Review: Blind Boys of Alabama

The Blind Boys of Alabama
(Under the Bridge. 28th June 2011. Part of Bluesfest London. Review by Adam Tait)

The Under The Bridge club, underneath Stamford Bridge football stadium is remarkably stylish, and has been constructed with the highest musical standards in mind. No gimmicky football memorabilia adorns the walls. No signed shirts or photographs of great teams gone-by. In fact, once you descend the stairs into the club you swiftly forget that you are actually located in a sporting arena. Under The Bridge is the complete music venue in every sense.

That feeling of a special occasion was entirely appropriate for a performance by The Blind Boys of Alabama, almost to the point of feeling that any other London jazz venue could not have done the event justice. A gospel band that has been around since 1939, formed of blind members suggests something other than the ordinary, much in the same way that a blues club situated under Chelsea’s home ground does.

As Jimmy Carter, Ricky McKinnie and Ben More took to the stage, sharply dressed in matching blazers and dark glasses, hands firmly clutching the shoulder of the band mate in front of them and led by a stage hand who positioned each of them between their respective microphones and chairs (they aren’t young men, after all), the already wildly appreciative audience could not help but be impressed and excited about what was to follow.

What followed was remarkable. Musicians of a younger generation are put to shame by the vitality and virtuosity of these men’s performance. A soul-tingling rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ and a heart thumping performance of ‘Spirit in the Sky’ moved the audience as one entity. They brought smiles to all faces, glued every pair of eyes in the audience to the stage. Songs such as ‘Take the High Road’ (title track of the group’s new album) and ‘Free at Last’ demonstrate the group’s exceptional and uplifting songcraft. Regardless of the message of the lyrics, their delivery inevitably makes you feel better for hearing them.

A performance by a group like The Blind Boys makes you realise the reason for their longevity: they absolutely love it. The music flows through them, it lifts them up out of their seats, it moves their bodies for them, it dispels any concern of misjudging where the edge of the stage is that would trouble other blind individuals. The only way a group could keep doing what they do for 70 years, and doing it successfully at that, is if it’s members are entirely immersed in what they do. It is this that makes them so popular with audiences, audiences more diverse in terms of age and race than I have ever seen.

It is not their age that is impressive, nor the fact that they are blind. What stays in the mind about a Blind Boys performance is how they palpably just love the act of performing for an audience, and how much the audience, any audience, will take them to its heart.

http://www.blindboys.com/ /   http://www.underthebridge.co.uk/   /   http://www.bluesfestlondon.com/

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