Q&A with Scottish group of GT's Boos Band - creating original indie/blues music that reflects their experiences

"In my opinion Blues, and it’s subsequent baby, Rock n’ Roll, has had arguably one of the biggest impacts in terms of bridging the racial divide that existed in America prior to the civil rights movement."

GT's Boos Band: Highlands Experiences

GT's Boos Band are a Scottish blues-based rock n roll band led by guitarist John Boos and lead vocalist Greig Taylor. Completing the line-up and providing the driving groove is bassist David Atkinson and drummer Allan Huntly. Almost six years have passed, since October 2010, when self-taught blues guitarist John Boos approached singer GT about hooking up for an acoustic jam. After two years touring the circuit as an acoustic duo, and building a significant local following in the process, they together devised the idea of the GT’s Boos Band electric project. Very quickly they wrote and recorded debut album Steak House, which was released September 2013 to substantial critical praise in the worldwide blues press. The album featured on Paul Jones’ eponymous BBC 2 Radio show, with the renowned blues DJ proclaiming them to be “excellent” and in “Howlin’ Wolf mode”. Top reviews soon followed in prominent music magazines such as Blues Matters, Blues in Britain, R2 Magazine amongst others.

Steak House was a finalist ‘debut album of the year for 2013’ in German Rock magazine Wasser-Prawda. Steak House was also nominated in the British Blues Awards 2014 for Album of the Year and frontman Greig Taylor for ‘male vocalist of the year’. In early 2015 Canada’s Blues and Roots Radio featured Steak House as ‘Album of the Week’, proof if needed that the album was still reaching out a full eighteen months after initial release. Their new self-titled album “GT's Boos Band” released on 1st September, 2016. Three years in the making, this album reflects the evolution of the band, who are proud of their blues roots, however there is a purposeful sense of identity within the record. A real mix of genre; from Celtic acoustic blues (Walk My Path) to Classic Rock style love ballad (Chain of Love); a reggae tinged rocker (High n Dry); a psychedelic contemporary rock song (Amsterdam); A Rockabilly style track (Seven Questions), a Doors inspired Rock track (Howl for the Lover); a beautiful instrumental track (JoJo); and not forgetting some serious nods to the genre via some epic Blues Rock tracks (Baby Stop Your Crying, Everybody Knows and Real Born Winner).

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Greig: For me personally, the blues has provided me with a platform to exercise some of my own personal demons. I have had a couple of setbacks in my life, in my early 20's I was in such a low place, I HAD the blues when I ended up spending time in Scotland's notorious Barlinnie Prison. Thankfully I turned my life around, but blues music has ultimately enabled me to express my story and perhaps fully move on from those times. Nobody should have to hold on to the feeling of failure from being in that position. I feel I have a very relevant story to tell, one of redemption and recovery and ultimately, success. The fact that John Boos, my writing partner in the Boos Band, is a phenomenal blues guitarist and songwriter can be put down to coincidence, but rather more how I see it is that it was truly meant to be. My story would not connect with any other genre in the same way. And when I say that, I also refer to how I feel when I am performing and telling my story. It is often remarked to me how passionate I am on stage. That's just the way it has to be for me, every single time! That's my blues and I leave it all out there, baring my soul to my audience and my fans.

John: I learned that blues music is something that comes very natural to me. When I pick up a guitar, nine out of ten times, the first thing I’ll play will be a blues lick.  I also learned that blues music is an extremely expressive form of music that doesn't always rely on musical perfection to be performed effectively. For me it’s an outlet for personal expression, I do love to listen to the blues and can often take great inspiration from it although playing the blues is my number one preference. The beauty about the blues is its versatility. Obviously you get blues songs in a sad style that some people relate to when they are feeling down but you also get the uppers (SRV house is a rocking style) that can make you feel on top of the world! I really believe that there is something for everyone in blues music it’s just that a lot of people aren't willing to give it a shot at times.

How do you describe GT's Boos Band sound and songbook? What characterize band’s philosophy?

Greig: The GT's Boos Band sound combines the first class guitar playing of John Boos and our banging rhythm section of David Atkinson on bass and Al Huntly on drums. Our sound has at times been described as like the great British Blues Rock of the late 60's, early 70's, and at other times like the south side of Chicago. I see it as independent, blues-driven rock n’ roll. It's important to note that GT's Boos Band see ourselves as independent from the blues artists that have gone before us. We are proud of our blues roots, however there is a purposeful sense of our own identity within the new record. We are trying to evolve the genre, but with massive respect for what has gone before. In the new album for example there as real mix of genre; from Celtic acoustic blues (Walk My Path) to Classic Rock style love ballad (Chain of Love); a reggae tinged rocker (High n Dry); a psychedelic contemporary rock song (Amsterdam); A Rockabilly style track (Seven Questions), a Doors inspired Rock track (Howl for the Lover); a beautiful instrumental track (JoJo); and not forgetting some serious nods to the genre via some epic Blues Rock tracks (Baby Stop Your Crying, Everybody Knows and Real Born Winner). Former Ultravox frontman and one time Thin Lizzy guitarist Midge Ure said, “I cut my musical teeth on the British Blues boom of the 1960’s early 1970’s and GT’s Boos Band took me right back there when I heard them. Great to see a proper band avoid the current musical fads and do something they love really well.”

"I hope that the blues can continue to evolve and prosper. My hope is that blues-led original music will grow and attract new younger audiences who can connect with not just the music but with the stories within them." (Greig Taylor - Photo by Stuart Stott)

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

Greig: I'd like to share with your readers a true story which I haven't told publicly before, of how I first came to know my future was to be a performer and how music changed my life. It was back in 2001 and I was at my lowest ebb, I was in prison and my life was in the sh*t! What happened there changed my life for the better and made me know instantly I was going to be a singer. Once every week the prison took a group of prisoners to the chapel where they got musical instruments out to jam together on stage. It was decided to put on a show for the inmates however the one thing missing was someone to sing the songs. Now, I don't know what made me do it but I put myself forward (I knew at that point I could hold a tune but had never performed publicly before). So before I knew it I was thrust on stage in front of 400 convicts over two nights, performing with the band put together in just a few days! It was the most surreal experience, being in such a low place and at such a low ebb in my life yet encountering one of the greatest, most life affirming experience of my entire life. The toughest crowd I'll ever perform to, in my first EVER public gig, and they loved it! I knew right there and then I wanted to be a performer. I have since been back to a prison as a performer, telling my own story of how I was in their position but how the power of music changed my life forever. It’s a hell of a story, but I’m glad I can look back and see how it changed my life and if my story can inspire others then that would be the icing on the cake.

John: We have just recently finished recording our self-titled second album and had a great time in doing so. It was recorded in chamber studios in Edinburgh, all live with a few overdubs here and there we are really very proud that all of the hard work and effort that went into the making of this album, hopefully the fans will like it too! Gig wise, personally I have been to quite a few great blues shows as a performer and fan. I've been lucky enough to have seen BB King in London in 2005. It was supposed to be his farewell tour, Gary Moore supported him. It was a fantastic gig and he really had the crowd in the palm of his hand. If somebody had told me then that in 8 years’ time BB king would still be touring and Gary Moore no longer with us I would never have believed them! Got to see Gary around 6/7 times, he's one of my favorite guitar players, fantastic style and tone. 

What the difference and similarity between the ACOUSTIC FOLK BLUES and MODERN ELECTRIC BLUES feeling?

John: The difference I feel would be that Acoustic folk blues is really the original place of where the blues music originated from. Usually one person with one guitar, a song to sing and a story to tell. Modern electric blues is more on a bigger scale in terms of personnel and volume. The similarity between both is that in electric blues the guitar becomes the voice and played in the right way allows you to express the "love, hate, anger sorrow" that the acoustic singer would do through his voice. I try to do this with my guitar!

"The beauty about the blues is its versatility. Obviously you get blues songs in a sad style that some people relate to when they are feeling down but you also get the uppers (SRV house is a rocking style) that can make you feel on top of the world!" (John Boos - Photo by Stuart Stott)

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

Greig: I came into blues music relatively late, however I have immersed myself in the history of it and I suppose the thing I miss most nowadays would be the originality of the first blues artists. That is something I feel strongly about. To innovate, not imitate, is the ultimate goal as a current blues artist. To take the genre and do something new with it. I suppose in the same kind of way that the artists during the British Blues boom in the early 70’s did. I think that’s why that era was so successful for blues, because they took something that had already been there and interpreted it in a way that struck a chord with the music loving public. Since then there has been a tendency for ‘blues’ artists to imitate that particular era rather than do something new and fresh. That’s our ultimate goal and we feel we have achieved this with our new record.

John: The amount of good quality that was available and the demand for the music. And Howlin' Wolf…

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Greig: I hope that the blues can continue to evolve and prosper. My hope is that blues-led original music will grow and attract new younger audiences who can connect with not just the music but with the stories within them. I fear that the whole process is being undermined by poor imitations, stereotypical pub blues rock done by older men in poor quality blues hats (and waistcoats!) This does the genre no favours at all in my opinion. For me, it’s all about keeping it real and relevant!

John: I hope that (bands) can still have the opportunity to play blues to larger audiences in the future. We hope to turn on new fans to the music in the style we perform. My fear? Snapping three strings in my final solo with no back up guitar!!

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

Greig: I would almost certainly change the current set up within the music industry so that the artist is rewarded fairly for any downloads and streaming of their music.  I think it’s wholly unacceptable that the artist receives very little back for all the blood, sweat and tears that go into making a record.

John: That artists get to make a decent living from their own music. With the ability to basically get any song you want now a days for free, it really takes the value out of the music in a financial sense. This can really make it hard for bands to make a living

"Music in general is a fantastic outlet for political, moral and social views if your that way inclined. A strong view point charged by good music can be a very powerful thing!" (Photo: GT's Boos Band)

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

Greig: Blues in Scotland at the moment is in a reasonably healthy position. There has been a revival in recent years led by prominent Scottish blues fans, who devised and released a compilation of the best of Scottish blues called ‘Jocks Juke Joint’. Personally, it was our involvement in this project which first brought us into the consciousness of Scottish and the wider UK blues audiences. It allowed us an initial platform to get our music out there and resulted in national airplay on BBC 2 Radio, which led to us writing and recording all of our first album. Scottish blues artists are currently headlining events up and down the whole of the UK and Europe, via artists such as Alan Nimmo’s King King and The Stevie Nimmo Trio. Organisations such as the Edinburgh Blues Club are doing stellar work in keeping blues alive within Scotland, bringing internationally renowned artists to our shores and also giving great exposure to new emerging artists like ourselves. Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival also is one of the UK’s most successful festivals, selling out year upon year. So, I’d say Scottish Blues is overall in a very healthy position right now! The most interesting period is NOW because we are just about to release an album!! Ha. In all seriousness though, I do think now is the time for someone to push their head above the parapet and take the genre and do something real with it, something different and progressive. I believe we are that band.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of the Blues with the Celtic music?

Greig: All music connects in some way, shape or form and I suppose from our view, being Scottish, we wanted to write a song which connects the blues and our Celtic roots. We have come up with a song called ‘Walk My Path’ which we describe as ‘Celtic Blues’. Others have described it as almost country sounding, or having a ‘homeland’ feel. Which is exactly what we wished to achieve.

John: The music and lyrics played and expressed in both the Blues & Celtic songs are very similar, usually about oppression, love, fear and hope.

What touched (emotionally) you from the local circuits?

Greig: I went to watch a recent show by Scottish Blues legend Stevie Nimmo. It was the first time I had seen this guy perform, but I connected with it in so many ways. Here we had a guy who had been on the circuit for so many years, yet has just written one of his most successful and critically acclaimed albums. What touched me most was the way he sold it to his audience. The vocal delivery, the passion, the guitar playing and the originality was all there (as well as the on stage ‘banter’ as we say in Scotland. Hell, he even scolded an audience heckler for talking during the set and threatened to give him his size 10 boots up the ass! That’s REAL right there!). I am glad to say we are opening for him at his upcoming show at Edinburgh Blues Club.

John: I enjoy the fact that we as a band get a great amount of positive feedback from our local gigs. People regularly come up to us after our shows and comment on the impact that it has on them. It’s really assuring to experience a positive reaction on a regular basis, as at the end of the day it’s the fans that are the most important (that's why we try to give it 100% every time we play whether there's two people or 200) No fans equals no gigs really!

"Our sound has at times been described as like the great British Blues Rock of the late 60's, early 70's, and at other times like the south side of Chicago. I see it as independent, blues-driven rock n’ roll. It's important to note that GT's Boos Band see ourselves as independent from the blues artists that have gone before us." (Photo: John Boos on guitar and Greig Taylor on vocals)

What is the impact of Blues and Rock n’ Roll culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Greig: In my opinion Blues, and it’s subsequent baby, Rock n’ Roll, has had arguably one of the biggest impacts in terms of bridging the racial divide that existed in America prior to the civil rights movement. In the cross-over of African American "race music" to a growing white youth audience, the popularization of rock and roll saw both black performers reaching a white audience and white performers connecting with African-American music audiences. Many people saw rock and roll as heralding the way for desegregation, in creating a new form of music that encouraged racial cooperation and shared experience. Similarly, it had massive impact on daily life, influencing fashion, attitudes and language in a way few other social developments have equalled, before or since.

John: I think the impact is massive. It’s definitely served to bring people together. I'd just recently watched a documentary on the rolling stones and they were talking about their first American tours when there was still segregation in the south. Being from Britain, this was completely alien to them! I think the most important thing that they wanted to do individually was to meet Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Chuck Berry! British bands in the 60s and 70s, were great advocators of the black American blues artists, which in their own land had mainly been ignored or shunned. People like John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards to name a few really helped to eventually turn America and the most of the world onto the blues. BB King playing in the white house for Barack Obama, Fantastic! Something that would have been unheard of not so long ago. I think in the main, it’s been something that has pushed barriers. Music in general is a fantastic outlet for political, moral and social views if your that way inclined. A strong view point charged by good music can be a very powerful thing!

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

Greig: If I had a time machine I think, in musical terms, I would like to go and spend a whole day during the formative years of Blues and Rock n’ Roll. Maybe go hang down at Sun Studios or Chess Records and see how everything happened and watch the masters at work during their formative years. Those truly were glorious years for music. May they come again…

John: (Laughs!) That's a hard one. There are so many iconic gigs and events that have happened over the years that I would have loved to experienced but the mood I'm in just now it would have to be Woodstock 69 and would have to be for the whole weekend! Santana, Canned Heat, Ten Years After, and Hendrix on the same bill, all for around 6$ unbelievable!  Don't think I'd make it back home!

GT's Boos Band - Official website

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