"We live in a synthetic world. It will get worse before it gets better. But in about 20 years we will have exhausted ourselves with our lack of authenticity and begin to return to nature. And that’s when I think a whole new generation of teenagers will be looking for authentic music. The blues is humble, its natural and it will always be there."
Francis Dunnery: Tombstone Blues
Francis Dunnery is a unique Multi-Media Artist. His work combines music, humor, astrology, video, literature, performance art, philosophy and blistering electric guitar. Tombstone Dunnery is a brand new Blues project featuring Francis Dunnery on guitar and vocals, Paul Brown on Bass, Quint Starkie on guitar and Phil Beaumont on drums. Francis Dunnery is no stranger to the blues! As well as being brought up in a household filled with his older brothers’ blues records, his blistering guitar skills also brought him to the attention of Led Zeppelin’s legendary blues front man Robert Plant with whom he played guitar for three years. “I basically got my blues education from Robert” he explains; “I think if there was a blues history competition, I would bet my life savings on Robert winning it. He knows everything about the blues. He was always telling me to listen to this guy or that guy. He told me about Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, BB King and all the other legends of the genre”. But it wasn’t until 2021 that Dunnery finally got the itch to dive headlong into recording his own first blues record. (Photo: Francis Dunnery)
Francis Dunnery first hit the public stage back in the eighties as lead vocalist and guitarist for the popular progressive rock band It Bites and enjoyed early chart success throughout Europe and Asia. He has written, produced and performed music with some of the most successful artists, such as Robert Plant, Carlos Santana, Squeeze Stalwart Chris Difford, Ian Brown, Lauren Hill, Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett - as well as guesting with a host of bands and artists such as Yes, Hootie & The Blowfish and played alongside musical legend Chris Squire in The Syn. Francis is also an accomplished Rock Icon in his own right, turning out more than ten engaging albums of original yet diverse compositions as well as international solo chart hits in various countries throughout the world. He is a musicians’ musician and a songwriters’ songwriter. This latest chapter in his long and diverse career will no doubt bring his trademark song writing quality and guitar skills to the forefront of the blues genre. His new album ‘The Blues of Tombstone Dunnery, Vol. 1’ (September 2023), 12 original blues tunes, all written and arranged by Francis Dunnery. He's no stranger to the blues! As well as being brought up in a household filled with his older brothers’ blues records, his blistering guitar skills also brought him to the attention of Led Zeppelin’s legendary blues front man Robert Plant with whom he played guitar for three years.
Interview by Michael Limnios Special Thanks: Dave Hill (Tenacity PR)
How has Astrology and Music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Well music has been my entire life, it’s simply a fundamental part of who I am. The need to express what is inside, the need to tell stories of what I’ve learned about myself. I can’t really escape that. I’ve been doing it for 50 years. I’ve never played music for money. I’m not a financially driven person, I’m always driven by the opportunity to express an ache. I’ve been trying to understand the ache I was born with since I was a kid. I would hear it on other records and wonder what it was, what a particular melody made me ache inside. It was a glorious ache, sad but glorious at the same time. Astrology is one of the tools I use to discover myself. I am a huge fan of Carl Jung; he was a fascinating man. I discovered Astrology through his teachings and discovered that Astrology wasn’t about horoscopes in magazines. It was lavish, incredibly complex and deep. I do realize most people think its stupid. But saying you know about astrology by reading horoscopes in magazines its like listening to the spice girls and saying you know about music. There are people out there that insist OJ Simpson is innocent and Jeffrey Epstein Killed himself.
Currently you’ve one release with Blues music. How did that relationship with the Blues come about?
I've always played blues guitar, but I always played it over non blues music. But over the past 3 years I have been listening and studying the blues of BB King, Albert King, Freddie King and Albert Collins. These guys Had something special. And once I began to REALLY listen, I discovered something quite beautiful about the whole blues genre. I realized in the words of Albert King " The blues don't change". And so, I spent my time trying to fit in to the genre rather than trying to change it. It was liberating and new for me. I have played my best guitar on this album because of what I have learned.
"Life has no meaning. We bring the meaning to it. We project the meaning onto the world and then experience it back. The world isn’t any particular way or flavor. Its all colored by you and your perception of things. Science insist that facts are the only thing that we should pay attention to, but facts alone aren’t what make up reality for humans." (Photo: Francis Dunnery)
Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album The Blues Of Tombstone Dunnery Vol. 1?
I think the most interesting thing was that I used a Hofner Verithin guitar to record the album. It was my brother’s guitar. My brother was an unbelievable guitar player. It was the first guitar I ever played when I was 6 years old and after my brother died, I inherited the guitar. It is quite profound to think about my relationship with that guitar, my relationship with my brother and of course my relationship with the blues. My brother loved the blues. Muddy Waters, BB King, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker... I remember all those albums being in my house when I was a child.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
The blues for me runs really deep. I realized it has not thought, its all instinct and soul. Its thoughtless music and one of the many challenges it present are to stop thinking and just play. I watched all those guitar players every night for years. They weren't thinking. They were free to let their soul play the guitar. They handed over the guitar to some other part of themselves other than their mind. For much of my life I would concoct guitar solos and play the same thing every night. But with this music I never played the same thing twice. I just played and hoped what happened was authentic.
Do you think there is an audience for blues/rock music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?
I think humanity will have to go through the current emphasis on the synthetic world. Everything today is synthetic. The food, the music, the conversations, the pictures, everything is synthetic. We live in a synthetic world. It will get worse before it gets better. But in about 20 years we will have exhausted ourselves with our lack of authenticity and begin to return to nature. And that’s when I think a whole new generation of teenagers will be looking for authentic music. The blues is humble, its natural and it will always be there.
"The Matrix movie was a wonderful portrayal of the ego world. The great illusion of life verses nature. The problem is we come from nature; we need it. There is great damage being done to our children by them sitting at home typing and clicking all day." (Photo: Francis Dunnery)
How do you describe your sound and songbook? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?
I think like most songwriters I have about 3 – 4 songs. I seem to sing the same song over and over. They do sound different and not many people would notice but when I listen into my songs, I can hear similar melodic and rhythmic themes. It took me about 20 years to find my own voice. My early writings were full of seventies Progressive Rock ideas that were slight deviations of what had gone before but gradually I began to throw them off and allow my own self to come forward. My Tall Blonde Helicopter CD was the first time I had sang in my own Cumbrian accent for example. It was quite strange. So, I don’t really have a particular sound because I radically alter my process every time I record. I don’t like making the same record. I have rock records, R&B, Alternate, Acoustic, Jazz, I change the picture frame on every album I make but the soul remains the same. The core of my songs are me. It’s always the same. The picture frame is always different. Most people look at the picture frame.
Where does your creative drive come from? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
My creative drive has always been to find myself. I didn’t realize that when I was younger, I wasn’t psychologically complex enough to understand what I was doing. My unconscious self has always been looking for itself. I always use music as a tool for discovering who I truly am. That’s why I’m not drawn to the music charts or hellbent on writing hit songs. I‘ve had hit songs around the world and I’ve played on some of the biggest selling albums of all time but it wasn’t on purpose. I’m also not against the music charts or people who write for music. I admire that. It takes great skill to put together a song from its inception and then steer it through managers, record companies and radio station and into the shops so people buy it in droves. That’s a lot of organization. But that hasn’t been my goal in the past. When I listen back to my music I feel like all of them are hit songs. They are huge emotional hit songs. They did what they were supposed to do. They expressed that ache I was talking about. I have no need to satisfy an audience. I never have. I am the only audience that matters to me. Who I am for myself. Once the song is recorded, I consider it finished. I have to try really hard to motivate myself to sell it. I’m not good at selling it.
"I am a huge fan of Carl Jung; he was a fascinating man. I discovered Astrology through his teachings and discovered that Astrology wasn’t about horoscopes in magazines. It was lavish, incredibly complex and deep. I do realize most people think its stupid." (Francis Dunnery / Photo by Damian Battinelli)
What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?
The most powerful moment in my musical career was when I was in a meeting at a record company trying to get a new record deal and the President of the company ‘Artemis’ purposely called the A&R guy I was talking to and told him to end the meeting. He was fired from Atlantic records when I was there and must have had something against me. It was a power move. Corporate power. I had travelled from Vermont to New York which is a fourteen hour round trip and as soon as I got in the office and started playing my songs for the A&R guy, whom I had known for years, he called and ended the meeting. I was angry at the time. I couldn’t believe I had travelled all that way to be shut down like that. But it gave me the confidence to start my own record label, so he really did me a favor. In fact, I will thank him when I see him again because I made my own CD and put it up for sale using a website and Paypal. I went to bed that night and when I woke up, I had $37,000 in my Paypal account. The album went on to sell an amazing amount of copies. It was the album ‘MAN’. I think the highlight of my career was realizing my House concerts were the most popular thing I had ever done. In the house concert game, I’m Paul McCartney. I did it for 18 years. Travelling the world and visiting people’s homes and singing and telling stories. Utterly magical and real.
What is the impact of music on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?
Society is made up. Its not real. So, when people make it the center of their lives, I believe them to be deluded. In the seventies all the hippies had flowers in their hair. They were a victim of mass consciousness, the shoal mentality, the herd. They had lost their individuality and become part of the shoal or herd. They thought they were hippies. They actually thought that’s who they truly were. Now they are all suing each other. It was never who they were in the first place. It was an act. The media creates a narrative and then the people follow what the media says. I could give you a million reasons why Northern Englishmen are persecuted, why Catholics are persecuted, why white men are persecuted, why tall people are persecuted. I could give you a million reasons why I’m a victim. But it’s all nonsense. It’s made up. If you believe in demons, you’ll see them. If you believe the world is against you then your experience will prove it to you. Being a victim is a career move. My dad was shot through the mouth on the jungles of Burma. He got on with his life. He didn’t make an identity out of it. He didn’t become ‘the guy who was shot’. He got on with his life and put the past in the past. I want my music to let people know that they are individuals. (Photo: Francis Dunnery)
"Well music has been my entire life, it’s simply a fundamental part of who I am. The need to express what is inside, the need to tell stories of what I’ve learned about myself. I can’t really escape that."
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
As the world becomes more disconnected from nature and becomes more synthetic there is an essence missing from the music. Kids born today don’t care, just like I wouldn’t have cared if the music I was raised on in the seventies was synthetic. You don’t know any better. But for someone like myself who grew up with bands playing together it’s very apparent. Everything is synthetic now. The photographs are synthetic, the music and society. It is the rise of the Ego. The Matrix movie was a wonderful portrayal of the ego world. The great illusion of life verses nature. The problem is we come from nature; we need it. There is great damage being done to our children by them sitting at home typing and clicking all day. Children spend less time today in fresh air than prisoners. There are severe consequences. Obesity, suicides, depression, anxiety and many other sources of trauma have skyrocketed over the past 10 years. It is going to be the biggest health issue of the next 10 years. I’m not fearful of the future. I don’t have long left. Like Joni Mitchell said ”Nothing lasts for long”.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
We wait for an audience to clap to feel good about ourselves but the audience only claps when we feel good about ourselves.
John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?
Life has no meaning. We bring the meaning to it. We project the meaning onto the world and then experience it back. The world isn’t any particular way or flavor. Its all colored by you and your perception of things. Science insist that facts are the only thing that we should pay attention to, but facts alone aren’t what make up reality for humans. We don’t live in facts alone. We are always coloring the world with our perception. Your life is a picture of your beliefs. Reality is your belief about reality. We have a great deal of power in how the world occurs for us. You can change your world from within and then your inner world magically appears the same in the outside world. So, when Coltrane said “my music is a spiritual expression of who I am” it’s difficult to argue with him given the evidence that surrounds us every day.
(Photo: Francis Dunnery)
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