April 18, 2024

Photos by Lorelei Stroud

Birmingham’s Big Wolf Band are currently on tour supporting their third studio album, Rebel’s Journey, and stopped off at the recently-founded Bromley Blues Club for a two-set show. First though, I have to tip my hat to the club itself, hosted at the Bromley Little Theatre, in the upper room of an old industrial building in the town centre. This is only the club’s third gig, with the 5-piece band huddled on the small but perfectly-formed stage, along with props for the current play, 1950s domestic drama Home I’m Darling. Tim Jones’ drumkit is set up in front of a hat stand, Robin Fox’s keyboard rack stands next to a realistic kitchen sink, and there are amps next to the living room window. We, the audience, are seated in deep red, sinky-into folding cinema seats, and the civilized volume respects our ancient eardrums; the mix is perfect. A bit lacking in knee-room perhaps, but it’s great if you get a seat at the end of a row, and the staff are there to please.

The first set opens with some ambient backing chords as front man and guitarist Jonathan Earp picks his way on to the stage from the wings, in dangerously dark wraparound shades, playing some tasteful licks on his Revstar as he does so. They launch into mid-tempo rocker Valley Of The Fallen Kings from the new album, then speed it up ever so slightly for Living On Borrowed Time.

Left to right: Mick Jeynes, Jonathan Earp, Tim Jones, Robin Fox, Justin Johnson

We enjoy bit of good-natured chat from Earp in a slight Brummie accent, before they start the traditional-sounding blues shuffle Got me Reelin’. The tight, groovy backing is great on this one, and Mick Jeynes’ punchy bass merits special attention. A repetitive, thudding bass line alternates with a walking scale, but both are rock solid. Earp apologises for the lack of their regular backing singer Zoe Green, who is out with a touch of the ‘flu. Not exactly sure where she would have stood to be honest; maybe on the far left side next to the ‘50s-style telly.

The set is exactly what you would expect from a standard pub blues covers band playing numbers by Albert King, The Kinks, The Bluesbreakers, maybe a little early Whitesnake – except that they are all original numbers, written by Earp, sometimes with the involvement of other band members. The first set ends on the minor-key slow blues if I Ever Loved Another Woman, with Earp giving an extended guitar workout covering the whole fretboard from the bottom notes to the pickups.

Set 2 starts much heavier, with the ZZ Top-style belter Heaven’s Got The Blues, whose last chord powers straight into the fast 12-bar rocker I Don’t Love You. Fox knocks out a great piano solo, followed by Earp, who has swapped to a black Strat during the interval. There is a fair bit of showmanship and plenty of friendly band banter in the opening to Super Animal, which I would have taken for a Hendrix cover if I didn’t know better. More influences are apparent in the slow and heavy Six Strings Loaded, which is pure Free, especially with the sliding bass notes.

Rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist Justin Johnson steps up to the mic to sing the rapid rocker Rolling With Thunder from their first album in 2017, which is great; his voice is the equal of Earp’s, and his guitar work is as solid as you like. There is a hint of southern rock about the laid-back rocker Love Isn’t Free, but then they bring the set to a conclusion with a slow number. Darkest Of My Days, from the new album, opens with a minor key keyboard wash, and crescendos of felt mallets on the cymbals. There is a definite Pink Floyd ambience to the intro, but it remains a piano-backed ballad, building in intensity and emotion with plenty of light and shade.

For an encore, they announce the only cover version of the night, and elect to present Joe Bonamassa’s Oh Beautiful, from his 2014 album Different Shades Of Blue, which was released at about the same time the Big Wolf Band originally formed. It’s not an easy number to pull off by any means, alternating between sections of solo vocal and hard-rocking heavy riffage, but they do a great job. After a while, Earp disappears into the wings and emerges down in the stalls, wandering the aisles while continuing to solo. He sits for a while in a seat near the back and has a bit of a chat while still playing, then leans against the radiator and carries on for a while, before eventually rejoining the lads on stage.

After a hail of applause, they come offstage and immediately mingle with the fans in the small lobby, smiling, posing for selfies, signing merch, and generally making friends with everyone. Tell you what, I’ll be back down to the Bromley Blues Club again soon, and I’ll be looking out for the Big Wolf Band too. Both are highly recommended.

Jonathan Earp taking it easy at the back of the hall. We don’t think he even bought a ticket…