I caught up with
Brittany based Paul Cowley after much dialogue on email:
Where are you from and what are your first musical
I was born & grew up in Birmingham West Midlands, lived most
of my adult life in Sutton Coldfield, spent a brief period
in mid-Wales and now live in Morbihan Southern Brittany. My
first musical memories? I saw Johnny Cash at New
Street Odeon, around the time he'd recorded the live album
in San Quentin Prison. I wasn't very old, I went with our
next door neighbours. He walked on stage in silence,
dressed in black and simply said “Hello I'm Johnny Cash” -
real presence! I also sang at a very young age, on stage
with Gerry Marsden (Gerry & The Pacemakers) in Southampton.
I was one of several children involved, I received a box of
maltesers and a signed photograph! In my teens I listened to
T. Rex, Slade, Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel, Joan
Armatrading, Dire Straights, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin,
Motown, Stones, Beatles and others.
Did you come from a musical family - is there a long musical
Not really, my mothers side of the family being the most
musical. She played piano, her brother violin & older sister
played piano & sang chorally to a good standard. My Grandad
Tom played fiddle & Uncle John – jazz guitar.
Did you always want to become a musician?
Coming from a family background where the principal ethos
was work, I never considered it to be a possibility.
How did you get started in music and what kind of
material were you playing?
I had a few classical lessons around the age of eleven,
learned a couple of Cat Stevens songs in my teens, then
didn't touch a guitar for 30 years. My wife bought me
“Clapton Unplugged” as a Fathers Day present. I was in my
early forties. The interpretations of songs by Robert
Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy and others had a real impact on
me. I quickly bought The Complete Recordings by Robert
Johnson, material by Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin Hopkins
together with a couple of early blues compilations and have
never looked back. I acquired a Yamaha steel string guitar
and have been playing ever since. I don't think my wife
anticipated such an effect!
Who are your musical heroes?
The name that immediately comes to mind is Eric Bibb. I saw
him years ago with Goran Wennerbrandt at Burnley Blues
Festival. I'd never heard of him, I think it was early on in
the UK for him but his gospel, folk, blues, impeccable stage
presence and voice, left an impression on me that remains to
this day. There are many others who's music has
inspired/influenced me along the way. I'm mostly into
What first attracted you to the blues and what does the
blues mean to you?
It's never been a question of making a choice. I can
appreciate many other styles/genres but I connect with
acoustic blues in a way that never happens with other
genres. For me, blues has an honesty, is personal and
authentic to the individual. People say it's from the heart,
not the head. When people say you play from the heart, then
you are doing something right! There is scope for technical
prowess but it's not about that for me.
believe you were involved in the formation of the Sutton
Blues Collective, tell me more.
The Sutton Blues Collective was an acoustic blues club based
in Sutton Coldfield West Midlands. It was initially founded
by a group of four local musicians to enable others to meet
monthly, jam ,exchange ideas etc. We also presented concerts
by international and national artists. Over a ten year
period, we had some memorable nights whilst making a
contribution to the UK Blues Scene. Some of the names
performing at the Sutton Blues Collective included – Guy
Davis, Watermelon Slim, Toby Walker, Steve James, Del Ray,
Mary Flower, Mike Dowling, Ben Andrews, Ian Seigal, Doug
MacLeod, Brooks Williams, Jim Crawford, Kevin Brown, Tom
Doughty, Catfish Keith, Kent Du Chaine, Guy Tortora, Kris
Dollymore, Spikedrivers, Sam Kelly & others.
Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and
I've never really studied a particular artist or style of
playing – influences that come to mind are Mississippi John
Hurt, Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters, Lightnin Hopkins, Ben
Andrews, Eric Bibb. I'm influenced mostly by songwriters.
Looking back on your career, what are your fondest memories?
Through my work at the Sutton Blues Collective, I have met,
spent time with some wonderful musicians. Some have been
house guests, some I've played with. I feel privileged and
have some special memories. Recent solo performances at
festivals in France together with hospitality received in
wonderful settings already rank as high points.
What guitars do you play and which is your favourite?
I use three principal guitars: Gibson J45 vintage re-issue
– Dobro roundneck (1995) – National Triolian (2013).
I love em all!
Are there any particular songs that you play that have
special meaning to you?
I write a lot from personal experience and or observation. A
lot of the songs have special meaning. I like to let others
interpret them as they will.
You've now moved to France, what's the blues scene like?
I'm really enjoying life in France on many levels. Musically
it's great. There appears to be a real appetite for and
appreciation of live music in general and in particular
blues, roots, acoustic music. It is a big country and very
regional but there are festivals throughout the year all
Tell me about the making of your latest album 'Close To
“Close To You” is a collection of my songs recorded at home
in France. Its a one hundred percent solo effort – guitars,
vocal, percussion, everything. The album was mixed and
mastered by Patrice Mauvieux at BEL Studio Ploeren.
How do you see the future of live blues music?
The future of live blues music? Probably depends where in
the world you are. In my world it's bright!
What are your future plans / gigs / tours / albums?
To keep on keeping on! An album this year, as much gigging
as is possible to achieve. Hoping to visit & tour Holland
late 2015 /early 2016.
Alan: Thank you