Ian Ellis Blues Imperials at the Torrington, London N12

21/12/03 : Band line-up Ian Ellis bass/vox; John O’Leary harp/vox; Tony Morley gtr/bass/vox; Gary Sandford gtr/vox; Alan Savage drums; Peter Terry keyboards
Following closely in the footsteps of the recent debut of his 12 piece* (plus guests) Blues Orchestra (now renamed The Blues Imperials), at The Boom Boom Club, Sutton, Ian Ellis brought a stripped down 6 piece to the Torrington to fill in for a last minute cancellation. And what a gig it turned out to be, with half a dozen top pro’s playing to their maximum potential being roared on by a coterie of Torrington regulars, and sundry curious musical tourists.

While Ian Ellis may have enjoyed over three and a half decades playing with top names such as Savoy Brown, Alex Harvey, Chris De Burgh, Pete Townsend, Steve Hackett, Atlantic Soul Machine and Mick Clarke etc., he can rarely have enjoyed such a complementary band who both revelled in a night of unfettered rythm and blues, as well as pushing their band leader to play out of his skin.

But to begin at the beginning. The rhythm section of Alan Savage on drums and Ian Ellis on bass layed down the perfect platform for what was to follow. This metronomic rhythm section both pushed the front line players, swung when required, teased out the dynamics of a powerful set, and constantly delivered a mellifluous groove that so few band manage to emulate.

Whether it was a mighty Ellis led rendition of a powerful Millie Jackson cover, a John O’Leary inspired harp rendition of classic Chicago Blues or Tony Morley’s intuitive reading of a slow Peter Green Blues, the band proved them selves as adept as they were inspired.

The whole thing came together beautifully on Fats Domino’s “Lovey Dovey”, delivered as a rock & roll shuffle, with everyone contributing a dazzling solo.
Guitarist Gary Sandford added some cutting edge licks, and even brought a fresh take on a brace of Hendrix numbers as the band stripped down to just a trio, with the versatile Morley taking over on bass.

Ian added a nice biographical touch during a mid set blues work out, explaining to the crowd that both he and founder member of Savoy Brown had both been in the band at different times, but still ended up playing the same song.

Given the short notice nature of the gig, there was little room for other than tried and tested R&b/blues covers, but it was the sheer power, enthusiasm and superb playing that the Blues Imperial brought down to bear on their set that made this a special evening. No one crowded anyone else, and even the late addition of Pete Terry on keyboards, although marooned stage right, added some integral boogie parts, and a couple of very expressive exploratory solo’s.

Ian Ellis & The Blues Imperials will only ever be an outfit that will hit the boards in between various band members tour itenerary’s, but it is probably that reason alone that makes everyone so enthusiastic. On the evidence of this Torrington set, the Blues Imperials really do live up to their name.

* The Blues Imperial line-up at Sutton 12/12/03 was; Ian Ellis bass/vox; Glen Le Fleur drums/ Alan Savage drums/ Jack Lamont percussion; John O’Leary harp/vox; Gary Sandford gtr/vox; Tony Morley gtr/bass/vox; Derek Austin keys; Pete Lamont trombone/Eddie “Tan Tan” Thornton trumpet; “Andy McDonald baritone sax; “Fergus” trombone;
* Guests Alan Maskell keys/ Mike ? keys.

Pete Feenstra


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