It’s a couple of years since we last spoke to one of our favourite guitar players, Billy Walton, so I arranged an interview before his show at “Tropic at Ruislip”. As an added bonus, the legendary Roger Mayer (search him online, but as a bit of a clue, he designed effects pedals for Jimi Hendrix) turned up as well because he’s been working with Billy for a few years now. Here’s what happened.
Allan -- It’s been two years since we last did this, at Totteridge, and you were just about to release “Crank it Up”. What have you been up to since then?
Billy -A lot of stuff, we’ve been playing the Jersey shore, tons of gigs; we’ve been writing, writing with friends. There’s a lot of projects in the works right now. We did a whole live thing over the summertime; we had a mobile unit follow us around and we did a lot of recording with that and we caught the fun vibes on the Jersey shore. Right now I’ve been writing and I’ve got about eighteen or nineteen new tunes; maybe do another Billy Walton Band album we’re trying to work on then try and write with other people and have fun and put out some cool stuff. That’s our plans.
Allan -- Before “Crank it Up” was released you were telling me that you thought the songs were stronger on that album.
Billy -- Well, songwriting always evolves and it depends on what you’re feeling. With that one we were going for a Jersey shore laid-back, more soulful type of thing instead of just guitar pyrotechnics like the albums before that.
Allan -- There were a few elements of early Bruce in there as well, the New Jersey feel.
Billy -- Being from New Jersey that kinda comes out it’s always gonna come out.
Roger -- It’s part of the DNA, isn’t it?
Billy -- It’s where you’re from; it’s always going to come out. To dissect the Jersey shore music it’s kind of ahead of the beat, it’s driving all night, in a pumping club on the Boardwalk , and that’s what it’s about.
Allan -- And how are the songs for the new album coming along?
Billy -- There’s a good mix; I want to reintroduce more of the guitar pyrotechnics on the new album, we haven’t picked the songs yet so we just keep writing and we’ll figure out which ones are the best.
Roger -- You haven’t actually decided on whether the line-up for the record is gonna remain constant. There would be no reason for every track to have the same personnel on it; is it fair to say that would be a step different from a production standpoint?
Billy -- Yes, absolutely. On this tour we’re bringing two horns; Richie(Taz) is still playing with us back home but I brought these two horns with us just to switch it up a bit. It’s all about the vibe of the night and it’s the same thing with trying to create an album it’s about getting that vibe and whoever it takes to make that vibe happen.
Roger -- If I can say one thing here: I don’t think your records have ever tried to
capture you playing live. You’ve done the live record, but a studio record is completely different from a live record because it gives you much more scope with what’s possible.
Billy -- And I think that’s what we haven’t captured on our last albums; that live vibe. If you come out to a show, you know it’s controlled chaos.
Roger -- And I think that’s true of Bruce (Springsteen)’s albums too. Live he’s fantastic but I don’t think his albums live up to the live performance.
Allan -- And it’s a great experience, a Billy Walton Band live show because like Bruce and Southside Johnny, you never know what you’re going to get on the night, do you?
Roger -- That’s true, when I was with Hendrix, we deliberately never played the same thing twice any night so you never knew what to expect and that’s a jazz thing as well, which makes it exciting. It means you can see the band three nights in a row and get three and get three different and I think that’s cool, rather than some note-for-note rendition which gets stale very quickly.
Allan -- The last time I saw the band, which was at Barnet on the last tour, you played a solo where you threw the riff from “Kashmir” and the intro from the Chicago song “25 or 6 to 4” and that’s great because nobody’s expecting it.
Billy -- There’s no rules and that’s what I was feeling at that time so I thought let’s get into it.
Roger -- Well there are no rules, are there? That is the rule; there are no rules.
Billy -- That’s right, the band’s having fun and if you saw us last night, tonight’s gonna be totally different and it’s got to be that way because sometimes even the band doesn’t know what’s coming next and that’s great.
Roger -- Should they know?
Billy -- They shouldn’t (laughs).
Allan -- I saw Bruce at the Olympic Park and, you know this is coming, but he walked to the front of the audience, pulled out a request placard, turned towards the band, lifted it in the air and the band launched straight into the song; that’s the mark of a really great band.
Billy -- Like us, the E Street Band are all music lovers. Everybody you see playing that way, you know they have a load of Motown records, they have all the Stax records and they still put them on and that takes them back. One night I went to hang out with the E Street guys in Philly and they played “Higher and Higher” and the place just erupted (Billy sings and finger-pops the chorus for emphasis) and afterwards everyone was just so excited that they did that song.
Roger -- Because a great song played by great musicians gets a great reaction. It’s exciting and memorable.
Allan -- So you’re in the process of raising funds to make the album now; how’s that going?
Billy -- Well, there are many different things we’re trying to do and one is that we’re talking to this guy, Tony Braunagel who’s just produced Curtis Salgado, he’s done Taj Mahal albums and he’s interested in doing an album with us, but that’s not definite; it’s not in stone, we’re just raising funds for the next project. There’s always gonna be a project, because we’re always writing and we’re always playing, but right now that’s the one.
Allan -- And that funding’s happening through indiegogo , isn’t it?
Billy -- That’s right, indiegogo. The way the music industry has gone it’s a great way (to fund an album). It used to be that the label that gave you the money, the producer pays everything, you pay him back, but now fan funding allows the artists to do it themselves and own it.
Allan -- And it allows you give something back to the fans that have funded it as well.
Billy -- Absolutely, they feel a part of it; they get packages where they get so many CDs and other deals.
Roger -- And that’s still only the beginning because it only takes you so far, you still have to try to get airplay. It’s still only the opening pawn move in a chess game.
Billy -- You need a fish to catch the bigger fish.
Allan -- Are there any guitar players that you listen to or you’ve worked with over the last few years that you would recommend to a UK audience?
Billy -- That’s a good question; there’s a lot of great players out there but to name one; Freddie King! There’s a lot of evolutions of Albert King and Freddie King out there.
Roger -- But the thing is can they write good songs? Not that they’ve got some licks that they’ve served up in a generic way. Can they write good songs? That’s what makes them stand out.
Allan -- When I saw you play with the Henrik Freischlader Band in January, it struck me that he can write a good song and he has a very soulful voice as well.
Billy -- The thing is, with players that I like, they have something that you can say “I can tell where they’re from”, they’re unique. They’re not just generic Clapton copies; that’s what I don’t like. What I do like is, there’s a couple of bands in New Jersey that came up after Katrina from New Orleans and these cats can play and you could tell they were from New Orleans; you could hear it, you could feel it and that’s what I like. And it doesn’t have to be a guitar player, it can be any musician.
Allan -- I was surprised a few years ago when I read a Bobby Bandiera interview and he was asked about new music he listened to and he said he didn’t listen to a lot but he did say that he liked Radiohead, which was a bit of a shock.
Billy -- Well, Bobby might have been messing with the interviewer there (laughs).
Allan -- We first met when you were playing with The Jukes; are you focussing on the Billy Walton Band now, or is there a chance that we might see you back with Southside in the future?
Billy -- Absolutely. I’m friends with those guys, Southside is great; I enjoy the whole Jersey heritage and I still do gigs with them once in a while but I’m really trying to focus on my stuff. When you think about it there has to be more generations of music from Jersey. Everybody speaks about Bruce and Bon Jovi but what about Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack in Atlantic City; there’s evolution there.
Allan -- We spoke briefly during the first interview we did about some of the Jersey Shore bands and musicians; what is it that makes that scene so special?
Billy -- There’s a lot to it. In summertime the Jersey shore is a vacation spot; everybody from Philadelphia, Washington and New York City hits the shore and along the shore there’s a party every night in the summertime and there’s clubs all along the Boardwalk and everybody meets their girlfriends and they dance, it’s that whole scene.
Roger -- It would be like thirty miles of Blackpool but slightly classier. And it’s better than New York because the clubs are bigger.
Billy -- What’s great about New Jersey too is the brotherhood of the bands. There are clubs next door to each other and when you go on break, you walk out and go and jam with your friend’s band next door and they come and jam with you.
Roger -- A bit like New Orleans in a way.
Billy -- With those guys we all know what each other’s doing and the players are interchangeable. We all get together and have fun and listen to music and talk music and that’s what’s different about it.
Allan – It’s great that Bobby (Bandiera)’s been on tour with Bon Jovi for what seems like forever now, but as soon as there’s a break in the tour he goes back to the Jersey shore and he’s playing McLoone’s Boathouse and places like that.
Roger -- Because it’s fun. If you’re a musician why wouldn’t you want to do something different if you’ve been on a tour round the world and it’s boring as hell.
Billy -- You’re right. You’re away from it all and you’re in a bubble. We played Churchill Downs in Kentucky in front of thousands of people with Bon Jovi and that night I got on a plane and flew home to New Jersey and played in front 150 people at a club, a jukejoint and I loved them both because I had fun.
Roger -- We used to do that with Jimi (Hendrix, of course); straight off the stage and straight down the pub and jam, every night.
Billy -- You wanna play, and you wanna have fun, youknow?
Allan -- Have you noticed any changes in the UK audiences over the last 2 years?
Billy -- Yes, there’s a mix; it’s not just the older demographic. We get the traditional blues fans coming out to hear a guitar player. Then you have the Jersey people who buy into that thing of having a good time and having a party and you get the younger crowd so it’s a great mix.
Allan -- I noticed particularly at the gig in Barnet, on the last tour, there were teenagers wearing Billy Walton Band T-shirts and I thought that was great because I’ve seen a lot of blues players recently at shows where I’m the youngest person in the room, and that really worries me.
Roger -- That’s really sad, man. You should look out for a band called the 45s; they sound like the Rolling Stones did in 1965 and Jimmy Page and the guy from Dr Feelgood gave them a bit of a leg-up, but this is guys that are seventeen and nineteen who wanna portray that energy. So the energy is there with younger people; I’ve been working with some younger people who still like the kind of music we’re talking about so it’s obvious that the music goes right across the borders.
Allan -- And do you think we’re starting to see a move back towards guitar-based blues/rock again?
Roger -- In a way yes, but I think people just generally want to see someone perform. You might not like “Strictly Come Dancing”, but at least it’s a live performance; whatever you say, the band’s playing live. So that from that standpoint, nine million people every Saturday are watching celebrities dancing to a live band. It can’t be all bad.
Allan -- I’ve noticed that over the last year I’ve seen some great young and enthusiastic British blues/rock bands and I wonder how much of that is down to what guys like you are doing?
Billy -- Well, you can find inspiration in many different ways. It could be guy playing saxophone that makes you want to pick up an instrument and try that but just getting out there and playing, that’s the main thing. I was fortunate to grow up in a scene in Jersey where I’d go out to a blues club and there’d be older guys and I’d sit in and I’d get my ass kicked every night and the there was a point when I’d go back down there and I’d kick their asses. They introduced me all these songs that I didn’t know and it was ‘“Born Under a Bad Sign”, what is that, what the hell, I’ll play it’. And it just opens you up and I was fortunate to have that, to be able to play with these people and let loose and go with it.
Allan -- And I hear you had a good time playing with Walter Trout this week.
Billy -- Yeah, Walter Trout, he’s a Jersey boy; he’s originally from Ocean City. We had fun; I tried to take my amp off the stage after we opened up and that wasn’t allowed so it was great, we jammed an Elmore James tune and had some fun with it.
Allan -- And that’s what the Jersey scene’s all about I guess, isn’t it?
Billy -- Absolutely; one hundred per cent. On tour, we have bands open up for us and most times we end the night with the band up on stage playing with us. It’s the party, that’s what it’s about to me; what’s gonna happen that night and what picture’s gonna be painted that night. And then tomorrow’s another one.
Allan -- Well, great to meet up again, it’s always good to hear what you have to say and I’m looking forward to the show tonight now.
Billy -- Thank you.
The Billy Walton Band are currently on the second leg of the UK tour, which finishes on November 26th at the 100 Club and you really should get out to see them. Failing that, help
the guys to fund the new album and grab yourself some nice goodies as well.
On a warm August night in downtown Norbiton, I met up with Anna-Christina and Belle from Lilygun to talk about the release of their debut album. As you can see below, it went in quite a few other directions as well.
Allan Exciting times for the band. How does it feel now that the album’s only a few weeks away from release?
Anna-Christina It feels really exciting.
Belle A relief.
Anna-Christina A relief as well. Even though it’s coming out in a few weeks, it’s still in the middle of everything somehow. There’s still so much admin going on and organising the cover. It’s probably really late to be faffing about with the cover, but we are.
Belle It happens like that sometimes.
Anna-Christina I don’t think we’ve really appreciated it yet. Maybe once, we get the actual CD and seeit..
Belle We haven’t actually seen the finished product yet. It’s just mock-ups of the sleeve and things like that. It’s been a long time coming.
Allan It’s a bit strange because I got the link for the review and burned it to a CD, but it’s not the same as having the cover in your hand is it?
Anna-Christina No, it’s not really.
Allan And is the online release at the same time, September 10th?
Belle It might be 2 weeks later; you got us there.
Allan Was Lilygun something that you always wanted to do?
Anna-Christina Yeah. Basically this band’s been going for a long time. This line-up’s really new but the band’s been going for many years and it’s had a lot of changes, been through a lot of down times, a lot of personal health stuff has come in the way. So in some ways this album, the amount of success it has or doesn’t have, it’s almost like success in just having that album alone. It feels like that is victory in itself because so much bad stuff has happened and it seemed like it wouldn’t ever happen, that album.
Belle Anna, it’s a milestone, I would say. Would that be right?
Anna-Christina Definitely, yeah, without a doubt.
Belle She’s been through the mill a bit with band members leaving and whatever.
Allan So, from when you were young, was this what you wanted to do?
Anna-Christina Yeah, it’s weird because I started playing piano first and I started off writing songs like The Carpenters. I was a big fan of Karen Carpenter which probably explains why I sing low a lot of the time because really I’m actually a top soprano and I’ve forced myself to sing low for years.
Belle I didn’t know that.
Anna-Christina So I wrote songs like that and as I got more dark and depressed and sinister and started getting annoyed with situations and people, the songs got heavier and heavier and before I knew it I was writing rock songs but it wasn’t a conscious decision, now I’m going to write rock songs, it was just a natural progression. Then, yeah, I started playing guitar and it went on from there.
Allan So we sort of touched on this already, when did Lilygun start to take shape?
Anna-Christina I think it took shape when Aaron John, this amazing artist, came in and started playing guitar with us and that was around 2008 when he played on a demo. He was the first guitarist that really formed the sound that you hear today. All the weird sound effects and tinkly little bits and bits of magic, we kind of wrote them together and that’s when I think it became more than just rock it went down a different avenue, slightly more of an alternative, edgier kind of thing; more imagination was going into it. So I’d say around 2008 when Belle started playing with us as well.
Belle Yeah, it’s about that time isn’t it.
Allan I said in the review that it kind of reminded me of Skunk Anansie, what they were doing in the early ‘90s with a powerful female lead vocals and a really good technical guitarist doing interesting stuff with the songs as well.
Belle Yeah, well spotted.
Anna-Christina It’s very guitar-driven isn’t it? There’s a lot of interesting guitars, more so than maybe other rock bands that just keep it grungy and straight down the line rock’n’roll kind of thing. There’s other aspects going on which is why I think it’s got that Goth tinge to it as well. I think you can hear the Cure influences here and there, the delay sounds and the sweet melodies that come from them as well.
Belle But it’s not obvious, is it?
Anna-Christina No, it’s very subtle.
Allan I think the strummed, clean Telecaster gives it that sound as well.
Allan How have you dealt with the challenges of getting your music noticed? It’s a different business these days, isn’t it?
Anna-Christina We’ve just been in our own little world up till now. This is the first time we’ve been this exposed really, isn’t it?
Belle Yeah, it is. It’s just been a question of forming the music really and getting all the bits in the right places. It’s only been relatively recently that we’ve had a fair number of gigs close together. It used to be a bit sporadic..
Anna-Christina While we were switching the line-up…
Belle While we were switching the line-up, fiddling around with all sorts of stuff. It’s only been the last year really if that it’s been more consistent gig-wise and there’s been a bit of a foot on the accelerator going on.
Anna-Christina More of a plan…
Allan You can see it coming together now. I check out the website and you can see the new stuff going on there.
Anna-Christina There’s a lot going on actually. It’s surprising; it’s almost like every week there’s loads of news and new stuff and we’re getting loads of interviews now and people are starting to take notice and that’s fantastic.
Belle There’s a little story developing, isn’t there?
Anna-Christina It almost feels like there’s a little buzz. People saying: “What’s this band called? They’re alright. How long have they been going for? ”
Allan Do you think that the way the music business has gone over the last 10 years, with no more 5-album deals or anything like that, no more huge advances, do you think the fact that that helps you to bypass the retailers has helped you or hindered you?
Anna-Christina I think in a way it’s helpful, because you can stay independent. Financially it’s more difficult because you have to pay for everything on your own and doing an album costs a lot. There’s a lot of other things involved that you don’t calculate when you’re preparing for it; other costs that come into it like sending out press packs and stuff like that, it does become very expensive. Even paper and ink and envelopes and little things like that just add up.
Belle If you weren’t independent, you’d have access to all of that.
Anna-Christina Exactly, but on the other side of the coin, you’ve got more control and you don’t have someone coming in messing up the songs and messing up our image and saying “You can’t wear that” or stuff like that.
Belle The independence thing, it’s great for control freaks.
Anna-Christina Yeah. What are you trying to say?
Belle Well, it is…
Allan One of the earliest interviews I did for Music Riot was with an American singer who broke through in the ‘70s and he’d been through the mill with the music business and told me about being asked to deliver an album to a deadline and delivered it to the deadline, on the nose, and the label made them wait 6 months for the artwork before they would release it. You can imagine how frustrating that is.
Anna-Christina It kind of loses energy in a way when you have to wait. We had that with our EP; it just took so long to finish it and get it done that by the time it came out, the excitement and the energy had gone.
Belle Yeah, that’s very common for that to happen, very common.
Anna-Christina But with this album, we did take our time but I think we needed to do that because…
Belle Somehow we’ve got round it and it still feels ok. Even though it is a while it doesn’t seem to have lost its energy for some reason, which is a bit of a miracle.
Allan I’ve heard artists talk about life-changing experiences but you really did have a horrific experience. Can you tell me about that and how it changed your life?
Anna-Christina Yeah. Before that I was ruthlessly working as a song writer towards certain goal and it kind of knocked me off track because I was so ill afterwards: I had a brain haemorrhage and it took me a long time to recover from it even though my operation was a success (I had 2 operations and the first one didn’t work and the second one, it worked and I was very, very lucky to come out of that). It was such a shock to experience something like that so young and to be in hospital, in intensive care, and see things that you can’t imagine and you can’t even explain to other people how awful it really is. It’s a real reality check, something like that. It really knocks you back down to earth and afterwards, it took me a long, long time, quite a few years actually, to get over it because I was just sick all the time. I was trying to do Lilygun, trying to progress but my health was a real issue and it was a battle, it really was, and I also think that’s why it’s taken so long for us to get to this point. Every time it felt like it was ready, I’d just be constantly ill, I’d have to pull us out of gigs because I couldn’t perform and I think also, I couldn’t write, I had writer’s block as well. I couldn’t even put into words how I was feeling.
I was so emotionally just a wreck; one minute I was high, next minute I was down. It was such a rollercoaster of feelings and it almost felt like, I don’t know, I wasn’t a normal human being any more. So my attitude towards Lilygun really changed because at one point it was quite dark and I thought I can’t really continue like this because it’s just too much of a battle but then on the flip side of the coin I thought “Look at me, I’m alive, I can still do it, keep going and don’t give up”. It could have been much worse for me and after I went through the whole “Why did it happen?” phase, suddenly it was like I switched and it was like I was alive and this is so amazing and at the gigs I felt more emotional than I’d ever been before because it wasn’t just a gig for me; I’m so lucky I could get back on stage and carry on with this. People have no idea the state you can get into; once you don’t have your health, you’ve got nothing. And maybe when you’re younger you don’t realise how precious that is but when something like that happens to you, suddenly you really, really appreciate life and you learn to enjoy every minute of it.
Which is another reason why the album took longer because we did an EP before and I did a lot of the recording of the album myself and had a lot of struggles with the EP because, as a sound engineer, I was trying to learn as I was doing it and I made a few mistakes. With the album I really wanted to learn the technical aspects of it as well; not just being the performer I wanted to engineer it and learn about drums and recording. I was there at every single recording session to learn; when Belle was recording the drums I stayed there minute so I could absorb like a sponge all the information and experience of it. I was learning as a sound engineer at the same time.
Allan And that’s all part of how the final thing comes together, isn’t it; understanding the technicalities?
Anna-Christina Yeah definitely and also emotionally being able to tap in to the songs. I think, after that operation, with music in general and the songs, I could tap in to the emotions easier than I could before and I think it just went crazier as well. Now I go really crazy and it’s like, calm down. I had to start really working out because I wasn’t fit enough to jump around on a stage like a lunatic and I realised it; I thought I’d better start getting a bit more fit.
Allan And finally what can we expect in the future?
Anna-Christina Who knows with this band? It seems so organised but, in fact, Lilygun is one of the most crazy…there’s so much drama, there’s so many twists and turns, so many different things happen but, one thing’s for sure, it keeps going.
Belle Anything can happen.
Anna-Christina Anything can happen but it just keeps going on and as it goes on it just gets stronger and stronger. I don’t know if it’s the understanding of it or that will and passion that’s still alive and kicking, you know what I mean?
Belle I think mademoiselle has a fantastic spirit and it won’t be broken.
Belle There you go. Never mind who’s in the band or not in the band.
Anna-Christina It just goes on. There’s a lot of musicians I’ve had in the band, they thought that when they left or if they weren’t there it would just stop and I don’t even know how it carries on; it just keeps going on and on like it’s just out of sheer willpower and the love of music and performing as well.
Allan Do you think the line-up’s fairly stable at the moment?
Anna-Christina Well we’re down a bass player at the moment, so we’ve got people coming in and they’re going to come in and jam with and stuff like that.
Belle It’s stable in a sort of, the table’s got 3 legs way but we’re holding it up at one end, way.
Anna-Christina But I think that’s almost become a characteristic of Lilygun now. It’s kind of a joke with our friends and fans because they turn up asking who’s going to be playing today. It’s a nice surprise usually because different players keep it very fresh and it keeps us on our toes.
Belle Every few months there’s a different line-up.
Anna-Christina Maybe that’s just Lilygun, maybe that’s how it’s going to be.
Belle Maybe that’s how it’s meant to be.
Anna-Christina I’d prefer it if was really solid and stable, to be honest. It would save me going grey quicker.
Belle You’re obviously very difficult to work with.
Allan If you can tie down all the other bits then you can go off and be creative, can’t you?
Belle This is it. There’s a lot of faffing about and chasing around, isn’t there?
Anna-Christina There’s a lot of extra stuff that people don’t realise goes on. It seems like it should be easy being in a rock band, doesn’t it? You just get 4 people together that love to play their instruments, who want to play in a band. It should be easy and yet for some reason, even after all these years I still don’t know why it’s not easy. Me and Belle, we’re so easy to get on with. We get on with pretty much anyone that comes in; we’re so laid-back and chilled-out.
Belle Personality is a big thing though in successful band line-ups, as I’m sure you know, and sometimes people just don’t click. There’s no magic way to find the right people, it just happens or it doesn’t.
Anna-Christina And sometime people’s egos as well…
Belle People’s egos can get in the way, can’t they?
Anna-Christina And that’s a shame because you should work together as a unit. When 1 person’s great, it just makes everyone look great. It shouldn’t be competitive. It’s just you moving forward like the Power Rangers or something; you all put your fists in the middle and this bright light comes out. That’s how I think it should be but, for some reason someone complains that someone else’s light’s brighter or something…I don’t know.
Allan I read an interview with a singer who had a 10-piece band (including 4 horns) at 1 time and he said that a band is never a democracy because they can’t even go to a restaurant and decide what to eat at the same time.
Belle There’s got to be someone steering it a bit or at least 2 or 3 people steering it and 1 steering it a bit extra.
Anna-Christina Maybe it’s easier when you form at school then because a lot of bands who formed at school seem to last longer maybe because they’ve got that core friendship. Me and Belle, we were actually friends before Lilygun and he’s never been a band member, we’ve just got a different relationship. He was my friend, we were down a drummer and I said can you come and play and that’s how our relationship formed really isn’t it and it’s never complicated with us. Unfortunately , to find 4 people that are that easy-going and good at their job at the same time is surprisingly difficult.
Allan Anyway, thanks very much and good luck with the album.
Anna-Christina/Belle Thank you.
You can see pictures from the Lilygun gig which took place later that night here.
It’s a foggy night in London town (Whetstone actually) and I’m sitting backstage at the All Saints Arts Centre, which is a rebranded church hall where The Who (in their High Numbers era) played in 1964. I’m chatting to the ever-approachable Billy Walton under the eagle eye of Plus One, who’s trying to make sure that I don’t morph into Lynn Barber mid-interview; as if. This is roughly how the conversation went.AM I’ve been following the tour on Facebook this time and it seems like it’s been a bit of a blast.
BW It’s been great; the turnouts have been wonderful and the shows have been going fantastic and it’s nothing but happiness all round.
AM The UK’s interesting because it’s always been a good territory for bands like yours hasn’t it?
BW Yeah, guitar rock’s still alive and rock ‘n’ roll’s still breathing.
AM It’s been nearly 2 years since we last met up, what’s been happening in that time?
BW Actually, with my band we’ve been playing gigs and we’ve just recorded a new album called “Crank It Up!” and we’re very excited about it and we’re doing this tour pushing that. Myself, I’ve been playing with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. I didn’t do the UK tour this time because I was doing my tour and finishing the album and I fly back next Thursday and play with The Jukes again up in Rhode Island, so it’s been a very busy summer, it’s been wonderful.
AM You mentioned the album, I’ll come back to that in just a minute but I’ve noticed that you’ve become really popular with the Jukes fans as well.
BW It’s been great, Jukes fans are music lovers and the Jukes are a unique band where nothing’s polished and you never know what’s going to happen and that’s what’s great and the fans dig into that because it’s happening in real time; even we don’t know what’s going to happen next.
AM As a guitar player in The Jukes, there are some big shoes to fill there when you look at who’s been there in the past.
BW Yeah Little Steven (van Zandt) and Bobby Bandiera who’s a great, great player but we’re the next evolution of The Jukes, so it’s a cool thing and to hear Southside sing every night is a pleasure.
AM And Southside seems to be pushing outwards again with The Poor Fools.
BW He’s always on the go, which we all are. We all want to do different projects, do different things and evolve musically still, no matter what.
AM So, tell me about the new album then.
BW The new album; I’m very proud of it. It’s a little bit more laid back than “Neon City”; the songwriting is a step up. I’ve been doing some writing with this guy Randy Friel from Scullville Studios; he’s a good friend of mine, a great piano player and we’ve been hitting it off and writing, we just come with ideas and magic happens.
AM With the kind of touring schedule that you’ve got with The Jukes and the Billy Walton Band, how do you actually manage to fit in the writing and the recording?
BW I’m still trying to figure that out. We did it and after we got the project done, you realise you can’t believe you made the time to do that. It’s just constantly working and then we’re going to be on to the next album and on to the next Jukes show and the next Billy Walton Band tour, constantly moving, constantly evolving and trying just to get out there and play guitar.
AM So, have you got a home studio that you use where you put ideas together?
BW No, I don’t personally because I like being a guitar player and a songwriter instead of an engineer; I know a little bit about it and I have done it in the past to put ideas down but when you’re in a creative mode, you want to capture the creative mode instead of trying to get this take. You want to stay in that creative mindframe, for me anyway.
AM You and William (Paris) have obviously been together for a while now and I’ve seen that on stage it’s almost telepathic sometimes, so do you come along with an idea for a song and you work on it together?
BW Yeah, constantly. He has ideas he throws at me and I throw them back and they evolve. We do some jamming in the middle of songs and sometimes that sparks something; every song comes in a different way. It’s not like it’s cut and dried; okay, next song.
AM It’s a bit like that that Keith Richards quote that you don’t write songs, they’re just in the air and you have to pick them out.
BW Well, he had a few. We were talking earlier about Randy Friel, where the magic was happening. If you like somebody and you surround yourself with good people, have a good time, pop open a beer, have some fun, do some writing and just let it go then you’re creating instead of just champing at the bit trying to put a song down to get it out there. That’s what’s different about this album. Not running out of time, just doing it.
AM So is most of the material on the new album your own songs?
BW Yes, it all is; no covers.
AM That’s great, I’ll look forward to hearing it. I understand there was some original financing on the project as well.
BW We did the Kickstarter programme, which is a great, great programme not only for music but for all the arts; for people who want to put movies out or artists. You’re preselling your album and offering alternatives and people really dig in to it and it’s great for the artist because they don’t always have the money upfront and it gives you the ability to create more instead of being held back financially.
AM That’s great, thanks for your time Billy.
BW Thank you.
And that should have been the end of it; get a few photos, have a couple of Buds and enjoy the bands for the rest of the night. I’ve done a live review of the band already and I’ve seen them a couple of times so there’s no reason to do another review. Okay, I was wrong; I’ve seen the Billy Walton Band twice doing support sets and tonight they’re headlining which is a whole new ball game.
The support band is The Stone Electric who play a steady opening set which brings to mind early 70s British bands like Free and Stone the Crows or, more currently, The Black Crowes and they feature the powerful voice of Noni Crow. They get a fairly good response, and the audience are pretty nicely warmed up for the headliners.
The nucleus of BWB is Billy Walton and bass player and co-writer William Paris joined on this tour by drummer Simon Dring and tenor sax player Richie Taz and from the moment they take the stage it’s a bit like being hit by a hurricane. We’re only halfway through the first song when Plus One makes the observation that Billy’s an incredible guitar player, which is an understatement if anything but I’ll come back to that later.
Billy and William have played together for several years now and could add any other competent musicians to the mix and it would work out pretty well. This time, however, Simon Dring and particularly Richie Taz (who plays on Billy’s new album), add many different options to the usual BWB power trio set, including the opportunity to throw in a couple of Springsteen covers, “Badlands” and “Rosalita”. For most bands these would be brave choices but the quality of the playing, particularly the interplay between guitar and tenor sax, is so good that the band produce stunning versions of these songs which have all the power of the E Street Band originals.
The set lasts for a couple of hours and is a mix of material from the new album, older Billy Walton originals and a few covers thrown in. Although Billy Walton is a great rock player, he’s capable of a lot more besides; the set tonight includes the live favourite “Soul Song”, the country blues of “Deal with the Devil” and the early Springsteen feel of “The Deal Went Down” (both from the new album) and the band sound tremendous in all of these styles.
What makes BWB so special live isn’t just the outstanding technical ability; the band know how to entertain and to sell the songs as well. They play with a huge sense of enjoyment and aren’t afraid to inject a bit of humour into the show. The solos and jams can lead anywhere; how about breaking into the Surfaris’ hit “Wipeout” or the “Peter Gunn” theme during a solo or throwing in a verse from The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” in the middle of “Badlands”? The band knows how to pace the set, picking the moments for the slower-paced material before building up a head of steam for a barnstorming finish and then it’s all over, leaving the band and the audience completely drained.
Do yourselves a favour and go out and see the Billy Walton Band next time they’re in the UK; I’ll even let you know when it is. Any band that can make such a glorious noise with an audience of about 150 in a church hall in Whetstone deserves to reach a bigger audience.
AM - How did the European leg of your tour go?
SSJ - Well, we missed our keyboard player, he had some family things, but Amsterdam was great . The best part of Amsterdam is that The Paradiso’s a great venue. We started off with the Solomon Burke stuff because I grew up with listening to that and some of the songs with the early band were Solomon Burke songs. We started “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” and the audience started singing before I did and I thought “That’s great man” because it really felt like they were attuned to what we were doing and it was a great moment after Solomon had died a couple of days before in Schiphol airport (on the way to a show at The Paradiso). Then the next night was good and the third night was a disaster.
AM - Is it a bit strange doing the London show so close to the start of the tour?
SSJ - No, you know it used to bother me, London, but we’ve done it enough times that at the end of the tour my voice is completely shot, so I’m glad to get it out of the way. It is still a big thing, an important thing, for us because London is one of those places that you read about when you’re a kid and you can’t believe you’re actually there, but after this we go to Holmfirth and what could be more exciting than that? Read more
AM How’s the tour been so far?
BW Fantastic. There’s been a lot of people coming out and supporting live music; it’s been fantastic.
AM How many times have you visited the UK so far?
BW I’ve been over here myself about 10 times but this is our 6th tour with the Billy Walton Band
AM And when will you be coming back again?
BW We’re coming back in May and we’ll try to come back as much as possible.
AM And is that doing the same kind of venues that you’re doing on this tour?
BW It’s a good mix; we’ve been working our way up the ladder. Read more
The new album has proved to be a success so far, but what can you promise fans who haven’t heard it yet?
The idea behind it is that it’s back to the blue print that we had for the first record, but it’s more straight forward and it’s simpler. And it’s played harder and faster and it’s louder than our previous albums.
How would you describe your style and who are your influences?
The fundamental elements of what we do are four part harmony punk rock band, where the live show depends on a lot of energy and a lot of crowd participation. As far as influences go, we put the band together in the beginning, because we loved the likes of Wire and The Clash and all that sort of post punk stuff. Now, because that’s all in your DNA, you get more influences from a story you read in the newspaper or a person you meet at a show.
You’re under your own record label now, is this a welcome change for you?
Yeah, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done, because it’s fifty percent less people who come and steal the rider at the end of the day! Truthfully ever musician is a control freak and it’s easier to keep an eye on things when you’re on the label. Read more
Kill Cassidy join us on the MusicRiot Presents podcast episode 6, and here they give us a bit of background type info!
Tell us a little bit about each of you.
Tim: My name is Tim Sensation, I have my parents to thank for that. I sing in Kill Cassidy and am half of the song-writing team.
Martino: My name is Martino. I play the guitar in Kill Cassidy and am the other half of the songwriting team. I am 6′ 4″. I like long walks, reading, European cinema, drinking till I’m drunk and talking about the universe and most of all going somewhere ordinary and listening to music that makes it feel unusual. Cat-lover, GSOH etc, etc…
What’s the story behind the name?
M: Simply put, it’s the title of a song from a long lost band, who were gigging friends a few Summers ago!! Read more
Jess Morgan entrances us on MusicRiot Presents… podcast episode 6, and so we thought it was a good idea to find a bit more about the woman behind the voice.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Now let me see… I was born and grew up in Norfolk. I’m a huge fan of the countryside and the coast which Is why i suppose, things didnt work out so well for me in London this year. I moved to the big city after graduating to try to gig as much as possible and make a name for myself.
I did play a lot of gigs and think it came to about 60 gigs from October to October. I’m a hard worker and I’m always writing wherever I go. I’ve moved back to Norwich now and intend to try to build a solid following of likeminded people whilst still keeping links with London and other regions.
How long have you been making music?
I began playing and singing at uni in York. There was a cool little open-mic night every other Thursday and eventually i did pluck up the courage to go and play a song. The support i found while I was at university was tremendous and i couldn’t imagine a better start or more supportive people to be around. Read more
He’s on the latest MusicRiot Presents podcast, so we thought we’d find out a little more about Lucky Jim!
So, who are you?
My name is Gordon Grahame and I make records as Lucky Jim as well as under my own name.
What’s the story behind the name?
Lucky Jim was actually originally a combination of my self as writer and singer and Ben Townsend as Producer.
I am originally from Edinburgh, but met Ben in Brighton and made our first album “Our Troubles End Tonight” and soon signed to Dance Label Skint Records – not one of my better ideas. Read more
Looptron is featured on episode 4 of the MusicRiot Presents podcast, we wanted to find out more about him.
So, who are you?
Neil Sharkey, a.k.a. Looptron. Who the f**k are you? And what the f**k are you doing in my house?!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m 180 centimetres tall, weigh 75 kilograms, I’m an Aries, my favourite colour is blue and I have a morbid fear of that nasty fake tomato sauce you get on baked beans and spaghetti hoops. Read more