in 2008 the duo Sisters in Grease were launched at the Great British
Rhythm and Blues Festival. The duo, comprising Mike and Andy, are named
after a song title, play an original brand of acoustic bottleneck blues.
Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson were still around today they'd probably
sound like these guys"
- Martin Elliott (author of Rolling Stones Complete
Sisters in Grease, The Great British R&B Festival 2011
Alan: Where did you grow up and what are
your first musical memories?
Mike: Plastic guitars (?), The Beatles, Shadows,
the Kinks and the Who, I guess the early birth of what is now ‘Brit
Pop’. I recall listening to dreadfully distorted speakers at a
fairground but at the time it was exciting and wonderful.
Andy: Being at home with my dad playing guitar
and drums (some of the time ironically with Mike!). Both of us are
originally from roughly in the same part of the South West Midlands,
although of course Mike is now partly based in Liverpool.
Alan: Did you come from a musical family –
Is there a long musical heritage?
Mike: Yes I have a vague
recollection of my grandfather being asked to sing an old classic in a
relative’s pub. He was a much respected choral tenor in his day.
Mike © Copyright CP-Photoimages. All
Andy: As I said there were
always instruments in the house and my father was the drummer of
eighties rock band Ayto.
Alan: Did you always want to become a
Mike: Very much so, I had
been fascinated by the guitar since early childhood. My first job had
been in a music shop and on the first day I left college I applied to go
and play with a soul & funk band in Germany and left the country.
Andy: Yes very much the
same. When it came to select my path into further education it was a
very easy choice. I enrolled in a music technology and sound engineering
course and have never looked back.
Andy, The Great British R&B Festival 2011
Alan: How did you get
started in Music?
Mike: The very traditional
route of a school friend showing me some chords on an old acoustic
guitar. Then there were early bands and even the occasional bit of
Andy: Having a guitar and
mini keyboard at home and just picking up ideas from what I heard on the
radio. I also did get encouragement and help from family members.
Alan: What kind of material were you playing
in the early days and who were your heroes?
Mike: Started off by playing a varied mix of
American Folk and British 70’s pop classics. Then along came the likes
of Eric Clapton and some incredible Welsh rock bands that regularly
played tour dates in the area where I lived. I remember seeing Dai Shell
with Sassafras and being completely blown away.
The very beginning was all about simple rock riffs. I suppose initially
heavy metal stuff like AC/DC progressing on to Santana. Then as I
started going to blues gigs and the influence soon rubbed off.
Alan: What first attracted you to the blues
and what does the blues mean to you?
Mike: My first inroads
were playing simple 12 bar sequences in my early bands. Then I began to
investigate the sounds of early Rolling Stones, Cream and eventually
American artists like Son Seals and Muddy Waters. Later on I went
through a fairly major Robert Cray period too. For me blues is a very
personal and emotional musical genre. Whether blasted out at high volume
or played totally ‘unplugged’ acoustically, it seems to convey an
Andy: As I began to learn
guitar properly I started going to the British Rhythm and Blues Festival
at Colne in Lancashire. That in turn made me aware of the roots of what
I had been brought up on. The history was fascinating and very quickly I
became completely hooked.
Alan: I believe ‘Sisters in Grease’ started
at the Colne Great British R&B Festival in 2008, how did that come
Both: Very simple really; Just “Woke up one
morning” (to coin a popular phrase), and decided that we had both stood
on the touchline at Colne Festival far too long. We knew that there were
spots available at Jim’s Acoustic Café (that incidentally is where the
early days of the event had begun). I still had the rights to a 90’s
band name so we formed the duo specifically to play the event. At the
time of that festival we had only played one warm up gig together before
but things have mushroomed from there really. Three years later we
returned to headline the Sunday acoustic stage at Colne.
2009 Poster of Jim's Acoustic Cafe
Alan: Who has influenced you most in your
music writing and playing?
Mike: That’s an incredibly
strange one; It honestly is pretty well almost the same as Andy. We both
have a great admiration for Tony McPhee (Electric and Acoustic) and
Roger Chapman as well as some guys we’ve been lucky enough to play some
dates with like Matt Andersen, Larry Miller, Kent DuChaine, Eddie Martin
and Paul Jones. We swap albums and when we are in rehearsals if Andy
picks out a new favourite guitar lick, I usually identify it straight
away. When we went to Tenby Blues Festival recently it was also Andy
that was very keen not to miss one of the legends of my youth, Deke
Andy: Yes, I’d go along
Alan: Looking back on your career so far,
what are your fondest memories?
Mike: For me personally
probably playing to thousands at a festival at Ally Pally and some great
European gigs in the 70’s. However to be honest that first year at Colne
was pretty special. We had no idea how we would be received and after
playing an encore we left the venue buzzing. We walked up the hill into
a local Olympic cyclist’s homecoming ceremony. It was both pretty
surreal and euphoric.
Yes, probably that one for me too. The ‘unplugged’ evenings that we do,
especially on home soil are pretty special. There’s a kind of unique
connection that we achieve by doing those that doesn’t seem to happen as
much when you play real roots blues through a PA system. It is
adventurous to do and but if you work on it and take the gamble it can
be tremendously rewarding.
Alan: What is your favourite instrument?
Mike: You mean there are
other instruments!? Sorry Andy, of course, the harmonica…
Alan: Are there any particular songs that
you play that have special meaning to you?
Mike: I honestly have to
say it’s probably the theme song/anthem ‘Sisters in Grease’. We started
to dedicate it to people that were ‘no longer with us’ and for that
reason I suppose it’s just gone on from there. One night we were playing
at a festival after a particularly busy week in the town of Wotton
Basset due to the war in Afghanistan. When we did the dedication I
suddenly realised that some of the dead were younger than Andy....
Andy: There’s also a new
number which Mike has just written and started playing called ‘Elias’.
That is also very deep and atmospheric.
Alan: Tell me more about the making of the
album ‘Sisters in Grease’ and the writing of the songs; are they
Andy: We recorded the album
during the red hot summer of 2010 just outside Birmingham. It was
started the weekend we played the Acoustic Festival of Britain and it
was mixed just in time to release at Colne Blues Festival 2010. We had a
great engineer and despite using latest recording techniques we managed
to keep the process very organic.
Mike: It is self-penned
indeed (with the odd Trad. Arr. thrown in for good measure). The main
objective was to come away with a collection of recordings that conveyed
the style and themes of former times but to appeal to a modern audience.
I guess that’s where we picked up the comment from Rolling Stones
Sessionographer Martin Elliot that if “Woody Guthrie and Robert Johnson
were alive today…… etc” There may not be many slaves in middle England
any more but I guess you get the drift. A large bulk of the album was
actually written on a trip to Croatia the year before. For some reason
during that whole week everything just kept coming into my head and the
pen rarely left my hand.
Alan: You recorded a studio version of the
Jagger/Richards track ‘Back of My Hand’, are we likely to see it
In a word no, pretty unlikely at this present time. To be quite honest
the commercial implications and licensing would be immense. It has
appeared on a promo sampler and of course the YouTube film on our
channel. Since its existence was mentioned in the latest Rolling Stones
book it has created a massive amount of interest but for now it remains
a ‘Live Only’ possibility.
Alan: How do you see the future of blues
Mike: There has been a huge boost in overall
awareness over the last 20 years, especially within the festival circuit
and specialist sites like Early Blues. However we have had events
cancelled this year. Sisters in Grease and the much travelled Peter
Price were billed in for a unique completely acoustic blues event in
Manchester. For whatever reason (recession, timing, who knows?), it was
called off. (I do understand however that it is by no means the end and
that ‘MABS 2013’ will in fact go ahead as planned).
Andy: Yes I feel it is good and we are very
lucky in the UK to have a pretty vibrant blues scene. The only possible
negative is that some artists on that scene have enjoyed an element of
success and then for some reason move away from the music style that
gave them the break. Also to fill out the program some blues events have
become ‘Rock & Blues’ of late.
Alan: What are your future plans/gigs/
Both: The future looks very bright if you’re a
Sister in Grease... We have most of the material ready for a new album.
Over the last few months we have started playing some major venues in
the capital and to be honest the exposure in the latest Rolling Stones
publication has done us no harm at all. We already have some festival
confirmations coming through for summer 2013 and we plan to undertake
our most unusual tour schedule yet (watch this space and think outside
the box), and of course good ole Colne Blues Festival again (if they’ll
have us!?). There are also a few more radio sessions on the agenda.
Mike: Must admit it was disappointing that Andy
so narrowly missed a 2012 British Blues award nomination for Harmonica –
we even appeared on the awards radio show… Maybe this coming year, who
Both: So from the ‘Sisters’ we look forward to
seeing you all again soon. (Actually we are related – thus the
press article earlier this year “When an uncle and nephew became
sisters”). And remember, as the song says.... Your mother’s insane and
your Sisters in Grease!
and Andy, thank you
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