And by tortuous means we ended up at the above on Sunday. Solid Entertainments promote a series of live presentations in what aren’t normally the trendiest of locations, often as mini-festival type packages and very good value they are too if you fancy a day of live and 80% original music.
The day started around 2PM with a young band called Southbound. A bunch of schoolmates aged 18, you get a bunch of original songs in a covers-free set presented by a handy two guitar attack, a tight and well rehearsed rhythm section and a great Lighthouse Family-style vocal which had more warmth than the usual bruiser blueser. What they lacked in conviction and confidence on occasion they certainly had in quality playing and some very serviceable, if on occasion derivative songs. Enjoyable. One To Watch.
Two’s up, The Rainbreakers. From their gig sheet you can see they’ve pretty much played everywhere over the last year or so and it showed. You can absolutely expect a competent, square-jawed bluesy rock band. They started with a few of their own songs, including an OK ballad which might have been a cut above with a bit more of a soul twist in the vocal department. These were followed by the first covers of the day, a melange of Hendrix and Albert Collins, but they really weren’t looking like the time of day / week was doing much for them. A couple more fairly so-so songs and then Free’s “Fire and Water”, which was probably standout tune of the set along with set finisher “Nothing Going On”. They were OK, extremely good musicians, a safe pair of hands. And that was the crux of the problem really.
Rebecca Downes and her band have that sort of swagger that suggests they feel like they’re on their way and on the strength of this they have every reason to do so. The band have an elastic, Steely Danesque keyboard player who adds an extra dimension to what they can do and this meant their set had an interesting range. It took her a couple of songs to get into her stride vocally – by her own admission her throat was in a bad way, but hey, a trouper’s a trouper – but once she got to the cover of Erma Franklin’s “Another Piece Of My Heart” you knew it was going to be alright. Don’t know about the etiquette of playing “Rather Go Blind” when Chicken Shack were due on later but let us not dwell on that. Own stuff was interesting and well worth a listen. They done good and earned a decent reception.
Now then, now then. The Brew. Let me start by saying they got the best response of the whole day from the rather dour crowd and impressed all and sundry including me with their spectacular guitar trickery, and the amazing drum solo, which the drummer completed in barnstorming fashion with his bare hands. They were due off to mainland Europe the following day and if they can get the kit to hold together (repeated problems with the bass lapsing into acoustic mode and the bass player’s mic sounding simply dreadful) they will undoubtedly do well Over There. For me, though, it was a strange kaleidoscope of 21st century prog rock meets power trio. They are undoubtedly Onto Something and all three of them are ridiculously talented and if I had to pick one band from the line-up that was likely to Do Very Well In Future, it’d be these lads. Not for me though. It was a bit like going to see an early round of the FA Cup and instead being treated to a virtuoso display of keepy-uppy. Impressive but somehow unsatisfying. And I feel a bit churlish saying it as they didn’t half put a shift in and undoubtedly won the audience award.
So by the time Stan Webb ambled onto the stage with Chicken Shack it all had a slightly ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’ feel to proceedings.
Stan Webb has been in with them all, seen it, done most of it and remains one of the genuine British Blues legends who has a string of hit albums and hit singles, even, to his name. Generally regarded as a guitarist of rare ability and touch, what tends to be relatively overlooked is his extraordinary voice, a sort of high – intensity fog horn which even past the first flush of youth can hold a note which can break glass. He has a waspish sense of humour onstage and as the set started off slightly creakily (sound all over the place, some band members seeming to pick tempo or key more or less at random) his mood blackened and he took to introducing songs off mic as it was easier to be heard! Whereas many of us did find this highly amusing he did receive some choice Yorkshire vernacular, especially when he claimed it was like playing Batley Variety Club (at which point a punter who accused him of never having been there got both barrels and a glowing tribute to Ken Dodd for his pains). Never heckle an old ‘un. They HAVE heard it all before.
As things settled he ran through a series of Chicken Shack latest and greatest and during “Rather Go Blind” he went walkabout and ordered a pint of Carling from the bar, chatted up the young barmaid and did a sort of mid-gig soundcheck whilst the guitar tech faffed around with his guitar. Well, as he correctly observed, what else to do?
Given a diffident and rather tired audience, they went down well by the end of the set, the crowd won over by the sheer class on display, but he and his band will play better gigs and consequently they are – still – well worth catching.
Well done, Solid Ents – a brave and hopefully worthwhile enterprise with more of these shows in the pipeline. Catch one or stay in and watch the telly and the whole thing eventually falls over.
OK, so it’s Shoreditch on a Friday night. Normally I would rather eat my own body weight in guitarists’ nail clippings than visit a Shoreditch venue on a Friday night but, in this case, I’m making an exception because the venue and the artist are a little bit special. Rich Mix is a charity and social enterprise comprising a cinema, performance space and food outlet in a building which at one time was a garment factory (when we made garments in the UK). John Fairhurst is a bit special as well; his style is predominantly blues, but don’t expect third or fourth generation, ironed-out gutless blues because this guy taps into the feel of the original mid-twentieth century originals with a little side order of Indian classical tradition and some Hendrix and Neil Young for seasoning. His songs are featured in two films to be released in 2015, “The Beat Beneath my Feet” and the Scorsese-produced “Tomorrow” and his latest album “Saltwater” (highly recommended by MusicRiot) was released in late 2014. So we’re looking forward to this one.
To start up the evening, DJ Chris Tofu warps and bends blues with electronica and samples to build up the atmosphere before the John Fairhurst Band really kickstarts the event. The “Saltwater” album has some fairly big productions, but the live set is a power-trio affair delivered by John, Pete Episcopo (bass) and Toby Murray (drums). While the focus is always on John Fairhurst’s playing and vocals, this set-up only works if the rhythm section is at the top of their game and Pete and Toby certainly don’t disappoint, providing a solid foundation for the songs and John’s extended solos. The set leans heavily on “Saltwater” material, featuring the Mississippi John Hurt classic “Pay Day”, the Hendrix-inspired “I’m Coming Home” and an astonishingly powerful version of the album’s title song to close the set. John Fairhurst’s playing is raw, loud, phasers-set-to-stun blues; it’s not for the faint-hearted 70s-era Clapton and Joe Bonamassa followers, but it’s a glorious earthy noise and the quality of the playing is stunning. I’ll certainly be having more of that later in the year.
As a bonus (well, this is part of the London Remixed Festival), the final live set of the evening is a collaboration between producer and live remixer Reverend Rockwell, John Fairhurst and Boxcar Joe Strouzer. You can’t argue with the performances and it’s an interesting experiment, but the programmed beats really aren’t a match for three great musicians playing together as a unit. Nothing wrong with it, but it just wasn’t the highlight of the night.
Things are looking good for John Fairhurst this year. He has a newish album to promote and, on the evidence of tonight, he’s going to win new fans every time he plays. The fact that his music is featured in a couple of new films as well is probably more valuable than radio plays in the current climate; I’m really hoping that things work out for him.
And how do I feel about Shoreditch now? Well, it would be great if it was all like Rich Mix, with a diverse audience and staff that make you feel that they actually like having you in their venue. It makes a huge difference to the entertainment on offer and the people who pay to see it when profit isn’t the only reason for opening the doors on a Friday evening. Fair play to Rich Mix.
Click here to see some of our great photos from the gig.
If you happen to have dipped a toe in the pool that is the British blues scene recently, you may have noticed that there are some very snappy critters swimming there waiting for the unwary. As with any scene that’s out of the mainstream, it’s inevitable that cliques develop, a fact that isn’t helped by too many performers chasing too few fans. It’s a classic supply and demand situation. As well as reducing the cash available to performers, it creates a situation where greed and selfishness seem to be excusable and some of those critters in that pool are piranhas. You can hear accusations of nepotism, award-rigging and other bits of nastiness, but the worst thing you can do is to question someone’s authenticity, which is ironic given that the players who are currently really successful are imitating the players from the 60s and 70s who imitated the original blues artists from the 30s and 40s.
Ok, so here’s where that was all heading; I’ve been listening to an album by John Fairhurst. The album’s called “Saltwater” and it’s not full of tasteful imitations of Clapton playing “Further on Up the Road” or “Key to the Highway”; the inspiration here comes from Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and many others. The smoothness has been filtered out and this goes back to the raw earthiness of early country blues and Chicago electric blues.
John Fairhurst is originally from Wigan; he now lives in Bristol and recorded this album in Bristol and London with the help of Toby Murray (drums), Joe Strouzer (harmonica and vocals), Emma Divine (vocals), Tim Loudon (bass), Luke Barter (bass), Jago Whitehead (drums & percussion), Phil Jewson (piano), Saul Wodak (guitar effects) and Alex Beitzke (bass). I have a little confession to make about the album; on the first listen, I was halfway through before I actually started to get it (during the guitar solo on “I’m Coming Home”, actually). I blame it on the previous review I did, which was a very cleanly-produced singer-songwriter and it took a while to move from that to the over-driven guitar, wailing harmonica and Tom-Waits-dukes-it-out-with-Mark-Lanegan vocals. So let’s go back to the start.
The two opening songs, “Breakdown” and “Who You Fooling” get things off to a raucous start with plenty of amped-up slide and harmonica to get things rolling before the album’s only cover, the Mississippi John Hurt song “Pay Day”, which is much gentler, using the old country blues devices of repeated lines and call and response with the help of the Dean Street Choir. There’s even a sneaky little Eric Clapton reference at the end. “More More More” and “Time Goes By” are rooted in the rural, country blues tradition, the first having a UK skiffle feel while “Time Goes By” could be Tom Waits with the badly-tuned pub piano accompaniment.
You couldn’t really describe “I’m Coming Home” as blues; it’s a mutant Jimi Hendrix/Neil Young hybrid with “Voodoo Chile”-style riff and fill playing in the verses and a Shakey-style solo from the “American Stars and Bars” era. It’s the first of the album’s epic pieces. “No Shelter” is another elemental piece built around a simple (but loud) guitar riff and a reasonably good choice for the album’s first single while “Black Cat” is pure Muddy Waters; it’s a straight-ahead twelve-bar with belting harmonica and that always sounds good to me. So, more of the same to finish the album off?
No way; the penultimate song, written by the whole band, is “Dance in the Pines”, a mad surf-punk piece which splices DNA from The Cramps, Dick Dale and The Ventures. It’s off the wall and it’s brilliant. The album’s closer and title track, “Saltwater” is the magnum opus and absolutely has to be the last track; it wouldn’t be as effective anywhere else on the album. The song, which is a restyling of the Robert Johnson “Crossroads” story substituting the ocean for Clarksdale, has the singer refusing to shake hands with The Devil. It’s an epic which starts with acoustic guitar and vocal (slipping into a Wigan accent) which builds through a rural bluegrass-tinged to a kitchen-sink finale featuring Emma Divine delivering a vocal which easily equals Clare Torry’s famous performance on “Great Gig in the Sky”. And it’s the last track on the album because you can’t follow that; job done.
If you’re sick of hearing second and third generation blues revivalists recycling smooth guitar licks and bland vocals (no, I’m not naming names) then this could be just the album for you; don’t file under easy listening.
Out now (JF005).
So it’s time to move on to the second half of the seventies and the early eighties and we start off with the P-word.
AM – How did you react when punk came along then?
PB – Loved it; I actually loved it and weirdly I wanted it to do what it wanted to do because up to that point my heroes were not punk at all and the very antithesis of punk. I wanted it, because I would have been about seventeen then, leaving school, and just starting to think about playing music in pubs and got a band together; well, actually, I got a duet together with Martin Gore (yes, that Martin Gore) and we were trying to write songs. He liked, I don’t know who he liked, I think it was Simon and Garfunkel at the time and he did like Sparks and David Bowie. I liked David Bowie but I wasn’t sure, I didn’t trust him which now, I think, was probably wrong, but I didn’t get the idea that superficial and chameleon-like was his theme. At the time I thought ‘I don’t believe he really means this’ and at that time it had to mean it and that meant a lot to me and I was probably wrong and Gore was probably way ahead of me on that. So we wrote songs which I tried to make melodic and soulful and he wanted to make strange and weird. I taught him how to play guitar and he was a better guitar player than he is, well, what he’s ended up as. We were writing some interesting songs at the time and we went out as this strange band and the punk happened, halfway through this band.
I had hair like Marc Bolan at the time and he had a bubble-cut but we found ourselves on these punk bills. I’d started writing a few songs as well, so I found myself as a solo person on these punk bills for no reason whatsoever because I had nothing to do with punk musically but I liked the fact you could play somewhere and there was energy there and I started listening to other people who were playing and I thought I’ll have a listen to this, so I went along to see some bands. I saw The Buzzcocks, The Ramones and The Talking Heads when they first came over, I saw The Clash once and there was a big fight so I didn’t hear much of The Clash, but that wasn’t the point in a way. I tended to like a what went on afterwards in the post-punk era; I got really well into that because there seemed to be room for bands like Television and The Fall with some of their lyrics which, at that point, were suddenly taking over for me and I went from trying to write songs like James Taylor with three words in them to two chords and “War and Peace” over the top of them; “Ulysses” or something like that, but then there were bands that that was feeding into at the time like The Fall. I certainly got heavily into The Fall and the more experimental bands but I would still listen to “The Modern Dance” by Pere Ubu and then go home and listen to “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon” by James Taylor because I think that’s what it’s about; they’re not dissimilar in the sense that the person who’s responsible for the music does what he wants it to do. There’s too many categories, in a way.
AM – I know Television, “Marquee Moon”, everybody claims now that it’s always been their favourite album and at the time…
PB – They’re fucking lying; I tried to get everyone into that and a couple of people got it, but for once the rabid NME press was right about this.
AM – For me it’s still one that I’m happy to get the vinyl copy out and stick it on the turntable.
PB – It is actually an album I can listen to at any time and that’s a rare thing. Sometimes, even your favourite albums you think ‘I’m not in the mood for that’, but I can be depressed, I can be happy, I can be whatever, but when Television comes on, that’s it.
AM – So, that was punk, what about what came after that.
PB – Punk was exciting and I was involved in the energy of it; everywhere you went there were gigs. I sounded like Leonard Cohen at that time but anything went and that was the beauty of it. I wore flares and had long hair at the punk gigs I did and it was, sort of, ok. You’d get comments, but that was sort of the point; wait until Dexys Midnight Runners sing about ‘you’re so anti-fashion, wear flares”. You could do anything you liked, it was sort of Dadaist spirit. It was very early on when the fashion thing kicked in, the Kings Road punks, and it was weird because I felt like I’d transcended that because I hadn’t changed. I didn’t even cut my hair so I was like David Crosby amongst the punks.
AM – So presumably when the synthesisers kicked in that wouldn’t really have been your thing.
PB – When the post-punk thing happened, I used to like some of the bands that became known as Krautrock, Can, Neu and the newer ones as well, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft and Einsturzende Neubauten who were pure noise and distortion and the English versions of that like Cabaret Voltaire; I loved all of that. I thought there’s a synth thing going on and Martin got into it, so he buggered off and did Depeche Mode. Suddenly it turned into this really twee pop with no substance. I don’t hate pop music but I thought, with everything he knew, and the stuff he liked, I thought he would have gone towards Throbbing Gristle rather than this thing that happened, which seemed like it was going to be over in five minutes. For all I know he’s now a multi-millionaire and I’m sitting in a pub in Leigh.
AM – It’s a general thing that innovations like that come along, people make really good music and then somebody grabs bits of it for the mainstream and just dilutes it.
PB – That’s always happened. Bob Dylan wouldn’t have been anywhere if it wasn’t for The Byrds; fabulous as that was, I’d rather hear Dylan. I’m probably alone in the world in preferring “All Along the Watchtower” by Bob Dylan to the Hendrix version, even though I like Jimi Hendrix. I’m alone, even Bob Dylan said it’s a better version.
AM – Dylan’s songs have been interpreted by a lot of people; are they better versions or are they different versions?
PB – They’re different versions. Sometimes you can say they’re better versions but the thing I always try to get away from is ‘Dylan’s a fabulous songwriter and an icon of the twentieth century but he can’t sing’. So that means that if Judy Collins or some such does a version of “Idiot Wind”, it will be better, de facto, because she can sing. I could not disagree with anything, outside of UKIP, more vehemently than that. Bob Dylan and Sinatra are probably the best vocal stylists of this millennium. The reason I say that is because you try to play a Bob Dylan song and sing it and not sing a bit like Bob Dylan, not phrase it like him. The same with Sinatra, once you’ve heard “You Make me Feel So Young”, you try and sing that differently. Put your own slant on that; you can’t.
AM – I play and sing badly but I try Dylan songs like “I Shall be Released” and it’s always going to sound like Dylan.
PB – The Band did that; they’ve got some great singers in that band, and it sounded like Dylan; they couldn’t change the phrasing at all. You can sing it in a bland way or you can over-sing it; my worst nightmare is that I’ll wake up and “Positively Fourth Street” is covered by Mariah Carey. She would do it and you can guarantee you would have a queue of people saying ‘Oh, at last this song has been realised by a true singer’, but I would hunt her down and you’d see me on the Six O’Clock News if that happened.
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.
I may have said this before, but I love an album that opens with a statement of intent and “House in the Woods” does just that. The title track opens with a huge guitar riff backed by a smoky Hammond and you know exactly what you’re going to get, particularly when the lead vocal drops in on top of the guitar/organ interplay. The arrangements on this album lean quite heavily on the late 60s/early 70s power trio tradition of Jimi Hendrix, Cream and even Rory Gallagher with guitar riffs and fills punctuating the vocals; the addition of the Hammond of Moritz Fuhrhop to this powerful mix offers extra textures and another layer to the sound.
There’s one thing which makes this album stand above the rank and file of blues/rock albums and that’s Henrik Freischlader’s voice; it’s raw, powerful and, at times, incredibly emotional. Normally you expect singer/guitarists to excel in one discipline, but Henrik Freischlader is a great guitar player and a great singer and he’s equally convincing in all of the styles on offer here. “House in the Woods” and “Sisters” are blues riff-driven, while “Nowhere to Go” and “1999” are much more funk -influenced, but the first real revelation comes with “Breaking My Heart Again” where Henrik’s voice, rather than his guitar work, dominates for the first time. The first time I heard this song, I was convinced that it was a Paul Carrack lead vocal, and that’s not a comparison I make lightly. There are thousands of guitarists who can belt out high tempo blues tunes but, for me, the real singers are the ones who can perform well on the slower, more laid-back tunes as well. Henrik Freischlader is one of the real singers.
The second half of the album carries on in the same vein, with the funky “Take the Blame” and riff-driven “Hear Your Talking” leading into the ballad “Two Young Lovers” before the brooding menace of “With the Flow” and the closing slow blues of “Won’t You Help Me”. The album is a well-rounded collection of songs from ballads to fairly hard blues riff-rock; the band sound convincing throughout, but the vocals really shine on the two ballads “Breaking My Heart Again” and “Won’t You Help Me”.
If you’re into the great blues-rock players like Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and Joe Bonamassa, then you’ll love this album; the playing is always superb and there’s a song for everyone here, whether you want a heartfelt ballad, a riffmonster or something with a backbeat, they’re all here. Listen to this in the car at maximum volume.
“House in the Woods” is out on February 4 2013 on Cable Car Records.
Gallery Different is easy to find, about halfway between Northern Line stations Tottenham Court Road and Goodge Street on Tottenham Court Road, and surrounded by loads of welcoming pubs and interesting places to eat (the Riot Squad always researches background thoroughly).
“London is Calling” is an exhibition featuring music-related artworks by sculptor Guy Portelli, painters Chris Myers and Morgan Howell, mixed media artist Keith Haynes and photographers Charles Everest, Michael Ward and Nathan Browning. If you’re interested at all in the iconography of pop and rock music, you should really make the effort to see this exhibition.
The photography is all excellent, but the highlight for me is the recently-published selection of Charles Everest’s photos from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival featuring some absolutely stunning images of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix and many other great images of a hugely important event in British social history. Nathan Browning’s work is based on the photographic image, but with the addition of painting, ink and poetry pushing it towards multi-media territory.
Moving on to 3 dimensions, Guy Portelli’s dynamic sculptures successfully capture the essence of artists such as John Lennon and The Who while avoiding the stereotyped figurative representations which are so common in collections of British cultural ephemera.
Keith Haynes’ pieces are thoughtful and often ironic, constructed from original artefacts stripped down and reconstructed as creative images. The majority of the pieces are constructed from original vinyl singles and albums, with the exception of the wonderful “Acid Queen” which is made entirely from Smiley badges and is a piece which anyone interested in popular culture should make the effort to see.
Chris Myers’ paintings focus on divas through the popular music era and the Amy Winehouse pieces here are sympathetic representations of a great British torch singer while Morgan Howell delivers larger than life acrylic representations of iconic seven-inch singles from Elvis to The Clash.
Popular culture exhibitions in London can be very tightly-focussed affairs featuring 1 era or 1 medium but “London is Calling” covers a period of 50 years and encompasses photography, painting, sculpture and various multi-media forms.
If you live in or near London (or you’re visiting), go and see this exhibition. If not, check out some of the links; you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve got to be honest and say I’ve never been able to get my head round this one; why do musicians (particularly guitarists) trash their instruments? I mean when did you ever see a conductor shred his baton or a ventriloquist decapitate his dummy as a finale?
It’s all Pete Townsend’s fault because he smashed up a Rickenbacker guitar in September 1964 and claimed it was part of his manifesto as a disciple of auto-destructive art; so what’s that funny smell? I mean it’s not possible that it was just a bit of stage business designed to create a buzz and get people talking about The Who, is it? So he then spent years destroying guitars (which were more often than not cobbled together from previously-trashed instruments). Obviously, Keith Moon didn’t need any encouragement to embrace this destructive trend, but that’s another story (actually, it’s several other stories).
So, who’s next? Someone who didn’t need to resort to any of that nonsense, that’s who; James Marshall Hendrix. This was a man who didn’t need any gimmicks, but somehow felt the need to show how natural his ability was by playing with his teeth and behind his head. So when he followed The Who on the bill at Monterey Pop, he had to go one higher so, obviously, he sprayed his Stratocaster with lighter fuel and set fire to it. As cremation attempts go it was about as successful as Phil Kaufman’s efforts at Joshua Tree, but everyone was talking about Jimi Hendrix and the imitators were queuing up. Ritchie Blackmore, master of subtlety, pretty soon added Stratocaster destruction to his palette of sophisticated onstage techniques.
If you’re looking for some truly bizarre instrument abuse, then Keith Emerson’s your man. His big turn in the ‘70s was sticking knives into his organ (his Hammond organ, keep it clean) but unfortunately it always survived to inflict more prog-rock torture on unsuspecting loon-panted male adolescents. Even the punks got in on the act. One of the most iconic album covers of all time has a cover picture of a very angry Paul Simonon trying to demolish a Rickenbacker bass. Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve played a Rickenbacker bass and they’re heavy and built to withstand everything short of a nuclear holocaust. By the time he’d finally trashed it, Pennie Smith had got the original film developed and printed and the rest of The Clash were halfway to the next gig. Almost inevitably, Kurt Cobain had to get in on the act as well, extending his self-loathing to his guitars during Nirvana gigs in the ‘90s.
Has anyone noticed yet what all of these musical vandals have in common? You got it, that Y chromosome; it’s a macho thing, isn’t it? It’s also an insult to anyone who ever worked hard and saved hard to buy their guitars, drums and keyboards to see performers destroying instruments just to wind up an audience. Here’s an idea; why don’t we introduce fines for this offence the way they do for racquet abuse in tennis. Not looking so smug now are we, Matt Bellamy?
And what if Townsend smashed the first guitar because he didn’t realise the roof was so low?