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Hero. Legend. Good Bloke.
John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



Early Blues Interview
Gary Fletcher, bass guitar - The Blues Band
and acoustic guitar - Solo

After seeing many excellent shows with The Blues Band, I met up with Gary after an acoustic set at the Upton upon Severn Blues Festival.

© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

What are your musical memories growing up in London? 

Well I was quite late in getting properly into music and it wasn’t until the late sixties that I really started to take notice. One of the best gigs I went to in ‘68/69 was the first line-up of Jethro Tull plus Fairport Convention at the L.S.E. My local venue was The Castle in Tooting where I saw the likes of Free, Skid Row, Rory Gallagher etc. Fleetwood Mac at The Toby Jug, Tolworth was another memorable night.  

Did you always want to become a musician? 

I didn’t pick a guitar up until I was 17 and up ‘til that point I hadn’t had any thoughts about being a musician at all. However I quickly got the taste for it and from thereon I was definitely on a mission. Two of my early band colleagues went pro quite early on and I was desperate to to emulate them. 

Who are your favourite artists? 

From the blues – Muddy, Wolf, Hooker, Memphis Minnie, Fred McDowell etc. My absolute favourite is Willie Dixon because of his writing more than his own records perhaps. 

Who has influenced you the most?  

In terms of the blues - Willie Dixon. J J Cale is a big influence both in terms of writing and guitar playing though he’s not a pure down home bluesman. On the more ‘sophisticated’ side of things it would be Steely Dan ie Becker and Fagen. More ‘rootsy’ would be Lowell George and John Hiatt. 

What first attracted you to the blues? 

Its simplicity in terms of both its musical form and its emotional directness. 

How has the blues influenced you? 

It’s certainly the first genre of music I wanted to play and it wasn’t so complex as to be sufficiently daunting to put me off so it is my ‘source’ from whence everything else has developed from I guess. Even when I got into other things and started to get too clever etc the aforementioned directness and relative simplicity of its form would bring me back to a good place! 

Do you listen to blues music and what is your favourite style? 

Yes – the Chess output in the Willie Dixon years. 

What is your favourite instrument? 

To play – the guitar. To listen to – again the guitar, electric a la Peter Green, acoustic a la Kelly Joe Phelps, John Martyn etc. 

Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you? 

Absolutely – I can’t see the point of singing a song that doesn’t mean anything to the singer – hence my enjoyment of hearing the writer sing the song. All my songs mean a lot to me but a couple of the tunes on my ‘Human Spirit’ CD in particular hit the spot ‘cos they were written in the aftermath of my son Jack’s  very serious accident in 2001 – notably ‘May you now find peace’ and ‘Solanki’s knife’. (Mr Solanki was the brain surgeon who saved Jack’s life). Rather oddly neither song is particularly bluesy in it’s musical form but the words are definitely the blues in the way that bad things happen but also there is an underlying optimism in many ‘bad luck and trouble blues tunes! 

How healthy do you think the blues scene is in the UK? 

It’s in reasonable shape I think – plenty of room for growth and improvement I guess but there are some good venues out there and some great blues clubs keeping the flame burning. What used to be the more rock blues venues sadly do seem to have embraced the ‘tribute’ craze so wholeheartedly that gigs for the rockier side of the blues are hard to come by. However there does seem to be a slight growth in the number of more acoustic blues venues, so I guess its swings and roundabouts! 

What do you see as the future of blues music? 

Well - I don’t think the blues relies on cutting edge development in the way that something like avant garde jazz needs to go forward. Evolution rather than revolution would seem to be the way the blues goes. Guys like Keb Mo push the envelope some but for the most part the blues has its forms and traditions and that’s pretty much how the blues audience wants it to stay. The more in your face style of some British blues/R & B bands is, arguably, unique to this side of the pond and nowadays pretty much entirely derivative. Nonetheless the demand for this type of ‘blues’ is definitely there and whilst it may not grow much I’m sure it’ll continue in very good health! As mentioned in the answer to question 10 there does seem to be growing interest in the acoustic side of things with a number of venues now promoting this side of the blues. 

Tell me about the making of Human Spirit? 

It started out as just a day recording 2 or 3 demos with the first GFB line-up to have something to send to potential gigs. Co-producer and ace engineer Bill Gautier used the opportunity to track test his new recording set-up and once we’d done the initial session asked if I had more songs, and if so, why not do an album. As always I had plenty of tunes so that’s what we did. We had to fit recording in between Blues Band commitments and Bill’s bread and butter studio bookings so it did take rather a long time to finish it but not ‘cos we spent eons in the studio. It was great to ask some of my favourite guys to come and play on various tracks and, overall, the process of recording my first ‘proper’ solo album was really enjoyable. Towards the end of the production process Nine Below Zero’s Dennis Greaves came in to play a solo on one track and ended up getting into the album to the extent of helping mix some tracks and refining arrangements on a couple of songs.  The first solo effort was a compilation of tracks recorded effectively randomly over some years whereas ‘Human Spirit’ was always meant as an album. 

How are Jack’s band APHID doing? 

They’re now called ‘Killed by Mime’. Steve Ling who plays in my band too is their guitarist and together with Jack – who plays drums (he plays bass in my band – they have been the prime movers. With new bass player Chloe and singer Gregg they’ve just started gigging and have done some recording of demos to use to try and get gigs. It’s quite a heavy band but more ‘rock’ than metal and very powerful. They sound good to me...........is that a good thing though? 

Do you plan to release more solo albums? 

Yes – Bill wants to get cracking – I’ve got the tunes and both he and I want to get the current GFB line-up in the studio asap. As soon as his studio schedule allows and I’ve surfaced from my intense gig seeking efforts we’ll get some new tunes down. 

Are we likely to see more of ‘The Fletchers’ live and on an album?  

Doubtful – The Fletchers was really only a vehicle to help Jack get back to playing after he came out of his long hospital stay and we just played in local pubs mostly doing covers. 

A lot of music styles come and go but the blues is always with us. Why do you think that is? 

As per my answer to an earlier question – it’s so simple in form and direct in emotion and thus accessible that I think some folk will always be drawn to it,  providing they can get to hear it in the first place somehow! 

What do you think is the future for live music in the digital age of mp3 downloads and bootlegging? 

I feel the future for live music is reasonably bright albeit one that, perversely, maybe harder to make a living out of due to so many people, understandably, wanting to play but happy to do so for very little. Also the current situation whereby commercial venues ie pubs and clubs seem to view the bands as revenue flows – hence this hideous ‘pay to play’ syndrome – makes things very tough. I’m would not want to be 18 just starting out again! 

What are your future plans / gigs / tours / albums? 

Most venues sort their programme 6 to 12 months in advance and unfortunately I had some tricky domestic things to deal with in ’08 which meant that I didn’t get on the case booking dates for ’09 as much as I would have liked. However gigs are now in the book for later in the year and some festival appearances on the cards. I have to fit my own gigs around the Blues Band’s schedule although since the BB are doing a bit less now ‘cos of Paul, Tom and Rob doing quite a bit in The Manfreds it’s not too difficult.  

Are you still involved in motorsport? 

Yes – still give it a go when time and money permits. In ’08 did a couple of races in a Sports 2000 prototype, a race in a Ralt RT1 Classic F3 and a Formula Ford 1600. Sometimes I pick up a little sponsorship which allows me to go and play with the toys! I also do a bit of driver coaching and instructing which I find is a good contrast to the music biz!

Gary, thank you so much for your time.
Alan White  -  earlyblues.com


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