British veteran musician Gary Fletcher (The Blues Band) talks about the Blues, racing cars and Nat Adderley

"I hope that music retains some sort of value to people - both emotional of course but also regains some fiscal value too. The business model for recorded music is broken - too many people no longer pay for music."

Gary Fletcher: On The Blues Roads

Growing up in South London it all started when Gary Fletcher started to play around with his sister’s humble Spanish guitar. Though left handed and unaware that guitars were 'handed' he didn’t let the fact that the instrument was a right handed one stand in his way, and to this day plays a guitar strung for normal right hand use – left handed, ie upside down. Few others play this way although the late, great, blues player Albert King was similarly afflicted. On the basis of knowing no more than the riff to Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, Gary got the job in his first band, The Breath Of Life. Together with a bunch of local Streatham musicians, his next band, Garfield Row, was formed ... a semi-acoustic folk rock band who played regularly in a local pub owned by the father of the late ex-Jethro Tull bassist, Glenn Cornick. Glenn gave the band much encouragement, lending them some top class amps & guitars. They eventually went their separate ways when Glenn pinched the band’s vocalist/guitar player Jon Blackmore and Gary went on to sustain work as a musician in a variety of bands from Blues/Rock to Folk/Rock to Soul, to playing in a Country band at Wembley Arena, to writing/performing in Rock band Panama Scandal.  He then joined long running Blues/Rock band, Sam Apple Pie, later known as The Vipers. Alongside this, Gary and his old mate and songwriting partner, Steve Gurl, landed a separate recording contract and together with the third partner in the songwriting team, Hilary – Gary’s late ex-wife, a publishing contract.

Gary met Dave Kelly when they both played in a band put together by Wilgar Campbell, the ex Rory Gallagher drummer, called The Wildcats.  He then played bass on a track on Dave’s Willing album and was suggested by Dave for the bass job when, together with Paul Jones & Tom McGuinesss, plus Hughie Flint, The Blues Band first got together.  The success of The Blues Band was almost instantaneous and they were soon playing to packed houses, releasing their first album, appearing on TV and radio regularly, including the celebrated Euro-wide Rockpalast, and headlining at Glastonbury. Twenty plus albums & countless tours later the demand continues to grow for their special & personal interpretation of the blues, thousands of excellent reviews have appeared in a variety of publications and early editions of their first album are now collector’s items. Still going strong, new chapters are still to be added to their story in the 21st century. Concurrent with The Blues Band Gary has continued to write and record his own material and has contributed songs to records by other artists. His ‘pop’ side project The Relatives released the enigmatic ‘Feud of Love’ album in 1997 although the record had been in the making since the early ‘90s! He has also performed with and written for The Dave Kelly Band and Christine Collister, Dave Kelly & The Travelling Gentlemen.  A couple of songs sung by Gary are a regular feature of The Blues Band’s shows and led to Gary being asked to play solo, duo (with Tom Leary) and GF Band sets at festivals and clubs. His The Official Gary Fletcher Bootleg Album features many of the original writer’s versions of songs that have been recorded by The Blues Band during the band’s existence. Amongst the tracks is the original demo of his song Green Stuff, which has been a constant in The Blues Band's live set as the band’s encore anthem, since the Ready album was released in 1980, and has been covered by bands throughout Europe. Gary has recorded several sessions for the BBC and other radio stations in his own right and a DVD ‘Live at The Ram Jam Club’ was released in ’06.

Human Spirit features a core band of Gary on acoustic and electric guitars, his son Jack on bass, his fellow Blues Band rhythm section partner, the superb Rob Townsend on drums and congas and the wonderful John Evans on lead guitar. Also featured are Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody and Dave Kelly on guitars, Steve Simpson on mandolin, violin and guitar and Mark Feltham and Paul Jones on harmonicas. The so-called ‘radio’ single from the album is a track called ‘Payback’ played frequently on national and local radio at the time of it's release in 2007 and beyond. Bob Harris was the first to play the song on Radio 2 and in the intervening years has featured Gary live in the studio on his show a number of times. Giant From the Blue by The Gary Fletcher Band followed and features Pick Withers on drums, Jack on bass and Steve Ling on lead guitar plus contributions from jazz giant Guy Barker on trumpet, Mark Feltham on harmonica and the Kokomo singers. In Solitary as the title implies is an entirely solo album recorded 'live in the studio' i.e. no overdubs etc which features only Gary on vocals and acoustic guitar, resonator and slide.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues people and music?

If by 'blues people' you mean blues singers and songwriters then in terms of my work I would say I've learnt to try and keep it simple and direct and that the 'feel' is the most important asset of a good blues song - or any other song really.

How do you describe Gary Fletcher sound and songbook?

Not all of my material is directly in the blues idiom but almost all of my song writing is informed by 'the blues' whether it be in the form of a basic 12 bar blues structure or utilises a more complex chord sequence etc - i.e there's almost invariably what could be described as a bluesy tinge to my stuff.

Lyrically with only one or two very rare exceptions I invariably write about my own feelings and experiences or something that has fired me up or pissed me off.

What touched (emotionally) you from the racing cars?

It's a cliche but for me racing cars is about being 'on the edge' etc and the heightened feelings of being alive that it brings.

"The Blues is most direct way in music and the arts of communicating human feelings."

How has the Blues and Rock counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

On a personal behaviour level I suppose I have/had(?) a streak of rebelliousness in me which was probably a legacy of the prevailing social changes amongst young people that came about in the sixties and seventies. I'm not sure how much the 'Blues and Rock counterculture' influenced my views of the world or the paths my life thus far has taken. It possibly made me question politics and establishment values but ultimately it's excesses and contradictions confounds it's voracity to me.

What were the reasons that made the UK in 60s to be the center of Folk/Rock/Blues researches and experiments?

I'm not sure I'm qualified to answer this as I was a rather late starter in terms of having a serious interest in music and apart from buying 'With The Beatles' when I was about 12 years old I didn't buy an album until around 1968 or 1969 when I bought 'Eddie Boyd with Fleetwood Mac'. I didn't pick a guitar up until around the same time either!

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

Musically? All the guys that I have ever played with! Obviously the other guys in The Blues Band, notably I guess Dave Kelly because he suggested me as the bass player when we formed the band and Paul Jones because I've always felt he really encouraged my songwriting. Also the DJ Bob Harris who was the first to play my solo albums on national radio.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Embarrassingly I can't remember anybody giving me advice that I took any notice of - my stubborn, won't be told, streak I guess. The best bit of advice I heard of that someone else received was a young aspiring musician who asked Count Basie for any advice that he could offer - Basie's answer was 'eat when you can'! In my experience a truer word never spoken.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

First time on the main stage at Glastonbury was awesome. Van Morrison sitting in with the BB at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden in NW London. Nat Adderley in the studio playing a solo on the end of 'Fat City' from the BB album of the same name. Guy Barker's amazing trumpet playing on my 'Giant From the Blue' album and Pick Withers drum performance on the 'hidden' track 'You won't take it from me' which plays one minute after the last track on the album if the CD is left to run.

"Embarrassingly I can't remember anybody giving me advice that I took any notice of - my stubborn, won't be told, streak I guess. The best bit of advice I heard of that someone else received was a young aspiring musician who asked Count Basie for any advice that he could offer - Basie's answer was 'eat when you can'! In my experience a truer word never spoken."

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

I don't really miss the music of the past as such because it's all still there on recordings. I do however miss the vibrancy and accessibility of good live, original music in clubs and the kind of pubs which were around in the seventies and eighties days of pub rock etc.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

I hope that music retains some sort of value to people - both emotional of course but also regains some fiscal value too. The business model for recorded music is broken - too many people no longer pay for music. Pirate internet websites who pay nothing to the artists and the likes of Spotify, Amazon Prime etc who pay virtually nothing to the majority of artists, whose music they effectively sell whilst they generate big profits for their company's shareholders have rendered the cost versus return of making a record nowadays at best, marginal - arguably even for well established acts. Unfortunately the genie is out of the bottle and I don't think anyone can force him back in!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would like to hear music radio where there was no talking at all over the beginning and end of records, less nostalgia shows and more mainstream exposure for original music.

What is the impact of Blues and Rock music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I would like to think a profound impact but I in reality I think small fires are lit which, sadly, flare briefly and then quickly flicker and fade. I don't believe there's no effect at all of some of the protest songs etc written over the years but I think my youthful belief in the power and influence of music in achieving profound change has ultimately proven to be wishful thinking. However I would never discourage people from writing and singing about seeking changes in their racial, political and socio-cultural circumstances.

What does the blues mean to you?

The most direct way in music and the arts of communicating human feelings.

"It's a cliche but for me racing cars is about being 'on the edge' etc and the heightened feelings of being alive that it brings."

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

This is a somewhat selfish trip in a time machine - I would like to go forward by a year or two and be about to play to a packed audience in The Royal Albert Hall, London in my own right. The first set to be just me and my guitar and voice on my own and the second set with my band including my younger son Billy playing guitar or keys and my older son Jack on bass.

Gary Fletcher - Official website

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