You wouldn’t guess that John McNamara had only decisively started his Blues career last year at this very festival. Within this short space of time he seems to have developed a deft and professional touch for the genre, a close understanding of how best to do it justice, with a canny insight into how to write music within the parameters laid out by his precursors, while imbuing it with his own personality.
McNamara has grown up playing in cover bands, he tells us. He has learned a few tricks since then, it seems. While in this hour he intermittently covers others like Robert Cray and Etta James, he is similarly attentive to his own songs, and those that he has covered cannot escape his own personal slant. He has struck a good balance: the presence of both testifies to his ability to write songs barely distinguishable in quality from those who have been doing this much longer than he. Fundamentally, he is a talented and thoughtful songwriter, and respectful of his generic antecedents. Furthermore, after briefly plugging his instrument in what seemed part of a contractual obligation, he proceeds to ‘beat the shit’ out of his guitar and demonstrate his technical skill on the instrument.
McNamara has a good voice for the blues, its rusty quality fitting the style well, but he cannot quite disavow the theatricality that usually comes with those in cover bands. The trilby and waistcoat, the affected American accent and a few of the ‘Whoooooaaa yeahs!’ verged on being a little bit X Factor in form at times. Still, it would have been far more debilitating if he had lacked any passion at all. As the small audience demonstrated, the British possess a reticence that is perhaps not shared by our Australian host. He was a likeable chap, though, and made sure to shake everyone’s hand at the end of the show. He created of his audience a sense of community and it felt a comfortable situation to find oneself in. Minds won’t be blown, but hearts may be melted.