Thursday, January 18, 2024

John Primer - Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh, 13 January 2024

The thing about Chicago blues legends is that they are, inevitably, pretty old fellas, and at 78-years old John Primer is no exception.  So when he comes onstage and starts puttering about, sorting his guitar strap, plugging in, turning on his amp, and (with a grin) taking a couple of attempts to find a plectrum in his pocket, the impression is of an affable, somewhat absent-minded grandad.
He's a sharp dressed man though, in his charcoal shirt and trousers and well-shined black shoes, complemented by a smart waistcoat, black and white striped tie, and nifty trilby hat.  And
John Primer, going down easy
when he starts to play, John Primer absolutely commands attention, as befits a guy who has worked with Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon.
Song titles aren’t that relevant really, though they provide a few points of reference.  More important is the weaving of swinging blues grooves, which Primer decorates with supple guitar on extended intros and instrumental sections, his right hand curling up deftly from below the strings as he knocks out a fluid combination of lead and rhythm playing in relaxed fashion.  He regularly cedes the spotlight to harmonica player Giles Robson, who has set up this tour, but even then it’s Primer that I attend to most, as he plays around with the groove, giving it an organic rather than rigid feel.  And it seems to me that Robson, an accomplished and award-winning artist in his own right, latches on to Primer’s effortlessly in-the-pocket vibe, finds some deeper gearsl with his own soloing.
Truth be told, the pace doesn’t vary much across the various songs, but the textures and rhythms do.  Primer produces a slide for a song that may or may not be titled ‘She’s Too Much’, giving it a sharper edge.  There are hints of North Country Hill Country blues on ‘Hard Times’ – Primer was born in Mississippi, but further south – and he brings some spikiness and jangling licks to ‘Look Over Yonder Wall’.
When he brings a touch of funk to the proceedings with ‘Gotta Love Somebody’, introducing it as a song he played often with his old band-mate Magic Slim - bassist Antoine Escalier steps up to the busier groove, evidently in his happy place.  But Primer then gets into a slinkier, smoochier mode with ‘Feel Like Going Back Home’, a song he mischievously introduces as “belly rubbing music”, suitable for cuddling up to the missus, and which over time metamorphoses into ‘Rainy Night Georgia’, underlining the romantic mood. Which then just leaves time for him to rope the audience into singing along with the chugging boogie of Jimmy Reed’s ‘Close Together’.  And then they’re done, to be met with a standing ovation from the full house in the Pleasance Theatre.
John Primer’s nickname is “The Real Deal”, and it fits him well.  There’s nothing flash about him – he brings a hypnotic quality, moulding and shaping the essentially simple blues form, making a real connection to old-school Chicago blues roots.

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