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A LIVE BLUES INFO EXCLUSIVE! GWYN ASHTON – The Aussie Bluesman’s Re-invention!

When we read on social media that Gwyn Ashton is in process of re-inventing himself as a solo artiste we were intrigued. Gwyn is one of the UK’s busiest blues rockers active in Britain and in Europe, performing in excess of 20 gigs per month. He’s been seen in trio & duo format in the past with an occasional solo appearance.- but as a solo artist per se is something new, so we decided to call up and ask the man himself. You can read about what he said here…

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Gwyn we heard about this via social media, please tell us more about this re-invention and what led you to it?

 

I’ve always played solo shows and included acoustic segments in my band gigs. My influences aren’t only the electric blues and rock guitarists. I listen to Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ry Cooder, David Lindley, Chris Whitley, Son House and many more fine players. I’ve always felt that I need to be as diverse in my live performances as possible and try to cover most bases on any given night.

 

Was there a kind of turning point where you said to yourself ‘Oh to hell with it I’m going solo’?

I was playing with a drummer a couple of years ago and we released an album. He made a decision that he was going to pursue his career in a wedding band or something so cancelled some shows with me just as the album was coming out. He was also supposed to be on the interview you did for me but he couldn’t make it that day either as he was going for an audition. A wise move as we all know that there is SO MUCH opportunity to grow as a musician playing functions, after all. Anyway, the venue expected the band and I didn’t really have time to find another drummer and rehearse him up so I thought that I’d just go in and rip it up by myself and had this wild idea that people regard a ‘band’ as any old act with a drum kit. I’d just bought an old Ludwig kit that was owned a long time ago by Black Sabbath’s Bill Ward and he recorded ‘Paranoid’ with it. I’d been using a stomp-box as a foot percussion instrument for a number of years so I replaced it with the bass drum that night. I couldn’t believe how much easier it was on the feet that kicking a lump of wood all night! I had to teach myself how to stick the bass drum pedal on the bass drum on the spot. I’d never done it before. I just went into blues-mode and jammed all night on some of my own songs and some Muddy Waters stuff and at the end of the night the place went nuts, I did two encores and got paid the same amount as my band, after getting a year’s worth of re-bookings. A bit of a no-brainer, really. It developed from there.

 

It’s obviously very hard work- we saw that you did six nights on the trot last week and drove 1200 miles (there’s a song there!) what’s the secret of your stamina?

Eat well, sleep well, don’t drink alcohol, and keep fit. Look after yourself.

 

It begs the question – have you gone solo because no-one out there can keep up?

I wear bands out. Most of them think that they can keep up but it usually doesn’t last long and they tend to wither away or collapse. Some go back to their day jobs, others their wives and families, some just steal all my ideas and play weddings.

 

You seem have huge rushes of energy, but is there a downside -are there times when you’ve just had enough of it all?

Last month I had one night off in Central Europe in the middle of a 26 nights in a row tour. We had a cancellation so I went out to my friend’s gig in Prague and jammed a few numbers with him. I have 23 UK dates this month with only a couple of Mondays off. Tonight I’m off to Manchester to see Marc Ford. Next Monday I’m driving to Manchester to see Jeff Beck. Does that answer your question?

 

 

Yes it does – lets turn to your set-up (gear) which is intriguing – six guitars / three amps plus a lot of other stuff – can you tell us about that?

I’m a tone freak. I stop at nothing to generate the right sounds and being a solo artist I have a lot of frequencies to fill. I run a green bullet Shure harmonica mic into a preamp to blow harp and sing down, along with an SM58 for non-distorted vocals. My acoustic guitars have dual magnetic and under saddle systems. Each guitar has two cables running into various splitters, pre-amps and effects units in my pedalboard. I then have a cable loom that I run into a mixing desk onstage that I use to sub-mix my signal to the sound guy who will ultimately fuck up my sound in the long run but if I just give him one line he can’t wreck it TOO much. That saying, they are usually knob-twiddlers and will mess around all bloody night. If you’re going to be my engineer, chances are you can set it up and go home after the sound check, anyway.

 

How long does it take you to set-up / take-down?

I’m trying to get it so I can set up and tear down fairly quickly but so far I haven’t managed to do it in less than 20 minutes. I’m always trying to refine my equipment.

 

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You certainly earn every penny you get – how many gigs a year do you reckon you do

As many as I can.

 

Regarding your solo shows – we noted you mentioned being compared to Jack White and guys like that – we wondered if you’re drawing material from any new sources for your current shows. On Radiogram the influences of people like the Band and other Americana acts were noticeable – anyone you point us to who you’re listening to at the moment outside of the blues gene and more towards roots / Americana?

 

The comparisons are nice even though I don’t really listen to him that much. I guess the public identify him as he’s current in that alternative/mainstream crossover place and we both come from the same musical background in the blues. I’ve had all sorts of comparisons such as The White Stripes, Black Keys, Seasick Steve and Led Zeppelin. All acts who are in the limelight and the public eye.

 

I listen to some Tom Petty, Johnny Cash and Steve Earle, but I find myself not really playing much music in my spare time. I kinda like silence a lot. I like prolific songwriters even though I’m quite slow in output, myself.

 

You run some jam sessions – how do they go / what sort of response do you get

There’s a stigma in England that ‘pros’ don’t go to jam sessions and that they’re for people who are just starting out. What a load of garbage. These people are missing out on a lot of fun and exchange of ideas. Sure, sometimes it can get tedious sometimes but enlightening & encouraging new players can be very rewarding…and there’s nothing like getting together with people and jamming out stuff and it locking in. I’ve noticed that a lot of players here learn ‘songs’ and are lost when it comes to jamming, changing grooves mid-song, don’t know basic techniques and structures of boogies, rhumbas, bossa-novas etc. The best thing to do is listen to some New Orleans stuff. The responses are usually fabulous from both the musos and the public. I bring something in that they don’t get to see often, if at all.

How do you see your future career mapping out / have you got any sort of, say, holy grail, you’re aiming at?

At the end of the day I’m just another guitarist, songwriter who’s dedicated his life to playing music. No better or worse than anyone else. I just want to go on playing and making records. I like going places I’ve never been and love returning to the same places. I’m a gig-whore.

 

How do you view the current scene?

As far as the UK goes I think John Mayall used the best players and left for America at the right time. There never has been another Peter Green. There are a handful of good blues players, the rest are rock guitarists with a bit of blues in there somewhere. It’s all distorted recycled SRV with everyone playing the same guitar solo. Some do it well. All it takes is a trip to America to put anyone into the right zone and see what it’s really about. British blues has seemed to have lost its identity over the years.

 

What do you think about awards?

To me, awards are all a bit Hollywood. The blues is a lifestyle, not based on competition. It’s about relating your life and sharing it in your music. How do you rate that in an award? Is my life better than yours? It’s all a bit sharp-shooting to me. I got third place Guitarist of The Year in France in 2001. Jeff Beck and Gary Moore were at first and second place. That was very nice but what does it mean? There are American guitarists sweeping floors in recording studios and playing on the streets in the southern states who would wipe the floor with anyone over here, me included.

 

‘Radiogram’ was a top-notch album and very well received – we imagine that’s still sustaining you, but what about future recording plans?

Thanks. Glad you liked it. That was a 70’s rock-type album with some blues in there. I plan to record more of that stuff sometime but right now I want to go back to the roots a bit more. I’ve been listening to a lot of pre-war delta blues and Chicago 50s stuff. I have a bunch of ideas in my head that I plan to make some sense out of soon! I’d like to take these influences and try to make it more contemporary, not get stuck in a time warp but still stay true to the form. There are some modern grooves I’d like to experiment with. It’s all out there to draw from. That’s what makes music so cool.

 

We looked at your European schedule – something like 20 gigs in 21 nights – do you do all the driving in Europe?

Sometimes; last year I drove us 7,000 miles in six weeks. This year I flew in and got driven.

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What’s your dietary tip for sustaining the energy level on that sort of schedule?

I’m diabetic so need to balance my blood-sugar levels. I don’t take drugs for anything so I maintain it by diet and so far have been successful. Sugar and salt are killers. I avoid them and eat fresh food every day, no processed food. I drink herbal tea and water. That’s all. Green leafy vegetables, fruit. Nuts and fish for protein. That’s the only meat I eat;  so far, so good…

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