MARTIN McNEILL                      

bottleneck blues

Sweet slide...great gig


'McNeill's gigs are never less than well-polished and his vocals are clear, articulate and urbane'



Martin McNeill's Bottleneck Blues

Railway Hotel, Southend


Blues slide guitar too often conjures up open-tuned verSions of Shake Your Moneymaker delivered full-tilt in the style of Elmore James or Hound Dog Taylor. Martin McNeill's slide style is far sweeter; close your eyes and you could be listening to a lap steel player.


This is the first occasion I had seen Martin since the recent release of his acclaimed album Cat Squirrel, which made a considerable showing on the IBBA chart. Alongside him were his trusty rhythm section of JJ Zarbo on upright bass and backing vocals pus the Cadillac Kings' lomg-time drummer Roy Webber and guest artist Steve West Weston on harp and vocals.


An extended intro led into Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have To Go, which set the scene for the rest of the afternoon's gig. Steve Weston's fat chromatic harp tones underpinned a rich version of Ray Charles's Unchain My Heart (from the new album), then into a rolling take of Rock Me Baby where McNeill's slide lines interplayed nicely with Weston's harp.


Again, the two soloists swapped lines and harmonised on the instrumental Hucklebuck. A change of tempo came with Rain Down Tears before clicking back for Clothes In A Matchbox. The finale to the first set, Summertime, showcased a rich chromatic harp solo that rightly attracted rich applause.


The second set got under way with the familiar strains of Dust My Broom but everything was kept nicely in check in place of the frequent "boogie bar" treatment. A swinging take on Prof Longhair's She Walks Right In was followed by Sonny Boy Williamson's Early In The Morning, then a faithful performance of Rick Estrin's My Next Ex-Wife.


Steve Weston took lead vocals and roused the audience into a touch of community singing on Pink Champagne before an extended Bright Lights Big City saw some solo exchanges between McNeill's slide and Weston's harp.


The session closed with a well-received version of Rolling And Tumblling delivered in the style of Watch Your Step.


McNeill's gigs are never less than well-polished and his vocals are clear, articulate and urbane, very English without any attempt to sound American.


Roy Webber and JJ Zarbo are always well in-the-pocket, allowing the soloists a firm foundation to display their craft. A great gig for a lazy Sunday afternoon with a beer or three!








Par excellence


A slide guitarist par excellence, Martin was the perfect man to put us in the right mood. He finished an all-too-brief set with an excellent rendition of Chain of Fools...




Raising the bar


We try to set the bar high for our gigs, but tonight we raised it even higher with the fantastic duo that was Martin McNeill and Steve West Weston. Great evening with a sell-out crowd...



Incredible night


Wow! What an incredible night with Martin McNeill. Out of this world.




'He is regarded as one of the top acoustic blues artists in the UK and the next couple of hours showed me exactly why...'




Martin McNeill & West Weston,

Emsworth Music Club, Jan 10, 2020


It is only a year since Emsworth Music Club put on their first gig in the back room of Hewitt's Cafe (capacity about 60 to perfect for acoustic acts). Starting a music club is brave in the current climate, but Chris Fosbrook and Colin Thomas have had nothing but success.


What could be better to start off the new year than two men at the top of their game playing together and attracting a sellout audience?


Steve "West" Weston is, in my humble opinion, one of the very best harp players, certainly in the UK and, from the number of overseas gigs he does, in Europe as well. We were lucky to get him as he spends a lot of time in Scandinavia paying with Trickbag and was about to embark on the Mud Morganfield tour.


Martin McNeill is a man who flies under the radar a bit. I had heard of him but knew very little about him until I did my research. It turns out he is regarded as one of the top acoustic blues artists in the UK and the next couple of hours showed me exactly why.


After being warmed up by the "house band" consisting of Chris Fosbrook on harp and Keith Emery on guitar and vocals, we were treated to two sets of superb music. Both Steve and Martin made everything look so easy and relaxed.


Martin spent most of the night smiling as he picked his way through some classic blues numbers like Unchain My Heart and That's All Right. His slide playing was exceptional and his vocals very smooth amd mellow.


Steve's harp playing was totally spot on, but I've never seen anything less from him. However, his voice surprised me. I've heard him sing before but tonight was a revelation. When he sang Let Me Explain his voice was deep and rich. He held the audience in the palm of his hand with his harp "kisses" and his unambiguous humour. I think the most modern number was Canned Heat's On the Road Again, a harp player's classic.


Steve led the way on an incredible instrumental improvisation which started out at a decent pace and got faster and faster until I wondered how he managed to breathe and play, before they slowed things down with Chain of Fools, Martin's tribute to Aretha Franklin.


Martin expressed his appreciation by saying that even the three-hour journey from Essex was worth it to play to such a great audience. It was really a good night, enjoyed by everyone. For me, it itroduced me to Martin, a player I will gladly see again when possible.



Exceptional slide playing, smooth and mellow vocals



If you're not familiar with Martin McNeill, his style of blues, either as a solo performer or with his band Bottleneck Blues, is urbane and easy on the ear (in the nicest possible way). His music is largely framed around his prowess as a slide guitarist and his ability to evoke almost lap steel tones from his archtop.


McNeill took to doing Facebook live sessions very soon after the start of the restrictions and he has dipped into his considerable repertoire on a weekly basis, which he intersperses with nice anecdotes about the songs and acknowledgements to the watching friends and fans.


Via the Facebook feed, we were taken into Martin's study, where he used two archtop guitars (in different tunings), a harp rack and a trusty right foot to keep the beat. A gentle version of Brownie McGhee's 'Living With The Blues' got things underway followed by Junior Parker 'Next Time You See Me'. where the harmonica rack made its first appearance.


The mood became a touch more serious with two Civil Rights-themed pieces (appropriate for our times), Odetta Holmes Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Set On Freedom', followed by an instrumental version of Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come', both delivered with suitable reverence.


The harp came back into play for Tarheel Slim's 'No. 9 Train', before a soulful rendition of 'The Dark End Of The Street'. A swift change of guitar beckoned a lively version of Lightning Hopkins' 'Mojo Hand, whereupon Martin explained what a mojo hand is.


We then had a brief foray down the jazz end of the room for Duke Ellington's 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore', then back on the blues page with Rick Estrin's 'My Next Ex-Wife'.


We stopped off at Ray Charles' You Don't Know Me' and Bobby Womack's 'It's All Over Now in response to a request for something with a Rolling Stones connection) before the final number, Louis Jordan's 'Blue Lights Boogie', which was a good showcase for McNeill's slide abilities.


The hour runs from 9pm each Thursday and is a nice way to wind down the day with a well-chosen selection of material: even when he selected a song that might attract the attention of the "Blues Police", he adapted it to his house-style so as to give a good variety within a common thread. Martin maintained a nice interaction with folk as they appeared on the Facebook page (which included his Mum and Dad!) that helped draw you into the proceedings.


A special mention should be made of the fact that McNeill raised over £500 for the mental wellbeing charity the Cogwheel Trust through the sale of his CD Cat Squirrel during the month of June. I'd highly recommend joining these weekly Thursday sessions that entertain and soothe during these anxious times.



Urbane, easy on the ear ...slide guitar prowess