From booking the blues to starring in his own right…Niall Kelly spent every weekend of seven long hosting London’s ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But Blues’ in the heart of Soho. Now he’s tasting life from onstage, rather than in front of it…
Immersion in London’s blues scene helped establish this affable Northern Irishman as a songwriter of focus and expression, channelling Celtic warmth wrapped in melodic dexterity and lyrical perception. Music that melds folk and country with the blues, in 2017 it attracted the ear of The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott who booked Niall’s band on a sold out, national Irish tour - something of a homecoming for this son of Derry who had moved across the water!
October 2018 sees the release on Glovebox Records of the Special Edition of NOT SLEEPING, a 2CD digipak release containing both of Niall’s self-released band albums (Not Sleeping and Hand In Fire).
You gotta know ‘em to join ‘em. From spending seven long years hosting London’s ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But Blues’ in the heart of Soho every weekend, Derry-born, Niall Kelly is now tasting life from onstage, rather than in front of it. The affable Northern Irishman has developed as a songwriter of focus and expression, channelling Celtic warmth wrapped in melodic dexterity and lyrical perception.
“When I was a kid I listened to all the usual stuff like Bon Jovi and Michael Jackson, but I got into grunge when I was about 14 and I heard Nirvana do a Leadbelly song on the MTV “Unplugged” album (“Where Did You Sleep Last Night”) and that was the first time I’d ever heard the blues or roots music in one form or another. Then I heard The Beatles’ “White Album” which had a huge impact on me and Zeppelin and Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”. Then I went right back in time to Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf when I was in my early 20s. American music was never too far away, particularly Country & Western, which has always been huge in Ireland. And there’s always been that connection with the Irish-Americans and the people who emigrated. There was a local theatre in Derry called The Rialto when I was growing up, which always used to sell out when American country artists came over.”
Though he’d been in a band called Badge in Derry, Niall moved to Manchester in 2001 specifically to follow his dreams of making music as a living. He moved south to London a year later and immediately knew it was somewhere he could cut his teeth as a musician. Trawling the capital’s eclectic and wide-ranging musical environment, he discovered the blues jam scene which suited him down to the ground. He became the “jam host” for weekend sessions at ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But Blues’ in Kingly Street, Soho in 2003, while the great blues luminary, Ian Siegal ran Monday nights.
Sessions grew steadily from open mic to electric blues jams. In no way an easy gig, Niall threw himself into the job: booking the house band, opening up himself (pouring out his heart to an audience getting its beers and checking its coats at the cloakroom), and then acting as musical director for the rest of the evening, mixing in the players and those that fancied a shot in the spotlight, good or bad, whoever turned up. That alone will guarantee you a good night’s sleep.
“Seeing Ian Siegal and hearing him at a club like ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But Blues’ – I mean, what’s not to like? The guy is superb. Watching him play live was a big part of what made me the musician I am today.”
If you let Niall talk he has a war story for almost everyone who’s ever played the club. And, on occasion, he could sit back and catch the wind as someone destined for greater things blew by. Like guitar prodigy, Carmen Vandenberg, then just a teenager, who lied about her age to get into the club. A few short years later and she’s playing and recording with Jeff Beck and has shared stages with ZZ Top, Steven Tyler and Buddy Guy. It shows just what a vibrant and exciting musical climate exists in London and how it can nurture young musicians and pave the way for future careers.
“I hung out with loads of musicians at ‘Ain’t Nothin’ But Blues’ and when I was playing at the 12-Bar Club, in Denmark Street. Leon Cave, who’s now playing drums for Status Quo, played there and I got to know Geraint Watkins, who plays piano with Quo but also has a great solo career. Knowing I’d hosted the blues jam for over ten years and had put on gigs in London, he asked me to put some musicians together in a classic, 70s pub-rock band style, which he fronted and they played every month at a pub called The Wheatsheaf, which was just across the street from Goldtop Studios. Looking back, I kinda met everyone at the blues jams - Oliver Darling, Imelda May’s guitarist was there and, through Geraint, I also got to play with sax player, Martin Winning, who’s played with everyone from Van Morrison and Roger Daltrey to BB King, Dana Gillespie and Chris Farlowe. And Joe Glossop, the keyboard player, who’s a great soul and blues player, and he was a part of the jam scene, doing Dr.John songs brilliantly. And now he works for Sir Tom Jones!”
Niall then moved on to booking blues acts for venues in Balham and South West London, growing them as part of the capital’s burgeoning blues scene. Rollo Markee and The Tailshakers, Steve Weston, Little George, Geraint Watkins…and Sugar Blue. In 2017, Niall and his band supported The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott on a sold out national Irish tour, something of a homecoming for a son of Derry who had moved across the Irish Sea. And this autumn, his first two, self-released albums will be re-issued as a special edition album by Glovebox Records, pushing him into the wider market and getting him into the shops for the first time. For recording, Niall surrounded himself with the finest musicians from London’s blues and roots scene and kept takes to a minimum, hoping and praying to catch the lightning in the bottle that is the perfect live-in-the-studio performance. Guesting on three tracks is legendary pedal-steel player, B.J.Cole, rightly acclaimed for his work with REM and Sir Elton John among others. “Not Sleeping” is both intimate and spontaneous – an album, not just a collection of songs.
“My song-writing is getting better and playing live as much as possible is a priority, getting to places we’ve not played before. The new album we’re working on now is all new music and it completely represents where I am as a songwriter right now. I’m privileged to have Matt Holland, who’s worked with Van Morrison, doing brass arrangements for me for this album and I’ve got Martin Winning playing sax as well. Exciting times!”
Hand In Fire (originally self released 2012)
Working For Your Pardon
Seen The Dreams
Love Light (originally self released 2015)
Shelter In Your Arms
Fire In The Hole
They In Turn
When Do I Check In?
Should Have Not Taken My Time
Niall Kelly The Soho Sessions (Live recording) (self released 2017)
1. Howlin’ For My Darlin’
3. Diddley Medley
4. Polly May
Turn to Page 44 of the October issue of the fabulous BLUES IN BRITAIN magazine (the one with the legendary Corky Laing of Mountain fame on the cover) to read a page article on Niall! Thanks to Nicholas John and Paul Stiles.
The 30th Anniversary edition of R n R magazine (Rock N Reel) is out now and features a covermount CD, which contains the track “Poor ‘Lias” by Niall Kelly, taken from the soon-to-be-released, “Not Sleeping” (Special Edition) out on October 26th. According to R n R, the track is “soaked in Hammond organ” (and we like that)!
Thanks to Mark Stratford at Glovebox Records.
NIALL'S REVIEW FOR HIS LIVE APPEARANCE AT JAZZ CAFE MARCH 2016
The support act tonight was Niall Kelly and his band. Nially Kelly plays guitar and sings and is backed by his wife on violin and vocals plus a guitarist, bassist and drummer. By the time they start, not long after the doors open, the venue is already fairly busy and continues to fill up steadily through their set.
It’s a great set that includes Americana, Country and Rock influences to the music. They really do go down well with the crowd – so much so that when their 30 minute set came to an end they’d already started packing away before the loud demands from the crowd for another song resulted in them setting things back up and giving the crowd what they wanted. An excellent start to the night.
In early 2017, I was asked to compose 9 songs for an album of production music for legendery label, EMI! The tracks will be used for movie soundtracks, advertisements and TV shows all over the world. Recorded with a killer band, including the great, great Geraint Watkins!
YOU CAN STREAM ALL THE TRACKS HERE: https://www.emipm.com/en/browse/labels/KPM/2076
Summer 2018: Niall and the band have been recording tracks for his third album, due in 2019. We’re already excited by what we’re doing and it sounds like a perfect representation of where I am as a songwriter right now! It features some killer brass!
NOVEMBER 2017 -
NIALL WILL BE SUPPORTING THE LEGENDARY PHIL RAMBOW AT THE UNITED SERVICES CLUB ON THE 29TH NOVEMBER WITH HIS 7 PIECE BAND.
NIALL AND 'WHISPERING' BOB HARRIS
NIALL RAN INTO WHISPERING BOB AT AN EVENT IN EAST LONDON. OF COURSE HE HANDED HIM AN ALBUM!
NIALL WILL BE SUPPORTING THE LEGENDARY GERAINT WATKINS!!
Niall will be supporting Geraint Watkins and the Mosquitoes on the 30th April 2017 at The Sound Lounge Tooting Broadway.