An Interview with The Bare Bones Boogie Band - The renaissance of classic British blues boom

"I think in the past the blues was more emotional and evocative. The purpose was to convey a feeling. Nowadays this can be lost in favour of technical ability and over-production."

Bare Bones Boogie Band: UK Rules 

The Bare Bones Boogie Band are a stripped-down, no nonsense blues band, closest in sound and attitude to the classic British blues boom of the 60s and 70s, when bands like Free, Fleetwood Mac and the Stones were inspired by BB King and Robert Johnson, and in America when Janis Joplin was re-inventing Etta James. Live, the BBBB give it their all, with no apologies for their rawness, or for their tenderness – heavy, soulful blues!

Photo by Jill Turley

Formed in London from across the UK – from Glasgow and St. Andrews in Scotland, Birmingham and Manchester in England - the BBBB unites a wealth of experience with past releases on Locomoto, Bad Moon and Mad Dash Records and several hundred live performances from the 100 Club to the Great British R&B Festival. Together, since October 2008, the band played their first gig within three weeks and finished their first year together with an exclusive appearance at the O2 Dome in London. Band's debut self-titled album (2010) and the last album, Tattered & Torn (2013) are receiving fantastic international reviews and airplay, at the BBC and across the world. The BBBB are Helen Turner (vocals), Iain Black (guitar), Trev Turley (bass), and Andy Jones (drums).

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Helen: For some strange reason, despite growing up many thousands of miles away from the home of blues, I have always had a great affinity with blues and find it very natural to sing.

Trev: Blues is a feeling. I play from the heart and soul, suits me perfectly.

Iain: For me, the blues is quite simply the purest and most natural music. Everything falls into place in blues, which doesn’t happen so much in other music. I don’t know what it teaches me about myself, but I do know that when I first learned to play my first blues, I felt like I’d come home.

Andy: Emotions and feelings with which one plays are really important. Feel and Groove more than technical stuff same with Jazz or Reggae.

Tell me about the beginning of BBBB. How did you choose the name and where did it start?

Trev: The band started in September 2008. Helen, Iain and I had played together in another band and we fractioned off, recruiting Andy along the way and we became the BBBB. It was Iain who came up the name. He was looking for something that gave some clues as to what the band was all about, hence the Bare Bones Boogie Band.

"In the south of England they like their blues pure and subtle, and in the north they like it loud and fun!  We’re yet to play Scotland, but I imagine the taste for volume and fun may be strongest there, and I mean that very much in a good way!" 

How do you describe your sound and progress, what characterize Bare Bones Boogie Band’s philosophy?

Helen: Sound - Honest and uncluttered. Progress - Humbling and very gratifying- Thank you! Philosophy - Let’s have fun playing what we love and hope others like it too!

Trev: BBBB philosophy is a ‘Stripped Down and Raw Sound’. Basically Helen is the focal point and the rest of us float in and out around her unique voice and style. We let the songs become the vehicle for what the BBBB is all about. My personal sound has changed during the last album, Tattered & Torn. I’ve changed my style to suit the current image that the BBBB portray - solid, reliable, earnest blues.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Helen: It’s honest and people can relate to the sound, rhythms and sentiment from all corners of the world

Trev: My view is that the Blues was there before anything else, and that everything else was formed from it, or took something from the blues and built from there. It will last forever . . .

Andy: Because the songs speak to everyone’s experiences. Songs are usually about some misfortune or maltreatment but in singing or playing about them Blues help us all to get past them. Same reason religion magic fortune telling, astrology continue to thrive!

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Helen: Fab gigs at festivals this year - Maryport and Cambridge Rock

Trev: Best jam I ever played in was in New York, at BB Kings Blues Club. Whilst on holiday, I got invited up to play one evening alongside Steve Holley (ex-drummer of McCartney’s ‘Wings’). Brilliant night! The best gigs are all the BBBB’s ones! We play quite regularly at London’s legendary 100 Club, that’s always a good night.

"The blues is quite simply the purest and most natural music. Everything falls into place in blues, which doesn’t happen so much in other music." Photo by Jill Turley

Are there any memories from recording and show time which you’d like to share with us?

Helen: Meeting a hero or two is always nice!!

Trev: The ‘Live’ experience is always the one to cherish. This is why I still do it. Makes up for all the other stuff in between shows.

Iain: My favourite memories from recording are the times when Helen goes in to do the vocal takes. She only ever does a couple of takes for each song.  It sounds fantastic hearing the vocals on top of the backing track for the first time. I feel privileged to get to hear the recording “live”! There has been a track on both the Blue album and the Tattered & Torn album, where I’ve been still writing the lyrics as Helen is heading for the vocal booth, and she still manages to sing it brilliantly! 

Andy: When we’re recording its magic when Helen does her vocal takes and completes the song - giving the songs their diamond tiaras! Also, the sandwiches that Trevor’s wife makes for us are the highlight of recording sessions.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Trev: Meetings: Nothing really stands out. I did meet Free’s old bass player though, Andy Fraser, last year. He’s such a nice person, very approachable. A lesson for us all eh! Best advice: Turn it down!

Andy: When I met my dad’s drum kit aged 8, I thought it was the most remarkable and beautiful sight in the world and that the sound of it was amazing - it was a Rogers kit and would have been built in the 50’s similar to the kits you see James Jamerson standing by in lots of his photos.

"BBBB philosophy is a ‘Stripped Down and Raw Sound’. Basically Helen is the focal point and the rest of us float in and out around her unique voice and style. We let the songs become the vehicle for what the BBBB is all about."

From the musical point of view what are the differences between the local blues scenes in UK?

Trev: Not a great deal. The UK blues scene is bright and buzzing at the moment and a good place to be. I would say the further north in the UK you go the more rocky they like their blues. The BBBB has a wide and varied appeal, so we can rock it up when needed, as we can do mellow and bluesy when the time and place is right.

Iain: That’s an interesting question! In the south of England they like their blues pure and subtle, and in the north they like it loud and fun!  We’re yet to play Scotland, but I imagine the taste for volume and fun may be strongest there, and I mean that very much in a good way!

Helen, how do you feel as woman in a blues man world and how you would spend a day with Janis?

I just get on with it! We’re all just people under the surface!! With Janis: Drink tequila and laugh (and sing…hopefully)! Probably in that order!!!!

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

Ian: I think in the past the blues was more emotional and evocative.  The purpose was to convey a feeling. Nowadays this can be lost in favour of technical ability and over-production. I prefer my music raw and transparent.

Andy: Recording using digital technology rather than getting those classic drum sounds.

"The UK blues scene is bright and buzzing at the moment and a good place to be. I would say the further north in the UK you go the more rocky they like their blues."

Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Helen: The definition of blues is to create music, in response to hard circumstances, which can express your feelings and help you find a way through it. You only have to watch the news to see there’s always scope for that to happen!

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Rock and beyond?

Helen: The whole spectrum of jazz, blues, soul, rock, folk is interconnected and many artists can appear in lots of categories. 

Iain: In my opinion, any music with a blues foundation can be categorized as blues.  For example, within the genre of heavy rock there are bands like AC/DC, who started off playing Chuck Berry covers and maintain a blues basis even today, while in the same genre there are bands like Metallica, who prefer a different musical basis.  The same goes for soul. Same for jazz. So, blues crosses several genres. There’s a whole spectrum of blues-based music which includes pure blues, rock blues, soul blues, jazz blues, etc. For the songs on Tattered & Torn, I experimented with writing blues across these genres, for example Passion & Pain is a very soulful blues, Love Like Leather is a good time rock ‘n’ roll blues, Son of a King is a 12-bar blues that sounds almost folky, and Dig a little Deeper is built around a minor key blues which some have described as sounding Eastern! It’s all blues!

Andy: I Agree with Keef [Richards not Hartley], that there is only one song really and everybody borrows bits of it. I don’t think it takes a minute to swap a 6/8 track Like Meet me in the morning into a reggae Track - listen to the bass solo and quiet verses on Tattered and Torn.

"The definition of blues is to create music, in response to hard circumstances, which can express your feelings and help you find a way through it."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Trev: I’d like to go back to the day the BBBB was formed in September 2008. Hindsight is a great leveler and would be good to see the path taken, based on the experience and knowledge known now. Don’t take me wrong, the last five years has been great, but the focus and the passion and the drive to do things differently, and better have always been there. Watch this space  . . .

Iain: I’ve always wanted to see Free play live, maybe back in the late Sixties, or at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. They’ve been one of my biggest influences. I’ve been listening to Bessie Smith a lot recently too, and I’d really love to have seen her singing live. That’d be the 1920s or 30s, so quite a trip!

Andy: To a Led Zeppelin gig - the early Earls Court ones. I’d spend the day with John Bonham, Joe Morello, Elvin Jones, or Joseph Modeliste and wouldn’t say anything much but would prefer to watch and learn from em!

How you would spend a day with Alexis Korner? What would you say to Peter Green? What would you like to ask John Mayall?

Iain: With Alexis Korner, I guess the best thing to do would be to jam a bit, and ask him about the old days. He was instrumental in getting Free together, so I’d ask how they were at the very start and the same for Stones. Peter Green, I’d just like to listen to him play and sing.  John Mayall, I’d ask how he’d compare Pater Green with Eric Clapton and Mick Taylor!

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