Having already interviewed McKinley James the day before for Blues Matters, it was time to see him live in concert. So I got on a train and made it in time to catch, which was a wonderful performance by two great acts. Cluny 2 is a smaller more intimate setting attended by a moderate crowd of rapt enthusiasts. Rob Heron kicked things off with a consummate solo performance, a set encapsulating a range of styles and his vocals filled the room, a country soul vibe to some tunes, delivered with a glint in his eyes, some humorous anecdotes.

CLUNY 2 | Newcastle | May 30th 2024
Words and Pictures: Colin Campbell

Blinked And It Was Over was part of his upbeat repertoire. A particular favourite was Good Lovin’, the tone on his guitar suited his delivery. He is a local lad and is usually the lead in his band Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra who mix western swing, soul, blues and rock and roll. Unplugged the songs took another layer, none more so than the humorous Une Bouteille De Beaujolais. Another highlight was his reinterpretation of Darrell Scott’s ballad Ain’t No Easy Way. The final tune was another humour-laden one about self-health, The Doctor Told Me. Great musician, great stage presence dexterous guitar work, a treat.

The headline act was the father and son duo, McKinley James based in Nashville (McKinley James, singer and guitarist, Jason Smay on drums) McKinley James, an emerging talent in the world of blues and rock, is rapidly gaining recognition for his soulful voice and electrifying guitar skills. Hailing from a rich musical background, James seamlessly blends the raw energy of rock ‘n’ roll with the deep, emotive undertones of classic blues, creating a sound that is both nostalgic and refreshingly contemporary. This duo made a sound that a six-piece band would be proud of, such is the musicality of these two artists. This was a stunning performance pepped with quick-fire songs, no long guitar solos here this was in-your-face guitar soul-infused power.

They compliment each other so well, the drumming is mesmeric and effortless at times and McKinley’s guitar chops just are reminiscent of his bygone influencers like Jimmy Reed and Eddie Taylor, he is steeped in the music he grew up with and purveys expertly now. A mixed set of tunes from his back catalogue and a lot from his forthcoming album Working Class Blues. So many well-crafted original tunes hearkening to Stax recordings and a vocal infused with soul, passion, and relatable subject matter. Call Me Lonesome, opened proceedings and the duo raced through their set, not too many introductions this was all about the music. Movin’ had a particularly good groove. Stay With You was expertly delivered a great love song set to an amazing beat. She Moved On is a simple yet intricately layered tune, with some great guitar licks and a chunky Chicago blues tone. With classy intricate play and sweet vocals, this man has talent. Say Goodbye slowed the tone. I’ll Be Loving You had a Texan shuffle to it and some Magic Sam thrown in for good measure. On a night to remember, the duo finished with three songs for an encore, Let Me In, a Fabulous Thunderbirds tune, rocked the place, Bad Boy kept great rhythm and his own Oh Baby Oh left the crowd wanting even more. This is what live music is all about, this young man has a great future, catch him where you can!

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