Wizz Jones

Live Review | The Regent, Doncaster | Review by Allan Wilkinson

Occasionally I have these overwhelming flights of fancy whilst attending concerts, especially gigs that feature musicians I heard about in my youth, the kind of musicians you read about in the back pages of Melody Maker or whose name you would hear being casually dropped by God-like guitar heroes of the Sixties.  There’s always this lurking romantic vision of the mysterious man with a guitar who steps in from the cold windy night, plays a little, then heads off back into that dimly lit street and back into oblivion.  This is what happens when you watch too many old films featuring the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, seductively entertaining a handful of highly dubious female beatniks in some smoky subterranean Belgian jazz club back in the Fifties.  That image of Broonzy would have been iconic to the young Wizz Jones in post war London and would be partly responsible for many a young novice of the day picking up a guitar for the first time and starting his own skiffle group.  I missed this period by a matter of only a handful of years, but this romantic notion was subsequently handed down to my generation and has resulted in a lifetime appreciation of the likes of Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Davy Graham, Al Stewart and Ralph McTell, essentially, the cream of British folk blues troubadours.  In all fairness, Wizz Jones never quite achieved the same level of popularity as his contemporaries, but has instead found his name in the indexes of biographies of some of the big names in the history of popular music, simply because he is a musician’s musician.  With an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of blues styles from the likes of Broonzy, Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson and Blind Willie Johnson, to name but a few, Wizz Jones has spent a lifetime travelling and playing guitar and not a lot has changed in the ensuing years.  He’s the real deal.  A bone fide British folk blues troubadour.  Tonight at the Monday Music Club at the Regent, Wizz Jones took command of his slightly weatherworn Epiphone and treated us to some songs from another era.  I can’t imagine tonight’s performance being any different from those heady days of Les Cousins in London’s Soho district way back in the Sixties.  Wizz still has the hair too!  Starting with Big Bill’s “Guitar Shuffle” and revisiting several blues standards along the way, including “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, Doc Watson’s “Sitting on Top of the World” and “Corrine’s Blues”, from his very first LP, Wizz performed with the kind of assurance that can only come from experience, which in his case is as plentiful as hydrogen.  As a songwriter, Wizz admits that he is far from prolific, “I don’t like doing it” he confesses.  This is clearly a shame as his songs are really quite good.  “The Burma Star” and “Lucky the Man” address two generations of the Jones family, his father and his daughter respectively, whilst “Happiness Was Free” takes a closer look at relationships, and at the same time, in tentative nostalgic terms, alludes to the ideology of the ‘beatnik’ generation.  There is no question that Wizz knows his instrument well and can tackle with relative ease the cream of the blues giants as well as bringing to the table songs by Jesse Winchester “Black Dog”, Bob Dylan “Song to Woody”, Jackson C Frank “Blues Run the Game” and even Clive James “Touch Has Memory”.  Wizz also is a darn good banjo player as he frailed majestically through Ewan MacColl’s “Father Song”.   So, just as Big Bill had done in that old film, as he placed his guitar back in its battered case and left that dark and seedy Belgian night club all those years ago, unaware he was inspiring a generation of musicians including the young Wizz Jones, I watched an older Wizz Jones leave the Regent on this cold and rainy windy night, guitar in hand and banjo over his shoulder and felt equally inspired.