Warrenpoint Tunes Up For Blues On The Bay Festival

Virtuoso blues guitarist Carvin Jones to perform in Warrenpoint five nights on the trot from May 22

Flamboyant Texas-born, Arizona-based guitarist Carvin Jones, who is one of the headliners at this year’s Blues On The Bay Festival in Warrenpoint, is amongst the most praised blues musicians on the circuit today.

Eric Clapton, no less, once described him as ‘a young cat who I think is the next up-and-coming blues player’, and the legendary Buddy Guy said of him that ‘Carvin plays so hard it hurts’, while influential Guitarist magazine listed him as one of the ‘50 Greatest Guitarists Who Ever Walked The Earth’.

Jones is understandably thrilled by such accolades. ‘Yeah, man,’ he chuckles. ‘When you get praise from your idols, it’s the biggest compliment you can get. I thought what Clapton said was great. And Guitarist, I saw it in the magazine and I was like, “Wow, this is fantastic.” That was one of the highest honours you could possibly get, so it was a great feeling.’

So musically audacious and wildly extroverted is Jones that the musician to whom critics have most often likened him is Jimi Hendrix. Needless to say, the comparison delights him. ‘Yeah, man, yeah,’ he enthuses. ‘He was a very creative musician. His absolute creativity was unbelievable. I like that old 60s rock like Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and Clapton. When Cream played live it was like an all-out jam.'

‘But my favourite guy,' admits Jones, 'is BB King. My granddad listened to BB King records 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and [when I was young] I saw him on television several times and I thought, “Man, this guy is really putting it out!”’

Another of Jones’s favourite guitarists is the great Texan Freddie King, who died in 1976 aged 42, worn out by years of relentless touring. During his career Jones has frequently covered King’s songs, including classics such as 'San-Ho-Zay' and 'Hideaway', which he will no doubt perform in The Duke, Warrenpoint on May 22 – and on each of the four subsequent days of the Blues On The Bay Festival.

Also appearing at the festival are Van Morrison, Larry Garner, Norman Beaker, the Linley Hamilton Trio with Dana Masters, Rab McCullough, Pat McManus, Robin Bibi and others – a veritable who's who of international blues stalwarts.

Jones’s own work rate is astonishing. This year already, apart from playing dozens of gigs in Arizona and elsewhere in the States, he has undertaken extensive tours of Germany, Holland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Italy.

After his Blues On The Bay gigs he flies to Spain for another tour, which is followed later in the year by tours of Poland and Denmark. ‘Yeah, man, 300 shows a year,’ he declares with a smile. ‘I like going in to the studio, but I love to perform live because I love to play music and I love to make the people happy. That’s what I love to do.'

Rather than slide into self-destruct mode when on the road, however, Jones maintains a strict health regime. ‘I exercise and I work out in the gym and I never drink or smoke and I stick to that routine because if I don’t do that, then I couldn’t do this, you know what I’m saying? I couldn’t perform 300 shows a year.’

Jones has been a regular visitor to Ireland since the early 2000s. Indeed, he has played at the Blues On The Bay Festival previously, and has performed at the Harvest Time Festival in Monaghan, at Belfast’s Errigle Inn and at various arts centres throughout the country.

‘The crowds in Ireland really have a good time, man,’ he says. ‘They’re fantastic. They yell and scream and everything, which is what I like. And because it’s small, people can follow the band around from town to town and they can phone their friends and tell them, “Hey, man, there’s a good band, you need to see them when they come to your town".'

Jones’s guitar playing is incendiary and virtuosic. His popularity, however, is probably down just as much to his spectacular showmanship – here is a performer who regularly goes walkabout around the audience, who pulls off all the classic guitar stunts like playing behind his head and with his teeth, who sometimes plays two guitars at once, one with each hand, and who, as the mood takes him, plays standing on tables and lying on his back.

‘There are not a lot of showmen left but I love to put on a show,’ he asserts. ‘That means everything to me. And I love to improvise on guitar. I play different things every single night because that makes it fun for me and fresh for me. I love that.’

Jones is single-minded in his devotion to his music. Frank Zappa once famously said ‘Touring drives you crazy’ but Jones happily foresees continuing to live much of his life on the road. ‘I want to continue, to keep the music going,’ he declares. ‘I’m still young enough that I can keep this going for some time. That’s my goal. I want longevity. I want to tour for the next twenty or more years.’

Asked what audiences in Warrenpoint can look forward to at his five festival gigs, Jones’s answer comes unhesitatingly. ‘The absolute best in live entertainment,’ he promises. ‘A top notch blues band is going to play some fantastic music, like nothing you’ve ever heard played before, man. Yeah.’

Blues On The Bay Festival takes place in Warrenpoint from May 21 – 26.