The british guitarist Denny Newman talks about his journey to the Blues, Peter Green, Manfred Mann, Yardbirds & Mick Taylor

Denny Newman: The Best Kept Blues Secret in UK

Frequently described as "The best kept secret in British Blues", guitarist/vocalist/song writer Denny Newman fronts a superb band that delivers sophisticated guitar led blues - a cross between Peter Green and Mark Knopfler. Denny has been in and around the music scene since 1970, as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Working as a song writer for various artists Denny now records his own solo albums. These are a rarity only being sold by mail and at gigs. The first "Bless Tupelo", was recorded in 1990 on vinyl, sold out of its original 1,000 pressings and has since been transferred to cd.

It features 13 original songs and has long time pal Geoff Whitehorn guesting on guitar. An album recorded live in the studio, reminiscent of early Fleetwood Mac, and British electric blues. After a live broadcast on London's GLR radio, presenter Mary Costello described Denny as "the best kept secret in British blues".

In 1995 Denny recorded his next album,"Noah's Great Rainbow". Tired of the normal 'my woman left me and I'm broke' blues lyrics, he noted that blues was everywhere, in all of us for different reasons, "you don't have to come from the delta, or Chicago to feel blues". The songs penned are about his own experiences, ie, house repossession, taxes systems, and why modern youth has become so ignorant of its own history. Of course, there's the odd 'I love my girl' song to cheer things up, but if you like English style guitar and dylanesque lyrics, give this one a whirl. In the ten tracks here there's "a world of emotion that just keeps turning", "intense guitar", and "blues poetry", to pull out some radio quotes from various sources.

Sleepwalking with you' is Denny's third cd. It was recorded between November 2004 and May 2005 at Sensible Music Studios, London. Engineered and mixed by Jon Moon and features Denny (guitar, vocals) Max Middleton (keyboards) Scott Newman (bass, vocals) and Jeff Allen (drums)

There are as is usual with Denny's albums ten original compositions covering straight English style guitar blues, but here putting far more emphasis on the song therein losing the old 12 bar blues format. As on Denny's previous albums the lyric content is almost Dylanesque and shows his strength as a writer and the band leaning almost to jazz on 'Frenchman' and reggae on 'Burying Ground'. The inclusion of Max Middleton in the band has brought this far more jazzy feel to Denny's songs which go from strength to strength on this album. The band 'Denny Newman & the Regulars' released the live album 'Liva La Regulars' (2009), and the previous years (2010 - 11) he toured with Mick Taylor and his own band the Regulars, in Europe and USA.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Denny, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?

Probably when I was about 13, in 1966/67. I heard the John Mayall stuff, the Beano album with Eric Clapton, and Hard Road with Peter Green, and then Fresh Cream again with Eric. They were all released within a couple of years, I borrowed them, I had no money. Those two guitarists were the first guys that made me want to play, and play blues. I already had a thing about guitar after hearing earlier records ‘Wonerful Land’ by the Shadows, and the middle guitar break in ‘Telstar’ by the Tornados, back in the early 60’s. It was the sound really, if you listen back to those, you can hear the beginnings of Peter’s style. I was already thinking about writing because I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, there was a bit of blues in there as well. I suspect he was the first idol, really. But I had elder sisters so the house had always been full of Elvis, blues again, and of course early Stones records, so blues had always been there. I loved ‘Loveletters’ by Ketty Lester because of the construction of the song, but it was still blues, but it was Eric and Peter that brought it home for me.

What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

As I said, the first things I learnt were three chord things by Dylan, the folkey talking blues, and protest things, old Robert Johnson twelve bar stuff. The first gigs I ever went to were local school fairs, and fetes, like small festivals. There was always the local pop band doing covers of the chart hits, but every now and then they’d throw in some good R’n’B. One band, ‘The Elizabethans’ come to mind, but these bands were only amateur. The first really professional outfit I saw were a band called ‘Idle Race’ featuring Jeff Lynn, I think that would have been summer 68. I also saw the last ‘Cream’ concert, at the Albert Hall that year, the first time I went to London to see a band, my mum paid for it. I also saw Jimi Hendrix there about four months later in February 69. The strange thing about that is I don’t really remember much, except what he and Noel Redding were wearing. I met and played with Noel years later and could’nt believe it was the same person. He was wearing a pink suit and on the stage and looked a giant, but in person, when we played together he only came up to my shoulder.  

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I suppose it was Manfred Mann covering my song ‘Lies (through the 80’s). I was being published for the first time, and really thought I’d made it, got on the ladder and things were looking up at last. I suppose the worst moment was realising I was wrong.

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?

It’s the vehicle through which I can express my feelings, which I find pretty hard in the normal run of things, that’s why I write all my own stuff, it’s a very personal thing that offers me a release from the daily frustrations, I don’t particularly like everyday, like Clapton says, one man against the world. I don’t feel a very normal person, always a bit separate, distant.

What do you learn about yourself from music?

I don’t know if I learn anything, and don’t think what I do has much to do with music, it’s more about emotions and music is the vehicle. I can’t read a note, too lazy.

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?

As I said, I can’t read a note, it’s hard learning all that stuff and I don’t have the discipline, so it’s not brains, that leaves the other two.

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

My contact to an audience depends on a lot of things. If everything is right, like my sound for instance, the contact just happens, people are involved and help you play well. There’s a lot of luck in it, you can’t always get it right on your own, you need their help, if it’s on the right track the band can then always deliver. I can’t stand drunk people in bars, they’re not involved, they don’t listen all evening and then expect encores, and for you to play until they fall over. The contact with my band, ‘Regulators’ is normally easy, I’m so confident in them, it’s just a glance or a nod, they know the way although we’ve never even had a rehearsal.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

I don’t think I am a good musician, I do know lots of ‘good musicians’ and they seem happy to play with me, and that’s good. My experiences certainly contribute to the songs I write, they’re all personal, about love, lost love, everyday frustration etc, if someone tells me after a gig they really liked a particular song, or relate to it, that’s good enough for me.

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?

They say meeting your idols is normally a disappointment. Robert Johnson must have been a character, I asked Honeyboy Edwards about him, as he knew him, the response was silence. Peter Green I met too late, he was already lost, J B Lenoir perhaps, and Paul Butterfield, to speak to Dylan would be good, we stayed in the same hotel, he does’nt speak and hides his face. Clapton could tell me a lot but then I expect he would’nt want to meet me, I drink too much. 

Media or talent plays the most important role for an artist to get discovered?

Unfortunately the two go hand in hand, you could be the most talented artist in the world, if no-one knows, it’s pointless. The media is obsessed with no talent celebrity and artists have always starved while the Karaoke marches on. The blues media seem chained to black Americans, regardless of talent, which is a bit unfair for white boys like me who write songs about today. I’ve actually been told I’m too old, to play blues? The wrong people hold the cards.

What would you had given to Peter Green? What would you ask Lee Brilleaux?

To  both of them, health, and I’d ask Lee if he remembered ‘The Feelgoods’ supporting ‘Castle Farm’ at The Esplanade in 1971

Tell me about the beginning of Castle Farm. How did you choose the name and where did it start?

They were already going, and had the name before I joined. It was started by Spyder Curphey and Tex Benike at Rush Green Art College in the late 60’s. They had long hair and wanted to be like Cream. I think the first name for the band was ‘The Cheese’ and ‘Castle Farm’ was just a couple of random words they chose later. I joined as vocalist when I was seventeen, in 71, and walked into a working band making their first album. They were the best local band around, but we played all over the UK. It was phenomenal live but did’nt really transpose to the studio, and the album never materialised, a real shame. There was a single though, ‘Hot Rod Queen’ in 72. 

When did you last laughing in gigs and why?

I don’t laugh that much at gigs, normally thinking and feeling, too engrossed. The last time I really laughed was at ‘Highlands’ Festival near Amsterdam. I was playing guitar in Mick Taylor’s band and watched Mick digging in his jacket pockets for his slide, he always lost his slides and pics, it was normal. The slide was on top of his amp where he’d put it, I watched it fall over and drop onto the stage, and then slowly roll away under the drum riser, in a kind of slow motion, right out of sight. Max Middleton saw it too, we were in hysterics from each side of the stage and poor Mick was still fumbling away.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?

There’s a bit of blues in everyone, I don’t know anyone who’s completely happy. People relate to it, even if they’re not aware that they do. Blues is just the word, it’s the inner feelings that matter.

How do you see the future of blues music?

I don’t think it’s too healthy, Joe Bonnemassa and the Brew for instance, they may all be great players but I don’t really think they are blues, Jo’s a rock guitarist but the blues media have him in mind at the moment. He’s a fad. Blues is’nt about who’s the fastest on the fretboard. John Lee Hooker jr has a very fortunate name and can get booked for any festival, while some real blues players can’t get work, is that the future? I hope not.

Which artists have you worked with & which do you consider the best friend?

I’ve done lots of work, with lots of people. Snowy White is a good friend, Mick Taylor as well, but I don’t see them very often. My best friend is Alfie Barton, a backstage guy who’s working with Mark Knopfler, we’ve been friends for 40 years.

Are there any memories from Manfred Mann, which you’d like to share with us?

Manfred was a very funny person and I have fond memories of his humour, but working with him was difficult. I was mainly a writer and he covered my songs. At one point we had five songs for the ‘Masque’ album and he threw four out. I think finance and politics may have been at the root of that, the album he finally made would have been far better with those songs included. I thought ‘Masque’ was a joke afterwards, and apart from compilations I don’t know of any recent albums. But he could be very funny indeed.     

What turns you on? Which things do you prefer to do in your free time?

Fishing, bird watching, reading, drinking and eating. I’m pretty solitary.

Describe the ideal rhythm section to you? Three words to describe your sound & your progress?

John Lingwood on drums and Scott Newman on bass, when I play with them I’m very confident of what they do and don’t need to watch them, a real engine. Billy Fleming who drums for me at the moment also sits with Scott very well. I can’t stand ‘good musicians’ who over play. Plaintiff, emotional, and slow.

How did you begin playing music and when did you know you would do this for a living?

I’ve answered that question at the beginning, and I suppose I could add that I never really wanted to go to work, you know, get a proper job.

In which songs can someone hear the best of your guitar work?

Where did you pick up your slide style? ‘Sign of the times’ from Noah’s Great Rainbow, and ‘Burying ground’ from the Sleepwalking album. They‘re the ones I like, I don’t play slide.

Why do you play GUITAR & what were your favorite guitars back then?

I’ve answered that question at the beginning also, my favourite guitars have always been Les Pauls. I’m not one of these collectors, but I do have two. I also have a fender precision bass from 69 which I love, it’s done loads of work and it’s battered, Scott uses it now.

What were your favorite guitars back then, where did you pick up your guitar style?

As I said, Les Pauls. Peter Green was kind enough to let me steal a lot from him.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?

Snowy White, but he does’nt know he’s taught me things, I don’t think? It’s strange, he’s one of the best players I ever heard but he loves Carlos Santana and takes a lot from him, but I can’t stand Carlos who is also linked to Peter Green. I’m confused really, and that’s no secret.

Who are your favorite blues artists, both old and new, what was the last record you bought?

Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Ray Charles, old Fleetwood Mac and Clapton. ‘Battle studies’ by John Mayer.

Are there any memories from SOS, which you’d like to share with us?

Just having a great time with John Lingwood, Mick Rogers and Geoff Whitehorn. That’s what that band was all about, it changed all the time, depending on who was about, a guitar player named Clive Mulcahy was around a lot. We’re trying to resurrect it, there’s an album of old recordings which Clive has helped with, ‘Play and be damned’ and a single ‘Room full of mirrors’ in the new year. They’re going to come out on DaddyKate Records, a small label in Germany.

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory of  Yardbirds & Dr. Feelwood?

I did a gig with The Yardbirds a few years ago. At the time I owned a lovely little country pub in England, and invited them round for drinks and a meal before the gig. My wife made a fantastic meal for about twelve of us. A beef casserole, a bit like Greek Stifado, I think that’s how it’s spelt, with all the trimmings, she really put herself out and went to lots of trouble. Chris Dreja wanted to order like it was Macdonalds, and their roadie asked for chips. I invited Dr Feelgood to play a festival I ran, they played so loud at the soundcheck all the neighbours complained we had to close all the windows and doors and nearly had to cancel a three day event, they both did great shows though.

What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician?

I don’t feel I’ve had it yet really, I’m hoping it’s going to come soon, although time is getting short

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience with Dave Kelly & McGuinness?

In Belgium they ate all the parmisan cheese, I’ll never forgive them. I worked with Dave and Tom when Paul Jones took a break from the Bluesband in 86/87. It was for about a year, and the band included Hughie Flint who played with Eric in Mayall’s band, so I felt sort of honoured. We did some recordings with a producer named Hugh Murphy, who worked with Gerry Rafferty, Baker Street and all those songs. Unfortunately nothing came of it, we did a few festivals in Europe and still remain friends, I think Tom and Dave are very important, but I find the Bluesband a bit too safe. On acoustic, Dave is awesome.

How did you first meet Mick Taylor, three words to describe him?

I was asked to be the support act to Mick on a British tour, probably because I could play on my own and that made it cheaper for them. I did about six gigs and we used to talk about Dylan, and the ‘Laurel Canyon’ album he did with Mayall, it was like I’d always known him because I’d listened to ‘Bare Wires’ since I was fourteen anyway. When I bought the pub he lived in the next village and would come round, once he came over to play and brought his laundry which caused a laugh. When I joined his band I learnt a lot, on a good night he can play incredible but he’s a bit inconsistent, which is why I know it comes from within. In Japan we did two shows in one evening, the first being a live TV broadcast which was filmed for dvd, he played very average. On the second show, when the pressure was off, he played some of the best blues I’ve ever seen or heard, Mick is ‘the real thing’.    

From the musical point of view is there any difference between British Blues & US Blues?

It’s the old, old question, too long to explain here, but in short yes, because it comes from different places and for different reasons. Blue notes are all over american music, which only has recent history, but in England, and in Europe, music is much older and was written down, even the old folk things are all logged, but you can’t write blues down. Buddy Guy probably does’nt understand Eric Clapton’s illegitimacy  or Peter Green’s jewishness in relation to 50’s England when they were growing up, and things like that were taboo, but it created in their heyday, probably the two finest blues guitarists living, who have no idea how it feels to be american and to have to pick cotton, or did they feel black? From a musical point of view how do you explain something that is a feeling, blues, it’s an international word wherever it comes from, maybe those two were touched by something, someone, a bigger thing than music. Just look at their lives, the tragedy, are they paying back for a deal at the ‘proverbial’ crossroads, for their talent, or do you have to come from a wooden shack, somehow, I don’t think so. 


Do you have a message for the Greek fans? Give one wish for the BLUES

Please keep faith in real players, whatever colour, and when can I come to play for you, that would be one of my wishes.

Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?

There are far too many to mention and I hear new one’s all the time, not new songs, but old things I hear for the first time. Dylan’s ‘Temporary, like Achilles’, ‘Gravity’ by John Mayer, and ‘I can make it through the day’ by Ray Charles, I love them, I relate to them at the moment.

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