Eric Gales + Danny Bryant

Friday 25th March 2022

O2 Academy, Islington, London

One of those occasions when you know you’ll have a good time because the support act was good enough to be the headliner. Indeed, Danny Bryant has been the headline act whenever I’ve previously heard him, so the only drawback was him being restricted to around 45 minutes. Sadly, many missed some or all of that due to the venue’s ridiculous 10pm curfew, which necessitated Danny taking to the stage as early as 7pm.

The absence of a setlist or many introductions means that the song titles listed here are an educated guess, albeit with some assistance from Danny, who emailed his recollections to me 48 hours after the show. However, that list omitted a couple of songs which I’d definitely heard, so there may have been some late changes and I suspect that we actually heard only eight or nine of the ten listed songs.

Certainly if ‘So Excited’ was the opener, it was new to me, as I can’t find it listed in Danny’s discography, whereas the following ‘Heartbreaker’ is an old favourite which dates back to his 2002 debut with his Red Eye Band (a compilation of tracks from those early albums has been released very recently as ‘02:10 The Early Years’, the title referring to the eight years during which the songs were recorded).

‘Stop Breakin’ Down’, which appeared on ‘BIG’ (2017) was definitely up next and I’d be surprised if ‘Westport’ (listed by Danny) wasn’t played, as the setlist would otherwise have left his latest album ‘The Rage To Survive’ (2021) entirely unrepresented. I assume (because there were no clearly audible introductions) that the rhythm section on the night was the one employed on this latest recording, i.e. Paul Mallatratt (bass) and Dave Raeburn (drums).

Next up was a ballad, which featured Danny’s best guitar work of the night; I think this was ‘Last Goodbye’, another song of Red Eye Band vintage. Danny listed ‘Tired Of Trying’ and ‘Nine Lives’, both from ‘Means Of Escape’ (2019), although he may only have played the latter. There were no identification problems with the rest of the set, however, as Danny treated us to songs associated with Hendrix (‘Little Wing’), Rory Gallagher (‘Bullfrog Blues’) and Albert Collins (the instrumental ‘On The Rocks’, which appears on both ‘BIG’ and ‘Blood Money’ (2015).

Danny was in good humour, reminding us to buy the few remaining copies of his (entirely fictitious) fitness video (Betamax only) and cassette; at least it reminded everyone that he had a well stocked merch stand and I saw one happy punter invest in the entire available back catalogue on vinyl. It was a welcome show of support for a talented and consistently entertaining artist.

Eric Gales has always had a loyal following on this side of the Atlantic since he first recorded as a teenaged prodigy with his brothers three decades ago. Now aged 47, he is broadening his fan base, thanks in no small part to his appearances on Joe Bonamassa’s Blues Cruises and a better distribution of his recordings (including several of the earlier ones) by the Dutch label Mascot/Provogue.

Another significant factor in his resurgence may be his nearly six years of sobriety after significant problems with substance abuse; if you’ve suffered living rough and jail time, it’s perhaps no surprise that you can sing the Blues… These issues deeply informed Eric’s writing on his latest album ‘Crown’, which represents a welcome return to his top form and is highly recommended.

The band took to the stage as five shadowy figures: Eric (guitar and vocals), Jonathan Lovett (keyboards), Cody “Smoke Face” Mansfield (bass), Nick Hayes (drums) and Eric’s wife LaDonna Gales (percussion and backing vocals). Cody’s nickname stems from his decision to perform in a mask, through which smoke is periodically released; an interesting gimmick, but one which could detract attention from his impressively solid playing. LaDonna, who was restricted to an extended tambourine solo when I caught up with Eric’s band a few years ago, now performs behind a full percussion rig, rather like a skeleton drum kit.

After a brief instrumental and a ‘Smokestack Lightning’, which had no discernible connection with Howlin’ Wolf, Eric recounted the low points of his life story as an introduction, ‘You Don’t Know The Blues’ (and by comparison with his history, I doubt that any of us does). This was followed by another long spoken introduction about the race issues which plague the world today, especially parts of the USA, as an introduction to ‘The Storm’, which is one of the high points of the CD and features some superb guitar work.

Concentrating almost exclusively on promoting ‘Crown’, Eric continued with the funkier ‘Put That Back’, then ‘Stand Up’, before LaDonna stepped up to the microphone to sing ‘Take Me Just As I Am’. She has a strong voice, but the lyrics are a little repetitive and the same minor criticism could also be applied to the keyboards in the Funk instrumental which followed; ‘Sea Of Bad Blood’ appears in a live recording titled ‘A Night On The Sunset Strip’.

If ‘The Storm’ has a rival as the highlight of the CD, it may be ‘Too Close To The Fire’ (if you try, I’m sure you’ll buy!); this was followed by the album’s title track, which featured some impressive guitar and keyboard “trades”. All of which led us to the early (thanks to the curfew) encore…

Earlier in the gig Eric had thanked his audience for not requesting any Hendrix tunes and received a huge cheer in response. He explained that he didn’t want to be the next Hendrix (frankly, over fifty years on, nobody could be…), but simply the first Eric Gales. Why he then chose to close the show with ‘Voodoo Chile’ is therefore something of a mystery!

(Trivia Corner: although, like Hendrix, Eric plays guitar left handed, I read online that he is actually right handed and that he only learned to play a “standard” guitar upside down because he was taught by his left handed brother!)

Whether through force of habit or nervous tension, Eric asked his audience after almost every song whether they were having a good time; on the evidence of the long merch queue afterwards, he need not have worried. Although ‘Crown’ seemed to be the only recording on offer, folk seemed only too keen to part with £20 for the CD or £35 for the vinyl.

For me, the gig and the album were both more consistent than some of Eric’s other recent work; more Blues and less Funk and Soul and all the better for it. Perhaps having Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith on board as co-producers of the album might be one factor. Anyone who wishes to judge for him- or herself will be pleased to know that Eric will return to the UK in June (supported then by Dom Martin) for half a dozen gigs in Leamington, Chester, York, Newcastle, Bury and Basingstoke.

Setlists:

DB – So Excited; Heartbreaker; Stop Breakin’ Down; Westport; Tired Of
Trying; Last Goodbye; Nine Lives; Little Wing; Bullfrog Blues; On The
Rocks.

EG – Smokestack Lightning; You Don’t Know The Blues; The Storm; Put
That Back; Stand Up; Take Me Just As I Am; Sea Of Bad Blood;
Too Close To The Fire; Crown; Voodoo Chile.

Gary Smith