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Bare Bones Boogie Band

                                            

   Sitting and gazing out over the River Upton we’ve got blue skies, a few wisps of cloud and a light breeze – it’s a complete turn around in the anticipated weather. It’s actually lunch-time at the Upton Blues Festival and a long way from the backroom bar of the London music pub where I first heard the group of musicians sitting around me. We’ve got musicians from both sides of the border here – from Scotland the lovely Helen Turner a vocalist whose style has been compared to Janis Joplin; there’s long haired Les Paul lover Iain Black, the tall and gently spoken bassist Trevor Turley and fair-haired drummer Andy Jones – collectively these are the Bare Bones Boogie Band.

 

We were supping on real ale and whisky and Trevor opened up about the formation of the band “…we formed in the fall of 2008, that’s when Helen and Iain joined forces with me and Andy.” As is common in the band business it came out of a split from a previous band -“It all happened unexpectedly; we [Trev, Helen, Iain] decided it was best to move on. The timing was perfect, and having all played together we came out of the traps with all guns blazing and were quickly able to realise a vision and direction for the Bare Bones Boogie Band. “The vision was simply, to strip the music back to its bare essentials and build from there…hence the name…” “There’s a musical bond between us – we like similar music and have a mutual vision of what the band should sound like.” The band’s first gig was at the Grey Horse Kingston and they closed 2008 with a gig at the Dome.  

Trevor explained how its developed in their three years together – “there is a unique sound and feel developing” This is hardly surprising Helen’s vocal style is easily identifiable? Trev smiles a wry grin “Yes, we’ve been described as a “Janis Joplin fronted Free” and “a stripped back Blues band.” The ‘Boogie’ bit accurately describes the band’s stripped back sound though they do, as Trevor pointed out, play a lot of ‘mellow blues as well,’ 

 

 The band is fronted by the eye-catching performances of Helen Turner; I observed that she likes to sing Etta James’ songs and that her voice that recalls Janis Joplin – “Yes, I was drawn to strong female voices from a very young age; believe it or not Barbra Streisand and Liza Minnelli! But I soon noticed rock music and men with long hair! I suppose my main vocal influences are Janis, Maggie Bell and Mavis Staples…but also, as a fully paid up member of the rock chick sisterhood of the 70s I loved Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks…and Paul Rodgers and Robert Plant …it goes without saying…I could go on . . . !”

Recalling her musical background Helen is brief – “I’ve been singing all my life; playing in bands at and since school but I didn’t do anything too serious till I moved to London and met up with Iain.”

 Iain talked about his musical background – “I started off playing in bands in Scotland, then in London, that’s where I met Helen in 1990, it was to form the blues/rock band Red Road, we toured nationally and released two albums on Locomoto Records.  With Helen I answered an ad placed by Trev for a singer/guitarist that was in the summer of 2003, and ultimately after another band venture it led to forming the BBBB in 2008.”  

Asked about the comparisons that have been made to Paul Kossoff and Free Iain smiles; “Well, thanks for the Paul Kossoff reference – that’s a real compliment but Free were a huge influence the first band I played along to when I learned the blues scale. I really like guitar players who compliment the song with soulful phrases. Peter Green is a big favourite, BB King, Angus Young; so it’s mostly Gibsons and hum-buckers for me. That said, I also really love the Black Crowes and the Mick Taylor period of the Rolling Stones, so that’s back to Gibsons and hum-buckers, I guess! 

 

 The band’s main spokesman seems to be bassist Trevor Turley– what’s his background? “Well, I had a bit of a hiatus. The 80’s and 90’s got in the way, but I had been very active during the 70’s. That was in and around Birmingham; that’s where I was born. Like many, it all started with the Blues but then I ventured into the world of Prog’ Rock. Odd time signatures were the name of the day! So, when I came back to the Blues with the Bare Bones it was a journey full circle.” Trevor was in full flow when we asked about influences on his bass playing – “That’s a difficult question…I’m constantly listening to great players, both established and up & coming and I’m envious of most…but in this world you can always learn something from someone else and it all goes into the melting pot. I suppose that as a player I would be hugely honoured if I was cited as someone else’s influence! It’s difficult to name just one, but given the time playing Prog Rock I would say that it was that era that influenced me the most especially a busy playing style, but I must say that playing with the BBBB has taught me to appreciate that the gaps between the notes are just as important, if not more so, than the notes themselves…drink?”  Well why not?

 Trevor returned with a tray of Ales and whiskey – and we turned to the other half of the rhythm section; drummer Andy Jones, surprisingly he says “I’ve played since I was about 8, I was brought up on Jazz, then heavier rock. My prior bands were similar to Talking Heads and there were various Indie Bands, but playing in a stripped down 4 piece band has been great experience.” Discussing further influences Andy said “…Jazz…Be Bop, and cool jazz – I guess my favourite all time track would be Miles Davies’ ‘So What’ and also his ‘Bitches Brew’ album is fantastic. As for players, well I listened to Max Roach, Joe Morello, Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich- all drummers I wanted to imitate while developing. After that John Bonham; who couldn’t be influenced by him? I still love Jazz in particular Pierre Moelen’s playing with Planet Gong. Mainly it’s more about feel rather than technicalities – Charlie Watts is ace in that respect and Joseph Modeliste is one who combines both I reckon. 

  From an earlier drink at the bar with Trevor I felt that the band is confident in their projected second album so after I’d brought back a further round of ales and whiskey we discussed it – Trevor  glanced around took a deep draft from, his glass and said “It’s due for release late 2011 or early 2012. It gives a subtler more back perspective of the band. It’s all new; originals that we’ve come up with over the last year plus one non-band song – (we take a dip in Robert Johnson’s canon). We’re spending more time on this album, its being be more carefully crafted than the first one. Some of the songs are in their infancy and some are being written especially for this release, again, in that sense, it is different to the first CD, where most of the songs had time to gestate!” Iain chimed in “Yes, they’re much better than on the first album, there’s more variety and dynamic. We’re more comfortable in our BBBB skin this time round. We know what we want to achieve- it’s still the stripped-down sound – but with more light and shade, which reflects how our live shows are developing.” Andy enthused about the project, “It’s been exciting, enjoyable and hard work getting it into a form that we’d want to put out and it’s definitely a development; compared to previous record. its felt more of a Team production.” Finally Helen enthused – “The others have summed it up really!  The new album will be a true BBBB album completely conceived by just the four of us; that makes it even more special for me.” 

Iain briefly described how the original material comes about – “I usually start with a riff and build a chord pattern and melodies to go with it. Helen has taught me a lot about the singer’s perspective…we distil the lyrics down, while retaining the meaning and the rhymes. I try to include some humour too because the whole point is to entertain. Blues lyrics can be great fun – check out the double entendres the early guys got away with! But it’s really a team effort; it takes the band to turn a song into something special so we spend a lot of time getting the arrangements right. Andy sets the rhythm and groove; Trev adds the flourish, and Helen adds the magic. Interestingly Andy has also written some songs that’ll be on the next album.” 

We wondered (with Trevor in mind) what’s it like playing with two Scots?  He laughs and says “Well I thought they came from Walthamstow! Once I’d gotten over the language barrier and with me being an ex-Brummie, which made it all the more difficult, it was fine. The Rab C Nesbit look I can cope with now… but seriously, and they’ll get embarrassed, I love em to pieces, you always know where you stand with them and in any band that is the key. You can’t have any hidden agendas here, or dominance, or selfishness, we are a team and this is just a great band to be in. Andy heralds from Manchester and like any Mancunian he brings such a grounded down to earth approach to the band. As rhythm section buddy we have such a great laugh, plus I’d go as far to say he’s one of the best drummers I’ve played with, for a long time.”

The afternoon drew on, maybe time for one more round (or two)…the band reflected on highlights of their time together – Helen recalled playing Led Zeppelin’s ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ at the 100 Club…”we knew Jimmy Page was in the audience…it was one of the scariest things that has happened…it certainly focused the mind!” “When we met him afterwards he was still smiling…but that’s another story.” Iain grinned recalling several hilarious misadventures getting to gigs in an old campervan “…always an adventure…we’ve blown the engine, the exhaust, the starter motor, had fans push-start us, flat tyres and foot-pumps in the rain, bashed it, bumped it and it’s still going.  We even recorded a song about it for the new album.” In an echo of the four Yorkshiremen sketch Andy told of “Sliding down an icy road backwards in the Lake District trying to get to my first Bare Bones gig in Kingston. I had to be rescued by the AA but still got to the gig just about on time.” For a moment I thought Trevor was going to say ‘Luxury, luxury’ (in a Brummie accent) but no; instead he recalled a great end to a particularly interesting holiday “I went from holidaymaker to bass player and back  one evening at BB Kings Blues Club in New York.  After a few beers at the club, the drummer obviously heard my English accent, and found out I was in a band; he then promptly invited me to jam with his band, I found out it was Steve Holley Ex-Wings/McCartney drummer who’s now with Ian Hunters Rant band” 

This is a happy band and when asked about best moments in music they duly obliged Iain is happy with it all; “We’ve enjoyed musical highs from the very start it continues to be a wonderful journey! It’s great to get compliments from fans at gigs and to get played on the radio. Whether it’s a big festival or a packed club – so long as there’s a big blues audience, and a few beers been sunk, and the band is right on the button – you just can’t beat it!” Andy enthused about hearing he first playbacks from the new album “… are the best recordings I’ve been involved with.” Trevor’s broadest smile was reserved for recalling “July 2003, the day Helen and Iain walked into the audition, and hearing tunes on the Paul Jones show on BBC Radio 2.

  

These Scots folk certainly aren’t as dour as they’ve been painted –in fact they’re very up indeed – Iain and Helen beamed as they mutually recalled their life’s highlight as “getting married in New York in 2004”, nice one guys. Trevor and Andy similarly recalled life’s highlights as meeting their respective spouses to be…and of course their children. It was getting to the time for this bunch of nicely mellowed out people to get ready for their festival appearance- so we finished the drinks and looked forward, they’re all thoroughly enjoying the gigs and breaking into festivals and among their future hopes…new album…European festivals…national radio play…Glastonbury…Jools Holland…

 That shouldn’t be a problem then…so we hugged and shook hands and we’ll be waiting to see them on the Telly 

 The Bare Bones Boogie Band can be found at www.myspace.com/barebonesboogieband

 

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