Trying to pigeonhole John Etheridge with regard to genre is among of the most futile endeavors in the universe: that is the fact even those who’s familiar with the British guitarist only by his work with SOFT MACHINE – he joined the band in 1975 to lay down "Softs" and go with them on a few tours, one of which resulted in the issue of "Alive & Well" before leaving only to return to the fold in its LEGACY incarnation with 2005’s "Live In Zaandam" and remain on board to this day, his licks very prominent on 2023’s “Other Doors” – know ever so well. John’s unique blend of blues, jazz and rock saw him play with many a luminaries who wanted to shine brighter and welcomed his six strings into their sound – especially, violinists Darryl Way, Stéphane Grappelli, Nigel Kennedy and Ric Sanders, although the last shared leader’s duties with the axeman in 2ND VISION, the first ensemble to be considered his own, just like Andy Summers did on “Invisible Threads” in 1993. Yet there have been another line-up with the veteran at the front, BLUE SPIRITS.
The little collective in which John weaves arresting sonic yarn with ivories driver Pete Whittaker and, lately, skins-hitter George Double came about almost two decades ago but never ventured into a studio nor released an onstage album – until now. To be out on January 26th, “Blue Spirits Live” set was preserved for posterity – and streamed in real time (see below) in Nottingham’s “Peggy’s Skylight” club on July 23rd, 2022. What’s so special in this set that made the band want to present it on hard-copy media? That’s the question I wanted Etheridge to answer – and he did.
The first BLUE SPIRITS trio gig was probably around 2004,” he explains. “Incredible to think that with Pete Whittaker as a regular on organ – George Double has been with us for about seven years – we’ve been playing up and down the country for so long! I always saw BLUE SPIRITS as a compact, live, outfit, suitable for clubs and was not particularly concerned with recording. When it came to it – I really liked the tracks from “Peggy’s Skylight” – it seemed absolutely in keeping to release a concert recording. The group has always championed a loose, improvisational approach, and for me it has been a way to access the fertile ground between blues and jazz… not that categories need to be emphasised. So our band deviates quite a lot from the classic organ trio sound and combines, for me, a lot of the influences that I’ve absorbed over sixty years of guitar playing. I thank Pete and George for their making this such a satisfying recording and for all their great playing over the years.
And it’s great, indeed, the interpretations on offer including classics from the repertoires of Mingus, Scofield and Stevie Wonder via Jeff Beck. A must-have item.
1. A Distant Voice
2. First Moves
3. Soul Eyes
4. Wabash III
5. Cos We’ve Ended As Lovers
6. Cold Cold Heart
7. Broken Hill
8. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat