'When harmonica players Sugar Blue and Paul
Jones describe Giles Robson as one of the great living blues harmonica
players you know he's bound to be a bit special. This is the real deal'
- Maverick Magazine
'Giles is no mere imitator, this guy is an
original with classy influences. He blazes a trail on harmonica: tons of
Chicago wizardry and blow bends the equal of top end maestro Sugar Blue'
- Blues in Britain
'Giles Robson's blues harp can only be
described as exquisite. This man could well be the best harmonica player
on the blues scene today'
- The Daily Express
Alan: Giles, I
realise you live in Jersey now, are you originally from Jersey?
Giles: Yes, I was born
Alan: What were your
first musical memories there?
Giles: I used to play
violin and I played alto saxophone but I started hearing harmonica on TV
so I bought a harmonica on an art trip to Toledo in Spain when I was 14
years old. When I got back there was a local guy called Bob Pilling who
used to write for Blues in Britain, Blues & Rhythm and a couple of other
magazines and he brought a lot of artists over to Jersey. Literally the
weekend I got back from the art trip to Spain, there was Cephas and
Wiggins playing at the local arts centre so it was the most amazing
introduction to the Blues Harmonica.
Alan: Do you come
from a musical family?
Giles: My parents werenít
musical but my great-grandfather used to sing opera but that was way
back and it was a bit of a shock to my parents when I took up music so
Alan: Did you always
want to become a musician?
Giles: No! I was always
pretty aware of how hard a life it is and I started out being an
illustrator, and drawing was my first love, but I loved the blues too
and it took over really.
Alan: So how did you
get started in music in the first place?
Giles: I got this
harmonica in Toledo and I got into blues music, and then at a music
competition at school I played Hoochie Coochie Man and won, just two
years after I got the harmonica. Then I was playing in pubs from the
age of 16 onwards. My big hero when I first started was Muddy Waters
because he had the best vocals and he the great harmonica players behind
him - Little Walter and James Cotton. When I was starting out they had
all those Charley Blues Master works, you know with the black covers,
and the one I had was Muddy Watersí Rock Me Baby, and it had all the old
takes with Little Walter and James Cotton and I just played along to
those endlessly. I really fell in love with the power of the harmonica,
thereís so much in the tone, its incredible.
Alan: So what first
attracted you to the blues and what does it mean to you?
Giles: Well, I always
thought it was the harmonica but also the vocals. I can remember being
16 and doing my GCSE art homework and listening to Muddy Waters. My Dad
would say, ďWhy are you listening to that depressing music?Ē and I tried
to explain that there was something in the blues vocals that I
absolutely loved. I hear it in Charley Musselwhite, in Muddy Waters, in
Sonny Boy Williamson. Itís a different way of singing than the modern
pop singing, more of a spoken way of singing which I think comes from
the preacher tradition. Like Johnny Cash or Jimi Hendrix when you are
speaking the words rather than singing a melody. Thatís whatís always
attracted me to blues music and given me a thrill. When I first heard
Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylanís Lazy Day Women, that was the sort of
thing that really turned me onto the music.
Alan: So who would
you say has influenced you the most in your playing?
Giles: To begin with it
was definitely Little Walter and James Cotton. I used to listen to the
'Hard Again' Muddy Waters album religiously, just for James
Cottonís harmonica playing. But as Iíve got older Sonny Boy Williamson
II is the one I listen to the most now because I think on his records
heís got everything going on for him. By the force of his personality
he managed to get the best performances out of the band [harp] he was
using. Heís got that raw sound, the spontaneity, thereís always
something interesting going on, probably because he approached songs
differently each time. He was an amazing musician. At Ronny Scott's
club I spoke to Elvin Jones, John Coltrane's drummer, about harmonica
players and Sonny Boy was the name that came up as well as Little
Walter. I think he's really appreciated by a lot of jazz fraternity and
by musicians across the board, he's the one that people tend to go for.
Alan: Looking back at
your career so far, what are your fondest memories?
Giles: I think working
with Mud Morganfield was a great thrill, and playing some of those old
Muddy Waters tracks. And also we got the Dirty Aces out on the road and
Colne was a really great experience for us. Mud Morganfield is always
a sure fire hit because itís the traditional blues sung by Muddy
Waters's son and you know the audience is always going to like it. But
when we took the Dirty Aces out on the road we had just a whole set of
original material and we didnít know how it was going to go. I think my
fondest memories have been those gigs where the songs have gone down a
storm as they are completely original.
Alan: It certainly was a
wonderful set at Colne.
Giles: Yes, we recorded
it so we can listen back to it and hear that audience reaction. But I
was a bit nervous beforehand and it was just great to get that reaction
from the crowd.
Alan: They are a great
crowd at Colne - they really appreciate their music.
Giles: Yeh, it's fantastic
and a great venue as well. Another great memory was when I brought over
the Animals with Steve Cropper to Jersey and I got to chill out with
Alan: How did that
Giles: Peter Barton was
telling him about my harmonica playing and he said, Oh, youíve got to
come up and we just musically hit it off straight away. Afterwards he
said to me it was a pleasure sharing the stage with you. We were in
the hotel bar afterwards talking about all the old Albert King records
and it was really interesting to get his perspective on my favourite
blues artists, from a businessman's perspective. He managed to make
Albert King into a very commercial property.
Are there any particular songs you play that have special meaning to
Giles: They all do to a
certain extent. When Iím writing itís usually from personal memory and
I try to do stuff thatís not to clichťd. I try to get a feeling of the
past without being too beholden to the past. As a harmonica player it
drives me nuts to look on You Tube and see all the contemporary
harmonica players stuck in the Little Walter 12 bar shuffle mode and
thereís a lot more to the instrument, it has a lot more melodic
possibilities. I think the harmonica will have a revival, partly
because I think people havenít really known how to play it but thereís a
lot more instruction now on the web and in music shops.
Alan: Tell me about
The Dirty Aces. How did you all come together?
Giles: The band was
originally formed with guitarist Filip Kozlowski in 2007. We did a live
album with the Jersey Rhythm Section but some of the members had good
jobs and families in Jersey so couldnít commit to the touring so Mike
Hellier stepped in on drums and he sourced Ian Jennings on bass, so we
had musicians that could commit to touring. We did the two Mud
Morganfield tours. Itís worked out really nicely with a good working
Alan: How did you
first meet Mud Morganfield?
Giles: I booked him! I
work as a promoter in Jersey as well and I was trying to promote the
band and also to make a little bit of money. I spotted Mud on-line and
this was before he became more popular so I invited him over to Jersey
to do some shows and thatís where I met him. We were really happy to do
the two tours but we didnít want to get typecast in that traditional
Chicago mould so we thought we should try to move on and go out there
ourselves with our own material.
Alan: I believe Mud
is coming over again next year. Will you be touring with him again?
Giles: No, we really want
to concentrate on our stuff now. Weíd have had a tremendous amount of
profile boosting like being played by Chris Evans on Radio 2 and Tom
Robinson on Radio 6. Weíve being mentored by a rock band management at
the moment so we are really looking to get our own stuff out there.
Itís hard because we are not a household name but itís very fulfilling
to get the music out there.
Alan: Tell me about
the making of your new album, Crooked Heart of Mine; where was it
recorded and how did you get it all together?
Giles: Filip Kozlowski
who I co-write the majority of the material with, has an engineer friend
with an amazing studio in Poland, We had two amazing gigs with Mud in
Poland at the end of the UK tour and after the tour went straight into
the studio and cut 10 of the 13 tracks. Then we went back the following
March to finish it off. Itís going well, the CD has had an amazing
response and itís got good cross-over potential. It is rocky, but itís
not going down the classic rock route of say Joe Bonamassa or Oli Brown
or those guys with their polished guitar work. Itís more grimy and Tom
Waitesy with a raw vocal. My vocal has been compared to Charlie
Musselwhite and those people and Iím trying to get a really raw blues
Alan: You mentioned
earlier that you do promotion work in Jersey. Tell me a little about
the music scene in Jersey.
Giles: Itís very small
but it has peaks and troughs. Itís main problem is that itís an island,
and a very expensive stretch of water because of Jersey's blossoming
finance industry. Itís a good scene but itís hard to get acts over
because of the transport costs. We try and work our way round that with
sponsorship and so on, but it is hard. But it is a very appreciative
audience when we manage to get people across. One of the great things
about promoting is that Iíve promoted Paul Jones, Dave Kelly, Georgie
Fame, Albert Lee, Chris Farlowe, I've put on shows for all these people
and they just get better with age. When you are playing music like the
blues it just keeps getting better and doesnít have a shelf life.
Alan: So how do you
see the future of blues music?
Giles: I think itís got
to keep evolving and not be too nostalgic. It can still sound like
blues and still keep the atmosphere of blues but itís got to keep being
original for people to listen to. Thereís only a limited amount of
people that will listen to retro 50ís blues and understand it. Youíve
got to take the best elements out of that and put it in a more
contemporary framework. It neednít be gimmicky but it just means
playing around with structures and rhythms to make it sound a bit more
21st century. With people like Joe Bonamassa selling out the
Albert Hall and Hammersmith Apollo, thereís a lots of good young players
coming through and itís looking really healthy indeed. I also think the
internet is going to be the biggest help to the fertility of music
because people arenít seeing things chronologically any more and you get
young people looking at stuff from the 50s. As opposed to 10 years ago
you can go on YouTube and see footage of early blues players such as
Eddie Taylor, Little Walter or Jimmy Reed.
Alan: I believe
youíve got a little mini-tour coming up with six dates. Are you looking
forward to it?
Giles: Absolutely! We
really love being out on the road and we are really wanting to push it
to get more work in for 2012. Being out on road always opens up more
Alan: Thank you very
much Giles for your time and good luck with the tour.
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Check out photos of Giles Robson & The Dirty Aces
at the Colne R&B Festival
Check out photos of Giles Robson & The Dirty Aces
at Skegness Rock & Blues Festival
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