It's a pleasant, breezy evening in the south of England, when Bluebird Reviews gets the opportunity to meet one of those artists that is constantly rising, year after year and album after album to music stardom, the young and hugely talented Laurence Jones. The gig tonight in Aldershot, Hampshire is not only going to be a special night of music just for the fans of one of the most inspired British guitarists and singer/songwriters but also for his manager Golly Gallagher, that lives in this quaint Army town.
There is a certain energy in the air, even prior to the concert tonight. Some of the fans can hear from a distance Jones doing the last bits of his soundcheck and it certainly doesn't take a magician to read the happiness beyond the smiles of the many fans waiting to enter the venue and see this phenomenal artist.
When BBR meet Laurence Jones, we are greeted with a warm welcome and one of the wonderful smiles that every night Jones gifts his fans with, during his live shows. Jones looks in great shape, very relaxed and happy, which is quite incredible, given how long he has been touring his current album What's It Gonna Be.
BBR - Laurence, What's It Gonna Be is and has been a hugely successful album for you. A record that, in our opinion, establishes you as one of the best blues/rock acts worldwide. Which are your immediate memories in recording this album?
LJ - Just having a great time with my band. I have always done that type of recording with session musicians before and it was great to be there, for a change, just with my band. As you know, I produced the album myself together with my bass player Roger Inniss and I learned, through that experience, a lot of tips while producing the album that producers I have worked with in the past taught me. It was just great, there was no pressure whatsoever and we did exactly what we wanted to do. The whole experience of recording the album with my band has been totally free-style, we just plugged our instruments in and we were off!
BBR - You started playing music since you were eight years old. Did your parents encourage you to play an instrument and was the guitar your very first choice?
LJ - Yes, absolutely. My dad had a classical acoustic guitar and he used to play The Animal's classic House Of The Rising One to me. I remember that, since I was a child, I wanted to be able to play that song better than him! (chuckles). He made me practice something like two or three hours a day and I was so determined, as I said, to be better than him. Then last year, when I played at the Royal Albert Hall for the Lead Belly tribute night, I ended up being on stage with Eric Burdon himself and I knew my dad was in the audience that night. I said to him, after the show, "You see, I am better than you now, because I actually got to play with Eric on stage!" (chuckles).
BBR - Laurence, your songwriting style on What's It Gonna Be shows phenomenal maturity. What is the process that you follow when you write songs?
LJ - There is not a certain order that I follow, while I am writing and that is the beauty of it. A song may come to me by writing the lyrics first then the melody and the vocals, or I can start a guitar riff and build a song around it. Especially with this album, I wanted it to be more about songs and connecting with people, rather than just blasting the album with plenty of guitar solos, which occasionally some guys in this business do. I saw a lot of people in the audience, night after night, coming to my shows and connecting to certain songs from my previous album Temptation and I just wanted to follow that same emotional path, on What's It Gonna Be.
Laurence Jones with bass player Roger Inniss
BBR - How was your experience working as a producer with young Toby Lee (11 years-old blues/rock guitarist), on his debut EP album?
LJ - That was really cool, actually. He is just a great talent and he has got a lot of potential, for his age and he is very confident. It was so good also because having produced my own album previously, I had more of an understanding about how to produce an album. So I put a good team around us, with Phil Wilson on drums, Jack Alexander on bass and Victoria Klewin on vocals. Plus, as a very special guest, the great Bernie Marsden on one of the songs. Toby is going to go a long way, definitely.
BBR - The last 12 months have been for you quite special. The Lead Belly Tribute nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London first, then the one at The Carnegie Hall in New York gave you the opportunity not just to play in two of the most famous venues in the world but also side by side with the cream of blues and rock and roll. Was there ever a moment in which you had to pinch yourself and realise that you were indeed "living the dream"?
LJ - It was certainly a great experience and what I am going to say about artists and cameraderie may surprise you a little bit. It was great to share the dressing room with Buddy Guy at The Carnegie Hall in New York, although I had barely the chance to see him when he got on stage for the soundcheck and we just said hello, you know, the usual thing but he is such a great guy. What really stood up for me the most that night, though, at the Carnegie Hall, was what happened when all the artists present that night were down below and I had to go back to the dressing room to get a drink. I found my good friend Walter Trout practicing, in my dressing room, all alone on his own. Walter saw me and said" Can I be in your dressing room, please? It's so nice and quiet" and I was like "Sure, no problem". So I pulled up a chair and sat next to him and it was really a surreal moment for me. He played a song called Transition from one of his early albums with the same name, which was coincidentally the first blues album I have ever heard in my life. Walter said he has never ever played that song live in his career and the fact that he played that song to me, in that room, with only the two of us there, meant a lot to me and made me feel so privileged and honoured.
(From L to R) Walter Trout, Laurence Jones and Dana Fuchs
BBR - You have been working for such a long time with your manager and mentor Golly Gallagher and played hundreds of concerts with that very talented bass player that is Roger Inniss. How important is it for you to be surrounded, on your day-by-day- musical journey, by a band of brothers like this?
LJ - It's so important. You spend all of your time together, in a tour van, even more time than I spend with my family, to be honest and it's vital to have great bonds between all of us. Last year we did something like 250 gigs together, therefore you can imagine how important it is to get on well with everyone. Golly is a true inspirational figure for me. He taught me so much about this business, with all the great experience that he has. He was in the music business long before I was even born, you know (smiles), working for Sony and many other majors. Golly really showed me the way and taught me how important it is to have a good team around you and I feel privileged to have him as my manager.
BBR - Laurence, we understand that your new album is rumoured to be released late this summer and produced by a real authority of the business, Mike Vernon. Is the new album yet untitled or have you already thought how your next album is going to be called?
LJ - I always like to be a step ahead of the game! (chuckles). I always like to think forward about the next album and the songs I am going to write. To write songs is something that happen very naturally and I feel very fortunate, in that respect because I know that some people in the business really struggle often, when it comes to write new material. I just keep writing and writing because there are so many experiences on the road that I like to write about and share with the fans through my songs. We will be releasing the new album in July/August and it was indeed a big honour to have Mike Vernon to produce my album. He has been working with top artists in his career, people like Bowie, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and on the famous John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers album, an album that really set the scene for the British Blues, back in the day. It was great working with Mike and I was really surprised about how much he let me be myself throghout the recording process. I have been working with producers in the past where they costantly tell you what to do and tell you "that is the way it's going to be". With Mike, it was a completely different ball game. He just stepped in at the right times, when he knew it was right to do so while we were working together. In comparison with What's It Gonna Be, on the new album you will find less overdubs and more of a raw, live sound. We loved working in that way and I am sure the fans will love that too. The raw, straight-to-your-face kind of sound on the new album will be exactly the same one the fans will hear when we will play the new songs live, once the new record is released. The whole experience of recording with Mike was very relaxing and I sincerely hope to work with Mike again in future. The new album is going to be called Take Me High and I cannot wait to play the new songs to the fans.
BBR - We are aware that your summer tour schedule is building up nicely, with several dates already booked around Europe. When will the American fans have the opportunity to see you there again on tour?
LJ - We are going back to America by the end of August. So far we have just three dates confirmed, one in New York, one in Massachussetts at the Blues'N' Brews Festival in Nashoba Valley and one at the Chenango Blues Festival. It's going to be awesome and I am really looking forward to play there.
BBR - You have previously stated that "Music is my healer". How much has the support of the fans helped you through the healing process?
LJ - It helped me massively. I have had loads of people come up to me, since I have been working with the charity Chron's and Colitis UK (Laurence suffers of Chron's Disease himself) saying: "You are an inspiration and your music really gets me through the day" or things like "Just to see you going up on stage knowing what we are going through with Chron's Disease is amazing". Without playing music I would get easily down and thankfully, I get to challenge my feelings into my music and just trying to be true, to me and to everyone that love my music. If it help the fans as it helps me, that would be the best feeling ever. I can't thank the fans enough for the support. We do a lot of fund raisings for this cause and we raised £15.000 last year, which is amazing and again, I cannot believe how incredible and supportive all the fans have been so far.
BBR - Laurence, the blues is among the very few music genres worldwide able to survive and reinvent itself through time, without losing contact with its history and tradition. What is, in your humble opinion, the secret of this genre's longevity?
LJ - Like you said, it's all about history and people, nowadays, crave for history. It's a bit like going to places where it all smells of history, say a place like Rome, for someone from Italy like you or a place like my hometown and Shakespeare's land Stratford-Upon-Avon for me. History is always there, it's part of our heritage and it's something we know that we can relate to anytime. In the same way, the blues and its history can be found in so many different genres that it could never be lost, ever. It's in pop music, rock, soul, you name it. Blues is the common ground, the genesis for all genres. Think about the 60's and 70's, when England had a massive blues invasion, influencing our music culture. Bands like The Rolling Stones made of the blues their music manifesto in those days. They were not just one of the biggest bands in the world but also the only band able to take a blues tune to the No.1 of the music charts worldwide ever with Little Red Rooster. The Blues is always going to be on top in any time of the world, because it is the root of everything, when it comes to music. And we all know that nothing, without roots, it's going to survive.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Take Me High is due to be released by the end of July 2016 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon