Blues DJ’s 2: Ashwyn Smythe

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The Blues Matters blog gears up for some Anglo-French writing with this post, on British broadcasting Blues DJ, Ashwyn Smythe. We put just four topics to Ashwyn – but they weren’t easy.

BM Blogger: What are your top 3 British and French Blues artists (6 in all) –

Ashwyn: “Now this is a difficult one as it will almost certainly change from day to day! As of today, as far as British acts are concerned, I love listening to and seeing the Spikedrivers (although two of them hail from the US and one from Ireland!), Guy Tortora (another American living in the UK!) is a wonderful songwriter, a very fine and versatile guitarist and also has a great way with a song. Trying to find a third is incredibly difficult. Just at the moment I am really enjoying the new CD from Babajack, a trio who have been around for a while but are suddenly making quite a stir! My apologies to the very many excellent British acts not named here! Maybe tomorrow!”

“On the French scene there are some very good acts with whom I am familiar although there are many more about whom I know little and so cannot ‘rate’. My favourites at the moment are Mathieu Pesque & Roll Pignon, an excellent guitar/vocals/harmonica duo who really are a bit special, Cotton Belly’s (yes they do use the apostrophe!) who party like there is no tomorrow with a really authentic style and the excellent Nico Backton & Wizards of Blues who have made one or two forays onto the UK scene to universal acclaim! I would have liked to include Rag Mama Rag but that is probably cheating a bit as they are Brits who live in France!”

BM Blogger: What about the French and the Bues?

Ashwyn: “The French approach to blues is interesting for whilst there are some bands who play what one could describe as traditional style blues, many acts cross genres so you may find that a set by a solo lap steel player will include traditional blues from Robert Johnson, original material from the guitarist and then a Michael Jackson song! Bands will often include sing-along numbers to encourage audience involvement. Ask the average French person about blues and they will look blankly at you. Play them some blues and they will nod and say ‘Ah, jazz’! The two genres are very much combined under the single heading. Venues vary from large concert halls and theatres to the local equivalent of village halls (salles de fêtes). Perhaps my favourite is a small town (195 people) about 15 miles away where they have regular blues gigs in the village church and once a year hold a two day blues festival in the centre of the village with the stage set up right across the main road, outside the church! In 2011 over three thousand attended! All for free! Contrast this with the Cognac Blues Passions festival which offers a line-up which can only be called eclectic – past years have seen BB King joint headline with Duffy! The 2012 festival is being headlined by Sting, Hugh Laurie and the Cranberries! Ticket price? EUR162.50 for 4 days, daily from EUR35.99 to EUR66.67. This probably says a great deal about the French take on Blues!!!”

BM Blogger: Your ideal 5 piece Blues band from anyone who has ever played?

Ashwyn: “I often see questions like this and I fight shy of them because, although musical, I am not a musician and I certainly do not understand all the mumbo jumbo surrounding pickups and Telecasters, and hi-hats etc! I am also going to avoid all the big names and stick with British or British based players, simply because I think that these five people would combine to make an unbeatable band and that there would not be too many ego clashes!”

“Vocalist: Earl Green is a lovely guy and has a simply amazing voice that caresses you like a silk scarf then tears into you like a stiletto. Rightfully the winner of many awards, he has one of the best and most individual voices around.

Guitar: There are so many wonderful guitarists out there but there is one man of whom I never tire and who I know would slot perfectly into this dream band. Mick Pini. A veteran on the blues circuit, Mick now lives in Germany but he is very much the real deal and a fascinating character as well as one hell of a guitar player. As Peter Green is said to have said, it is the notes that he does not play that makes him special!

Keyboards: Janos Bajtala plays, amongst others, with Guy Tortora, and is, by his own admission, a bit mad, but he is also superbly talented and another truly lovely guy. He has the ability to rip it up and lay it way down with equal skill.

Bass: I am only beginning to learn what an important role the bass player and the drummer play. One of the most fascinating bass players for me is Roger Inniss who handles his mighty six string bass as if it were a ukulele and plays it as if it were a lead guitar. I can watch and listen to him for hours.

Drums: Since I became good friends with drummer Mike Hellier, I have learned what a demanding and physical job the sticks man has and how he is often the unsung hero of any band. Drummers seem to fall into many different categories ranging from the huge kit, big sound, giving it all, ultimate showman to the complete opposite who, nonetheless, is the driving force. The man I am going to pick here is Roy Webber, the drummer with the Cadillac Kings and much in demand with many other outfits. Roy is one of the quietest, most reserved men you will meet (on stage anyway) and yet his drumming is always spot on, never too little but never too much.

The thought of seeing these five great players on one stage together has made me come over a bit light-headed!”

BM Blogger: What is the best thing that has ever happened in respect of your current show?

Ashwyn: “Every time I get a message from a listener saying how much they enjoy the music, I get a warm glow. Equally, being able to bring to my audience the wonderful music being made by so many truly talented musicians is very rewarding. However, I think being one of the five nominations in the Blues Broadcaster category of the 2011 British Blues Awards and another nomination in 2012 and also being recognised as one of the five Best Blues Radio shows in the 2011 Blues Matters! Writers’ Poll has to have been the cherry on top of the icing on the cake! So far!”

Links

Visit the revamped digital blues website at www.digitalblues.co.uk

Tune in to digital blues every Wednesday between 21.00 & 23.00 UK time on Gateway 97.8, Community Radio for Basildon and East Thurrock. Repeated at 20.00 UK time every Sunday. Listen on 97.8fm in the Basildon, East Thurrock & surrounding areas or online at www.gateway978.com and to digital blues on Kansas City Online Radio at 11.00 a.m. Central US time (17.00 UK time) every Sunday at www.kconlineradio.com. The show is repeated at various times through the week. Please visit the website to check times.

Digital blues radio shows now also available as podcasts at http://digitalblues.podomatic.com and on i-tunes at http://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/digital-blues-podcasts/id483385993

Visit www.lamaisondubluesnumerique.com to find out about our new life in France

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