"SLIDE guitarist & songwriter Dave Arcariís alt.blues sounds owe as much
to trash country, punk and rockabilly as they do pre-war Delta blues and
have been showcased via six internationally-acclaimed solo CD releases.
With more than 100 UK dates a year plus regular shows in Finland,
Estonia, France, Germany, Belgium, Poland and Canada, Arcari is one of
the hardest gigging live artists on the circuit. A series of shows with
folks including Steve Earle, Alabama 3, Seasick Steve and Jon Spencer
along with his relentless UK and European tour schedule have established
Arcari as a formidable international solo performer who is fast building
a media reputation as a 'hell-raising National guitar madman'".
After seeing a 'buzzing'
performance at the Upton Blues Festival last year I met up with Dave at
this year's Great British R&B Festival in Colne:
Alan: What are your
first musical memories growing up in Glasgow?
Dave: Itís interesting
that you ask that because Iíve just done a radio show in London which
was based around this and I did a wee session and had to take some music
in. I started off the compilation CD with a Johnny Cash tune called
25 Minutes to Go, which was one of the very first things I remember
hearing and liking. I remember that I liked the sound of it but I
didnít really know what it was but I was probably only 7 or 8 years
old. A couple of weeks later I went into Woolies with my pocket money
and they used to do these double albums for 99p or something like that
(decimalisation hadnít even come in by that time). There was a Johnny
Cash double album so I bought it, and I still have it, and it turned out
to have a lot of the Sun sessions stuff on it and it was brilliant but
it didnít have this 25 Minutes to Go. After that from the pop
charts I was drawn towards Alvin Stardust, more so than Gary Glitter
because Alvin Stardust was kind of dressed in black and he was a bit
more 50s and rock and roll influenced and Gary Glitter was a bit more
glam. So Alvin Stardust, you heard it first here, Iíll never live it
down. But I still have all his LPs and if I ever got the chance to go
and see him Iíd be there like a shot, I thought he was awesome.
Alan: Did you come
from a musical family?
Dave: Not really, my Dadís
dad was a violin teacher but we are talking about the late 19th
century here, and my Dad played a little bit of guitar on an old
gut-strung Spanish guitar which wasnít very beginner friendly and he had
another one that I used to play with a big old penny (using it as a
Alan: Did you always
want to become a musician?
sub-consciously. But I think I was kind of scarred for life because as
a kid I was only ever allowed to be in the school choir if I didnít make
any noise and was only allowed to move my lips. I was usually kicked
out of the music class, as with a lot of other classes as well, because
they thought I was taking the piss because I couldnít hear one note from
the other, I was told I was tone deaf, flat, but some things never
change. So, not it wasnít until much later that I decided to be a
musician although I did used to jump up and down on my bed with a
microphone into the tape recorder and doing Alvin Stardust impressions
for my granny.
Alan: How did you get
started in music?
Dave: I left school and I
was working in a bank which I did for about four years before becoming a
debt collector. One year at the bank I spent my Christmas bonus on an
acoustic guitar when I was about 18 or 19 years old. Forty nine quid
[£49] Harmony Sovereign from Biggars in
Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow and I remember my parents saying how much of
a waste of money that will be stuck under the bed, but I got a little
book with a tune of the day playing Bob Dylan songs and that got me
Alan: So what kind of
material did you start with?
Dave: Bob Dylan tunes and
then I started listening to Heavy Metal and then I started listening to
Bowie and Lou Read, stuff like that. Then when I got into the acoustic
guitar I suppose you start looking for the stuff that you canít play but
aspire to, so early Bob Dylan - particularly the early albums, and Neil
Young. I suppose now folk play Oasis tunes when they buy a guitar but
for me it was Dylan stuff.
Alan: What first
attracted you to the blues?
I had been playing guitar for a year or two, not getting on terribly
with it and then there were two things that happened simultaneously.
None of my pals played any musical instruments, although they liked
listening to music and then I bumped into this guy who was quite a good
guitar player and he came up to the house to have a jam, but I didnít
know what a jam was. I suppose having a jam often begins with blues
because itís a fairly straightforward form, although not being able to
count to 3 let alone 12 posed a bit of a problem for me but I kind of
got my head around that. At almost exactly the same time I used to go
down to a pub in Glasgow called the Ben Nevis and it was an Irish pub
and on Sunday night they had a duo, a pedal-steel player and a guy
playing the guitar and singing, it was all country stuff, and in the
second half people could got up and sung with them. The guy got a new
PA system and he used to have this echo unit, a tape basically called a
'WEM Copicat' and I asked him if I could buy the old Copicat. He said,
ďWhy, do you play?Ē so the conversation started about me learning, so he
said, ďWell, come next week, play a couple of songs and you can have the
Copicat.Ē So I had to get up and do ďBlowing in the WindĒ or
something, it was probably God-awful, but then I started going every
Sunday night and after a few months for some reason I went to another
pub, called The Exchequer with a guy called Big George playing. And
that was it, he totally blew me away and I never went back to the Ben
Nevis. It was a pivotal moment.
Alan: What does the
Blues mean to you?
Dave: It means punk, it
means rockabilly, it means playing from the heart. It does kind of
mean a rootsy ... not too formulaic but based on a similar pattern and
feel but the interpretation of it is boundaryless.
Iíve got a quote about you here: ďA truly authentic UK blues
artist ... a hell-raising National guitar madmanĒ. Itís hard to
pigeon-hole what you do, so - going by your own description - what
exactly is ďf**ked up alt blues" or "alt blues thatís gonna curl the
Dave: Had I been able to
play in a normal fashion and been good at learning stuff I would
probably have started to play covers. But I was never any good at
learning by rote or parrot fashion and I didnít really have an ear to
pick it up or the memory to remember it even. So I started doing
things my own way and that in itself spawned a make-do and mend style
that really itís by default rather than by design because I didnít
really know how to do it. And I think that what I do is really my
effort at trying to recreate what I hear in my head, although what I
hear in my head and what I do sometimes arenít the same thing! So itís
a melting pot of all the things I like from 50s rock and roll, country,
rock-a-billy, punk, everything I like.
Alan: You regularly
play solo but you are also in the Radiotones band. Are they still
Dave: Yeesss, but we are
doing less and less and only do about two gigs a year. The guys have
got day jobs and one of the reasons I started on my own was because itís
much easier. Gigs would come in, I'd start phoning people, they
wouldnít reply, then youíd get a text message to say they can't do it,
so after youíve begged a promoter for a gig and theyíve finally given
you a date and then you have to get back and say you canít do it; that's
not so good. So, yes, Radiotones does very much exist. Itís alive,
maybe not kicking, but it's alive.
Alan: How did you
start up with the Radiotones?
My first band was Summerfield Blues and then in 1990s I discovered
National guitars, and I was always more comfortable playing slide guitar
in the band than I was playing regular electric guitar. I was living in
Perth and somebody asked me to play a couple of songs before their gig,
which I did, and a couple of weeks later Summerfield Blues was playing
and after the gig this very drunk guy came up to me and said, ďHave you
ever thought about playing with a harmonica player. I saw you playing
last week and you were just by yourselfĒ so we swapped phone numbers and
it materialised out of that. We advertised for a bass player and a
drummer and it just went from there.
Alan: Apart from
touring, you run guitar and song-writing workshops, you do seminars and
lectures; I guess you have a lot of fun doing all that?
Dave: Yes, lots of fun.
Every so often thereíll be something special like in Estonia I did a
slide guitar workshop Masterclass, opening up the realm of slide guitar.
I really enjoy doing all that stuff.
influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?
Dave: Probably somebody
like Blind Willie Johnson, Booker White, all the folk who knocked the
hell out of guitars and didnít particularly care about blues but they
just did their thing and it got called blues. Also some of the more
cowpunk ['country punk'], trash-country comes in
there because it can be a bit limiting if it gets just stuck in a blues
thing, so I think there's some influence in that as well.
Alan: Looking back at
your career so far, what are your fondest memories?
Dave: Oh, everything, just
everything. Thereís nothing that I wouldnít do, or change or not have
done because weíve just had an absolute blast. Thereís so much stuff
marked our progression to going full time so I think a lot of the things
since then have probably been more significant in terms of perception,
like last yearís gig with Steve Earle with fantastic and he turned out
to be a really good guy, a couple of shows with Seasick Steve and he
gave me a bit of a helping hand here and there, and a lot of festivals,
the Great British R&B Festival here in Colne is always fantastic, always
a good time, meeting up with some cool folk. Some of the festivals
abroad I would be pushed to pick. Iíve been very lucky.
Whatís your favourite guitar?
Dave: Of my Nationals,
itís a technical term, but itís probably my black guitar. Itís a custom
guitar because Iíve got an artistsí deal with National so they custom
build and make little tweaks here and there. Itís based on a Delphi,
which is a steel body with a black powder finish they built in the
highlander pickup for acoustic sounds and also a humbucker so itís
flexibility with sound. They made all their guitars with flat
headstocks so when I break guitars or get stung by wasps [as actually
occurred at the Upton Blues Festival] I can change the strings
Alan: Are there any
particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?
Dave: Most of the songs
Iíve written myself are probably based subconsciously on whatís
happening at the time or whatís happened recently.
Alan: A few years ago
you put music to Robbie Burnsí poem, Parcel of Rogues, for BBC
Scotland and also presented the programme, interviewing high profile
political figures, musicians and historians. Tell me about that
Dave: The production
company got this guy, not really a blues guy, called Rab Noakes who used
to be head of music at Radio Scotland. It was 300 years since the Act
of Union between England and Scotland and somebody had put a pitch in
for a programme about the Rabbie Burns poem Parcel of Rogues
which referred to the Act of Union. The original idea was to get me to
set the poem to music and turn it into a Dave Arcari tune so it took me
five minutes to write the song, and 3 months to learn the words. But
then it grew arms and legs and they decided that they wanted me to do
interviews as well with other folk and record parts of the song in
different places like a verse in Burnsí mausoleum and another verse on
the Scott monument. It was a great success. The programme went really
well and then we released the song as a single and it became one of my
biggest downloads. Subsequently I got asked to do a concert for the year
of homecoming and I was asked to perform this and another song, clearly
not knowing the kind of thing I do. I suggested that this might leave
some of his audience in shock as they were all the cream of Scottish
Celtic and folk, so this guy wrote out the words to another Burns poem
called McPhersonís Lament.
Your latest album, Devilís Left Hand, has been getting rave
reviews. This must be a big buzz for you especially as itís got two
nominations for the British Blues Awards.
Dave: Yeah, that was a
great shock and surprise. But very happy.
Alan: When I first
heard the album, I thought "McPherson's Lament" was shaping up as
an old delta song, but it's Rabbie Burns, isn't it? You then follow that
with Johnny Cash's "Blue Train". Not you typical blues album
Dave: No, not really. The
BBC were organising a Johnny Cash tribute and asked if I could do
something. I did a Leonard Cohen one for them too and I did a slide
guitar version of Chelsea Hotel, but I was never comfortable
enough with it to try to do it again. But the one I did for the Johnny
Cash night was that, and it's stayed in my set virtually ever since.
Alan: Keeping with
the unconventional theme, your plans are to record a new album in
Dave: Two years ago when I
first played the acoustic stage at Colne the guys from the Blues Autour
du Zinc Festival in France were here and asked if Iíd be interested to
play their festival the following
So we went across, had a fantastic time, met a guy who works for a label
called Dixie Frog and was also a booking agent and when we went back to
do the festival again this year he asked for a meeting which we assumed
was for playing a few gigs around France. But they wanted to licence
the Got Me Electric album for Dixie Frog and release it so we had
a blether but I felt that my stuff is very niche market so it would be
better value for them and me if we did something new. So I originally
suggested a compilation from the three albums and this led to the idea
of re-recording some, add instrumentation to others and remixing stuff
so at least itís different versions. The girl who books my shows in
Finland, her husband plays upright bass and thereís a drummer friend of
thereís who prefers to play standing up rock-a-billy style, so I thought
this would be a good group to do some new recordings with. After a few
festivals and gigs we went into the studio and recorded nine tracks and
Dixie Frog will be releasing it in February 2012.
Alan: Not so much a
one man band - more a one man music industry, you do everything
yourself, music, workshops, album production, artwork, photography,
serious social networking with your website, blog, Facebook, Twitter,
etc.; how do you have time to fit it all in?
Dave: It is kind of hard,
although itís not so bad when weíre at home. Margaret does all the gig
booking and tour management, all the tour logistics, travel,
merchandising and all that. But the thing that suffers is that almost
the only time I play my guitar is on a gig and usually as is happening
right now Iím panicking because itís Colne today, Belfast tomorrow, we
are in Ireland for a few days, the back with gigs all next week and then
Iím in the studio again, so I donít get enough time to do the song
Alan: How do you see
the future of blues music?
Dave: I think there seems
to be some kind of rising undercurrent. I donít know if its a cyclical
thing, but the last few years it does some to be on the rise and people
are a bit more receptive to it. I think that at last people are now
realising that blues music isnít necessarily what they think it is,
partly helped by people like Seasick Steve on Jools Holland. I think it
will continue to grow but it is a thin line Ė where does it stop being
blues and how do you push it whilst still retaining the heart of it? I
never go beyond three chords but it can be a problem and the challenge
is to keep it blues but present it slightly differently and not
fundamentally changing it. All the people here at Colne have so many
different styles and show how it can be taken to new audiences.
Alan: Thank you so much Dave, I really appreciate your time.
Check out Dave Arcari at the Great British R&B Festival
Check out Dave Arcari's stinging performance at the
Upton Blues Festival
Blues Interviews List
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