I first met Red
Butler after their very impressive set at The Great British
R&B Festival, Colne. Unfortunately there was no time to
interview them. I finally caught up with them at the 2nd UK
Blues Challenge at The Boom Boom Club, Sutton, Surrey after
they had just been announced as worthy winners.
Butler are: Alex Butler - guitar and backing vocals, Jane
Chloe Pearce - lead vocals, Charlie Simpson - drums, Mike
Topp - bass guitar and backing vocals.
Where are you from and what are your first musical memories?
Alex: I am
from a town called Uckfield in East Sussex. It is
between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton. Music has always
been a big part of my life, it was always on at home as a
child. One of my earliest memories is playing ‘air
guitar’ along to Carlos Santana to my Dad in the
and bred in Brighton. An early memory when growing up
was listening to my Dad’s music blaring out on vinyl.
Ten Years After, Cream, Free, Led Zeppelin , even skiffle!
The most memorable moment though was listening to Etta James
1976 album ‘Etta is beta than Evvah” which was what made me
want to be a performer. The strength of her voice, her
improvisation and her ‘feel’ were something I was glad to be
introduced to at a very early stage in my life.
blood is half Scottish and half Danish but I have lived in
the Uckfield area of East Sussex all my life.
My first musical
memory is my Dad buying an electronic drum kit in London and
being amazed by it.
Did you come from a musical family - is there a long
Neither of my parents play an instrument although have a
great love for music. My half brother plays guitars
and sings in a band and other extended members of the family
have a family of ‘artists.’ My Grandad was an amazing
painter. My Dad is also a good artist and also my
brother. My Grandad’s brother was a pianist.
Dad plays a bit of drums and piano. My cousin is a
drummer and a few other family members play drums so there
are a lot of drumming influences around me!
particularly, but there is music in my extended family.
I discovered music through friends at school.
Did you always want to become a musician/singer?
since the age of 7!
Although when you are a child you are oblivious to the
amount of hard work and sacrifices that come with the dream!
I used to sing in a Gospel choir when I was 17 and then went
on to study singing.
has always been at the back of my mind but not properly
until I was about 17.
always, but definitely ever since I discovered music
properly as a teenager.
How did you get started in music?
mentioned previously my half brother inspired me initially.
There were times though when I was less interested in music
in the first few years – but I soon found my way!
Jane: At 16
I enrolled at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music.
Believe it or not I was a shy performer at the time that
needed a boost to come out of her comfort zone. It is
important to overcome such hurdles and put yourself in the
‘deep end.’ I have also learnt never to miss an
started playing music with Alex in a few covers bands at
around the age of 11/12 years old.
wanted to be a singer, but it wasn’t for me. I only
picked up a bass by chance when my friends needed a player
and I happened to be there. Once I got going I didn’t
What kind of material were you playing in the early days?
Around the age of 7 I started playing traditional pieces
from a book, at the time I was desperate to play something
more fulfilling and exciting than ‘three blind mice’ for the
millionth time! Looking back now I am so grateful that
I stuck with it as it gave me a great foundation for
technique, harmony and melody.
have been in many bands and performed everything from rock,
pop, jazz, funk, blues and soul – I even sang on a
was playing classic rock covers – Bon Jovi, Free and Deep
of Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, no blues until
Who are your heroes?
have many – not just in blues. I find the plight of
some of the early classical artists fascinating along with
their stories and personal/social struggles - what some of
the great composers achieved in such little time is amazing!
In terms of blues music I am in awe of Jeff Healey and his
music – I am always blown away by his technique.
Robert Plant, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Beth Hart.
Benny Greb, Teddy Campbell, Matt Garstka and Dave Grohl.
Lindsay Buckingham, Phil Lynott, SRV and Johnny Cash.
What first attracted you to the blues and what does the
blues mean to you?
blues fascinates me because of the voices and musicianship
involved. I love the history of its development.
As for what it means to me now … the blues has become such
an eclectic mix I find it hard to pin down what defines it
(if anything) but I would say that whatever music I listen
to I always listen for melody and stories in the music first
rather than technical proficiency.
Jane: I had
a ton of albums I would listen to as a child. It’s
been said before but blues is ‘healing music’ to me.
Blues to me is the foundation of music. Music should
make you feel emotion and that’s exactly what blues is all
it came through friends, and it was when we got hold of an
SRV album for the first time. His music (guitar
playing and voice) really leapt out of the speakers and has
stayed with me ever since. I don’t think it’s any one
thing, there are so many different types and styles of
‘blues;, especially today, I just want to hear music that is
played with passion and real feeling, and that can be found
Some music styles may be fads but the blues is always with
us. Why do you think that is?
People can always relate to stories and emotion within
music. Blues, and Country Music, are often full of
think blues holds a special place in people’s hearts.
Blues connects with people’s emotions. In more recent
years, people relate the blues to Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led
Zeppelin – an era people don’t want to forget.
be honest my last answer is exactly the answer to this as
It speaks to people, there is real feeling in the music.
But I think as long as it’s not ‘fashionable’ it will have a
better chance of surviving, because the people that do like
it will stick around when the trend changes.
Tell me a little about your musical journey so far, the
bands and gigs along the way.
journey has been very interesting so far, its chapters have
included classical, blues, rock, flamenco and jazz! I
have really enjoyed learning as much as I can about playing
different styles from great tutors and aim to continue.
Charlie and I have been long term musical partners and share
fond memories of playing in a classic rock covers band in
pubs throughout Sussex in our teenage years. We learnt
an awful lot from that period, and had great times.
like to say ‘I’ve done the rounds!’ Every musicians
knows you have to start at the bottom and work your way up –
which is full of graft and excitement, success, failures,
triumphs, disappointment, empty room, long drives and the
biggest load of adrenaline you will ever feel when you
perform! I am growing as a writer. At the age of 9 I
wrote my first song about a pair of shoes I was trying to
sell for money – I now write about saving for my pension in
Pension Blues (from Freedom Bound album).
first started properly drumming in a band called Cold Heat
with Alex Butler, Dan Spellman and a variety of different
bass players. We gigged for about 5 years covering a
lot of classic rock/funk material. I developed my
drumming style and musical taste mostly with Cold Heat.
has been a lot of fun, but very busy and hard to organise
around other aspects of life. We live for the gigs and
have had a great time this past year touring around the
country, playing in different venues, meeting new people,
and learning lots along the way too.
Who has influenced you the most in your music?
not sure if it can be pinned down to one person but more to
a whole host of situations and relationships with people. My
second tutor, Stuart Bligh, taught me a lot of really great
technical and listening skills that keep reoccurring as my
would say Etta James and Robert Plant.
That’s a difficult one. In the early days the Foo
Fighters and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were huge
influences. Then it moved more to BB King, King King,
SRV, Free and Aynsley Lister.
can’t put it down to just one person or band, music evolves
and so does the source of inspiration. Recently we
toured with the Billy Walton Band and the Laurence Jones
Band and learnt a lot from those guys, so at this moment in
time, they influence me.
Looking back on your career so far, what are your fondest
of them were in the band with Charlie (Cold Heat). At
the age of 13/14 our friends were on Xbox or Playstation and
we would be having the best time playing to pubs full of
Winning the UK Blues Challenge was definitely number 1.
Also, recording the first album was an amazing experience.
Listening to the tracks at the end of the day after hours of
takes and layering. Performing at Hyde Park during the
Olympics was memorable together with playing Concorde 2 in
Brighton for the first time supporting Dr. Feelgood.
played Brands Hatch with Cold Heat, also playing Hyde Park
during the Olympics with Red Butler and winning the UK Blues
Winning the Blues Challenge in Sutton is definitely up
there. Durham Blues Festival and The Great British
Rock and Blues Festival in Skegness this January certainly
Are there any particular songs that you play that have
special meaning to you?
really like playing Jaywalker live. It was one of the
first songs written for the album and my first attempt at
backing vocals. It was scary at first but with some
teamwork and practice its something I really enjoy now.
have put our own interpretation on ‘Belly of the
Blues’, which is a Sandi Thom track. The lyrics are
spine tingling to me and I love pouring emotion into
performing that song.
have always loved our original song Danger Zone and our
cover of Belly of the Blues (Sandi Thom song) because I love
That’s a question for the second album for me as I joined
the band after the release of Freedom Bound.
Tell me about the Red Butler Music School.
Music School is something Charlie and I have been speaking
about for many years. We both teach in schools and
could see the potential for the idea and how young students
could benefit. Many children, when learning
instruments, have to wait until their teens before they can
discover the joy of being in a band with others. We
provide the instruments and equipment and whether the
children have had musical experience or not we have great
fun and hope to build the Music School up over the years.
and Charlie run the Music School – although I have taught at
Alex and I had an idea to start a music workshop for young
people interested in music, to give them the experience of
playing and performing as a band. Alex and I both loved it
when we were younger and it is working really well.
Tell me about the making of your debut album ‘Freedom
Bound’: mostly originals with some covers? Where was it
made, who produced it and any guest appearances?
had a great time recording the first album. We learnt
a lot and are really looking forward to getting back in the
studio (with King King’s Wayne Proctor) in January.
was recorded at Yellowfish Studios near Uckfield in East
Sussex. My friend Mikey played keys on a couple
The engineer Jake who works at Yellowfish Studios recorded
and produced the album.
joined the band after the release of Freedom Bound.
read one review of your album saying ‘the future of blues
music is safe in their hands’. How do you see the future of
live blues music?
With mixed opinions. There is no doubt that the
audience is in need of some more young members but there are
some incredible projects and publicity happening for the
blues at the moment. With a lot of festivals happening
in the UK and around Europe it shows there is a growing
interest. One of the biggest barriers, in my opinion,
is the term ‘blues’ as it encompasses such a wide range –
however I’m not sure what the answer is! I do find it
very reassuring when a young student asks me if I happen to
know ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ instead of a latest single!
Jane: I see
it as a broader genre. Let’s face it, blues music is
perceived as it is labelled. It is not what is used to
be and as newcomers we must keep it going in our generation.
day blues is such a grey area. It is not what it used
to be 40-80 years ago. It’s much broader keeping the
influences of early blues mixed with modern day rock, soul
and funk. Artists such as King King and Aynsley Lister
can appeal to a wider audience by extending the boundaries.
blues genre is pretty wide, and that’s because people are
accepting the many different interpretations of the blues in
the 21st century. I think the immediate
future is good, but it is vital that more young bands get
involved, and in turn, draw younger fans to the genre.
You mentioned earlier that you played at the Olympics
celebrations, how did that come about and how was the
Alex: The music
college I attended in Eastbourne, with former bass player
Steve, was part of a founder college programme and we
auditioned (with the other members of Red Butler) alongside
a few other college bands and made it through to perform on
the BT Live Stage at Hyde Park. It was an incredibly
experience to play to so many people at such an historic
event. The band had only been together 6 months – I
wish we could go back and do it again now with our newfound
experience and understanding.
Scary! We had only been together a few months and had
just finished writing our first song ‘Bringing out the
Devil’. It was a great experience.
Alex and bassist at the time, Steve, entered a competition
at college in the form of a video of Red Butler performing.
As stated earlier this is probably one of my musical
highlights to date, it was an honour to perform and an
experience I will always remember.
was before I joined the band.
You recently won the hugely successful 2nd UK
Blues Challenge, tell me about the experience.
still can’t believe it! It was a huge honour to even
be asked to compete for the second time let alone win.
We all worked incredibly hard before the competition and
gave it everything we had. It was the best gig I have
ever played and I cannot wait to venture to Italy.
There is talk of hiring a bus and driving a few people over,
sounds like a lot of fun.
moment when all the hard work flashed back in my head as
they announced our name. I was a tad nervous before
the performance. I feel we had worked so hard and
cannot wait to show Europe what we have got!
was a long build up, so we were talking about it a lot.
On the night there was a lot of great music being played,
and I tried to treat it like a normal gig, or mini-festival,
and just enjoy the occasion and the music. It was a
great feeling to win and book our place at The European
Blues Challenge in Italy next year because we really want to
break on to the continent.
copyright Rockypix, used with permission
What does it mean to you representing the UK at the 6th
European Blues Challenge in Italy in April 2016 where there
will be 20 bands from around Europe competing?
Alex: As I
said before it is a huge honour and not something I thought
I would ever be able to do. I’m incredibly excited
about it and look forward to it enormously.
Jane: We have
toured the Channel Islands and Europe was the next goal.
I cannot wait!
me personally this is huge. As much as I dislike the
idea of competition between bands because all bands are
different and are trying to put across a slightly different
message in slightly different way. It seems illogical
to mark them in the same way. Having said that it is a
great feeling to be representing the UK. Regardless of
the result of the EBC I think this will open doors for Red
Butler and is a big step in the right direction for our
career as a band.
will be an honour to represent our country in something we
are so passionate about. I think that is still sinking
How much are you looking forward to the experience?
than words, it will be amazing!
am very excited. There are as always a lot of
important events/things to do before then but I am certainly
thinking about it. I feel confident the band will do
their best and perform as well as we possibly can.
Mike: On a
scale of 1 to 10 – definitely in the double digits.
What are your aspirations, future plans / gigs / tours /
would really like to introduce blues music to a younger
generation through our own interpretation, there is such a
collection of music within the genre that it is often never
considered by many because of common misconceptions about
blues. We are looking forward to going to Italy and
hoping it open doors to future European dates. I would
love to see more and more people coming to shows and
appreciating live music in whatever form it is in.
release our next album, tour Europe and support more high
Near future aspirations would be to make the best album we
can when we record with Wayne Proctor in January. In
terms of gigs, it would be great to get some more high
profile support slots, more festivals and hopefully a UK
headline tour in the not too distant future.
Record a new album, promote it, tour the UK and Europe.
We have a lot coming up with the Danny Bryant tour next
year, the EBC, and lots of other festivals that we are in
the process of being booked for next year. We just
want to be on stage as often as possible!