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Early Blues Interview
Clare Free,
singer/guitarist/songwriter: Clare Free Band


"Clare is an artist who is redefining the blues for the modern world. Her roots lie in the blues but her influences go way beyond the genre making her one of the most exciting new artists writing and performing in the blues world today. A passionate, award nominated, songwriter and a fabulous guitar player, she has an excellent band. Clareís performances are fiery, exciting and heartfelt".

"Clare is one of a number of exciting female Blues performers on the British Blues circuit today. Her confident guitar style and imaginative self-penned lyrics, together with her tight and dynamic band ensured a varied and lively set".
- Sue Hickling
and Tony Winfield, Blues in Britain

I caught up with Clare at the Upton Blues Festival during her solo acoustic sets:

Alan:   Where do you come from and what are your first musical memories? 

Clare:  I come from Oxfordshire.  My first musical memories are of making up a song about butterflies when I was about 3 years old, I can still remember it now!  I also remember listening to my grandadís classical music on his stereo when I was very little.  He was passionate about music despite not being a musician himself. 

Alan:   Did you come from a musical family - is there a long musical heritage?

Clare:  Thereís some history of music in my family, my great uncle and aunt played for the Edinburgh Philharmonic and my brother is a very good guitar player.  Other than that no, thereís not much music in my family! 

Alan:   Did you always want to become a musician/singer?

Clare Free © Copyright 2011 Rob Stanley. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Clare:  Yes and no, I always wrote music, from a very young age, but always thought it would be no more than a hobby.  Looking back I suppose it would have been clear to anyone watching me that it was more than a hobby, at school I used to spend every break time playing piano (which was my first instrument although Iím not much good on one now) writing songs instead of hanging about with the other girls.  I actually wanted to be a lawyer! 

Alan:   How did you get started in music?

Clare:  At school I took up piano, then flute, then saxophone but to be honest none of my teachers was blessed with the ability to inspire!  I used to tinker around for hours on the piano both at home and during breaks at school. 

Alan:   You played piano for several years then switched to guitar, why the change?

Clare:  I wanted to learn to improvise properly, my piano teachers were all very Ďold schoolí classically trained musicians who didnít know how to improvise.  Thatís also why I took up saxophone but again I didnít manage to learn to improvise as my classically trained teacher didnít really know how to do it herself. 

Alan:   What kind of material were you playing in the early days? 

Clare:  It was all rock stuff, Guns Ďní Roses, Joe Satriani, Aerosmith etc, I still love all that stuff today, and it influences my writing pretty heavily. 

Alan:   What first attracted you to the blues?

Clare:  My teacher sent me to a local blues jam and told me to play. I did but I was appallingly bad.  Not liking to be beaten I went home and practised nothing but blues for the whole month until the next jam, I improved a little but not enough for my liking, this cycle went on for 18 months or so.  I  owe those guys who run the jam (its still going today) everything.  They were so kind and patient with me while I was learning. 

Alan:   What does the blues mean to you?  

Clare:  Wow, where would I start to answer that question?  ĎEverythingí is the answer, for me itís a powerful style of music that is flexible enough to incorporate influences from outside and still sound Ďright.í  For me that makes it the perfect area to write in.   

© Copyright 2011 Rob Stanley. All Rights Reserved.
Clare Free © Copyright 2011 Rob Stanley. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

Alan:   Your first successful band 'Misdemeanor' had Matt Schofield in the line-up, how did this come about?

Clare:  We went to a jam together at the Weavers in North London, Constance and Maurice (now of the Spikedrivers) , a singer called Gini and I got together to form a band, Matt was called in to play the other guitar in the band. 

Alan:   After your two children were born you had an illness and for two years I believe you were off the road writing songs for children, tell me about the experience.

Clare:  Being ill was one of the most defining moments of my life.  I couldnít drive and therefore couldnít gig.  I didnít know whether I would ever get better but I decided to make the best of what I had.  I set about doing two things, one was listening to huge numbers of blues artists (and other artists who interested me) Iíd sit with my guitar and deconstruct every track I heard.  The second thing I did was to write an entire music course for very young children which included writing 33 childrenís songs.  I found that really good fun and very different from what Iíd done before! 

Alan:   You then bounced back with a blues, rock and country album 'Be Who You Are', was it hard getting back into the music scene?

Clare:  Hum, well, I decided that if, and when, I got better I would try to make an album that mixed up all the music Iíd been listening to over the time I was ill and make an album that defined me at that moment in time (which is why its called 'Be Who You Are'.)  I also decided that if I was going to do it I would give it 110% of my effort.  Itís not been too hard to get back into the music scene, I suppose it helped that I started out knowing who was who! 

Alan:   When did your current band get together and how did you meet?

Clare:  Pete Hedley, who plays drums with me was introduced to me by Hannah Cope who played bass on 'Be Who You Are'.  Peteís a brilliant drummer and has a fantastic ear for detail, heís been with me ever since we recorded that album.  Matt Allen and Dave Evans were both introduced to me by Pete (although Iíd met Matt a few times before at jams) theyíve both been with me for around 18 months now. 

Alan:   You also play acoustic solo, which do you prefer? 

Clare:  I prefer playing the electric, I write more for the full band than solo, and love to hear my songs played with the full band.  Acoustic gigs are nice for their intimacy though. 

Alan:   You have a four track EP 'How It Is' available free to download, tell me about the tracks, are they all self penned, and why give the EP away free?

Clare:  Because if people can try something for free they are more likely to try it than if they have to pay.  People donít even have to put in an email address to get the songs.  The downloads are really popular, Iíve lost count of the number of times its been downloaded but its lots and lots and its still being downloaded 6 or so times every day.  People really like that they can have it for free, thatís rare in this world!  And yes, all the songs are mine. 

Alan:   Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?

Clare:  Iíve got loads of influences from deep blues to heavy rock.  Its very hard to pin them down, I tend to come back to songs years after I first heard them and write something influenced my them. Sometimes I hear a song and just know that at some point it will influence what I write. 

Alan:   Looking back on your career so far, what are your fondest memories?

Clare:  I loved playing in front of 2,000 people at the Lugano Blues Festival with Larry Garner, that was ages and ages ago but it was so much fun.  With my current band I think Iíd have to say the Skegness Rock Ďní Blues Festival, that was a total blast. 

Alan:   What guitars do you play and which is your favourite? 

Clare:  Iím very much a one guitar woman.  I use a Fret King Eclat for all my band gigs and for my solo gigs I use a Cort AS-S5. 

Alan:   Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?

Clare:  Yes, ďSmall MiraclesĒ which is written about a friendís struggle to have a baby, and that she finally succeeded literally makes the hairs on my arms stand up when I play it.  Iím very emotionally involved with that song, it seems to touch other people too, the other day I played it at a solo gig and two women in the front row cried when I played it, later they showed me a photo of two babies in their family that had been a struggle to conceive- they had totally related to my lyrics which I thought was lovely. 

Alan:   Tell me about your new 'blues for the new generation' album, I believe it's due out late 2011. 

Clare:  The album 'Dust and Bones' was due to come out late this year but is looking more like early 2012 now.  Itís a much more bluesy album than 'Be Who You Are' but it draws from a very wide range of styles of music. People say that Iím pushing the boundaries of blues and Iíd tend to agree, my music is very modern and different. 

Alan:   How do you see the future of blues music?

Clare:  I donít know, I think it needs to modernise to thrive, musicians need to push themselves beyond doing the same old stuff all the time.  I think this is happening but Iím never satisfied and would always be looking for more originality!

Thank you so much Clare, I really appreciate your time.

www.clarefree.co.uk _________________________________________________________________________

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