Marcus Bonfanti (Photo by Allan McKay)

I’ll be quite honest, The Hippodrome Casino is probably one of the last places in London I thought I’d be sitting in watching a British blues player. Marcus Bonfanti’s show is part of a solo tour which is mainly about trying out songs from the new album (out in May) live in an intimate setting.  The Matcham Room is on the first floor of the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square and you get there by making your way through the main gaming floor and lots of squeaky-clean and hyper-polite staff.  The room is set up cabaret-style with tables (table service only), small booths and a balcony; and don’t even ask about the drinks prices.  Ok then, I’ll tell you; over a fiver for a bottle of Corona.

All of this is irrelevant when Marcus Bonfanti ambles on stage; the audience are his and they’re very enthusiastic.  He’s best known for his guitar playing, so obviously he started his set with an unaccompanied blues holler.  He has a powerful blues voice but, the second he picks up a guitar, you know you’re in the presence of a huge talent.  The solo format leaves the performer with nowhere to hide on stage but it’s obvious from the outset that it holds no fears for Marcus Bonfanti.  He’s very engaging and self-deprecating, and casually throws out humorous anecdotes between songs which keep the performer/audience rapport alive during the inevitable guitar changes and re-tunings.

On this tour Marcus uses 3 guitars; a 6-string acoustic, a Telecaster and a resonator.  Although this is a solo set, there’s a huge variation in style and dynamics from the modern misery of “Sweet Louise” to the traditional stomp of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and the rousing slide workouts.  During the 2 sets Marcus played, he demonstrated his mastery of finger-picking, bottleneck slide and Chicago electric blues (and the rest) using old and new songs including “Blind Alley”, “Jezebel”, “The Bittersweet”, “My Baby Don’t Dance” and “Cheap Whisky”.  As a taster set this works perfectly, because I can’t wait for the album now and the chance to hear the songs played live by the band when they tour to promote the album.

Marcus Bonfanti is a major British talent as a blues guitarist, songwriter and singer and this solo showcase emphasises his abilities while whetting the appetite for the full band appearances which will come in support of the new album.  If you’re even vaguely interested in blues, then you really should make the effort to see Marcus when he tours to support the album.