Review: Eric Gales – Oran Mor, Glasgow

Tonight was always going to be different. It was always going to be something fairly unique. A break from the norm. Tonight, Eric Gales was in town, and time to check your perceptions of what a blues artist should sound like, at the door. A quick glance at the festival appearances on his tour schedule for the remainder of 2022 highlights the great variety that Eric Gales and his amazing band bring to the stage: Sweden Rock Festival, North Sea Jazz Festival, Winthrop R&B Festival, Sisters Rhythm and Brews, White Mountain Boogie N’ Blues Festival. Nothing cookie-cutter about Gales, and definitely not an artist that you would heckle by shouting out “play some blues”.

Opening act for the tour and playing “some blues” by the bucketload is one of the finest English blues players around – Danny Bryant. One of the most respected players on the UK scene, Bryant has decades of experience under his belt, and playing as part of a power trio, he saunters onstage as nonchalant as you like, plugs in, and let’s rip. It’s almost a full five minutes worth of a killer blues jam before Danny pauses for a breather to soak up the applause from a crowd who are more than familiar with his playing. Afforded a healthy 50-minutes set, the trio has time to stretch out and breathe, never looking like they are in a hurry, and the more studious amongst the crowd are lapping up watching Bryant peel off one incredible guitar lick after another (especially on the blues stomp of ‘Heartbreaker’, and the fretboard fireworks of a stunning rendition of ‘Little Wing’). Latest studio album ‘The Rage To Survive’ is represented by ‘Westport’ and packs enough quality to suggest that a future headlining tour would see more of the album featuring in the set. Always a fantastic player to watch, Danny Bryant loves making eye contact with those in the front few rows, sometimes leaning forward straight into the many phones that are lit up by people recording. Perhaps one of the best-received sets by an opening act for some time now.

Launching straight into a fizzing jam on ‘Smokestack Lightening’, Eric Gales is not hanging around. Making up for lost time on just one of numerous tours pushed back because of, well, do we really need to mention it by name now? Let’s just refer to it as that certain family member that every family has. With hot new album ‘Crown’ in tow, Gales is clearly happy to be here, beaming from cheek-to-cheek he takes a moment to thank fans for their patience and for hanging on to their tickets for the last few years. As you would expect, material from ‘Crown’ makes up the lion’s share of the set, and freed from the restraints of the recording studio, each song aired is stretched out and takes on a whole new meaning. ‘You Don’t know The Blues’ sounds colossal (especially THAT solo from Gales which is longer and looser than the studio version), for added effect Gales ends the song with a few lines uttered in almost a whispered hush. ‘Survivor’ is sheer perfection (Eric’s wife LaDonna Gales is on percussion and backing vocals and her gospel-like vocals bring a sense of awe to the song) and towards the end of the song, Gales stops playing and leans forward and rests his arms on the low ceiling and talks/sings about his struggles with addiction and being up and being down, it’s a somber moment made all the more somber by Eric walking away from the mic and singing acapella unaided by technology. As per the studio version, ‘The Storm’ begins with just the warm, lush vocals from Gales and some lowkey arrangements which helps bring a Louis Armstrong/Gregory Porter vibe to the evening, the band joins in and when called upon, Eric Gales peels off a gorgeous, understated guitar solo.

The band is incredible. No other word to describe them other than incredible. Nick Hayes on drums is effortlessly cool and never overplays, Jonathan Lovett on the keys brings a subtle, jazzy touch to the band, LaDonna Gales (“My wife…ain’t she fucking gorgeous” – Eric Gales) should be front stage more often as she packs one hell of a voice, and then there is SmokeFace on the bass guitar. SmokeFace? So named because he wears a white facemask ala Jason Voorhees/ice hockey goal-tender under his red bobble hat, and smoke is emitted from the mask every few minutes. SmokeFace – it makes perfect sense. Phenomenal bass player also. Together with Eric Gales, the artists on stage create something very organic. Lots of different flavours, lots of improvisation. After one extended jam which bordered on Prince and The Revolution, a heckler in the crowd shouts out “Play some blues!” and once Gales deciphers what was actually said he responds to roars of approval: “You can request that when YOU are the one playing in front of a sold-out crowd, but my name is Eric Gales and I’ll play what I fucking want”. He introduces the next song as “This one is ‘Too Close to The Fire’, not “play some blues”” and after a few short bars, the song is quickly stopped by Gales who looks in the direction of the heckler and launches into a traditional by-the-numbers blues shuffle, asking the heckler “Are you happy now?” before adding…” I can play the blues, so many artists doing 1-4-5, so I’ll just play some Eric Gales shit…”, and the heckler was never heard from again.

Highlight of the evening? Toss-up between LaDonna Gales stepping out from behind her kit for lead vocals on ‘Take Me Just As I Am’ (such a cool, cool moment) and the extended guitar/keyboard jam/duel between Eric Gales and Jonathan Lovett on ‘I Want My Crown’ with Lovett playing the role of Joe Bonamassa from the studio version.

A show like Eric Gales put on tonight takes on a whole new meaning especially since the venue was once a church. Religious experience? That depends on your faith or lack of. But tonight was certainly a spiritual experience and a celebration of human resolve. Eric has fought off plenty of demons and come out the other side with an almighty strength about him, and ultimately, credit for that should go to both himself and his wife LaDonna.

Eric Gales returns to the UK in the summer for a handful of dates (listed below), buy a ticket, and go with an open mind for he is not what you might class as a standard blues player. Lots of different things going on at an Eric Gales show. One of those sets that can only be referred to as “you had to be there”.

Eric Gales June 2022 UK Tour with special guest Dom Martin


Assembly Leamington
Thursday 2 June 2022

Chester, The Live Rooms
Saturday 4 June 2022

York, The Crescent Community Venue
Sunday 5 June 2022

Newcastle, The Cluny
Monday 6 June 2022

Bury, The Met Theatre
Tuesday 7 June 2022

Basingstoke, The Haymarket Theatre
Wednesday 8 June 2022

Review – Dave

All live images – Ritchie Birnie for Noble PR

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