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Blues Cruise first saw the light of day way back in the 1980s. But the roots were created even earlier with the formation of the Encoders.


After failing several auditions to join existing bands as a bass guitarist, Chris (due to his total lack of knowledge on even how to tune the damn thing), decided that a guaranteed way to get in a band was to form one himself. Adverts were displayed and a certain Neil Packman was recruited on guitar and vocals, Joe Kelly on lead guitar and after a short spell with a drummer called Craig, Denis Murphy took over the drum stool on 11 November 1980 (Chris’s 21st birthday). Chris gradually learned the basics and began to sing some backing vocals.

The Encoders played a few gigs and recorded 4 songs before calling it a day.


Shortly afterwards Neil met Pete Evans and got together a scratch band to play a gig at The Jack Of Both Sides (now The Up In Arms) at Cemetery Junction, Reading. Playing under the name Johnny Rhythm and The String Benders they played a set of R ‘n’ B covers to an audience who included Chris, Denis and Joe. Neil was having a party the following Saturday and Chris and Denis were recruited to join the band. Two hasty rehearsals were arranged, the gig was played and it was agreed to maintain the momentum and begin playing properly as a band. Steve O’Farrell (an old friend of Neils) joined on guitar and the first Blues Cruise line up was in place.


Early days outside the Milestone Centre

The band played locally over the following years and Chris decided to leave in 1985 and joined Burning Ambition on lead vocals. An unplanned reunion happened at Denis’ wedding in 1985 when all the former members attended his reception and took over the band’s instruments to play a couple of songs. All agreed that they should continue and recruit a brass section and expand their repertoire to include more soul, particularly songs by The Blues Brothers. 

The first rehearsal with the brass section has held on 19 January 1986 with Jane Hollins on Alto Sax and Graham Haimes on Tenor Sax. The brass section expanded over the coming months with Shelley Killman joining on Sax, Richard Jones on trumpet, John Littlefair on trombone plus several others who’s names escape me in the passing years. The band gigged very regularly with over 30 gigs in the last 3/4s of 1986. The band played every sort of venue from the tiny (5 Horseshoes at Remenham and someone’s living room in Woking) to The Majestic, The Hexagon and The Main Hall at Reading University and a large following of fans was gradually built up.


Denis Murphy emigrated to the US and was replaced by Nick Tipper and Chris decided to leave the band at the end of 1986 but the band carried on. Chris went on to play in several other bands including Nemesis,  Stonefly, Snatch 22 and  Private Idaho.

In 1989 the big version of the band reformed with only Neil (vocals and harp) and Jane Hollings (Sax) remaining from the 86 line up. They were joined by Myron Edwards (Bass), Mark Porch (Guitar), Les Pullin (Drums), Kayla Packman (Sax) and Maurice Hall (Sax).

The highlight for the band was playing at the radio One Xmas party in 1989 at the BBC Maida Vale studios. As a thank you gift the band was allowed to record a four track demo in the new studios, with the self penned Sun City Blues receiving airplay on the Simon Bates Show. After 18 months the band split again not to refom again untill 2004!

Ex-drummer Denis Murphy visited England in January 2004 and a re-union was organised. The plan was for a one-off gig in the following summer when Denis would briefly return. Unfortunately this didn’t come off but the band did reform with Private Idaho drummer Ryan Dobson on drums. The band played their first gig for many years on 18 September 2004 supporting Chris and Ryan's other band - Snatch 22.


Rehearsals continued and anther support slot with Private Idaho came and went. A full set was soon up and running and the band was in full swing in late 2005.

The band have gone from strength to strength with a range of drummers occupying the drum throne including ex-Gator Highway sticksman Terry Garnish making it his own from 2008 to 2010 before moving on to Jimi Hendrix tribute band The Fire.

The band play regularly throughout the Thames Valley area and recent highlights were headlining the Wokingham Food and Drink Festival and supporting legendary American blues guitarist Walter Trout at Sub89 in Reading in 2010.