We were fortunate enough to catch up with the superb Melksham-based artist Blake, for an interview. He is due to release his magnificent album ‘1971’, on 8th June 2020. Check out our interview below!
Hi Blake, tell us about yourself?
I’m a singer-songwriter and DIY musician based in Wiltshire. I record my albums at home and play all the instruments myself. My band Karma Truffle were signed to London indie label Ecto Music in the mid-noughties, but I’ve been self-releasing my stuff since we split.
What is your songwriting process?
I’m a fairly productive songwriter, and I’ve released fourteen albums in as many years. I go through phases of songs coming to me rapidly. Usually when I’m just about to wake up and then I have to drag myself downstairs to work out the melody on my guitar, even though it’s four in the morning or something stupid. I’ve dreamed some amazing songs; some that are probably standards in a parallel universe. Unfortunately, I never seem to remember the really good ones! This seems to happen most often in the spring – no idea why. Maybe songs germinate over the winter? I wrote my new album ‘1971’ over the space of a month during the lockdown.
Tell us about your latest release, Blake – ‘1971’
I called it ‘1971’ because it’s the year I was born and, more significantly, one of the best years for music. So many of my favourite LPs were released that year: HMS Donovan, Aqualung, Who’s Next, Blue, Ram, Dog of Two Head and many more. I read David Hepworth’s book ‘1971: Never a Dull Moment – Rock’s Golden Year’ a couple of years ago and his argument that 1971 was the most creative year for popular music is very persuasive. I tried to incorporate a lot of these influences into the songs I wrote, so it deliberately has a retro vibe. The first track on the album is a cover of Alan Parker’s “The Free Life”, the theme to the ITV schools series ‘My World’ – a haunting analogue synth tune that reminds me of school in the seventies. Its title and the nostalgia it provokes seem appropriate to these strange times we’re in, I think, as we are all yearning for freedom in one way or another.
What message do you think your music conveys to your fans?
Lyrically, there are a couple of what you might call ‘protest songs’ or possibly’ political rants’ on the LP. I hope it’s obvious which politicians I’m referring to on the respective tracks. I’m a socialist, so my music often has a political edge. ‘Reputation’ has become even more topical with what is happening across the water right now. It’s not all political though; there a few love songs, an adaptation of a poem by Christina Rossetti and a song dedicated to my favourite theologian, Michael Hardin. The message of this latter song, ‘I Am Listening’, is to keep an open mind and when you hear or read something that feels instinctively right, explore it.
Who are your musical influences?
One of the tracks is called ‘Peter Green’, and, unsurprisingly, is not about the haulage firm but the founder of Fleetwood Mac. In my opinion, Peter is the finest guitar player this country has ever produced and the early incarnations of the band have been a major influence on me since I watched the BBC documentary ‘Fleetwood Mac at 21’ in 1988. I have covered Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dragonfly’ and ‘Dust’ in the past, and I was inspired to write a song about Peter following the tribute concert to him at the Royal Albert Hall organised by Mick Fleetwood earlier this year. I have been a massive Beatles fan from a young age after discovering that my dad interviewed John Lennon in 1969. Unfortunately, he can’t remember anything John said to him other than ‘Hello Birmingham.’ (My dad was a journalist for the Birmingham Evening Mail at the time of John & Yoko’s ‘bed-in for peace’.) I am also heavily into Dylan and have more recently discovered what a genius Donovan is. In terms of artists who began their recording careers after 1971, I enjoy listening to Elliott Smith, Hamell On Trial and Gruff Rhys.
Who are your non-musical influences?
Bill Hicks, Jeremy Corbyn, Charles Bukowski and Aston Villa.
What’s the best gig that you have ever played?
It would have to be performing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool; a dream come true.
What is your funniest gig moment?
Covering ‘Hey Bulldog’ by The Beatles and then remembering half-way through the song that it was my lead break and I hadn’t rehearsed it. I tried to get behind the stage curtain to hide my embarrassment when I started playing this rubbish solo only to discover that the curtain was a fake one, and there was a brick wall behind it. My band just cracked up and have never let me forget it.
What do you think are the biggest obstacles for bands/artists today?
Well, it’s to do with the fact that there’s so much noise on the internet, how do you cut through it? Making a name for yourself through live performance has its place, but because of a lack of arts funding from the government and increased gentrification in the big cities, more and more small venues are being forced to close. Heaven only knows how many of them are going to be able to survive the current disruption. It’s going to take a long time before the entertainment industry is back on its feet, I fear. Streaming services are here to stay, but I don’t think anyone can deny that these have ultimately had a terrible impact on the ability of artists and bands to make a living out of making music when everyone expects to receive their music for free.
What advice would you give to other bands/artists starting out?
The recording technology that is available to artists these days at a fraction of the price that it was even a decade ago means that producing a decent demo is more accessible for up and coming bands. The important thing is to stand out from the crowd, though. I would recommend taking a lot of time developing a unique sound by writing lots of songs and testing them out at gigs. I have always been hampered by being rather eclectic in the styles of songs I release, stubbornly thinking along the lines of, “Well, it didn’t harm The Beatles!” However, if you can narrow down your genre, it’s probably easier to identify the kind of people who are likely to enjoy your music. The internet’s ability to assist with getting your music heard by people with similar tastes worldwide is certainly something to be grateful for.
What are your hopes for the next two years?
I really hope that this LP will be well received and I can introduce more people to my music. I feel that I’ve got some worthwhile things to say. Also, it’s the only thing I’ve found that I’m any good at, so I hope I can continue to do it!
FV Music Blog June 2020
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