by Jessica Hildebrandt
I have a real affinity for the blues. To me, there is little better than hitting a random, darkly-lit bar somewhere in New Orleans late at night and being overwhelmed by the blues. There is just so much soul and heart; you can feel it coming through the lyrics, the voices, the guitar. These musicians have a way of making a guitar not only sing, but cry, as well. I'm sure that for a lot of people NOLA would be the place you'd associate most with the blues (and probably voodoo, too, but that's neither here nor there). What people may not realize, though, is that there's another place for great blues music; it just happens to be across a very large pond (in this case, somewhere between Birmingham and London).
About a year or so ago, I was lucky enough to stumble onto a blues-inspired musician named Ian Parker. A track by Aynsley Lister, who happens to be a good friend and sometime bandmate of Ian's, is what actually led me in his direction. Since then, I've communicated with Ian several times via e-mail, and he was kind enough to supply me with not only a copy of his solo debut, Inside, but with an interview, as well.
SCR: I understand that the Beatles' Rubber Soul album sparked your interest in music. Was it always the guitar for you, or were you interested in other instruments?
Ian Parker: Yeah, that album just blew my mind as a kid. That's where I got my first buzz out of music. I loved the pop melodies and harmonies, and this was the first time I experienced an emotional connection with music, and I realized that the combination melody, harmony, and lyrical content could move you. Well, actually, I was only about seven or eight years old, so I probably didn't realize those things at all, but it certainly stirred my emotions! I did try to learn to play the piano at around this time, but it always felt too much like homework to me. The guitar was always far more exciting. I used to spend hours watching footage of the Beatles, and I think it was John who I really wanted to emulate, in terms of the way he would stand with his legs astride strumming away earnestly!
You were in a band called Parker's Alibi. What lead to breaking that up, and who is in the band currently?
I had a lot of fun in that band, and I learned a great deal from Chris Lomas (bass) and Tony Baylis (drums), who are both twenty years older than myself and Morg Morgan (keys). However, ultimately the age difference probably had a lot to do with my disillusionment, as Morg and I had gone off at a tangent, and those guys didn't really understand where we were going. In retrospect, Morg and I probably didn't understand where we were going, either, and having grown up a lot since then, I can now sympathize more with Chris and Tony's perspectives, but there are some things in life, which you have to learn for yourself, I think. The other thing about that band is that we started out as a blues covers band, and it became irritating that we could not shed that reputation. I think in the end, a fresh start seemed like the only way I could develop artistically.
Ian Parker -- http://www.ianparkermusic.com/
Ruf Records -- http://www.rufrecords.de/
Aynsley Lister -- http://www.aynsleylister.co.uk/
Chris Lomas -- http://www.hoodoomoon.com/
Walter Trout -- http://www.waltertrout.com/
Morg Morgan is still with me. He is my best friend, and we have known each other for nearly ten years now. He's a great player, and his backing vocals have become a really important ingredient in my sound, so I'm glad he's still involved after all this time. On bass, I have Steve Amadeo who has been with me for two years. He is a fantastic musician with a great ear, and while his real passion is jazz, he has adapted really well to the relative simplicity of my music. Wayne Proctor is my drummer, and he joined in January of this year. I have never played with a drummer with so much understanding of groove or willingness to devote every note he plays entirely to the needs of the song. He is the perfect man for the job, as far as I'm concerned.
Are you still working with Aynsley Lister?
Yes, Aynsley and I are good friends, and we did a show together in the south of England back in January which turned out to be a fantastic night. We are toying with the idea of doing a full-scale tour together at some point, but we have yet to finalize anything.
You have a new live DVD/CD coming out next month. Tell us a little about what it's going to be like.
Last March, I was invited to play on "Rockpalast," which is German TV's number one music show. It has been running since the seventies, and over the years hundreds of legendary bands and artists have been featured. They filmed me and the band live in concert in Bonn, and then the footage was shown several times across Europe throughout last summer. The record company was so pleased with the performance and the response to it after it was aired on TV that they decided to buy the rights and put it out as a DVD, which I was thrilled about. The material we performed at this concert comprises largely of songs from Inside, and I am glad that people who have that album will now get to hear how we approach those songs on stage. There are plenty of extra features including lots of music, and in total I think there is close to two and a half hours of material.
Whilst on tour in Germany at the end of last year, the record company recorded us again (just audio this time) at a show in Hannover, and this recording will be released simultaneously. The CD contains some new songs, and I think the two products together document the band's progress throughout what was a very intense working year. Both products are coming out under the title of ...whilst the wind, and the release is now scheduled for early May.
Tell us about your recent tour.
So far this year, we have toured extensively in the UK and also in France, Belgium, and Switzerland. The UK tour was my most successful to date with record attendances and, interestingly, a notable reduction in the average age of the audience members. Generally, on the "blues circuit" in Europe we all play predominantly to people who were around during the original blues boom of the sixties, or the rock follow-on period in the seventies, but we are definitely noticing a slight shift in that the gigs are now attended by 20 and 30-somethings in equal measure to the above-mentioned age group. I personally don't care who we play to as long as they like it, but it is important for the survival of this kind of music that we are able to make it accessible to the younger generations, so I am very pleased. The continental tour focused mainly on France, and that, too, was a huge success. The beauty of touring in Europe is that within just a few hours of traveling, you find yourself amidst a completely different culture and often a different language, and when the music still communicates in the same way in these places, it is very rewarding.
How would you compare the UK music scene to others?
Well, my gut feeling is that continental Europe is more cultured than the UK these days, and I believe that this explains why there is more of a scene there for music other than just the stuff which makes it into the top 40 of the singles chart! I suppose the grass is always greener, so the UK is probably not as bad as it sometimes seems to me. I know my good friend Walter Trout really quite enjoys coming over here, and he's seen much more of the world than I have!
Do you have any plans to tour in the US?
I really feel that the time has come for a trip to the States, and I can't wait for it to happen! Most of the contacts I have built up are in the New York area, so I guess that my first trip is likely to be an East Coast venture. I also did some work with a wonderful singer from Alabama last year, and her name is Lisa Mills; you may well know of her. She has a stunning talent, and we really hit it off. Lisa has invited me go over and check out the scene down there, too, so maybe I'll get something organized later in the year.
Do "one-to-one" shows compare to being involved in festival type shows?
They're very different entities, but I would hate to not be able to do either one ever again. Festivals are exciting, and the atmosphere is usually really nice. You get to play in front of a large number of people, too, but the downside is that you are kind of rushed on and off stage, which can be a bit stressful. Ordinary tour shows are more intimate, and of course, you are playing to a dedicated audience who are there only to hear your music, which means you can take more risks with them! I have no preference, though; I love all live work.
Who is in your CD player right now?
Right now, it is Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama live at The Apollo, which has just come out here in Europe. It is a great live record, and this collaboration has worked out really well, I think. My tastes in music are becoming more and more eclectic with age, I think. I have taken much more of an interest in the current UK mainstream scene recently, and I have been listening to the Thrills, Razorlight, U2, Coldplay, 22-20s, and the Streets. I have also only just realized what an amazing record Nevermind, by Nirvana, is! I rejected this as a teenager, because I was striving to be my own person and I hated anything that became really popular amongst the other kids. That is probably why I became the dork who liked old man's music! I'm just starting to make up for lost time now! My enjoyment of blues/roots music has not diminished in the least, though, and I have also recently bought Muddy Waters' legendary 1977 album Hard Again, which is great, and I have been listening to a lot of Kelly Joe Phelps and Taj Mahal, too. I'm particularly into Kulanjan, the Taj Mahal album where he got together with a bunch of West African musicians as a kind of "roots of the blues" experiment. It is a wonderful record.
That is an eclectic mix of music styles. It seems that a lot of blues fans expect blues musicians to stay "true to the blues." What are your thoughts on that?
I love the blues very much, and I'm very proud to have an association with that music, but I've never been a purist. I just don't understand that way of thinking. I don't know what it is like in the States, but over here there are plenty of people who are clinging onto those purist ideals, which I think go back to the British blues boom of the sixties. For me the blues is all about honesty and integrity of expression, and I'm not sure it really matters how some guy chose to express himself in the fifties or the twenties and thirties. What matters is that the expression is genuine in the present. I mean, can you imagine someone as groundbreaking as Robert Johnson getting hung up about some anal desire to stay within predetermined boundaries? I think that the purist mentality not only stifles a lot of great music, but it also breeds a load of bullshit fraudsters whose music gets embraced because they stick to the formula.
Parker's Inside is a great, nontraditional, blues-inspired album. Ian's interest in melodies and harmonies are plain to hear, as are those influences outside the scope of "the blues." His lyrics share personal experiences that anyone can probably relate to, and his voice is distinctive and real in its delivery. It's an album that I turn to when I'm having, to quote a British expression, "a shite day," to help cheer me up. Strange how the blues always seems to do just that. END