautifully complemented by the backing singer whose name unfortunately I didn’t catch.
The stars of the night for me were the guitar players, Paul Stacey and Robbie McIntosh, both shining examples of the kind of musicianship you can find ‘behind the scenes’ with journeyman musicians. Paul’s playing was different but every bit as good as Mark Knopfler’s, he did not try to imitate but interpreted the songs beautifully with a ton of ‘feel’ with a few memorable extended solos. Robbie, who was in the Pretenders before setting off on a career as a session player which included tours and records with John Mayer, is enough of a draw to get me to any gig, let alone one where he is wailing on Dire Straits songs.
But he high point of the night was when Robbie smiled and stuck his tongue out mid-solo at the young teenage boy in the front row who was staring at him in a trance-like state (and later handed him his pick). The boy clearly knew who Robbie was and probably discovered him by listening to John Mayer (as I did). And he probably went home to practice for a few hours after such an inspiring gig, and I would bet that before long he will be in a band playing somewhere like Nell’s Jazz and Blues. So don’t be too discouraged when you read the next article about how the electric guitar is dead, I saw the cycle that got Clapton from his first blues record to the Royal Albert Hall via sixteen hour practice sessions repeating itself last night!