Virgil & The Accelerators to tour debut album The Radium

From South Africa to Bilston's famed Robin 2 music club, at just 19 years old, Midlands blues rock guitar hotshot Virgil McMahon has a wealth of experience under his belt and is about to unleash his debut album on the world, writes Ian Harvey.

Virgil & The Accelerators to tour debut album The Radium

From South Africa to Bilston's famed Robin 2 music club, at just 19 years old, Midlands blues rock guitar hotshot Virgil McMahon has a wealth of experience under his belt and is about to unleash his debut album on the world,

writes Ian Harvey

.

Already a favourite among blues fans at the Robin, where he has supported the likes of Stan Webb's Chickenshack, Aynsley Lister, Ian Parker and Eric Sardinas, Bromsgrove-based McMahon fronts the three piece power trio Virgil & The Accelerators, a group riding high on the buzz surrounding their album, The Radium.

The album had website MidlandsRocks purring about "sublime guitar riffs and perfect fretmanship mastery", while the reviewer at Get Ready To Rock called it "the most impressive debut album by a young band that I've heard in years", elsewhere Cream is a name that comes up when fans are seeking comparisons.

Heady stuff, but Virgil, alongside his 18-year-old drummer brother Gabriel, and bassist Jack Timmis, 21, seem to be taking it in their stride.

"We were very pleased with the album," says McMahon. "It was only recorded in a week. We were very happy with the end result. And we're very happy with all the reviews that we've read.

"We didn't want to over-rehearse anything too much. We just wanted it to be more natural than anything, more raw rather than get in there and have everything polished."

Ask McMahon to name is major influences and he instantly reels off a set of names you just wouldn't expect to hear from your average 19-year-old: "Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, BB King, Freddie Guy, Philip Sayce, Joe Bonamassa, Jimmy Vaughan, Eric Clapton – those are my favourites."

As a boy, McMahon's love of the blues was born when he saw his guitarist father performing at a beer hall called The Radium – hence the album title – in Johannesburg city where he was born and raised.

"I used to go along to The Radium from around the age of six or seven, every Friday and Saturday night, and he played with his band there – I'd be at the side of the stage, just holding his guitar. That was my first real experience of it. And from seeing my dad on stage doing that, that made me go 'Yeah, that's what I want to do'."

McMahon moved to Bromsgrove about two years ago but before that the family had relocated to Aberystwyth in January 2002, where McMahon senior started a band called The Accelerators, playing around the seaside town and the Ceredigion area.

By now playing a mean guitar himself and sill helping his dad lug guitars and amps into gigs, Virgil got his first taste of life in the spotlight.

"By the time I was 13 or 14, my dad started bringing me along to the gigs and I'd get up and do a number," he says. "I mainly came along to help my dad carrying the guitars and the amps. But they gave me my little fifteen minutes. So I really have my dad to thank for all that."

Virgil eventually joined The Accelerators full time, making his debut with them at the Robin 2 about three years ago, opening for Stan Webb's Chickenshack.

"Then in January 2009 I started my own band," says McMahon. "We kept the name The Accelerators and we had our first support slot on our own opening for Eric Sardinas and so through that we kind of got noticed. People were starting to come to the Robin to see us opening. We did quite a few support slots at the Robin."

The young McMahon admits the Robin 2 holds a special place in his heart.

"Out of every venue we've played it's probably my favourite. I just feel like I'm on home ground and there's always a good audience at the Robin and we can play as loud as we want to. We have a great time there. We're very fortunate to have the chance to play there, it's a very prestigious place."

Last year was a landmark year in band's development as, aged 18, Virgil became the youngest person nominated at the 2010 British Blues Award and then along with brother Gabriel played in front of 3,000 fans alongside Midlands-born guitarist-singer Joanne Shaw Taylor supporting Black Country Communion at Wolverhampton Civic Hall.

There was a twist though – Virgil McMahon had to learn to play bass guitar first.

"I've been friends with Joanne Shaw Taylor for a long time, she's kind of like my big sister," says McMahon.

"The way Gabriel and myself ended up playing with her on her European and UK tour was because we had a change in bass player in our band and Joanne was using my brother Gabriel and our old bass player, Tom. However Tom left and at that point Joanne said 'It's a bit short notice for me to find another band, could you do it?' And so having never played bass I just said 'Sure' and just kind of went along with it."

And opening for Black Country Communion (the Anglo-American supergroup featuring featuring Cannock-born Glenn Hughes, formerly of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Trapeze, Dudley-born Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin drummer John, American guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa and former Dream Theater keyboard player Derek Sherinian)?

Wow, that was something else! I've met Joe Bonamassa a couple of times and he's a super nice guy. I'd never met Glenn Hughes or Jason Bonham or Dererk Sherinian so I got to meet all those guys.

"I've been a massive fan of Deep Purple for a long time and a massive fan of Jason Bonham and his father John Bonham in Led Zeppelin, so it was a bit of an overwhelming experience.

"Glenn was such a nice guy. I mean here I am, this 19-year-old kid coming up to him and saying 'Hello Mr Hughes, would you mind if I have my picture taken with you?' He gave me a lot of time and stood and had a conversation with me and that was really something special."

Virgil & The Accelerators return to live duty with a warm-up gig at Stafford's Couture nightclub on Thursday September 15, 2011, before a good three months of touring that will see them headline the Robin 2 in Bilston on October 18, 2011.

"It's great," says McMahon. "We rehearse every day of the week. We've had a few gigs here and there but we've been sitting around, kind of gearing ourselves up for this tour. We're most definitely looking forward to it."

The tour is a mixture of headlining sets and support slots for the likes of Uriah Heep, Robin Trower and Blackfoot, putting Virgil & The Accelerators in front of whole new audiences.

We finish off talking about the lyrical inspiration of some of the songs on The Radium. Surely the band is too young to have the collective experience to have come up with songs with such classic blues titles as Backstabber, Cold Hearted Woman and Bad Girls? Not so.

"'Backstabber was originally about an old girlfriend of mine," says McMahon. "Cold Hearted Woman was actually written by Jack, who'd had a bad experience with a girl who wasn't all that nice to him and Bad Girl was about a couple of girls we ran into in Las Vegas."

  • The Radium by Virgil & The Accelerators is released on September 25, 2011.

  • The band plays Couture, Stafford, on Thursday September 15, 2011. Tickets are £6.

  • Virgil & The Accelerators play the Robin 2, Bilston, on Tuesday, October 18, 2011. Tickets are £10 in advance and £12 on the door.

  • For more details visit www.virgilandtheaccelerators.com

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