An Interview with British Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter & Producer Norman Beaker

"Blues is a great outlet for your emotions, after a gig you feel like you have emptied your soul"

Norman Beaker: A British Crusader of Blues

Norman"Beaker" is a British guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and record producer, who has been involved in the British blues scene since the early 1970s. The Norman Beaker Band has toured and recorded with many blues artists including Graham Bond, Jack Bruce, Alexis Korner, Chris Farlowe, BB King, Fenton Robinson, Lowell Fulson, Buddy Guy, Van Morrison.

A self-taught guitarist, Norman Hume, learnt to play the guitar at the tender age of seven whilst confined to bed after a serious accident. In 1964, whilst on holiday in Llandudno, Norman entered and won first prize in a holiday camp talent competition, winning an appearance on skiffle king, Lonnie Donegan's Show. Norman's early influences were people like Lonnie and Hank Marvin though everyone who heard him play said he sounded like a blues guitarist. Elder brother Malcolm was a keen blues fan and introduced Norman to the likes of Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson.

In 1967 Norman formed his own band, 'Morning After' with a lineup that included brother, Malcolm on drums and Ian Stocks on bass. Gigging extensively throughout the late sixties and early seventies they built up a regular following. Often playing alongside Victor Brox, Norman eventually joined Victor's 'Blues Train', playing numerous gigs and appearing on Granada TV's 'So It Goes'.  

In fact, Victor Brox played a very particular role in Norman's career, christening him 'Beaker' after the Neolithic 'Beaker' folk to whom he considered Norman bore a resemblance! He introduced Norman 'Beaker' on stage one night and the name stuck to the point now where most people think it is his real name!

Perhaps one of their finest hours was guesting with BB King at Manchester's Free Trade Hall and the Hammersmith Odeon where the audience included Eric Clapton who went on to cover one of Norman's songs ('Break It Down') for a radio session, BB commented " I think we've found a white Freddy King", a compliment indeed and one not wasted on the many artistes Norman has subsequently worked with including: Jimmy Rogers, Buddy Guy, Lowell Fulson, Fenton Robinson, Chuck Berry, Katie Webster, Louisianna Red (with whom Norman appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test), the list goes on and on. Even the young up and coming stars such as Larry Garner have called on Norman and his band to give them their unique style of modern day blues.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Dear Norman, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues?

I first started to listen to blues music when I was about 12 years old , my brother w, who is 3 years older than me a,d now owns a record shop, used to go and see Howling Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson and tell me about them. I had been playing guitar since I was 7 years old, after a road accident I had to stay in bed  for over a year and my Father bought me a guitar to pass the time, and I loved it. At the time there were not too many guitarist to learn from so you had to use your imagination. I was a normal young kid, into pop music etc, but when I played the guitar my brother told me I sounded like a blues guitarist, and then so did everyone else. My Mother entered me in a guitar competition and I won, and the prize was  10 shillings and a spot on the Lonnie Donegan Show, he was the King of Skiffle in the UK, and I went on a few shows with him after thet, in fact we always kept in touch right up to his death, so I suppose it was Lonnie who got me started really.


Who were your first idols?

The album that really got me was the 1st Bob Dylan album with songs by Blind Lemon Jefferson etc, really emotional stuff, and it really inspired me. Electric wise the album for me that changed everything for my playing was the Five Live Yardbirds with a very young Eric Clapton, it was so raunchy and exciting, and that was it, I was hooked for ever.

I have many heroes I was lucky enough to tour with BB King, Buddy Guy etc, but my real fave has to be Freddie King, such energy and emotion, if I am allowed on regret it is that I never played or even met him, wonderful player.


Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best like a friend?

I have been very lucky, all my band are like my best friends, very much a family we all look after each other, after a long time together you need that John Price on bass has been with me for 20 years, Dave Baldwin on keys for 17, Steve Gibason on drums for about 8 years and the new boy on sax Kim Nishikawara, so you can see we don’t have a big turn around in musicians, because they all gel so well together.

Alexis Korner was a very close friend an indeed was the Godfather of my eldest son also named Alexis, Jack Bruce is another, Chris Farlowe who I have worked with for 17 years about, Paul Jones, also Larry Garner who we have started touring with again, very funny guy, he always stays at my house when we are in the UK, and he likes to join in Village life, he is like a local now


Is “Blues” a way of life?

In my case yes, but music in general is my way of life, as I do a lot of writing and Producing which I like, it keeps me fresh for gigging.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

So many best ones and not too many bad one’s (yet) I suppose playing at the Royal Albert Hall with Van Morrison was up there, also the first gig I did with Jack Bruce, who is really my mentor, his attitude to musical intensity is far greater than anyone else I know.

I don’t really have any bad memories, but there are a lot of people I miss who are no longer with us, Tony Ashton, a great friend and musician, Dick Heckstall- Smith who I palyed with for many years, Tim Rose I also miss a lot, but its inevitably going to happen, so I just try to enjoy everyone while they are with us.

Is there any similarity between the blues today and the blues of the sixties?

Not so much, the 60’s tended to be more raw and exciting, now it is more sophisticated and song oriented. When I  released the album “Into the Blues “ in 1988 people were amazed to find songs not in a 12 bar format, now everyone does it, but for me blues should be more from the heart than the brain

What do you think were the reasons for the Brit blues boom at early of ‘60s?

Mainly the reason was the link with jazz & Skiffle, when Cyril Davis started the Skiffle club in London it was really popular for a short time until, rockers like Keith Richard , Mick Jagger and Alexis of course  started the Blues club, which was just a bit more rebellious, a bit like the punk scene after bands like Queen, a natural reaction


Did you help many artist in the meantime did you found any gratitude from them?

I have helped and even managed a few bands, and yes generally they are usually grateful, of course there is the odd one who forgets how they got a break, but I do it for the reason I think they are worth it, so gratitude is nice but not compulsory


What does BLUES mean to you?

It is a great outlet for your emotions, after a gig you feel like you have emptied your soul


Which of your work would you consider to be the best?

I’d have to leave that for other people to judge, an album I produced with for Ruby Turner “Guilty” was something I am really proud of, and I suppose the “Into the Blues “ album as it was quite ground breaking song wise


What does Blues offered you?

A living, a chance to meet some great people including the audiences to whom we owe everything.


What do you learn about yourself from music?

That there is more emotion inside you that has to come out


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Well all of it really, in the 70’s trying to get yourself notice and working really hard, then making a name for your self and justifying keeping yourself up there as time changes around you


Why do you play the blues?

Well I do play other styles, but people always say it sounds like blues so I have no choice, blues is what I do


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

Never taking an anything for granted, live life to the full, and give it everything you have every time


How do you want to be remembered?

That I was a good player and brought a bit of humour to the cause as well.


What was the first gig you ever went to?

Of all things it was The Beach Boys, but after that I saw John Mayall hundreds if times, there is a legend for you.


How was your recording hours with Chris Farlowe?

The first record I recorded with Chris was “Lonesome  Road “ for Indigo, I was sort of the house producer for a while, and we recorded this live, and we have been playing together ever since, great voice, and again we have a lot of fun on stage which people really enjoy


What mistake of music you want to correct?

A track from my album “Hollywood” which we recorded slower than the way we play live, and it’s not as punchy


Give one wish for the blues music

That we give the younger guys time to mature, we had years as no one was interested, so we had time to get it right, no it’s a CD driven industry before they have done  a few gigs


Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?

As I said Freddy King would be number one, but after working with Larry Garner, some stories he has told me I would have love to have met Gatemouth Brown


Are your music dreams full feald?

Yes more than fulfilled, but we still strive to improve.


To which person do you want to send one from your songs?

Stevie Wonder, have you got his address ?


Three words to describe your sound & your progress

Truthful, authentic and consistent


Do you believe the MUSIC takes subject from the LIFE?

Yes, my songs certainly do


When did you last laughing in studio and why?

We are always laughing in the studio, but one I like was when we were recording with Louisiana Red, he said when I nod my head finish, so he nodded and we stopped, he then sais “ What happened”, I said you nodded your head  he replied “No that’s what I do when I get happy “, very funny

Tell me about the beginning of Morning  After. How did you get together and where did it start?

It was my brothers idea really, we had a close friend Ian Stocks who played bass, and we had s friend who played a bit of a guitar and we were together for about 3 years and played almost every night , it was a good learning ground 


Tell me about your meeting with Lowell Fulson

We toured with Lowell for many years, great songwriter, but he always seemed a very lonely guy, and a bit awkward with the audience, it was just like “Thank you” and then on to the next song 


How was your relationship with Alexis Korner?

We were very close and I mentioned before he was godfather to my eldest child, he taught me more about the business side than the music side, obviously he had a wealth of knowledge, and was a great raconteur, a great champion of the blues .

If Alexis is the Father of UK Blues Chris Barber has to be the Grandfather he paid money out of his own pocket to bring over people like Muddy Waters and Big Bill Broonzy, at a time when it was a big gamble


What does GUITAR mean to you?

I love it as an extension of you emotions, I have a 1970 strat which I love and it is just like another part of you on stage, it’s a lot mellower than I am


What advice would you had given to Graham Bond?

Don’t take so many drugs


What would you had  given Cyril Davis?

None, he knew everything anyway


How did you begin playing music and when did you know you would do this for a living?

As I said earlier I started palying when I was seven and was in bands from the age of 14

I only started to play for a living when I had no time to do anything else. The music business chose me really


How do you get inspiration for your songs?

From watching other people and listening to there problems etc


What musicians have influenced you most as a songwriter?

Stevie Wonder without a doubt and Jack Bruce too


How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

Yes a lot, when we started in the business everyone had a chance to be on TV etc now, it’s all talent or should I say lack of talent shows like the X Factor, which has stopped a lot of the younger guys coming through


What advice would you give to aspiring  musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the “blues craft”?

Play everywhere and a lot, you can’t buy experience you have to work at it


What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician?

Always trying to do the right thing, and not trying to upstage anyone and being generous with other musicians, it is a team effort that makes things work



Do you agree the  characterization of BB King's: “white Freddy King"?

I wish I had his voice, I think we both play with a bit of edge, so I suppose we are from the same school, I would love to think so anyway


Do you have a message for the Greek blues fans?

I hope we can come over and play you some downhome UK blues as soon as we can, and keep the faith


and one last question, I would like to put a song next to each name,

Victor Brox: Till You’re Loving Makes me Blue

Paul Jones: Blue Collar

Van Morrison: Bright Side of the Road

The Norman Beaker Band's website


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