Interview with Spanish one-man band Fernando Neris -- settled in Belgium explores the pre-war repertoire

"It (Blues) was part of the folk oral tradition. But they turned their backs on the Blues, long ago. The Blues seems to be too low class and to carry a message from the segregation days no one wants to listen to."

Fernando Neris: Pure Original Blues

Fernando Neris is a Spanish One-Man-Band bluesman settled in Belgium since 2000. After leading several groups in Málaga and Louvain he began to perform solo in 2009. His new acoustic project explores the pre-war repertoire: Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson or Skip James among others. Acoustic Delta Pre-war blues performed on dobro, lap steel, ukulele & foot-percussion.

Fernando says: "I try to get the purest acoustic sound from the guitar. This is the reason why I use condenser microphones to amplify my resonator guitars. It's the only way I've found to get a loud enough pure acoustic sound. I want the public to hear the closest sound to what they would hear if they were sitting in my living-room, having coffee or a good pint."

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

For me the Blues is a means of communication. It's a way of telling how you feel and different real life stories, whether they've happened to you or to someone else. There is always a way to express how it feels. It could be something sad, like you losing a job or a wife, or something a bit humorous or sexual. Whatever it is, there's a Blues song that can be used to get the message through. It works for me!

How do you describe Fernando Neris sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I try to get the purest acoustic sound from the guitar. This is the reason why I use condenser microphones to amplify my resonator guitars. It's the only way I've found to get a loud enough pure acoustic sound. I want the public to hear the closest sound to what they would hear if they were sitting in my living-room, having coffee or a good pint. I love it too when they talk to me during the gigs, about the songs and their meaning. Communication must be both ways!

What were the reasons that you started the One-Man Band researches and slide, foot-stomp experiments?

The crisis! I had to fire all my musicians and do the work all by myself. Well, not really, I'm joking...What really happened is that I got children and going out for rehearsals got more and more complex. So, an acoustic setting, and rehearsals at home made perfect sense. Playing solo also allows me to tour easily across Belgium and Spain. But I love playing in a band too! Fingerpicking, lapsteel, ukulele, footdrums, harp... These are all different techniques and instruments, means of expression. And I use everything I have at hand in order to give the best show I can.

"Everyone has a different idea of what the Blues is or what it should be. Quite often I get to go to blues festivals and I don't seem to listen to lots of Blues. It sounds like rock to me. "

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where would you really wanna go for a whole day? What touched (emotionally) you from the pre-war Blues era?

Could I go and listen to Charley Patton live? Can I?

Pre-war Blues is richer rhythmically and its forms are freer. Not having bass and drums allowed bluesmen much more freedom. You don't have to stick to the typical twelve bars and chord changes. And then there's the lyrics. Censorship got there in the 40's, and the Blues got less spicy, loosing references to voodoo, sex or rural life. Pre-war Blues was still an oral story-telling folk literature.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Some ten years ago a friend of mine, who is always very hip, told me: "Fernando, why don't you stop playing that old-fashioned blues-rock and do something more modern? Something like acid-jazz (it was fashionable then), something trendy? "So I listened to her and decided to get back to those old Delta Blues I used to play in my teens. I'm stubborn. Ha!

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

I got hired by a big blues festival, north os Spain. My job was to busk the streets for four days. It was very well paid. I got there the first day and saw Johnny Winter on the main stage. It was huge... Then the boss told me: "Fernando, tomorrow you're playing that same stage, opening for Elvin Bishop." I couldn't believe it and had problems getting to sleep. But the next day there I was, all alone on the main stage with an ukulele on my hand...

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

Everyone has a different idea of what the Blues is or what it should be. Quite often I get to go to blues festivals and I don't seem to listen to lots of Blues. It sounds like rock to me. But this is my personal perception and I might be mistaken. But I like it too. On the other hand, I hear the Blues in many other styles: folk, jazz...etc.

"For me the Blues is a means of communication. It's a way of telling how you feel and different real life stories, whether they've happened to you or to someone else. There is always a way to express how it feels."

Make an account of the case of the blues in Spanish and Belgium scene? What are the difference and similarities?

Playing clubs and festivals in Spain or Belgium is the same with regards to organization or public. I don't perceive any important differences. What really makes a difference is competition. Most international, American, artists tour Belgium, as it's on the crossroads of Europe. So you get to see many of them.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of Andalusian folk music and Spanish traditional forms?

Both Blues and Flamenco are modal styles of music in their origins. And they got mixed with western chords and harmonies too. They're both folk music, used to express deep feelings, as many other styles are. On the other hand their modes, rhythms and technics are totally different. I love Flamenco and I am often asked to play it. I can't though. It's never been a part of my background.

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

It would be nice if live music became popular again. And I am talking about small clubs and cultural centers, not big stadiums. I'd like to see live music as a part of our everyday life. Less background music and more human interaction. Wishful thinking I'm afraid.

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

Very little nowadays I'm afraid. Back in the day it was important in the black American community. It was part of the folk oral tradition. But they turned their backs on the Blues, long ago. The Blues seems to be too low class and to carry a message from the segregation days no one wants to listen to.

Fernando Neris - Official website

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