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Early Blues Interview
Paul Cowley

© Copyright 2013 Tony Joe Gardner. All Rights Reserved.

I caught up with Brittany based Paul Cowley after much dialogue on email:

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

Paul:   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. 

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

Paul:   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. 

Alan:  Did you always want to become a musician? 

Paul:   Coming from a family background where the principal ethos was work, I never considered it to be a possibility. 

Alan:  How did you get started in music and what kind of material were you playing? 

Paul:   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! 

Alan:  Who are your musical heroes? 

Paul:   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 songwriters. 

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

Paul:   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. 

Alan:  I believe you were involved in the formation of the Sutton Blues Collective, tell me more. 

Paul:   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.

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

Paul:   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. 

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

Paul:   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. 

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

Paul:   I use three principal guitars:  Gibson J45 vintage re-issue – Dobro roundneck (1995) – National Triolian (2013).
I love em all! 

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

Paul:   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. 

Alan:  You've now moved to France, what's the blues scene like? 

Paul:   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 over France. 

Alan:  Tell me about the making of your latest album 'Close To You'.

Paul:   “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. 

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

Paul:   The future of live blues music? Probably depends where in the world you are. In my world it's bright! 

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

Paul:   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 Paul.

YouTube video of Paul Cowley at Bain de Bretagne April 2014

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