Interview with Scottish Craig Hughes - a honest alt. blues & roots underground musician and songwriter

"That the media would take its head out of its arse. Stop obsessing over plastic 'talent' shows and find the music again, putting it ahead of image."

Craig Hughes: Albannaich Blues Roots

In the late 1980s and '90s, alt. blues/roots musician and songwriter Craig Hughes paid his dues playing in alternative rock bands, while at the same time developing his acoustic blues chops as a street musician. Lots of miserable, cold, wet busking from Glasgow through Central Scotland to the Edinburgh Festival and back. While kicking his heels between bands in 2005, the success of a couple of solo acoustic gigs led to a support slot with Tony McPhee of The Groundhogs and the opportunity to record a demo EP in Dublin. The demo was well received and led to gigs in the USA as well as at venues and Americana promotions across Scotland. Over the last few years, Craig has shared the stage with many of the leading names in alternative blues and roots music from the UK and around the world, while proving himself equally at home appearing on underground rock bills. 

Craig's debut album Pissed Off, Bitter And Willing To Share was listed by Canada's Blues Underground Network as British Blues Album Of The Year 2009. Other releases include the original demo EP Broke, Lonely and Guilty and the Graveyard Full Of Blues project, a split release with Sleepy Eyes Nelson featuring a mini-album from each artist. Craig's half of the project, Pennies On My Eyes, was nominated for a 2011 Scottish New Music Award (Jazz/Blues Recording Of The Year). In 2012, Craig's first solo release since 2010 is the E.P. Hard Times: Volume 1, named Best Blues EP of 2013 by Blues Underground Network. Since 2006, Craig has provided the original music for several short films and video projects, including the Scottish BAFTA nominated feature film, Stix and Stanes. 2011 saw Craig co-producing and playing guitar on Ten Fires, the second album by alt-country/Americana performer Jim Dead. In 2012 Craig worked on Jim's EP I'm Not Lost and released demo EP Strip-Lit Hell with his heavy psych-rock trio Dog Moon Howl. Craig's second full length solo album, Losers & Bastards, released in 2013 and as member of Dog Moon Howl with Bryan Campbell and Ally Tennick has already their debut album under his belts.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

The blues can be an introspective and cathartic process but I'm not sure that I can claim to have learned anything about myself from writing and playing in the genre, though the songs are often quite personal. 

How do you describe Craig Hughes sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I usually describe it as "alt. blues & roots", referring to my solo stuff. No matter what kind of music I'm playing - or listening to - it's important to me that it is honest and a little raw. So, "raw and honest" might do.

"The blues can be an introspective and cathartic process but I'm not sure that I can claim to have learned anything about myself from writing and playing in the genre, though the songs are often quite personal." Photo by E.C. Hughes

Why did you think that the blues and roots music continues to generate such a devoted following?

There is a wealth - almost a century's worth - of recorded material in the style to listen to. That's a lot of music to hook people. Also, blues casts a wide cultural net, mixing African and Celtic influences amongst many others, so across the world people from apparently disparate cultures can find something of themselves in there.

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

Tony McPhee and Joanna Deacon were great to talk to when I was starting out with the blues stuff. They were kind enough to give me encouragement particularly with regards to my lyrics.  It was great meeting T-Model Ford as well.

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

These days it's all a bit of a jumble of cold feet on the streets to ringing ears in the pubs and clubs, I'm afraid to say!

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

It's the players who've passed I miss. Obviously many of the greats were gone before I was alive or at least aware, but we've just lost Johnny Winter and before him T-Model Ford. Gary Moore was a huge loss, and so premature. I hope we have more great musicians and characters in the scene in the future - writers, too.

"The blues casts a wide cultural net, mixing African and Celtic influences amongst many others, so across the world people from apparently disparate cultures can find something of themselves in there." Photo by Neil Stevenson

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

That the media would take its head out of its arse. Stop obsessing over plastic 'talent' shows and find the music again, putting it ahead of image.

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

The blues has mostly been a grass roots scene in Scotland and it remains that way today, by-and-large. There's never really been a single coherent 'scene' as such for the whole country, instead a lot of marginally linked individual local and sub-genre scenes.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Celtic Music and continue to alt-country/Americana?

These were all originally musics of the poor and working classes. Early blues, bluegrass and north American folk music have strong similarities, containing a mix of African and European/Celtic melodies and instrumentation. Leadbelly, for instance, played a mix of these styles, though he tends to be classified as a blues performer. Hank Williams was unmistakably country but he wrote what I think are some great blues songs. Maybe modern musicians and audiences hear the similarities between these musical forms at their most grassroots level and so they never stray too far from each other? Of course for a lot of acts nowadays, the 'impoverished' aspect of the form is as much an affectation as their bowling shirts and Fedoras.

"The blues has mostly been a grass roots scene in Scotland and it remains that way today, by-and-large. There's never really been a single coherent 'scene' as such for the whole country, instead a lot of marginally linked individual local and sub-genre scenes." Photo by David Tennick

In your opinion what was the reasons that made the UK to be the center of the Blues Rock searches at the 60s?

Blues Rock started in the UK. It was a style all its own, thanks to the young bands of the day - the Stones and those that followed - having to fill in the gaps in their understanding of the Chicago and Delta blues styles they were covering with other influences; rock'n'roll and r'n'b were not so obviously different from blues and these young musicians didn't draw a line, eventually merging all those styles along with country, folk, pop and psychedelia. The end result was a distinctive style of its own which stands today as arguably the only non-U.S. 'school' of blues to have had as significant a worldwide popular impact as the original Delta and urban U.S. styles.

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

I usually laugh when I get paid!

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

Woodstock, '69. If I only get 24 hours, it would have to be the Sunday/Monday. Ten Years After, CSNY, Johnny Winter. Great !! And then, that Hendrix set ... damn!

Craig Hughes - official website

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