Guitarist/singer/songwriter/producer, Norman has been
involved in the British blues scene since the early 1970s,
leading a five piece band reckoned to be one of Britain's best and most
original blues bands; their legendary live performances played with a
lot of emotion, a lot of excitement but also with a lot of humour.
Based in the UK in Stockport, near Manchester, they regularly appear on
radio and television, playing all over Europe. For many years they have
also doubled as Chris Farlowe's Band and Larry Garner's Band when he
tours in the UK.
Other artists they have worked with over the years reads like a 'Who's
Who' of Rock and R'n'B and include: Chuck Berry, Buddy Guy, BB King,
Alexis Korner, Peter Green, Graham Bond, Jack Bruce, Lowell Fulson,
Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant,
Louisiana Red, Fenton Robinson
and Van Morrison.
I caught up with Norman
and the band at the
Skegness Rock and Blues Festival.
Alan: What are
your first musical memories growing up in Manchester?
Norman: The major
memories are that my brother, Malcolm, was really mad on blues music. I
was more into the pop but heís 3 years older than me so he used to go
and see Howliní Wolf and these people, tell me about them and I just
gradually picked it up from his records. The record that really got me
turned on to blues music was probably Five Live Yardbirds. I
heard it and thought that I didnít really get it so I started looking at
it and Iíve been hooked on it ever since.
Alan: Did you
come from a musical family?
Norman: No, not really.
My Dad used to play piano and accordion badly and my Mum had a few piano
lessons but my brother was a drummer. I was crazy about playing. I
had a road accident when I was 7 and I had to stay in bed for 18 months
so my Dad bought me a guitar to pass the time and thatís how it all
started so I had a lot of time on my own to learn.
Alan: What kind
of material were you playing in the early days?
Norman: Mainly blues, I
suppose, although even when I tried to play pop music people used to say
that it sounded like blues, even though I wasnít really sure what blues
was. Even years later when I played in restaurants and stuff for a few
quid, people used to say, ďOh, we like your bluesĒ so I think itís a lot
to do with the way you play. If I was playing Fly me to the Moon
itíd probably still sound like a blues number.
Alan: So what
does the blues mean to you?
Norman: Itís a fantastic
way of venting your feelings when you are playing, more so than a lot of
music. Itís mainly ad-libbed so you get a lot of yourself into it. I
always think that musicians, given a chance, pretty much play the way
they are in real life. You know, if they are a bit shy like Peter
Green, he plays in a very withheld way but if youíre more outgoing and
crackers like me then you play in that sort of cheeky way. So I think
itís a way of getting your personality out.
Alan: In 1967
you formed your first band 'Morning After', together with brother
Malcolm on drums, Ian Stocks on bass and John McCormick on keyboards.
Tell me about those early days, what type of blues were you playing?
Norman: They were
great. Youíd do anything for a performance and we used to play every
single night and I remember we didnít have one night off in two years.
If you got a night off you felt ashamed of yourself Ė you had to gig.
What else would you do? I remember that we were so tired once when we
finished touring and I came home on the Friday night and I went to the
cinema and thought Iíd go and see and the match because I hadn't seen
one for months (Iím a big Manchester United fan Ė not the Blues!) but I
went home after the cinema and didnít wake up until Sunday evening. So
I think I needed the break!
Alan: Your real
name is Norman Hume but nobody knows you are that. Is it true that
you got the name ďBeakerĒ from Victor Brox?
right. His real name is Victor Hickling so we were discussing names and I
said that I could see why he changed it and he said, ďWell, Victor was
my grandfatherís nameĒ and I said that I thought Iíd change mine.
ďWhat?Ē, he said. ďChange Norman? The only people to conquer Britain
and assume a great British name? You could be a direct descendent of
the Beaker folk Ė you know, the Neolithic man. The following night we
did a television programme and he just said, ďAnd Norman Beaker on
guitarĒ and the following day somebody phoned me up and said, ďMr
Beaker, Iíve got this blahĒ and within minutes almost it was there. I
still do a double-take when anybody says my name.
the Morning After Band you formed a band called 'No Mystery'.
According to your biography you ďplayed the blues with a sense of
humour, gaining widespread admiration by other artistsĒ. Whatís all
Norman: With the blues
thing it can be a great place for making you feel bad or good, whatever
and I think you need to balance it. The music I play is pretty serious
and is lyrically quite serious. Iím crazy about old comedy, you know
Tony Hancock and that crowd, and Iíve always been someone whoís always
joked and messed about. When Iím with Chris Farlowe we are always
scoring off each other and people love it, they donít get upset by it at
all, they think it adds to the entertainment. Although you still kinda
play music with feeling, you are still in the entertainment business,
although obviously it canít take over your music.
Alan: Who has
influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?
Norman: Probably Stevie
Wonder in the writing, although I donít really write that sort of stuff
but I like his ideas. Playing-wise, as far as blues goes, probably
Alan: Are there
any particular songs you play that have special meaning to you?
Norman: Most of them
really. Modern Days, Lonely Nights was about having everything.
I remember I had all these albums, DVDs, and this and that and everybody
was out of the house and I just thought, oh, modern days...so yes, I do
think about where songs were written.
been on the British Blues Scene for 3 decades.
Norman: Only 3? I think
itís just 4 now!
Alan: Okay, 4
now! Youíve played with such greats as Chuck Berry, Jack Bruce, Alexis
Korner, Buddy Guy and BB King. You must have some special memories?
Norman: Well, it sounds
a bit trite but Iíve had a really good time. When I set out playing all
I wanted to do was play with really great musicians. Well, with my band
Iíve got some not bad ones but it doesnít always go far enough (much
raucous laughter from his band mates listening in!) but people like Jack
Bruce were all my heroes. They were all about ten years older than me
so of course itís just fantastic when you play with people whose records
you used to buy. Iíve been lucky that way.
understand that in the 90s you did some producing work? Do you still do
Norman: Yes, I still do
that, we did Ruby Turnerís album. Itís better with your own band, for
example on Chrisís album, in fact thatís how we got together when Pete
was producing his album. The band we had at the time were good players
but they didnít really do it for this album so I said I would produce it
but I want to use my band and weíve been with him for 16 years.
Alan: Tell me
about the current Norman Beaker Band, when did you get together?
Norman: Iíve been
together with John Price, the bass player, for about 20 years now. The
band got together in about 1982, mainly because of the transition of
musicians coming in and we had a name such as No Mystery and I always
thought it a bit unfair if people turned up and it was a different
drummer or a different sax player but if itís my band then theyíre going
to see me. Not one of the members has ever been asked to join and they
canít leave either!
Alan: When did
you first meet Larry Garner?
Norman: Oh, probably 15
years ago. He was fantastic, I loved him. We were the first band that
he played with when he came over, so we had a great time and he stayed
with us and we got really friendly. But then he got a quite big deal
with Epic I think in the States so he didnít come over quite so much and
we were doing other stuff so we didnít meet up for about 15 years and
then he got on touch through Facebook. So I asked him when he was
coming to England again and he said, ďWhen do you want meĒ so I spoke to
Toni Weeks, the agent, and she put a tour together.
Alan: This year
sees the first Yorkshire Blues Festival. How did you get involved with
that with Rudi Enos?
Norman: I did the Alexis
Korner Memorial Concert at Buxton and met up with Rudi. He went to them
all and just loved the shows. He wanted to try and get it back together
again. He knew that I was sort of a catalyst for it, you know, I could
tap a few people up to come and do a bit. Iím doing the easy bit
really with the line-up but Rudy is doing all the hard stuff with the
to the line-up youíve got a fantastic array of guests including Colin
Hodgkinson, Zoot Money, Maggie Bell, Mike Sanchez, Cliff Bennett, Larry
Garner, Geoff Whitehorn and Herbie Goins. How did you get all these
eminent artists together?
Norman: As soon as I
mentioned Alexis, most people wanted to do it. Colin Hodgkinson was
with Alexis for years, and Herbie of course. Weíre all friends
together and itís not that difficult really. Even when we did the
Buxton ones, Robert Plant came and did one, Jimmy Paige said, ďOh, Iíll
do it with himĒ. Theyíd barely spoken for years and hadnít played
together for 15 years and they turned up to that. So, itís great and it
makes me feel good to keep his legacy going. Not me duty but I feel it
should be done.
Alan: Some music
styles may be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do you think
Norman: I think it's a
simple frame of music that most people can play. And they can, even if
they might play it really badly it may be still good enough to get up
and have a go and enjoy themselves. It never really gets more popular
but it just seems to when thereís no movements. Thereís always been
punk rock, or rock or whatever and when they start to come down, blues
seems to get bigger and seems to resurface.
Alan: Thank you
very much for your time Norman, really appreciate it.
Photos of The Norman Beaker Band at Skegness Rock
& Blues Festival
Blues Interviews List
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