It doesn’t seem to matter what field you discuss but teenage rising stars seem to be (mainly thanks to talentless shows) ten a penny. Unfortunately 90% of them really don’t have the talent and the other 10%, well…..

Which brings me to tonight.

About six years ago I was watching Walter Trout, who is never less than excellent, at the Assembly Rooms just around the corner from here, when he introduced a special guest. On walked a very young man carrying a guitar roughly the same size as him. The raised eyebrows were soon replaced by dropped jaws. That was Toby Lee. He was 12ish! Since then he’s played with the Bernie Marsden, the late B.B King and Joe Bonamassa, all of whom have sung his praises, and who am I to question their judgement!

There’s about 50 people crammed into this tiny venue which is basically a home town gig as he lives down the road and its aim is to raise funds for his forthcoming tour with Ana Popović.

The three piece walk on with Toby announcing that it’s going to be two 40 minutes sets and is being live streamed. Classic Three piece band max Williams drums Sam Collins bass

Opening with Doyle Bramhall’s ‘Green Light Girl’ followed by Gary Clark Jnr’s ‘Bright Lights’ it’s clear that he seems entirely at ease and confident in his own playing to be able to tackle songs like these from two highly talented guitarists. Putting Gary Moore’s ‘Midnight Blues’ in front of ‘Love Bug’, off his debut album, is an interesting choice as the styles of the two songs are miles apart. Bookending an updated ‘Take the Wheel’ with two new songs (‘The One’ & ‘Time Ain’t What It Used To Be’) the band finishes the with by putting ‘Whole Lotta Love’ & ‘Black Knight’ in the middle of Springsteen’s ‘I’m Going Down’. That takes some serious bottle and fair credit to the band: it works!

Promising to rock up the second set, the band open up with an instrumental ‘Kashmir’, which is interesting because rather than play it as a facsimile he take the guitar parts off at a tangent. There’s two songs in this set which offer an insight into how his mind is working. His cover of ‘Kansas City’, of which there are hundreds of substandard covers, and his current version of ‘The Search For Happiness’ off Aquarius show how he is developing as an arranger and interpreter of his own and other writers songs.

He follows up SRV’s ‘The House Is Rockin’ with a new (tender) song ‘Paper Aeroplanes’ a
song looking back on younger years, this is weird considering his age! I’m not sure at 18 what I’d have been looking back on, but that’s why he got the talent and I don’t!

With nowhere to leave the stage for, the band finishes with Jeff Healey’s ‘See The Light’ and if you had any doubts whether he could play beforehand, you shouldn’t now.

A really excellent set and it’s going to be interesting to see how he develops over the next few years. This environment suits his voice down to the ground, how it changes with more stage time and how he copes with bigger venues will be something to see. Wisely he chose not to try and be Robert Plant earlier, that shows he knows what his strength is.

A final thought: he’s touring with Ana Popović ( you should go and see him and his band. Tell him Bernie, Joe and Walter sent you. You won’t regret it.

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