With a double 45-minute set, Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs and his Blues Band prove that we just can’t get enough of those blues.
It’s always a privilege to see a legendary musician at a smaller venue with its sense of intimacy, the feeling of connection and getting close up and personal, especially when we typically see them perform in an arena or at a major festival.
Guitarist/songwriter Mick Ralphs, best known as a founding member of Mott The Hoople and Bad Company, has returned with his band, The Mick Ralphs Blues Band. Mick formed the band in 2011 to play smaller, more intimate venues of the kind favoured by his blues heroes, such as Freddie King, with the aim of reconnecting with his audience. These small shows give him the opportunity to return to his musical roots, to the music that has been the greatest influence on his guitar playing and songwriting over the past five decades.
Mick remains a member of Mott The Hoople and Bad Company, with whom he will be touring this autumn. He also put together a group of exceptional musicians to form his new band, which is as tight as his open C-tuned guitar strings and currently touring with their new album, If It Ain’t Broke, released earlier this year.
Alongside Mick Ralphs, the band comprises Jim Maving on guitar/vocals, Dicky Baldwin on bass, Damon Sawyer on drums, and Adam Barron, a former contestant on The Voice, on vocals and fronting the band since October 2014.
The venue tonight is the Norden Farm Centre for Arts, near Maidenhead, a theatre with a seated capacity of 225 and state-of-the-art facilities. Tonight’s show was sold-out in advance, and the audience of mainly older, genteel rock fans are taking their seats in an orderly fashion.
The band takes the stage and launches into “I Don’t Care,” a Mick Ralphs-penned song from their new album. It’s a hard-rocking blues number with plenty of hooks and, having already received airplay on Planet Rock radio, the perfect up-tempo song to warm up the crowd.
Some good-humoured and lively banter from singer Adam follows. While explaining how much he enjoys these intimate shows, Adam expresses his pride to be part of Mick Ralphs’ band before Mick goes back to his “proper job” touring with Bad Company.
Adam is quite a contrast to the other members of the band — younger and heavily bearded, with long, though perfectly coiffured hair. He is a charismatic frontman and the perfect balance to the seemingly chilled and more reserved, Mick Ralphs. He has a voice made for singing blues rock, polished yet with just enough gravelly quality to have you believe whisky is his favourite tipple (though it happens to be a rum and coke!).
Some covers follow; first, Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” memorable versions already having been recorded by the likes of Cream and Jimi Hendrix. This soulful, blues song is performed with a rock vibe to it, helped by Adam’s gritty vocals. Along with the catchy bass and guitar harmony, it features some superb bluesy guitar solos from Mick and Jim.
After The Temptations’ funky, R&B “Shaky Ground,” the pace slows a little with Freddie King’s “Same Old Blues,” showcasing Mick’s trademark soulful guitar solos, whilst retaining the funky and bluesy grooves of the original. Delbert McClinton’s “Roll The Dice,” covered on the new album, is also played “to indulge our bluesy leanings with a slow, bluesy classic” jokes Adam. The crowd is clearly up for a good time and sing along with much enthusiasm to the chorus.
A further song from the new album follows; guitarist Jim Maving’s “Well Connected” with its catchy riff and addictive rhythm.
The excitement keeps flowing with Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” Hearing Adam sing the part originally sung by Paul Rodgers is a much-anticipated moment. The frontman has no hesitation and, in fact, seems to revel in it. No comparison between the two vocalists is necessary as Adam has no intention of competing and firmly stamps his own identity on it. The crowd laps it up.
Adam tells us later that it’s a song he’s sung at 80% of his gigs, but for the last two years, he’s got to sing it alongside the man who wrote it. His awe of the legend that is Mick Ralphs is clear.
It’s always difficult to follow such a monster song, but Mick Ralphs’ “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me,” from the new album, does the job admirably. With its exciting Allman Brothers-like dual guitar interplay, it’s an infectious southern rock song, with a hint of rockabilly and blues fused together with some great old-fashioned rock n’ roll.
To end their first set, the band treats us to a bluesy rock version of Freddie King’s 1960s classic blues instrumental “Hide Away.” The song was previously covered by the likes of other great blues-rock legends, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, Jeff Healey, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. “Hide Away” proves a fantastic opportunity for Mick and Jim to impress us with their guitar prowess and the chemistry between them.
The band have given us a perfectly balanced first set, from reworked classic blues originals to Bad Company favourites to songs from their new album.
Following a brief intermission, only Adam and guitarist Jim take places on the stage for the start of the second set. It is an acoustic performance of Robert Johnson’s 1930s “Crossroad” (covered by Cream on their Wheels Of Fire album), and “Tennessee Whiskey,” originally a country music song. Adam’s banter to the crowd reveals, to his relief, that few have heard the recent cover of the song by Chris Stapleton. Tonight’s version has a more blues vibe, and Adam’s vocals are soulful and heartfelt, with some sensitive guitar accompaniment from Jim.
Following more of Adam’s charming banter, Damon takes his place on stage, demonstrating his drum expertise with an extended drum intro, joined by Dicky, who adds his groovy, funky bass line. As the remainder of the band joins in with “Just A Little Bit,” Jim takes lead vocals. More like an R&B jam verging on contemporary blues, this song was originally a hit for Rosco Gordon in 1959 and later recorded by the likes of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and more blues rock versions by Johnny Winter and Rory Gallagher.
We are privileged to hear “Too Bad,” a song written by Mick Ralphs and one of the best on Bad Company’s Burnin’ Sky album, performed live for the first time tonight. The performance reminds us of the number of great songs by Bad Company that have never been on a concert setlist. Both “Too Bad” and “Should Know Better” from Mick’s Live EP, merit an enormous applause from the crowd, along with cries of “I love you guys” from one of the upper balconies.
More classic blues covers follow with a couple of tracks from the new album — an updated, rockier version of Freddie King’s early blues rock “Going Down” and J B Lenoir’s 1950s Chicago Blues classic, “Talk To Your Daughter,” a grooving, Boogie Woogie number featuring some great guitar solos.
As the riff for “Can’t get Enough” kicks in, we are again transported back to the 1970s. Mick and Jim’s powerful and iconic dual guitar solo goes down a storm. Adam’s perfect blues voice has all the range, emotion and impeccable timing we had hoped for. His vocal performance on this and the previous Bad Company songs compares favourably with the originals, no mean feat when you consider we are referring to Paul Rodgers, one of rock music’s great vocalists.
We all end up joining in with the chorus of Bad Company’s biggest hit, no longer able to remain seated and rising from our seats to dance.
To a rousing applause, the band return for an encore. Adam asks if the crowd would like another song, to which a cry “No, another ten!” is heard. Adam tells the crowd to stay on their feet and explains that the band was created to satisfy Mick’s itch “to get back to playing some great new blues music, with a bit of a twist and this place is pretty much the perfect example of what we love to do.”
Adam introduces the encore as “written by the man that sold his soul to play the blues,” launching into a classic, standard 12-bar blues, “Sweet Home Chicago,” first recorded by Robert Johnson in the 1930s and covered by numerous artists since and included in the soundtrack for The Blues Brothers.
Mick Ralphs and his band have certainly breathed new life into an incredible back catalogue of the history of the blues, a celebration of the influences and heroes of Mick’s long musical career, and a setlist which balances old and new. Many of the songs were classic blues numbers, retaining the spirit of the originals, but each stamped with Mick’s trademark economic, powerful, and soulful guitar solos, never overdone, just the unmistakable tone of his beautiful Gibson Les Paul shining through.
The Mick Ralphs Blues Band proved tonight that classic blues songs retain the same appeal and relevance as ever. During the performance, the joy and passion on Mick’s face and those of his fellow musicians’ were clear. New songs, “I Don’t Care,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me,” and “Should Know Better” also demonstrated that Mick Ralphs is still the impressive songwriter he has always been.
Nonetheless, Mick remains a modest and humble man, which is surprising when one considers that he was a founding member of two iconic bands which, themselves, have had a massive impact on the history of blues rock.
Tonight was an “I was here” moment, a rare treat to hear a live band of such stature play the blues from their classic roots through to contemporary blues in an intimate venue and with impressive acoustics. Tonight The Mick Ralphs Blues Bank proved the Blues is timeless and will live forever.