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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Mick Abrahams interview

It is a story as old as time itself.  I'm sure that it predates rock'n'roll, but it is a paradigm which has appeared so many times within the canon of the sort of bands that I have spent the last four decades listening to, but it hardly bears repeating.  Except, of course, that I must - because without the back story the extraordinary tale of Blodwyn Pig would just be another rags to...  well, if not exactly riches, then slightly more expensive rags.

In the beginning there was Robert Johnson who sold his soul to the devil.  The cornute one passed it on to some evangelical promoters in the Thames Valley. The Blodwyn Pigstory begins back in the mid-1960s when a whole generation of relatively privileged white kids in the UK discovered the music of a previous generation of reasonably underprivileged black men living in the southern states of the USA. 

People quite often forget that Jethro Tull, who are best known for having a personable front man who looked like a tramp and stood on one leg whilst playing the flute didn't start off as a folk band, or even a progressive rock band; they started off as a blues band. Back in the halcyon days of 1967, a couple of members of a Blackpool-based blue-eyed soul band travelled down to the teeming metropolis where they teamed up with two members of a failing, Luton-based blues band.  They appropriated the name of the legendary 18th Century agriculturist (inventor of the rotary seed drill, no less) and the rest is history.  Except, of course, that it is nothing of the kind.

The band signed to the legendary Island Records, home of the cream of what was then known as `the underground`, and during the summer of 1968 recorded their first albumThis Was.  Ian Anderson, the aforementioned gentleman of the rock and roll road, described their music as "a sort of progressive blues with a bit of jazz." The blues influence came largely from guitarist Mick Abrahams.  It was Abrahams who - on the first album - provided the only non-Anderson lead vocal in Jethro Tull's recorded history, and with the benefit of hindsight it is easy to see that both he and Anderson were jostling for position as the prime creative mover behind the band.

Unsurprisingly, there was a massive falling out between the pair, and Abrahams left the group. He was replaced by Martin Barre (after brief tenures by Toni Iomni, later as Black Sabbath, and Davy O'List of The Nice) and Jethro Tull did their own inimitable thing for the next four decades.

But what of Abrahams? One of the main reasons that he had fallen out with Anderson was that he was a blues purist, and didn't want to follow some of the more esoteric paths that Anderson was to lead the band into.  No, he just wanted to play the blues.  Robert Johnson hadn't sold his soul to the devil in order to make progressive rock albums about a nine-year-old boy poet.  There was a purity and an integrity to the blues, and it was the path along which Mick Abrahams intended to walk.  So he started his own band and for reasons which remain obscure he named it Blodwyn Pig.

They recorded two albums, before the two leading lights - Abrahams and Jack Lancaster -  split. I saw Mick Abrahams in the autumn of 1977. Whilst the rest of the universe was punked up to the nines, he was a sales rep for one of the major guitar companies (Gibson, I think, but my memory fails me) and one night he played an intimate gig upstairs in Bill Greenhalgh's music shop in Exeter. Although the show was aimed at showing off the intricasies of the newest guitars in the range, I was overawed by his sweet, lyrical guitar playing. I went home, and the next day bought the two Blodwyn Pig LPs, and I have been a fan ever since.  Through the good offices of Rick Wakeman, I got to speak to Mick Abrahams....

JON: I didn’t know, until I listened to it again the other day, how good that first Blodwyn Pig album sounds 40 years on.

MICK: ‘Ahead Rings Out’, yeah.  I saw Andy Johns doing an interview on TV (he was the guy who produced both of the Blodwyn Pig albums of course). But he died a couple of months back. I spoke with him before he died.   He was Glyn Johns’ brother – the guy who engineered the Stones.

JON:  He was a bloody good producer.

MICK: He was marvellous. 

JON:  It sounds like it was recorded yesterday.

MICK:  Still fresh isn’t it?  Re-release it and will have some money out of it.  It is about time I had a decent pension. <laugh>

JON:  Because so much music from that era does sound dated, but your two albums don’t.

MICK: Really?

JON:  I think so.  One thing I’ve always wondered.  I’ve always been interested about how a whole generation of why white Englishmen got totally influenced by the music of a whole generation of poor black guys from about twenty years before.

MICK: Well you have to remember that we were all brought up in the trad jazz boom and blues to a degree slowly seeped into that, and then with question the rock and roll thing. I mean you couldn’t get me off all the black performers…. Let me rephrase that – you couldn’t get me to change my views on them.  I loved it, you know.  And Little Richard has always been my hero.  When that man sings it’s like … it does my brain in.  I can’t explain why, but there is an instinct that captures the imagination and I think it captured the imagination of all the guitar players , singer and keyboard players during that time and it went on from there.

JON:  Because when you started off Jethro Tull, it was a blues band wasn’t it.

MICK:  It really was, yes. It was more blues than Ian had obviously – which we found out later – intended.  It was a shame really because Anderson always thought he was in competition with me, and he wasn’t. But to get him to realise that would be like waiting for pigs to fly.

JON:  Well you never know, pigs might fly one day through genetic engineering.

MICK:  You never know

JON:  So was Blodwyn Pig the band – did you make Blodwyn Pig into the band you always wanted Jethro Tull to be?

MICK:  Yes, I did.

JON:  Because I didn’t realise until after having spoken to you the other day, that you reformed Blodwyn Pig

MICK:  Crikey… yes about 20 years ago we started with that and it just seemed a natural progression.  You know somebody said why don’t you still go out and play and I’ve always been a player, that’s what I’ve always done.  I’ve sold insurance, I’ve sold cars, I’ve cleaned windows, you know but I am by and large a guitar playing singer. So that’s what I did, and of course the name Blodwyn Pig was useful and I own it

JON:  It was with Jack Lancaster wasn’t it?

MICK:  I was with Jack,  yeah.

JON:  Because he’s someone I’ve got to interview soon, I’ve never met him.

MICK:  He’s a nice guy, a really nice bloke. He came over to do my 65th birthday which was five years ago now. He came over and played a couple of numbers with us.  We had a gala night when we had loads of different guests, so Eliot Randall,  Paul Jones and Riki Massini, Steve Dundon; quite a few notables, you know. So we had a great album and video out of that – I’ll send you a copy of that if you want me to.

JON:  Oh yes please, I’d love to see that. Going back to the influence of the blues, something that I am beginning to realise – and why it has taken me so long to realise I don’t know – but you and your peers are now the age that Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters were when you got into them.

MICK:  The holy truth

JON:  So you guys are now the old Delta blues men.

MICK:  We’re the old dogs, or in my case we’re the old pigs.

JON:  You’ve not been very well recently have you?

MICK:  No mate, I don’t do things by halves.  Three years ago I two heart failures and a stroke all in the same day.

JON:  All at once?

MICK: All at once!

JON:  What were you doing, going for a world record?

MICK:  I was dying actually <laughs> but they got me back.  I consider myself as a survivor and yet I am a bit wobbly on my pins, I can’t play what I would call any brilliant standard or the Mick Abrahams you know.  So I tend not to play a lot.

JON:  That’s a great pity

MICK:  Well it is. Because I’ve had the heart taken from me.  But I mean, that’s just life, you know. I got pretty depressed about it to start off with. And there are moments, even now, you know. But we bumble through don’t we? What else can you do?

JON:  I think you ought to write some songs based on this.  This is the sort of thing you should be writing a blues song about.

MICK:  Yeah, perhaps you’re right. Thank you Jon.

JON:  I was talking to Mick Farren the other day down in Brighton and he was saying that it’s absolutely ridiculous for him aged 70 getting up on stage and doing the same things that he was doing at 25 and he really wants artists to be exploring the life of a 70-year-old rocker or a 70-year-old bluesman.

MICK:  I can play a few chords and I can play a bit of bottlenecks still and I did go out to the Italian speaking part of Switzerland – Lugano, and did a concert out there, just busted old records, you know. I only played four numbers and the band knew everything I did, you know. It was just like the old days.  We used to know Chuck Berry stuff so I suppose… I don’t know and I was listening to this music and was thinking to myself,  ‘Who the bloody hell is that? I recognise that from somewhere’.  And of course it was me. <laugh>

JON:  Well that’s really beautiful man.

MICK:  Well I’ve threatened – threatened so far – to do an album with these guys because they are good. And they are very keen on doing it.

JON:  Are they a Swiss band?

MICK:  They are indeed.

JON:  That’s cool.  So if you do this when are we talking about?

MICK:  I was hoping this year, but I don’t think that’s going to happen now. I think probably next year.

JON:  Have you still got Blodwyn Pig in the background? Have you still got the guys around?

MICK: Yes, but they are not keen to do anything.  Jack’s in America, and Clive’s always got work with other people. And to be honest, I wouldn’t want to go there again, because there’s a lot of stress and in my situation, stress is about the last thing I need.

JON:  Oh of course.  I just want to hear you in the studio again man.

MICK:  Well I can get guys….the guys I do venues with have been better than they were in Blodwyn Pig but, you know, it’s the old story; nothing sounds the same. I’ll have to run you down a load of stuff then you can hear what I’ve done. Just drop me an email with your address and I’ll mail a load of stuff to you.

JON:  Of course I will mate, and thank you very much for talking.

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