Thursday, 4 June 2009

Henry McCullough Review

The Henry McCullough Band

FBI Live *****

Michael Mee

You may or may not have heard of Henry McCullough - although it’s more likely you will have - but it’s almost certain you’ll have heard him play. After cutting his teeth with various bands in his native Ireland, McCullough headed for the bright lights of London just as the British blues boom exploded. A meeting with a young Sheffield singer led to a stint in Joe Cocker’s Grease Band, which included their legendary Woodstock performance. After leaving the Grease Band, McCullough joined a little known outfit called Wings, headed by a certain ex-Beatle and his wife. Musical differences between McCullough and McCartney saw a parting of the ways and he - McCullough not Macca - went on to play with a veritable musical who’s who, including Donovan, Marianne Faithful, Spooky Tooth, Eric Burdon and Roy Harper. An accident with a knife on a trip home in the 1980s saw a career re-evaluation and that path led all the way to The Famous Bein Inn, Glenfarg and the latest in the FBI [Famous Bein Inn] Live series. Whilst wildest Perthshire may not have the status of some of the Wings gigs, what is certain is that McCullough is where he wants to be and where he undoubtedly belongs, on stage, any stage. When I read the track listing and saw that after a seven-minute opening of Same Damned Thing, there was House Of The Rising Sun weighing in at over ten minutes. Henry McCullough is not a guitarist to do things by half and both are a glorious throwback to a time when songs were fully explored and McCullough shows himself to be a master of his craft. As good as it is on CD, live it must have been a magical experience. A true genius holds you in the palm of his hand wherever you may be and Henry McCullough is as close to genius as you’ll get. He teases and caresses a classic until it too falls under his spell. But in a way, even House Of The Rising Sun is eclipsed by what follows, Locked In, Can’t Get Out may not be as well known, but it fits Henry McCullough like a second skin. This real, honest-to-goodness British blues, which is raw and earthy, celebrates its blemishes and imperfections but never loses its sense of joy. The pull of Henry McCullough’s folk roots is obviously still strong and he immerses himself in the simple beauty of Belfast To Boston. Until a final flourish there are no guitar pyrotechnics to break the hold, just a man playing from his heart and you really need nothing more, its nine minutes pass in a heartbeat. McCullough’s comfort with the music is obvious but comfort doesn’t breed contempt in this case, he grooves his way through Mess With The Blues before launching in to the title track of his album Failed Christian. Perhaps for the first time on the night McCullough bares his teeth. FBI is quite simply the complete performance as Henry McCullough leads the Bein Inn audience gently by the hand through a blues wonderland.

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