Wigan’s answer to Jimi Hendrix is getting ready to hit the main stage at the UK’s biggest annual blues festival.
Following an extensive summer touring schedule and rapturous receptions with main stage shows at numerous UK festivals, including Glastonbury, John Fairhurst will be making an eagerly anticipated appearance at The Muni on August 26th as part of this year’s Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne.
National Rock Review recently caught up with John Fairhurst to talk about his forthcoming Colne appearance, what it was like to perform at Glastonbury, his recent musical collaborations as well as his plans for the rest of this year.
NRR: You’ve been out on the road across the UK through July doing a combination of band shows and solo shows. How has the touring been going so far?
John: Yes, it’s been a really epic year of constant touring this year. July I spent mainly in the South West but I’ve been round and round the UK, to Belgium, The Netherlands, and Poland plus heaps of festival shows. It’s been going really really well! It’s great to meet so many interesting people, play great stages and venues, collaborate with a huge diversity of musicians and see so much of the countries I have been to. It’s also very good to see such a huge amount of support for the blues and live music in general.
NRR: I believe you also performed at Glastonbury this year. What was that experience like for you?
John: Ah Glastonbury is just great! There is really nowhere like it that I have ever played. I have been going there since 1995 and worked my way up from busking to playing main stages over the years. This year was pretty chilled with just a few solo sets. It was actually really nice to not have much responsibility this time around and be able to enjoy the festival and get to see a lot of bands. In 2015 I did 16 shows including The Glade and The Hell Stage, which were huge high points, but it was a massive logistical effort. High points of 2017 for me were Dutch Psych blues dance band My Baby and Napalm Death.
NRR: Speaking of festivals you are going to be performing at the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne sharing the same stage as King King* at the Muni. Are there any artists who are performing at the festival which you are looking forward to seeing perform yourself?
John: I’m looking forward to seeing King King again. I met them when I supported them at Band on The Wall in Manchester a couple of years ago. I’m also really happy to see The Greasy Slicks on the lineup. They are a really cracking younger upcoming blues rock band and an important part of the resurgence of quality blues rock acts in this country, as well as being absolute legends as human beings. Also, Gwyn Ashton and Michael Messer’s Mitra project. The blues Indian music crossover is of particular interest to me.
NRR: In terms of your live shows, what is your favourite track to perform live and why?
John: That’s a hard one, to be honest. In terms of a solo set, “How Far How Fast”. It’s an ongoing improvisation based on themes from India, North Africa, the Middle East, flamenco, blues, music from all over the world and the places I have travelled and the folks I have met. It is an expression of, comment upon and celebration of the fact that music is the worldwide common language. That wherever you may go, where ever you may be from, as a human being we are all touched by the passion and emotion of music. In this, is the clear reality that people feel emotion in an almost identical fashion the world over. A useful thing to remember in these times of conflict.
How I play really depends on what frame of mind I’m in and what I have been listening to or which musicians I have been playing with. It also depends greatly on emotional interaction with the audience. Sometimes everyone in the place gets very wrapped up in it together and that is an incredible thing when it happens.
In terms of a band set, probably “Saltwater”. It’s just such an epic track and we really really love to jam it out, play with dynamics. It’s one we can get properly stuck into. It’s also usually the last track of the set, so we are really on a serious high by that point anyway. A natural climax.
NRR: You’ve been working recently with Nina Harries and Nuno Brito. Can you tell us a little bit about how did that collaboration came about?
John: Well, I have been playing regularly with Toby Murray on Drums and Justin Kool on Bass for a few years now and we had a little break, so I contacted Nina and Nuno as I respect them so much as players. We went in a very different direction, riding on our musicianship. It has been really exciting to explore different avenues and mix up our diverse styles and influences. I expect to be recording with them at some point soon. Although Nina has just landed a really great round the world tour for a year with a theatre company.
I’m going to be back with Toby and Justin for the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival and I can’t wait. We are brothers from a different mother and have been through a lot together. It’s a much heavier sound and we have some new tracks from the new album we are working on in store. We have played so much together we just know each other so well we can properly let go in the knowledge that wherever we go it all makes sense. In that there is huge freedom of expression. It’s going to be very loud and very dirty, just the way we like it!
NRR: You are often hailed as Wigan’s answer to Jimi Hendrix. How does that feel for you?
John: Haha! That’s a very nice thing to say. I mean Jimi has always been a serious musical idol to me. His playing is just on another level altogether. It’s a real honour to be likened to him, although I don’t think we play in a similar way really. I do pull some tricks like playing the guitar behind my head etc, but Charlie Patton also did that and many others. The influence is clearly there though.
NRR: Where do you find the inspiration for your song writing?
John: I find it all over the place and in many things. My first album Joys of Spring was largely concerned with nature, with the places I lived and saw on my travels around the world. Many of my acoustic instrumental pieces are still largely inspired by the natural world and my deep love life long of it. The Band album deals with frustration, mental illness, drug and alcohol addictions and the desperation of poverty, as was my life then.
Saltwater was a much more political piece of work, partly about the frankly ridiculous systems of government and control we face. The title track is actually about my own sense of release from personal demons, experienced after I very nearly drowned and the realisation that life itself is the most important thing of all.
My new acoustic recordings are partly a return to ruminations on the natural world, although with a darker edge as we move rapidly and inevitably into an age of mass extinction and climate change.
My new band album will be much more overtly political. I find it impossible not to comment on the clear warmongering insanity, brutal selfishness and sheer arrogance of our ‘leaders’, the vast economic class divides and the destruction of the welfare state, particularly in the wake of Grenfell Tower and the unfolding Brexit disaster. George Orwells “Why I Write” pretty much nails it for me at the moment in terms of my own creative output.
NRR: Have you always known that being a musician was your chosen path and when did you first start performing live?
John: I knew being a musician was my path from as soon as I started playing guitar around the age of 11 or 12. Apart from occasions where there has been the necessity of earning money from other means in order to survive, I haven’t really ever had a plan B. I think I first performed live about the age of 16 or 17, at The Cricketers in Wigan. It was shambolic but fantastic!
NRR: In terms of your own influences, what’s the one album in your own record collection you couldn’t live without?
John: That’s an impossible question! Currently, I’m really stuck on Hendrix Band of Gypsies, Hot Rats by Frank Zappa, Food For The Soul by my friend K. Sridhar and Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year?
John: I’m currently recording a new solo album, a new band album and have various other projects in the pipeline. The rest of August is filled with festivals such as Boomtown, Shambala, Smallworld, Farmer Phils, and of course The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival and a show at The Magic Garden in London.
September I’m down in Cornwall for Blue Moon Festival and a show at the lovely little Chintz Bar in Falmouth. I will be touring the UK and Belgium solo in October and early November, then a full UK tour with the band in November with new single releases and new albums to follow in spring 2018. January I’m touring India and February I’m off to Panama. And oh yeah, our first child is due anytime this month.. Exciting times, it’s pretty busy!
John Fairhurst will be performing at the Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne on Sunday 27th August alongside Woodstock legends Ten Years After* at The Muni.
Over the course of three days, in excess of 100 acts will perform across the twelve official venues at this year’s Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne. Tickets are proving HUGELY popular, so make sure you don’t miss out and get your tickets in advance via the official Blues Festival website.
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Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival
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Photo: John Morgan
* Since the time of the interview, King King, unfortunately, have had to withdraw from the festival due to Alan Nimmo’s ongoing vocal problems and has subsequently been replaced by Ten Years After.