Q&A with multitalented artist Nigel Barker - a combination of true grit and grace, makes the world a better place

"Music should excite. It can do that in many ways. Intellectually and emotionally but fundamentally it’s three minutes or so of excitement and as an artist the game is to pack those three minutes with as much stimulating stuff as possible."

Nigel Barker: The Art To Be Artist

If you imagine Beck with Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen with the Delta Saints and then dust in some Joe Gideon, Kurt Weill, Curtis Stigers, Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel you might understand a little about where Nigel Barker’s music is coming from. UK based, Nigel Barker’s music is lyric oriented, with strong melodies and often experimental musical arrangements which keep things interesting. Nigel only started his music career about 8 years ago. He had a bad car accident when he was 23 and lost the use of his left hand. For the young guitar player that was devastating. Nigel switched to training as a recording engineer at AIR Studios and eventually went on to become a film editor and then an international award-winning film director and writer. His 2003 film ‘The Refuge’, won him a Director’s Award at the 2006 Cinequest Film Festival, as well as a Best Screenplay award at the Napa Sonoma Film Festival in California- but he turned his back on film directing, ‘It was too hard getting money for films and too hard making them. I went back to simple film editing’ he says.                           (Photo: Nigel Barker)

The films bought him a Harley Davidson, and after a number of years using the heavy clutch on the bike, his hand came back to life. Nigel explains, ’I was excited to be playing again, I went out and bought the guitar I had had when I was eighteen, a Les Paul, and started all over again. Four albums later, I have my own studio and twenty-six guitars as well as a dining room that converts into a small film studio.’ The forthcoming release of his new album The Fifth Album - FIVE which will be available on all major digital streaming platforms and compact disk from 9th October 2020. If ever you were looking for a groundbreaking, interesting and assured new album this is it. Cleverly written, with great playability, Nigel Barker’s FIVE is sure to have a wide appeal. It is musically, and lyrically clever, with richly textured instrumentation. Every part of every track was written, played, recorded, mixed and mastered by Nigel Barker at his own studio Wonderland Studios West showcasing his indisputable talents in every area.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I don’t think of the Blues or Rock as counterculture anymore. If anything, they are mainstream currents on which many other forms of music are based. If anything, they are now quite conservative, until someone out of the ordinary comes along. Like Jack White or Joe Bonamassa. They shook things up and made people look at things in a different way. I think if you play in either of those genres you either have to deconstruct and come up with something radical like Jack White or just be really good like Bonamassa. Anything in-between and you run the risk of just being a Karaoke artist playing a lot of cliches.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Creative drive just comes from being a basically driven person and wanting to do things to the very best of my ability and beyond. It’s also driven by the fear of being mediocre. It filters into all aspects of my life not just music. Ultimately, it’s a desire to make the world a better place by creating something beautiful in it whether it be a piece of music or a painting or gardening or anything. It’s all about taking something basic and making something better out of it. That’s the basic drive.

My music is always influenced by what I might be listening to at the time. An artist, a phrase, a rhythm gets me excited and I want to do something with it. Create something new. John Lennon once said that he would sometimes take someone else’s song and play with it until it became something else, something not recognisable from the source. So it’s obvious really. You make music because music excites you and to be honest there’s not much that excites me but when it does, I am off on a journey to find out how it works and make something new from it, be it a riff or a lyric or a melody. It’s the start of something new.

My music philosophy? Well if you want to make something fresh then you have to change the process of making it otherwise it will sound like everyone else. Try a different recording method, change the tuning on the guitar, use different instrumentation and my songbook is really just a history of those experiments.

"Time machine. I think tomorrow is far more interesting than the past. What’s possible is far more interesting than what has been done. Tomorrow would be enough. The day after tomorrow would be too far…yeah just tomorrow would do." (Photo: Nigel Barker)

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

The best advice that was given to me when I was making films and was working with Stephen Frears. I asked him what the secret of creative success was as a director and he said you have to have the nerve or courage, you have to have detachment and bollocks to everybody else!! By that he meant, and you can apply to music as well, is that you have to have the confidence to know you can pull it off. You have to have enough distance from what you are doing to know what is good and what is not and don’t listen to anyone else. Be sure of your opinions and path and particularly don’t do things to please others…stay independent.

What were the reasons that you started as a film editor, director and writer researches and experiments?

I became a film editor and writer and director because I couldn’t play music anymore after I had a car accident that damaged my left hand when I was 23. If you are a creative person you can’t just switch off that drive. You have to find a creative outlet for it, so I threw my energies into film making but to be honest it was never enough music was really what I loved the most.

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

I don’t miss anything from the music of the past. It’s what is being created and about to be created that is the most exciting because its new and fresh and it’s particularly exciting when someone is taking music from the past and putting a new spin on it, like Greta Van Fleet having fun with the Led Zeppelin songbook and getting a Grammy for it after just a couple of EP’s. How amazing is that?

"Creative drive just comes from being a basically driven person and wanting to do things to the very best of my ability and beyond. It’s also driven by the fear of being mediocre. It filters into all aspects of my life not just music. Ultimately, it’s a desire to make the world a better place by creating something beautiful in it whether it be a piece of music or a painting or gardening or anything. It’s all about taking something basic and making something better out of it. That’s the basic drive." (Photo: Nigel Barker)

What touched (emotionally) you from the sound of one-string guitar, AIR studio, and Harley-Davidson?

The sound of a one string guitar with distortion…well you don’t need any other instruments on the track. Just the one string and a drummer is enough. It’s a big big sound. AIR Studios I worked there as an assistant engineer and got to sit in the same room as many of my heroes, watching them making music and learning from the processes of recording from their engineers and producers. That was a thrill. Japan, The Pretenders, Adam and The Ants, Tears For Fears…. as well as teaching Paul McCartney how to play Asteroids and beating him at pool!

Harley Davidson? Well I bought one and after 20 years of riding it with a heavy clutch lever and doing forty traffic lights a day, it brought my hand back to life! Brought the muscle strength back from the weakened tendons after the crash. So, after a thirty year gap I got to reinstate my music career and here I am now five albums in and enjoying every minute of it!!

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

You can’t predict anything. You can’t predict how your career will turn out you can’t predict how a song will turn out but create the space where the magic might happen and then stand back and watch. That’s the process for me. The magic that happens of its own accord. The accidents that turn out to be great ideas, but they weren’t your own they just happened by luck. The more of those that you have the better the music I think!!

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

Music should excite. It can do that in many ways. Intellectually and emotionally but fundamentally it’s three minutes or so of excitement and as an artist the game is to pack those three minutes with as much stimulating stuff as possible.

"I became a film editor and writer and director because I couldn’t play music anymore after I had a car accident that damaged my left hand when I was 23. If you are a creative person you can’t just switch off that drive. You have to find a creative outlet for it, so I threw my energies into film making but to be honest it was never enough music was really what I loved the most." (Photo: Nigel Barker)

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

Time machine. I think tomorrow is far more interesting than the past. What’s possible is far more interesting than what has been done. Tomorrow would be enough. The day after tomorrow would be too far… yeah just tomorrow would do.

Nigel Barker Music - Home

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