Mike Sanchez and his Band/Huntingdon Hall, Worcester

MIKE Sanchez seems to be going soft in his old age.

He relates a sorry tale of how he was tormented by a group of Tottenham Hotspur supporters on a flight to Spain. Displaying all the fake tribal courage of the species, it seems they poked fun at his Little Richard pompadour, secure in the safety of numbers like cowards always are.

There would have been a time when the former Bewdley school yard hard man might have altered a few facial features in response to such provocation. But sadly, there’s not a lot you can do trapped in a metal tube at 35,000 feet.

Then there was the late start to this gig, attributed to the fact that it appeared no one in the road crew knew about the 7.30pm start. The first 20 minutes were also marred by the fact that the aforesaid crew – plainly adopting too much attitude, too little action – for quite some time appeared incapable of diagnosing a sound problem with the keyboards.

Mike should have delivered a rock and rolling rollicking but instead invited the audience to applaud when the offending individuals finally swaggered up the aisle of the Huntingdon, all fur coats and no knickers as my late gran might have said.

Basically, the first half hour was a shambles. And the only reason so much forgiveness was in the air was undoubtedly because this being the annual Sanchez Christmas concert at Worcester meant he was virtually in home territory.

As is usual, the majority of the crowd seemed to comprise the party faithful from north Worcestershire. No doubt about it… he could have delivered a boogied-up version of Baa-Baa Black Sheep and they would have fallen at his feet in supplication.

Thankfully, Britain’s finest exponent of post-war rhythm and blues suddenly remembered his life’s mission on planet Earth and the gig was rapidly pulled together by the force of his personality and a rock-steady band who know their green onions inside-out.

Guitarist Tom Bull deserves special praise. He perfectly reproduces all the classic riffs, right down to the Chuck Berry latino triplets that most axe men either ignore or are simply unaware of their existence. Just listen to Almost Grown… pure, undiluted Berry and utterly entrancing.

Bull knows that if you’re going to reincarnate John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf and Bo Diddley then the first thing you need is an over-driven valve amp that can blast out the blues until the speakers scream for mercy.

Indeed, veteran Midlands guitarist Andy Sylvester – late of the Savoy Brown Blues Band and a hundred other beat combos - was in the audience and could be seen periodically nodding his head as if to say “Ah, that’s my boy… ”

As for the main man himself, his new set not only includes fearsome versions of barnstormers such as Bobby Darin’s Multiplication but also a few self-penned numbers that met with plenty of approval.

Mind you, Sanchez invites problems with his appeal for requests. This resulted in a lamentable slowing-down of pace and also some confusion such as when Hooker classic Boom Boom got mangled in Kidderminster patois and became Bum Bum. Never mind, the thought was there.

Of course, the firm favourites are never far away. Sapphire, Kiddio, Rocket 88 and a honking version of Little Willie Littlefield’s Kansas City provided proof – if that were needed – that there’s simply no one who comes remotely close to the dazzling prowess of Britain’s high priest of blues and boogie.

The plain fact of the matter is that Mike Sanchez embodies the time-honoured R&B lyric, loving the life he lives and living the life he loves. He never fails to bring the heat and sweat of a southern jukejoint into the bleak midwinter of this corner of Worcestershire… and long may this great tradition continue.

John Phillpott