Described by Jools Holland, no less, as “one of the great blues men of our time” Big Boy Bloater is on the path to becoming one of the great blues musicians. Catching him alongside his band, The Limits, it’s hard to disagree with Jools’ assessment as both Bloater and his boys really cook in the live environment. Despite the fantastic new album ‘Luxury Hobo’ having appeared on Provogue records, Leicester’s much-respected music venue The Musician is surprisingly quiet on this sunny Thursday evening, which is a shame. Not that this stops Big Boy Bloater from delivering a show that is warm, funny and frequently exhilarating. The biggest surprise is just how many influences Bloater and his crew have absorbed from the rock ‘n’ roll of the fifties and surf rock. Influences range from B.B. King through to Dick Dale via Buddy Holly and the whole is delivered in a way that renders it physically impossible to stay still.
From the moment Big Boy Bloater and his band take to the stage, it’s clear we’re witnessing something special. True, the venue is not as full as we might wish, but the atmosphere is both intimate and electric nonetheless. Kicking off with ‘I love you (but I can’t stand your friends)’, the band get feet tapping and then it’s straight into ‘Robot girlfriend’, a highlight from the new album. Another highlight comes in the form of the album’s title track, ‘Luxury hobo blues’, but things really get down and dirty with the dark, cautionary tale entitled ‘It came outta the swamp’. A track that sees Bloater getting into the part as he sings about a ravening beast that finally turns on the villagers whose ignorance and fear leads them to pursue it, with unfortunate results for all concerned. It’s immediately followed by the paranoid ‘I got the feeling someone’s watching me’, which is delivered beautifully by Bloater whose ability to engage with the audience is second only to his scintillating guitar work.
One of the highlights of the new album, ‘all things considered’ sees Bloater take on the song, that featured some sweet soul backing singers in its recorded incarnation, singlehanded. Live and raw, it packs a hefty emotional punch and its pay off – “all things considered, you’re still my friend’ is poignant, recalling the sweet majesty of Robert Cray. That surf influence is back with a rollicking rendition of ‘double whammy’ whilst the instrumental ‘rocket surgery’ is pure fifties pastiche and gives all the musicians on stage a chance to shine. We are welcomed to the church of Big Boy Bloater for the lengthy singalong of ‘sweet and brown’ which is delivered like a gospel hymn, whilst ‘insanely happy’ and ‘big fat trap’ (dedicated to all the lovers in Leicester) see the house swinging. A personal favourite is the hard rocking ‘Not cool man’ (another cracking track from the new album), which puts the kicker into all manner of ill-mannered louts with its sly groove. The show is almost at an end but, even with a small audience, the cries for encore are ceaseless and the night ends with ‘Devils not angels’. It proves a fine end to a near perfect night of blues and there’s no question that those who did attend were privileged so to have done.
‘Luxury Hobo’ was a near perfect marriage of blues and rock ‘n’ roll that proved simply irresistible. An early highlight of the year, it’s hard to imagine it being missed off many end-of-year lists and a chance to see Bloater and his boys in the flesh is not to be passed up lightly. The Musician is a fine venue and, whilst it’s a shame that relatively few attended the show, those who did were rewarded with an intimate, electrifying show that ticked all the boxes. Big Boy Bloater was a revelation and, alongside the Limits, he bought the blues very much to life with a thrilling and varied set. A live show that passed in the blink of an eye, Big Boy Bloater is a musician to treasure and you won’t be seeing him in such small venues for very much longer.
Amazing live shots: Jola Stiles