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

Red Lick Records



 

 

Early Blues Interview
Al Hughes, lead vocals/guitar - Lights
Out By Nine and Solo


Lights Out By Nine played the Skegness Rock & Blues Festival in January 2009 and I caught up with Al Hughes after their set.

© Copyright 2009 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

What are your first musical memories?
My first musical memories are probably of people like the Shadows and Lonnie Donegan appearing on Sunday Night at the London Palladium. I remember being fascinated by the electric guitars. After that it was the ďbeat boomĒ and bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, (Still a favourite).

Did you always was to become a musician?
I guess I did always want to become a musician, although I didnít have much idea of how to go about it. Still donít if the truth be told.

How did you get started in music and what material were you playing in the early days?
I got started playing in bands at school, with friends, learning all kinds of cover songs, whatever was in the charts, whatever was easy for us to play with our limited abilities, sometimes it wasnít whether you liked the song  or not , it was whether we could manage all the chords. If we couldÖ.great! It was in the set. We were all just learning, not just how to play, but about equipment, presentation, everything.
 

Who are your favourite artists?
My favourite artists are a mixed bunch. Iíve always loved John Martyn, and Captain Beefheart. John Hammond is another favourite, as is Tom Waits. I also like a Scottish singer /songwriter called Michael Mara, who I think is seriously underrated. As far as blues artists are concerned I love Robert Johnson (who doesnít?) Little Walter, Muddy Waters,  Keb Moí, Kelly Joe Phelps, I could go on and on and on. 

Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?
I think everything you listen to influences you to some extent, but as far as writing and playing goes, probably Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Tom Waits and John Fahey.
 

What first attracted you to the blues?
I was first drawn to the Blues in the late sixties during the great British Blues Boom. Bands like Cream, Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac really struck a chord with me, and listening to them made me want to hear the original versions of the songs they were playing, so I started looking for records by people like Howliní Wolf, and Muddy Waters.
 

Do you see any similarities between traditional Scottish music and early blues?
I think there are similarities between Blues and traditional Scottish music. Not so much in the song structures, perhaps, but certainly in the emotional content of the songs. A lot of poor Scots were forced to leave the country during the Clearances for example, so there is that element of loss and sadness that is found in the blues. They also took music with them, so you come across differing versions or variations of very similar themes. The song Pretty Peggy for example exists in a variety of forms in various countries.

What was the best album you ever had?
The best album Iíve ever had? Itís difficult to narrow it down to just one, but I have a sampler album  called ďthe BluesĒ which came out on the Marble Arch label around 1967/8. It was a budget label and it was the first album I bought containing tracks by original blues artists. There were songs by Washboard Sam, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, Willie Dixon and many others. It was a revelation. I still have the album, and I still play it, although itís getting a bit worn now.

What is your favourite instrument?
My favourite instrument is guitar of which I have many. 

Al, I understand you have a custom built 12 string resonator guitar, tell me more.
My 12 string was built for me by Bill Little at Gadgie Guitars in the Lake District. It has wooden sides and back, and a metal front with palm tree sound holes. The resonator cone has a metal biscuit machined from aluminium rather than a wooden one, and the whole thing works extremely well. It sounds huge! Bill makes great guitars. I hope to own one of his all metal 6string resonators some time soon. I would recommend them to anyone who is serious about playing slide.

Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?
Gravity Shoes off the first album (Al Hughes) is a song  Iím very fond of.  I also like the instrumental piece, Requiem For John Fahey which I wrote for the third album (Heart and Soul) after hearing of his death.  As well as playing and writing some wonderful pieces, John Fahey did a great deal to track down Blues players who were living in obscurity, and often extreme poverty , and bring them back into the public eye.  His contribution to Blues music is often overlooked I feel. He never really got the recognition he deserved in my opinion.

How healthy do you think the blues scene is in Scotland compared with the UK?
The blues scene in Scotland is patchy I think. There are some places where it is thriving, notably the bigger cities like Dundee and Glasgow, although the emphasis tends to be on bands playing blues /rock covers. Having said that however Scotland has produced some great artists such as Tam White, Maggie Bell and Fraser Spiers.  Some of the newer acts like Dave Arcari are building  a good following as well. The Dundee Blues Bonanza is growing every year, although the current economic situation is making things difficult. Traditional music always seems to do better in terms of support and sponsorship than blues for some reason.

Tell me about the band, when did you all get together?
Lights Out Have been together in various forms for many years. Dougie, Alan and myself played together in the early eighties, and we used to talk about playing with horns and doing old soul material. This was P.C. (pre Commitments). We finally put something together after about a year of rehearsals and played a couple of charity gigs. The reception was so good that we decided to keep going and see what happened. After a few years we began playing a few of our own songs, and again the reaction was very positive so we continued in that vein and here we are 4 albums later.

The band's live shows now includes a more laid back acoustic set, tell me more.
The acoustic set grew out of a desire to broaden things out a little. We found ourselves playing more and more seated concert type gigs in theatres and arts centres, where things were much quieter and audiences more attentive, so it became possible to do stuff that wouldnít be possible in a more lively situation. Itís been received very well by both audiences and our record label, so the chances are the next album will have some acoustic stuff on it as well.

© Copyright 2009 LOBN. All Rights Reserved.Tell me about the making of your new DVD.
The DVD has been in the pipeline for quite a while. We were doing a show at the Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline along with two other bands, The whole show was filmed and the sound recorded separately then synched up to the visuals and the whole thing was edited by people a whole lot smarter than me . It all came together quite well I think. We added some footage we had from a different show at the same venue, thatís the backstage stuff with Tam White and Fraser Spiers. And we also did a short interview with Graeme Scott who compered the show and who also writes for Blues Matters magazine.

Al, tell me about the making of your latest CD.
The new album is a bit of a departure for me. The previous three CDs have all been made up entirely of original material but this time I did some of my favourite songs by other artists, as well as a couple of traditional songs. The whole thing was recorded very quickly and with a minimum of overdubs and studio trickery, (itís real easy to get carried away in a studio and start adding all kinds of stuff until you end up with something you canít play live). There are three original songs on there as well so itís a bit more disparate than previous efforts. I thought initially that it might be too eclectic, but reactions so far have been really good.

Some music styles are fads but the blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?
I think the blues is always around because it connects with people. There are so many different styles that draw you in. You always want to learn more about it. And the emotions expressed are generally the same for everybody whatever your background or origins. Itís always progressing too, there are always new artists emerging who are able to take the music further or in a different direction. Thereís an honesty about it too that you donít always find in other genres. And the simplicity of its structures make it easy for people to play and write and communicate.

How do you see the future of blues music?
I think Blues is enjoying a high profile just now . I hope that will continue. Exciting new artists like Joe Bonamassa and Matt Schofield are bringing the music to a younger and wider audience, and that I think is vital if blues is to stay vibrant and exciting. It has to appeal to younger audiences otherwise it will stagnate. Fortunately the stylistic breadth and variety mean that appeal is widening. Thereís something there for everybody if you take the time to look, and if you do youíll find itís well worth it.

What are your future plans / gigs / tours / albums?
As far as future plans go, Lights Out have been asked to record with a ďnameĒ producer at some point this year, so weíre writing and recording demos etc. We probably wonít be doing as many live gigs as we would normally, although there are a few lined up already. Solo wise Iíll be touring in England in June and October as well as heading north to Shetland in July and the north of Scotland in November. Iím also putting a DVD together which should appear later in the year. Itís been a busy start to the year and looks like continuing in the same vein.

Thank you so much Al, I really appreciate your time.

Check out Al's new album - excellent!

www.al-hughes.com

www.lightsoutbynine.co.uk

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