John Mayall makes music sound as good as if he has all the time in the world – but he’s still a man in a hurry.
Currently celebrating his 80th anniversary year with shows galore, he has 44 more gigs to play before he lights up Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on Bonfire Night.
By then, he’ll be less than a month away from his 81st birthday, but he hopes the desire to move onwards and upwards in the musical firmament will still be burning as brightly as ever.
His father was a guitarist and son Gaz has been running his own club in London for 15 years – Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues based at St Moritz in Wardour Street.
So music is in the Mayall family genes and, he feels, it’s a subject that cannot be taught conventionally.
Not in the way that the Britain’s own Godfather of the Blues plays at any rate.
Self taught and with everyone from Eric Clapton (Cream) Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac) and Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones) branching out from the John Mayall rock family tree trunk (John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Jack Bruce, Dr John and Walter Trout are among numerous others) his music philosophy remains very simple.
And that’s to play, not practise.
Clapton himself once said of Mayall: “He has actually run an incredibly great school for musicians.”
So what is the secret?
“The whole point of playing is to constantly explore the music,” says the Bluesbreakers’ star.
“That’s very exciting with the right people.
“This band I have now is absolutely phenomenal (Texan guitarist Rocky Athas with bassist Greg Rzab alongside fellow Chicagoan Jay Davenport on drums).
“You don’t think about what you are doing for a minute, you just play together and bounce ideas off each other.
“You make something exciting and communicate it to the audience.
“You can’t teach people something that isn’t natural to them.
“Just provide (children with) the tools and people will find their own path.”
I never cease to be amazed by the sheer number of old performances you can now find on YouTube by almost any artist you can care to think of.
John doesn’t go trawling for himself or others in particular but is aware of its power.
“I did a show with Hugh Laurie’s band in LA the other day and that was on YouTube a week later,” he smiles.
Though fully aware of Symphony Hall’s reputation as one of the world’s great concert halls, John says he won’t treat it any differently to any of the smaller gigs on his tour which includes The Anvil in Basingstoke, Buxton Opera House, the Cheese & Grain in Frome and the Swan Theatre in High Wycombe.
“There probably aren’t many venues I haven’t played in Britain,” he laughs.
“And most places now have a good sound.”
His hearing remains as pin sharp as it can be. “We don’t play loud,” he points out.
But what about those who do. Are they foolish for risking the ability to hear who they are? “They do what they do,” says John, declining any chance to criticise. “Everybody has their own system and, given good health, this is what I shall continue to do.”
A former art student who grew up in Macclesfield but is now based in California, John designed the cover for his brand new album – there have been some 60 during his career – and he put his guitar centre stage.
In an age when people are forever striving to update their gadgets, it’s refreshing to hear the grandfather of six say: “It has a great sound, so there’s no reason to change it.”
What has he learned about constantly hiring, and working with, all sorts of different people?
“It just comes naturally to me,” he says.
“You choose the people you want to work with.
“Usually the most important thing is how you get on with people – you spend a lot more time off stage than you do on it.”
* John Mayall plays Birmingham Symphony Hall on November 5. Support on the tour is from Glasgow four-piece King King who have twice won the best Blues Band Award at the British Blues Awards. Ticket prices are £33.50 to £25.50. For details visit www.thsh.co.uk .