Irish musician Jim Quinlan talks about the blues around the world from Dublin and Dubai to Israel and Peru

"One of the great things for me which I have learned over the years is that Blues can be a common language to unite people from different cultural backgrounds and allow then to communicate musically."

Jim Quinlan: The Blues Ulysses 

Jim (JJ) Quinlan was born in village of Ardattin in Ireland. First paying gigs came in the early seventies playing electronic organ in a local Hotel bar. A local musician gave him his record collection and it was here Jim encountered Rock n' Roll and Blues for the first time. He was hooked, copying John Mayall and Hendrix licks. College years were spent playing in Folk clubs and jamming with friends. Whilst studying Architecture in Dublin, Jim became a regular at the weekly Folk club sessions and spent a lot of time seeing bands. Jim’s first band was formed when he went to live in England. The Real Estate Cowboys were a bunch of Architects and Surveyors who worked together and played local clubs. Jim helped run a Blues club in London’s East End, where he ran a stall selling Blues records and memorabilia while spinning disks between acts.

On returning to Ireland in the 90´s Jim formed the Groovey Rails. Another office band this time composed of Architects and Engineers from the Dublin Tram system and they played local bars and clubs with an uptempo R&B and Blues set. A chance meeting at a house party resulted in a lasting friendship with Irish singer Fergus McGovern and Jim went on to record an album with Fergus and some top notch professional musicians. Jim and Fergus played many gigs as a duo or with a full band in Ireland, Dubai, Peru and Israel. Because of work opportunities Jim moved to Dubai and joined local groups and they played in various locations around the United Arab Emirates. In his continuing search for new horizons Jim moved to Israel and as usual when in a new city headed for the nearest Jam night in Jerusalem. Jim made his solo album Late Starter. In 2012 Jim moved to Lima with his Peruvian wife Milena. A regular visitor to Peru over the years, Jim had played on a couple of occasions in Cusco and Lima. As usual a couple of songs played at a jam session resulted in a meeting with local harmonica player Javier Rayes and Jim now plays regularly with Cuidad Blues and in a trio called Midnight Blues with Javier and English guitarist Alex Emery. He can play a wide range of instruments and has learned to play Mandolin, Ukelele, Dulcimer and Bass. Lately he has been making Cigar Box guitars and he regularly plays his creations on stage with his various groups.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

The Blues to me is a way of expressing deep feelings and emotions musically. It seems to go direct to the heart and allows one to show the whole range of human emotions. The Blues is not sad as a lot of people seem think it is. It can express sadness yes but also happiness and joy and every feeling you can have in between the two.

One of the great things for me which I have learned over the years is that Blues can be a common language to unite people from different cultural backgrounds and allow then to communicate musically. I have met great people who are Blues lovers in Ireland, England, Dubai, Israel and now Peru.

How do you describe Jim Quinlan sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I grew up in rural Ireland listening to folk and Country and Western Music. These influences come out in the type of Blues I like but I love all kinds of music especially if its sung or played with heart and soul. I hate manufactured pop and hardcore electronic music though but maybe that’s my age!

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

It’s a music whose basis is simple but like so many great things in life it can be a complex as you want. Its easy to pick up the fundamentals but it can take a lifetime to master. You never stop learning. Any young person can pick up an instrument and make a Blues song really quickly. Every new generation brings something different or reinvents the genre.

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

Seeing and chatting to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee in the late 70`s had a huge impact. Two guys, a guitar and a Harmonica and they made such great sounds. Best advice "Don´t be afraid to go for it, its better to regret doing it than regret never having tried it"  

One of my most important encounters was with a drummer in Israel who went on to produce and play on my first Album. We became very good friends and I have his dedication to thank for enabling me to achieve one of my dreams. Its not strictly Blues more Folk Rock but you can hear the Blues influence in a lot of the songs.

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

One of my most memorable gigs was in Dubai at an open mic night. I turned up and my band did not make it so I had to go on alone with just my guitar. The guitarist from one of the other bands joined me and with no rehearsal we played a really fantastic gig. I love that feeling of letting the music take you where it wants to go.

"The Blues to me is a way of expressing deep feelings and emotions musically. It seems to go direct to the heart and allows one to show the whole range of human emotions."

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

I love the blues of the past (I have a huge collection of music- all digitized now so it can travel with me wherever I go) but there’s loads of great music still being made so  there’s nothing to miss from the old stuff.  You have to search a bit sometimes to find new music but it’s out there. Its sad though to see people I admire so much passing such as Johnny Winter.

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

Pay musicians fairly. Too many people expect their music for free and too many venues are willing to only pay meager fees if they pay at all for live musicians.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Peru. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

I´m a recent immigrant to Peru so I don´t have much of a sense of what went on here previously. I play with a bunch of guys who are great musicians, all from Peru with a smattering of ex –pats from England and Canada among others and there is a small but enthusiastic audience in Lima. There are regular jam sessions and some good venues. Some of the guys I play with have been playing since the sixties and there was a great scene in Lima for Blues Rock back then.  

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from USA and UK to Latin America and special in Peru?

North America culture had a huge influence here and with it came Blues, Jazz and Rock. The UK bands are less well known here apart from the big stars like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck. Crossover and fusion helps spread the music and there is now an increasing number of Blues musicians coming to play concerts here in Lima.

This  year we had John Primer do two nights at the Jazz club where I play and this coming year I hope to see many more artists coming to play. Its long trip and costs can be expensive so it takes a bit of organizing.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of Celtic/Irish and Peruvian folk music and forms?

Irish music moved to America with the Irish emigrants and influenced Country music in particular. Some of this seeped into the Blues as well. Peruvian Folk music is heavily influenced by Spanish Music and its polyrythmic styles are very different to the Blues. There are several different traditions of Folk music including Afro Peruvian brought by the African slaves, the traditional pan pipe and charango based ballads as well as brass band type marching music from the Andes. Recently I have been trying to use some traditional Peruvian stringed instruments to bring a new sound to some of the Blues songs I play.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

I recently tried to do a flying leap at the end of a song on stage only to fall flat on my backside. All I could do was laugh!! A recent concert saw a reunion of a great local band from the seventies called Traffic Sound , they played some old hits and it brought a tear to my eye.

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

Ah this is a tough one. I think the day Robert Johnson recorded his songs, no wait… the day Elvis went to Sun Studios, no maybe…Rory Gallagher's 1974 concert, oh Darn there´s just too many!!! 





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