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: River Keeps Flowing

Co-founder and continuing member of the Blues Band with Paul Jones, Tom McGuinness and Dave Kelly, Gary Fletcher has contributed many original songs to the band’s output, notably ‘Greenstuff’ and ‘So Lonely’ but has emerged in the 21st century as an artist in his own right. Gary plays and sings a compelling mix of original songs and choice covers, incorporating elements of the Blues, Americana and Folk, reflecting Gary’s song writing influences outside of the Blues Band - using guitar, slide, banjo, mandolin and ukulele. He’s released several albums featuring both electric and acoustic line-ups, beginning with ‘Human Spirit’ in 2007, as well as the acclaimed ‘In Solitary’ solo offering, which along with the electric ‘Giant From The Blue’ album. Bob Harris has featured Gary live in the studio on his BBC R2 show several times and in session for his YouTube channel ‘Under the Apple Tree’. Gary has appeared and/or recorded with such notables as Peter Green, Maggie Bell, Van Morrison, John Mayall, Long John Baldry, Guy Barker, The Memphis Horns, Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody, Kim Simmonds, Zoot Money and Nat Adderley – to name but a few. Less known is that Gary has also been a member of Linda Gail Lewis’ band alongside Jerry Donahue and Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull) and one third of The Hard Travellers – a criminally short-lived band that also included Dave Sharp of The Alarm and the late, great Henry McCullough.

Photo: Gary Fletcher from the video of 'I Couldn't Be Asking', filmed and directed by Bill Smith, 2019

Gary Fletcher’s new album ‘River Keeps Flowing’ (2019) featuring 12 new songs, book-ended by short instrumental ‘Intro’ and ‘Outro’ tracks, produced by Gary and Bill Gautier. ‘River Keeps Flowing’ is his sixth offering (one of which was released as by the Relatives) and benefits from contributions by a number of very fine players including, from his road band, Alan Glen (the Yardbirds, Nine Below Zero) on harmonica, Tom Leary (Lindisfarne, Feast of Fiddles) on violin, Sam Kelly (Tom Robinson, Circulus) drums, Jack Fletcher (Aphid) on bass and Nick Ritchie (Mud, Canto) lead guitar plus guest appearances from Paul Jones on harmonica, Charlie Hart (Slim Chance) on accordion, Amanda Guy on alto sax and Lol Plummer on piano. The material straddles roots, Americana, folk as well as blues, and reflects Gary’s song writing influences outside of the territory occupied by the Blues Band. As has been the case with previous releases the lyrics are an important contributor to the listening experience.

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.

How do you describe 'River Keeps Flowing' sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Well RKF's sound is all mine - can't blame anybody else - and for the majority of the album it's pretty much come out exactly as I envisaged when I made the decision to do it. I don't think that's ever been the case with any of my previous albums or even with The Blues Band's output. I didn't want to clutter the songs with multiple overdubs, so each instrument is doing no more than what's needed so no gratuitous shows of flashy technique - just what I felt the song demanded - no more. With the sheer quality of the musicians I was lucky enough to have contribute to the record it was relatively easy to achieve because there were no big egos fighting for exposure!

I don't really know where my creative drive comes from other than I pick up the guitar quite a lot just to play and often a chord or riff pops out that becomes the start of a song. Sometimes they get fully developed, sometimes they fall through the cracks. It's usually the music that comes first with me but occasionally I might come up with a lyric line or hook first - especially if something has really annoyed me!

"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." (Gary Fletcher / Photo by Tony Cole)

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from River Keeps Flowing studio sessions?

The atmosphere for each and every session of the recording of the album was relaxed and fun. Banter and jokes were ever present and the performances of every one of the contributors were almost invariably first takes. It helped that the lineup of the GFB road band made up most the cast of the album and that many, though not all, of the songs had been 'played in' at gigs over previous months.

What touched me emotionally was the commitment of all involved, and their performances of course, and as a consequence the satisfaction of achieving my vision of how songs would turn out.

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.

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!

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." (Photo: The Blues Band, UK c.1982)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of British music from Skiffle to Blues and from Americana to Folk?

Perhaps it's simplicity and thus directness of the genres you mention. They all seem to connect to the heart firstly!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Don't try to be someone else. Influences - yes but copyist - no. Also, as Count Basie said in reply to a young aspiring musician's request for advice - 'Eat when you can'!

Do you consider the "Roots Music" a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

'Roots' to me is an umbrella phrase that covers almost anything that has what I would call feel. Pop, metal, electro, house etc. don't. Blues, Americana, most but not all country, folk etc. do and come under 'roots' in my mind.

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

My son had a very bad accident which left him with life changing injuries and that changed my life too. Some of my change was actually good for me, though clearly not all. Highlights? - my family, becoming a pro musician, running a successful business for a while in parallel with being a musician, winning in motorsport and musically my album 'River Keeps Flowing'.

Are there any memories from the late great Alexis Korner which you’d like to share with us?

Alexis was a lovely guy to be with and along with the much under-credited Chris Barber they, in their separate ways had pivotal roles in the emergence of blues in the UK.

"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." (Photo: The Blues Band & Alexis Korner)

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.

What does the blues mean to you?

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

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.

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.

"'Roots' to me is an umbrella phrase that covers almost anything that has what I would call feel. Pop, metal, electro, house etc. don't. Blues, Americana, most but not all country, folk etc. do and come under 'roots' in my mind." (Gary Fletcher / Photo by Haydn Hart)

What are your hopes and fears for the future of the 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.

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 - Home

(Gary Fletcher / Photo by Tony Cole)

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