Q&A with Suzy Starlite & Simon Campbell - seasoned songwriters and musicians with a whirlwind musical romance

"Without the blues (and jazz), the music scene as we know it now would not exist. It’s clear that the music has had a massive impact in easing the struggle of African Americans (and their brothers and sisters worldwide) for equality."

Starlite Campbell Band: Heartbeats 

Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell are seasoned songwriters and musicians. Following a whirlwind musical romance they married in 2014. They have been writing together right from the beginning and have amassed over 60 new songs, but only decided to form a band in January 2016. Suzy and Simon with long careers of writing, performing, playing and producing; together they own Supertone. Along with their labradors, Bobby and Hummock, they moved to Estivella in 2014 with the intention of setting up a world class recording studio, primarily designed to record their new material. The material for the new blues album Blueberry Pie was written in April and the album finished in November, 2016. It was recorded at Supertone Records in Estivella, Spain and features Danny Boy Sánchez on Harmonica, Steve Gibson on Drums and Jonny Henderson on Hammond & Wurlitzer. It's a fresh taste of British Blues. Blueberry Pie is set for worldwide release on February 1, 2017.                                                         Photo by Cristina Tejeda

SUZY STARLITE: Suzy plays a fiendishly groovy bass guitar, acoustic guitar and is a vocalist and songwriter. She studied Media & Performance at Salford University and was a member of Folk Rock band Megiddo, who released an EP in 1994 followed by an album 1996. In 2012, she formed the band Starlite and drafted in Simon on guitar. That year they played many gigs featuring all original material including Mannifest, a three day festival.

SIMON CAMPBELL: Simon is a guitar player, vocalist, songwriter and record producer. Following a number of original bands he was signed to Polydor Records in the early 90's and released an album with his band Little Brother. After the band split he went on to form the Disciples and released an album in 1994. In 2011 Simon was nominated in the Best Vocalist category in the British Blues Awards 2011 following the release of his debut solo album ThirtySix. 2014 saw him release his second solo album, The Knife which reflected Simon's increasing love of acoustic music from both sides of the Atlantic.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Rock counterculture and Blues influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Suzy: Ha! That's an interesting question as it's only recently that I fell in love with Blues and Rock. Up till meeting Simon (my husband), both rock and blues were a mystery to me. I was a singer songwriter from an acoustic folk background and didn't like the electric guitar. When we started to play together I was inspired and Simon did something quite different to what I perceived; he talked to the audience without words using his guitar. I started to play bass three years ago and started by learning our own material and blues standards. The more I played the more I felt the groove and sensibility when introduced to players such as Carl Radle, Andy Frazer, John Paul Jones and John McVie. It has changed my perception of music!!

Simon: Well, really I have known nothing else so I am an insider, steeped in blues/rock looking out on the world. Working with musicians from many nationalities and faiths, it has certainly formed my character making me inclusive of everyone. Music brings together people like nothing else which is the most wonderful thing and we certainly need more of that in these turbulent times. The best answer to the question is to read the lyrics of my solo and joint work with Starlite, as jointly and separately have always written about real situations and people. ‘Blueberry Pie’ is about our 2016...

How do you describe Starlite Campbell Band sound and songbook? What characterize band’s philosophy?

Suzy: Simon and I both started writing songs when we were sixteen years old; years before we ever met. When we started writing together a couple of years ago, one of the things we debated at length was the role of the songwriter and music in today’s society. As musicians and storytellers, which is essentially the roots of Blues music, we always work in service of the lyric and the song. The sound reflects the heartbeat of what the song demands to come alive, it’s tonal qualities painted as a sonic expression of the feeling and meaning of the lyric. We always write about real people, places of events and not afraid of social commentary as this is the role of the artist! So for us, its lyrics first... We also love to create a natural sound with the minimum of digital jiggery pokery, so many of parts on ‘Blueberry Pie’ are ‘first takes’. We embrace imperfection as we are more interested in the performance and energy.

"Well having lived in the US, UK, France and Spain I see massive differences the main being the underlying culture and history behind the music." (Photo by Simon Mark Taylor)

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

Suzy: When playing at Mannifest (a large outdoor festival on the Isle of Man) Simon and I both lunged forward towards the front of the stage and I took a hit to the head from his Telecaster sending me reeling across the stage. The audience cheered thinking the dramatic move was a part of the stage show: it wasn't rehearsed and I have the scar to prove it...

Simon: Having been performing and playing guitar for 42 years I have an awful lot but two amusing stories spring to mind from my formative years… When I was about 18, I was playing in the heavy rock band Whitefire. We used to work a lot in the North East of England and our agent would cram as many gigs in as possible. On one of the tours we were booked in to play a lunchtime show in Newcastle Labour Club before a gig elsewhere in the evening. We set up and played our first hard rocking set only to be told that in the interval between two sets there was a stripper on. No problem, but then she told us she had forgotten her backing tapes and asked us to play for her. I can tell you there were many ‘bum notes’ played during those few songs. Whitefire were playing the Deeply Vale Free Festival in 1977 which was situated near Bury in the North of England and predates Glastonbury. I remember it being such a loving and warm feeling as we were camping there very much like an English version of Woodstock. We played to a very mellow audience of 10,000 with a stage so full of gear, it started to sink. I recall using 4 x Orange 120W amps all on full which certainly sent my leather flares flapping...

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Simon: My most enduring memory was when recording an album for Polydor Records in the early 90’s with my band Little Brother. It was being produced by the legendary guitar player Big Jim Sullivan and Derek Lawrence (Deep Purple / Wishbone Ash). I was recording guitar parts and Jim was constantly telling me they were not good enough and could do better. The pressure was immense and I was terrified. Jim was a monster guitar player and Derek had worked with my childhood guitar heros! The best advice was not given by anyone, but is encapsulated in a quote from Hunter S Thompson. “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.” True, true, true...

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?                   Photo by Simon Mark Taylor

Suzy: What I miss is the relationship that people appeared to have with music and artists all those years ago. Of course then you had to go to see the artist live there was a genuine connection between the performance, the melody and lyric. Now, you can sit in the sterility of your own home and watch/listen through a screen of glass and metal, without having the rest of your senses heightened; an essential part of a live show. I think the reason audiences have stopped supporting artists by not buying their music is the bland lifeless digitally perfect audio and video of artists today. There are many notable exceptions of course who have either never been away, along with brand new artists or are again starting to create ‘real’ music. So, I think it’s changing and positive about the future of music.

Simon: I miss the innocence and rawness of music in general and specifically live shows. I think that the modern recording process has taken much away from the expression and feel of music. It has become sanitized and bland, that is why people are no longer wanting to support artists by buying music. They no longer connect. I see a time coming soon when the people will gravitate to the artists that are more real, artists that leave in their imperfections on recordings, do not use auto tune on their voices and actually play their instruments in real time with the track. This will reconnect musicians and their music with their audience.

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

Suzy: Less politics in the music business...

Simon: No talent shows or competitions. ‘Battle Of The Bands’ plus the likes of X Factor in the UK, and similar shows worldwide, undermine artists and musicians. An artist / musician will compose, or perform as an expression of their own creativity showing us their inner joy, or pain. This is not something  that can be judged, criticized and worse of all monetized, when the artist sees very little of the upside (see the Hunter S Thompson quote in the previous question).

What were the reasons that made the UK in 60’s to be the center of Blues/Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

Suzy: American blues was really introduced the UK from the 30’s when African American soldiers were stationed in the UK. Skiffle and then Delta Blues all became popular in the UK and many of the founding fathers such as Alexis Korner and later John Mayall introduced the music to members of the yet unfounded Rolling Stones and Cream. From then on there was an explosion of bands all playing their version of R&B and Blues. So, a ‘scene’ developed in London around musicians inspired by Korner and Mayall and this developed into a movement. The British musically certainly lent itself (and still does) to blues. Especially guitarists, as the list of world class artists bears testament: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Jimmy Page to name a few; it was only when Jimi Hendrix came to London did he start to gain recognition for his brilliance. Songwriters too really took a hold of the genre and made it their own, so much so that we exported it right back the USA.

"Music brings together people like nothing else which is the most wonderful thing and we certainly need more of that in these turbulent times." (Photo by Simon Mark Taylor)

What are the differences and similarities between British, German, French, Spanish and American music scenes?

Simon: Wow, what a question!! Well having lived in the US, UK, France and Spain I see massive differences the main being the underlying culture and history behind the music. There is no doubt that influences in Spain are from North Africa and developed along a totally different path that British and American music. Central European is different again with much more influences coming from their traditional folk music as well as Blues and Jazz.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Suzy: Gender really doesn’t play a factor in the way I see or feel things personally but of course sadly there is still varying degrees of sexism in virtually every country and walk of life. Historically, there have been many great blues women who have tended to express their musicality with their vocal chords and keyboards, with of course many notable exceptions such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Carol Kaye and Bonnie Raitt. The domain of the ‘band’ however has tended to be male dominated but I do see now more and more women grooving out behind a drum kit or with a bass/guitar in their hands. Fabulous! Fortunately for me it is different as the Starlite Campbell Band is an equal partnership with Simon in every department and our session players are all enlightened individuals. I don’t sta for any shit in that department…

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

Simon: Without the blues (and jazz), the music scene as we know it now would not exist. It’s clear that the music has had a massive impact in easing the struggle of African Americans (and their brothers and sisters worldwide) for equality. When BB King first came to the UK he supported the Rolling Stones. He looked out to a sea of white faces and he was scared, thinking he may be lynched. Now thousands of Black artists play to multiracial crowds all over the world with no fear and with joy in their hearts. So is the power of music and specifically the blues.

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

Suzy: I would travel to the edge of the universe with Simon and our two labradors to find out the answer to the meaning of life… then write a song about it to bring back to play to you.

Simon: Sitting in the control room of Olympic Studios, in London, October 1968 with Glyn Johns at the controls watching the recording of Led Zeppelin 1. Who wouldn’t?

Starlite Campbell Band - Home

Photo by Cristina Tejeda

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