Paul Garner live at the Coach & Horses Blues Jam 18/02/2009 by Stevie King

The venue's only been up and running for two weeks since this long-running Jam relocated from the Heathcote Arms in Leytonstone, and it's evidently very much a work in progress, but that didn't prevent Paul Garner from giving a very professional display of guitar wizardry when he appeared there as guest artiste, accompanied by his keyboard player, Claudio Corona, and the House Band rhythm section.

This lanky young New Zealander's vocals are a lazy drawl that emphasises the effortlessness with which the notes seem to drip from his slender fingers. Only his body belies an inner tension as he contorts himself, standing stork-like on one leg, while he strives to pull the right notes out of his cut-and-shunt Stratocaster, itself another work in progress.

Despite the jazzy smoothness and sophistication, his debt to traditional Bluesmen like Albert King, Albert Collins, and Johnny ‘Guitar' Watson is evident, but his influences become drawn into a style all his own as he alternates between plectrum and finger-picking, mixing fluid runs with staccato stabs and searing, soaring licks at the top of the fretboard.

Kicking off with an easygoing shuffle, Jimmie Rogers' ‘That's All Right,' and a swinging version of Blind Blake's ‘Police Dog Blues,' Garner led the band into an unrehearsed and highly original reworking of ‘Hoochie Coochie Man,' with keyboard man Claudio calling the changes out as they went. Kudos must go to the rhythm section, British Blues veteran Reg Patten on the kit and Jam Organizer Terry Duggan on bass, for holding this set together to tightly, and responding so well to their guest's changes of mood and dynamic.

Sardinian Corona, himself an erstwhile member of the Heathcote's House Band, also illuminated the night with some excellent organ work. On more than on occasion, both his and Paul Garner's solos were met with spontaneous applause, whoops, and yells from an audience comprised of musicians and music fans alike, and drummer Reg received appreciation, too, for his solo on Paul's original, ‘Another Day In New Orleans.'

Only on the last number of the opening set, Howlin' Wolf's classic ‘Spoonful,' did the ensemble seem a little unsure of themselves, but all doubts were dispelled when the band were called back up later on to provide backing for the very last jammer of the night, a young lady called Rhianna who combined the approach of a cabaret singer with a style reminiscent of Janis Joplin.

Settling very easily into a slow blues and a funky groove behind her improvisations, they were back on top form when Paul Garner closed the night with an uptempo shuffle full of stinging solos that brought tremendous acclaim from the crowd. There's no doubt this young man's a talented musician with style, energy, and originality, and he possesses the kind of humility and sense of humour that puts an audience at its ease and allows him to do what he does best- play some killer Blues guitar!

With two albums released now, last year's ‘Love Vs. Blues' and the very recent ‘What Colour Will You See?' he's worthy of some serious attention, so if you hear he's appearing in your neighbourhood, do make the effort to go and see him. You won't regret it!