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Early Blues Interview
Red Butler

Photograph  © copyright Rockypix, used with permission

"Hook up an explosive guitarist with a powerful set of female lungs and it's hard to go wrong. Sussex quartet Red Butler bring the tunes with convincing gravitas on their debut album"
  -  Joel McIver, Classic Blues Rock magazine.

"These Sussex based blues-rockers confirm their status as rising young stars of the scene with some wonderfully deft fretwork that gives us all hope"
  - Guitar and Bass magazine.

"You will not hear a better debut album in 2014 than this absolute corker from a group of youngsters from Sussex. This really is a band with the potential, talent and tunes to smash through the glass ceiling that holds so many blues rock bands back. In 'Freedom Road' Red Butler have delivered an album that is immediately accessible but true to the roots of the blues".
  - Nigel Foster, Susses Express

I first met Red Butler after their very impressive set at The Great British R&B Festival, Colne. Unfortunately there was no time to interview them. I finally caught up with them at the 2nd UK Blues Challenge at The Boom Boom Club, Sutton, Surrey after they had just been announced as worthy winners. Red Butler are: Alex Butler - guitar and backing vocals, Jane Chloe Pearce - lead vocals, Charlie Simpson - drums, Mike Topp - bass guitar and backing vocals.

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


Alex:  I am from a town called Uckfield in East Sussex.  It is between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton.  Music has always been a big part of my life, it was always on at home as a child.  One of my earliest memories is playing ‘air guitar’ along to Carlos Santana to my Dad in the conservatory!


Jane:  Born and bred in Brighton.  An early memory when growing up was listening to my Dad’s music blaring out on vinyl.   Ten Years After, Cream, Free, Led Zeppelin , even skiffle!  The most memorable moment though was listening to Etta James 1976 album ‘Etta is beta than Evvah” which was what made me want to be a performer.  The strength of her voice, her improvisation and her ‘feel’ were something I was glad to be introduced to at a very early stage in my life.


Charlie:  My blood is half Scottish and half Danish but I have lived in the Uckfield area of East Sussex all my life.

My first musical memory is my Dad buying an electronic drum kit in London and being amazed by it.


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

Alex:  Neither of my parents play an instrument although have a great love for music.  My half brother plays guitars and sings in a band and other extended members of the family play instruments.


Jane:  I have a family of ‘artists.’  My Grandad was an amazing painter.  My Dad is also a good artist and also my brother.  My Grandad’s brother was a pianist.


Charlie:  My Dad plays a bit of drums and piano.  My cousin is a drummer and a few other family members play drums so there are a lot of drumming influences around me!


Mike:  Not particularly, but there is music in my extended family.  I discovered music through friends at school.


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


Alex:  Ever since the age of 7!


Jane:  Yes!  Although when you are a child you are oblivious to the amount of hard work and sacrifices that come with the dream!  I used to sing in a Gospel choir when I was 17 and then went on to study singing.


Charlie:  It has always been at the back of my mind but not properly until I was about 17.


Mike:  Not always, but definitely ever since I discovered music properly as a teenager.


Alan:  How did you get started in music?


Alex:  As mentioned previously my half brother inspired me initially.  There were times though when I was less interested in music in the first few years – but I soon found my way!


Jane:  At 16 I enrolled at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music.  Believe it or not I was a shy performer at the time that needed a boost to come out of her comfort zone.  It is important to overcome such hurdles and put yourself in the ‘deep end.’  I have also learnt never to miss an opportunity.


Charlie:  I started playing music with Alex in a few covers bands at around the age of 11/12 years old.


Mike:  I wanted to be a singer, but it wasn’t for me.  I only picked up a bass by chance when my friends needed a player and I happened to be there.  Once I got going I didn’t look back.


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


Alex:  Around the age of 7 I started playing traditional pieces from a book, at the time I was desperate to play something more fulfilling and exciting than ‘three blind mice’ for the millionth time!  Looking back now I am so grateful that I stuck with it as it gave me a great foundation for technique, harmony and melody.


Jane:  I have been in many bands and performed everything from rock, pop, jazz, funk, blues and  soul – I even sang on a pop/metal album!


Charlie:  I was playing classic rock covers – Bon Jovi, Free and Deep Purple etc.


Mike:  Loads of Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, no blues until later.


Alan:  Who are your heroes?


Alex:  I have many – not just in blues.  I find the plight of some of the early classical artists fascinating along with their stories and personal/social struggles - what some of the great composers achieved in such little time is amazing!  In terms of blues music I am in awe of Jeff Healey and his music – I am always blown away by his technique.


Jane:  Robert Plant, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Beth Hart.


Charlie:  Benny Greb, Teddy Campbell, Matt Garstka and Dave Grohl.


Mike:  Lindsay Buckingham, Phil Lynott, SRV and Johnny Cash.


Alan:  What first attracted you to the blues and what does the blues mean to you?


Alex:  The blues fascinates me because of the voices and musicianship involved.  I love the history of its development.  As for what it means to me now … the blues has become such an eclectic mix I find it hard to pin down what defines it (if anything) but I would say that whatever music I listen to I always listen for melody and stories in the music first rather than technical proficiency.


Jane:  I had a ton of albums I would listen to as a child.  It’s been said before but blues is ‘healing music’ to me.


Charlie:  Blues to me is the foundation of music.  Music should make you feel emotion and that’s exactly what blues is all about!


Mike:  Again it came through friends, and it was when we got hold of an SRV album for the first time.  His music (guitar playing and voice) really leapt out of the speakers and has stayed with me ever since.  I don’t think it’s any one thing, there are so many different types and styles of ‘blues;, especially today, I just want to hear music that is played with passion and real feeling, and that can be found in blues.


Alan:  Some music styles may be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?


Alex:  People can always relate to stories and emotion within music.  Blues, and Country Music, are often full of those.


Jane:  I think blues holds a special place in people’s hearts.  Blues connects with people’s emotions.  In more recent years, people relate the blues to Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin – an era people don’t want to forget.


Charlie:  To be honest my last answer is exactly the answer to this as well!


Mike:   It speaks to people, there is real feeling in the music.  But I think as long as it’s not ‘fashionable’ it will have a better chance of surviving, because the people that do like it will stick around when the trend changes.


Alan:  Tell me a little about your musical journey so far, the bands and gigs along the way.


Alex:  The journey has been very interesting so far, its chapters have included classical, blues, rock, flamenco and jazz!  I have really enjoyed learning as much as I can about playing different styles from great tutors and aim to continue.  Charlie and I have been long term musical partners and share fond memories of playing in a classic rock covers band in pubs throughout Sussex in our teenage years.  We learnt an awful lot from that period, and had great times.


Jane:  I like to say ‘I’ve done the rounds!’  Every musicians knows you have to start at the bottom and work your way up – which is full of graft and excitement, success, failures, triumphs, disappointment, empty room, long drives and the biggest load of adrenaline you will ever feel when you perform! I am growing as a writer.  At the age of 9 I wrote my first song about a pair of shoes I was trying to sell for money – I now write about saving for my pension in Pension Blues (from Freedom Bound album).


Charlie:  I first started properly drumming in a band called Cold Heat with Alex Butler, Dan Spellman and a variety of different bass players.  We gigged for about 5 years covering a lot of classic rock/funk material.  I developed my drumming style and musical taste mostly with Cold Heat.


Mike:  It has been a lot of fun, but very busy and hard to organise around other aspects of life.  We live for the gigs and have had a great time this past year touring around the country, playing in different venues, meeting new people, and learning lots along the way too.


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


Alex:  I’m not sure if it can be pinned down to one person but more to a whole host of situations and relationships with people. My second tutor, Stuart Bligh, taught me a lot of really great technical and listening skills that keep reoccurring as my experience grows.


Jane:  I would say Etta James and Robert Plant.


Charlie:  That’s a difficult one.  In the early days the Foo Fighters and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers were huge influences.  Then it moved more to BB King, King King, SRV, Free and Aynsley Lister.


Mike:  I can’t put it down to just one person or band, music evolves and so does the source of inspiration.  Recently we toured with the Billy Walton Band and the Laurence Jones Band and learnt a lot from those guys, so at this moment in time, they influence me.


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


Alex:  Many of them were in the band with Charlie (Cold Heat).  At the age of 13/14 our friends were on Xbox or Playstation and we would be having the best time playing to pubs full of rockers!


Jane:  Winning the UK Blues Challenge was definitely number 1. Also, recording the first album was an amazing experience.  Listening to the tracks at the end of the day after hours of takes and layering.  Performing at Hyde Park during the Olympics was memorable together with playing Concorde 2 in Brighton for the first time supporting Dr. Feelgood.


Charlie:  We played Brands Hatch with Cold Heat, also playing Hyde Park during the Olympics with Red Butler and winning the UK Blues Challenge recently.


Mike:  Winning the Blues Challenge in Sutton is definitely up there.  Durham Blues Festival and The Great British Rock and Blues Festival in Skegness this January certainly stand out.


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


Alex:  I really like playing Jaywalker live.  It was one of the first songs written for the album and my first attempt at backing vocals.  It was scary at first but with some teamwork and practice its something I really enjoy now.


Jane:  We have put our own interpretation on  ‘Belly of the Blues’, which is a Sandi Thom track.  The lyrics are spine tingling to me and I love pouring emotion into performing that song.


Charlie:  I have always loved our original song Danger Zone and our cover of Belly of the Blues (Sandi Thom song) because I love them!


Mike:  That’s a question for the second album for me as I joined the band after the release of Freedom Bound.


Alan:  Tell me about the Red Butler Music School.


Alex:  The Music School is something Charlie and I have been speaking about for many years.  We both teach in schools and could see the potential for the idea and how young students could benefit.  Many children, when learning instruments, have to wait until their teens before they can discover the joy of being in a band with others.  We provide the instruments and equipment and whether the children have had musical experience or not we have great fun and hope to build the Music School up over the years.


Jane:  Alex and Charlie run the Music School – although I have taught at them.


Charlie:  Alex and I had an idea to start a music workshop for young people interested in music, to give them the experience of playing and performing as a band. Alex and I both loved it when we were younger and it is working really well. 


Alan:  Tell me about the making of your debut album ‘Freedom Bound’: mostly originals with some covers? Where was it made, who produced it and any guest appearances?


Alex:  We had a great time recording the first album.  We learnt a lot and are really looking forward to getting back in the studio (with King King’s Wayne Proctor) in January.


Jane:  It was recorded at Yellowfish Studios near Uckfield in East Sussex.   My friend Mikey played keys on a couple of numbers.


Charlie:  The engineer Jake who works at Yellowfish Studios recorded and produced the album. 


Mike:  I joined the band after the release of Freedom Bound.


Alan:  I read one review of your album saying ‘the future of blues music is safe in their hands’. How do you see the future of live blues music?


Alex:   With mixed opinions.  There is no doubt that the audience is in need of some more young members but there are some incredible projects and publicity happening for the blues at the moment.  With a lot of festivals happening in the UK and around Europe it shows there is a growing interest.  One of the biggest barriers, in my opinion, is the term ‘blues’ as it encompasses such a wide range – however I’m not sure what the answer is!  I do find it very reassuring when a young student asks me if I happen to know ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ instead of a latest single!


Jane:  I see it as a broader genre.  Let’s face it, blues music is perceived as it is labelled.  It is not what is used to be and as newcomers we must keep it going in our generation.


Charlie:  Modern day blues is such a grey area.  It is not what it used to be 40-80 years ago.  It’s much broader keeping the influences of early blues mixed with modern day rock, soul and funk.  Artists such as King King and Aynsley Lister can appeal to a wider audience by extending the boundaries.


Mike:  The blues genre is pretty wide, and that’s because people are accepting the many different interpretations of the blues in the 21st century.  I think the immediate future is good, but it is vital that more young bands get involved, and in turn, draw younger fans to the genre.


Alan:  You mentioned earlier that you played at the Olympics celebrations, how did that come about and how was the experience?


Alex: The music college I attended in Eastbourne, with former bass player Steve, was part of a founder college programme and we auditioned (with the other members of Red Butler) alongside a few other college bands and made it through to perform on the BT Live Stage at Hyde Park.  It was an incredibly experience to play to so many people at such an historic event.  The band had only been together 6 months – I wish we could go back and do it again now with our newfound experience and understanding.


Jane:  Scary!  We had only been together a few months and had just finished writing our first song ‘Bringing out the Devil’.  It was a great experience.


Charlie:  Alex and bassist at the time, Steve, entered a competition at college in the form of a video of Red Butler performing.  As stated earlier this is probably one of my musical highlights to date, it was an honour to perform and an experience I will always remember.


Mike:  It was before I joined the band.


Alan:  You recently won the hugely successful 2nd UK Blues Challenge, tell me about the experience.


Alex:  I still can’t believe it!  It was a huge honour to even be asked to compete for the second time let alone win.  We all worked incredibly hard before the competition and gave it everything we had.  It was the best gig I have ever played and I cannot wait to venture to Italy.  There is talk of hiring a bus and driving a few people over, sounds like a lot of fun.


Jane:  A moment when all the hard work flashed back in my head as they announced our name.  I was a tad nervous before the performance.  I feel we had worked so hard and cannot wait to show Europe what we have got!


Mike:  There was a long build up, so we were talking about it a lot.  On the night there was a lot of great music being played, and I tried to treat it like a normal gig, or mini-festival, and just enjoy the occasion and the music.  It was a great feeling to win and book our place at The European Blues Challenge in Italy next year because we really want to break on to the continent.


Photograph  © copyright Rockypix, used with permission


Alan:  What does it mean to you representing the UK at the 6th European Blues Challenge in Italy in April 2016 where there will be 20 bands from around Europe competing?


Alex:  As I said before it is a huge honour and not something I thought I would ever be able to do.  I’m incredibly excited about it and look forward to it enormously.


Jane: We have toured the Channel Islands and Europe was the next goal.  I cannot wait!


Charlie:  To me personally this is huge.  As much as I dislike the idea of competition between bands because all bands are different and are trying to put across a slightly different message in slightly different way.  It seems illogical to mark them in the same way.  Having said that it is a great feeling to be representing the UK.  Regardless of the result of the EBC I think this will open doors for Red Butler and is a big step in the right direction for our career as a band.


Mike:  It will be an honour to represent our country in something we are so passionate about.  I think that is still sinking in!


Alan:  How much are you looking forward to the experience?


Alex:  More than words, it will be amazing!


Jane:  Soooo much!


Charlie:  I am very excited.  There are as always a lot of important events/things to do before then but I am certainly thinking about it.  I feel confident the band will do their best and perform as well as we possibly can.


Mike:  On a scale of 1 to 10 – definitely in the double digits.


Alan:  What are your aspirations, future plans / gigs / tours / albums?


Alex:  We would really like to introduce blues music to a younger generation through our own interpretation, there is such a collection of music within the genre that it is often never considered by many because of common misconceptions about blues.  We are looking forward to going to Italy and hoping it open doors to future European dates.  I would love to see more and more people coming to shows and appreciating live music in whatever form it is in.


Jane:  To release our next album, tour Europe and support more high profile artists!


Charlie:  Near future aspirations would be to make the best album we can when we record with Wayne Proctor in January.  In terms of gigs, it would be great to get some more high profile support slots, more festivals and hopefully a UK headline tour in the not too distant future. 


Mike:  Record a new album, promote it, tour the UK and Europe.  We have a lot coming up with the Danny Bryant tour next year, the EBC, and lots of other festivals that we are in the process of being booked for next year.  We just want to be on stage as often as possible!

Alan:   Thank you all.

Photograph  © copyright Rockypix, used with permission


 Sat. 14th Nov – Ilfracombe Festival

Fri. 27th Nov – Wrotham Arms – Broadstairs, Kent

Sat. 28th Nov – Arlington Arts Centre – Newbury, Berks.

Thu. 3rd Dec – Bullfrog Club - Southsea

Fri. 4th Dec –Tropic at Ruislip

Supporting Virgil & The Accelerators

Sun. 13th Dec. – Esquires - Bedford

Tue. 15th Dec – 100 Club, Oxford Street, London with Connie Lush

Sat. 19th Dec – Malt Shovel – Horsham

Wed. 10th Feb – Robin 2 - Wolverhampton

Supporting Danny Bryant

Thu. 11th Feb – Old Fire Station – Carlisle

Supporting Danny Bryant

Fri. 12th Feb – Voodoo Rooms – Edinburgh

Supporting Danny Bryant

Sat. 13th Feb – Meeting Rooms – Elland

Supporting Danny Bryant

Sun. 14th Feb – The Platforms – Lincoln

Supporting Danny Bryant

Wed. 17th Feb – Malt Shovel Tavern – Northampton

Supporting Danny Bryant

Thu. 18th Feb – The Leopard – Doncaster

Supporting Danny Bryant

Fri. 19th Feb – Rescue Rooms – Nottingham

Supporting Danny Bryant

Sat. 20th Feb – Raven Hall – Corby

Supporting Danny Bryant

Sun. 21st Feb – Tuesday Night Blues Club – Hooley

Thu. 25th Feb – Public Halls – Harpenden 

Supporting Danny Bryant

Fri. 26th Feb – Old Clee Club – Grimsby

Supporting Danny Bryant

Sat. 27th Feb – Waterfront – Norwich

Supporting Danny Bryant

Sun. 28th Feb – Leo’s – Gravesend

Supporting Danny Bryant

Sun. 13th Mar – Top Secret Festival

Fri. 25th Mar – Crown Hotel – Nantwich with Aynsley Lister

Sun. 27th Mar – Red Lion – Stevenage

Fri 8th and Sat 9th April – European Blues Challenge - Italy


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