September 29th 2023

Brook’s Blues Bar is one of London’s oldest running blues gig venues. Its location has changed over the years but run by blues stalwarts, Tony & Ann Rosenberg, it remains a haven of guaranteed acoustic blues quality.

September saw a rare visit to the UK club by New Jersey acoustic picker Toby Walker, easily one of the finest acoustic bluesmen out there. (Speaking to Tony after the gig, he surprised me by saying he’d booked Toby about 14 times so far over the passing years! He also says he’s thinking of retiring, but I’ve heard that a few times so far, so let’s wait and see!). The last few gigs at the club for 2023 include Jake Leg Jug Band and Guy Tortora.

Walker has worked with many of the greats, shared billing or opened for the likes of Muddy Waters – his anecdote about that one is simply fabulous – Jorma Kaukonen – ex-Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna; Roy Book Binder; Eugene Powell, an old Delta buddy who taught him much; and countless others. His virtuosity is recognised by UK acoustic legend Happy Traum where he delivers instruction DVDs and inspires many to pick up a blues guitar.

AT Brook’s, Walker was on scintillating form, threading his way through the evening with anecdotes about learning and playing with some greats and his observations on the state of the music nowadays. His fretwork can be near-jaw-dropping at times, with fabulous flourishes where he steams up and down the board with a seemingly effortless flair – something that truly highlights his skill and belies the intricacy of his playing. Walker dropped some slide into the mix and has vocals that more than match the picking.

His material ranged across old classic acoustic numbers including Cocaine and some Muddy, before exploding and exploring the single guitar possibilities of some Duane Allman. At the break, he vamped along with a very fine local blues pianist, John T Bell (hope I got it right) who worked some keyboard magic before mingling with the good crowd which included a personal favourite, UK picker Dave Peabody.

All in all, this was a wonderful night of traditional, old-school acoustic blues, an absolute masterclass in the genre. Walker is currently touring the UK until a closing gig on October 8th, before returning to the USA. Catch him if you can, he’s amazing.

Iain Patience