There are a select few performers who make my heart glad when they pick up a guitar. Ben Poole is one of those. Annoyingly natural in his talent, as well as being unfeasibly young for what he has accomplished, he was brought up on a diet of Blues and Rock greats by his folks and set out quite quickly to establish his own sound and song-writing mark on the Blues and Soul circuits around Europe. In a typical chauvinistic manner various pundits have tried to pigeonhole Ben Poole as the new Joe Bonamassa. They are wrong. He is the original Ben Poole. He ought to be huge and his audience should be massive but his exposure comes with the territory.
Needless to say, if he was an American Blues artist he would be lauded from coast to coast, playing huge venues every other week, and pumping out the covers to rich acclaim. But he isn’t. So he plays a whole range of venues from the Royal Albert Hall to the likes of the Musician where we were tonight, playing a set that was based mainly on his own compositions backed by a very tight and professional band who acted as a fine platform for him to do his thing.
And his thing is all about what he can do with a guitar. He sings his own songs, in a voice that ranges from a gravely rasp to a soft soul purr, but it’s the prowess with the guitars that stand out, in spite of his protestations to the contrary in various interviews. Yes, he represents the full package, as his solo, acoustic encore at the end of this gig showed everyone, but he makes the guitars his focus.
Tonight he had a couple of Telecasters and a Les Paul on show. One Telecaster was pristine and was used for the more melodic numbers and the Les Paul for the rockier tunes as you would expect. The other Telecaster looked as if it had seen a lot and it became apparent why this was the case as it was whacked and beaten and flexed to create all sorts of sounds and effects.
He does put a lot into it, the stave tattoo rippling on his bicep as he launches into riff after riff. When singing and playing he also displays a Wilko Johnson-like style of working the rhythm and lead guitar simultaneously but in a more measured, bluesy way rather than applying the R’N’B hammer.
It wasn’t just on his own tunes that he showed his skills. The cover of Freddy King’s Have You Ever Loved A Woman came over as the blues classic that it is and the heart-stopper version of Hey Joe saw the other side of his guitar style, all blood-and thunder-rock licks and tricks. This included his signature guitar gimmick which I won’t spoil for people who haven’t seen him yet. I first saw Ben play this in an accidental gig in Solihull which was populated in part by a load of Senior Citizens who nearly keeled over during the song, so maybe you get the idea.
Although his latest album was recorded at the Royal Albert Hall (by the Beeb for the London blues Festival), in terms of venues I get the feeling that he does a lot more at the Musician end of the spectrum. This is the home to the up-and-comers, the tribute bands and the local favourites, as well as the “hidden” gems like Ben. What was weird about tonight was that audience were arranged in the dreaded club style with tables and candles. All that was missing was the 1970s chicken-in a-basket and we would have been well set for the cabaret. I know that this is de rigueur for smaller venues these days but the post modern ambience was out of kilter with the performance on stage. Ben deserved to have people dancing and jumping around to match the energy that he put into his songs.
You can sample this energy during the remainder of his UK tour throughout April and May, as he returns to the Midlands in Leamington at the Zephyr Lounge on 10th May. A small venue, but one where I doubt the tables and candles will be in evidence!
Review: Ian Gelling
Photographs: Stephanie Colledge