It’s a busy time for Paul Cox he has a new album with French guitarist Charlie Fabert ‘THAT’S WHAT WE WERE BORN FOR’; that’s about to be released, and there is a whole run of live shows that includes one at the prestigious Pheasantry as part of the London Blues Festival organized by Shades of Soul. Paul is one of the very best vocalists on the UK Blues & Soul scene with a voice that has long been regarded as being in the same league as Chris Farlowe and Joe Cocker. He’s a truly talented performer and has the key ingredients- determination for hard work and an unabashed enthusiasm- that look like bringing long overdue success. We caught up with Paul at various venues and at Roger Cotton’s Kent studio. Paul was always expansive and talked about the ups and the downs of his career so far, and his French connection his musical partnership with Charlie Fabert.
Before we talk about musical background lets catch up with where you’re at right now – we know, having met you at the studios, that you’re well on the way to completing an album with Charlie Fabert – can you tell readers first of all who is Charlie Fabert? And how’s the album coming along?
Charlie is a 22 year old French Blues guitarist I met in 2009 at Christmas during a gig at The EEL PIE club Christmas party. I saw him playing with the house band and was moved by his expressive playing, and a musical maturity way beyond his years. We talked after the gig and I realised he was a big fan of mine. So we discussed working together in 2010. He organised a DVD recording which I am a guest on and we toured later that year in both Britain and France to really encouraging responses. The obvious next step was to record which is what we are doing at the moment. His musical taste was very similar to my own so we had common ground to work from and I have found him a good sounding board for ideas; something that I have missed over the last few years.
Apart his work with me Charlie has built up a glowing reputation on the Blues scene in France with some spectacular reviews for his shows and playing. His French band is wonderful and a joy to work with, as is my line up in the U.K. We can consider ourselves blessed in that department. The CD is coming along nicely; it features four original compositions, two each from Richie Milton and Roger Cotton. There are also a couple of other great songs that we play live; ‘Be Good to Yourself’ and ‘You Were Never Mine’ which is beautiful song by Delbert Mclinton and Benmont Tench. We’re hoping to have the CD out at the beginning of June.
What else have you got going on at the moment?
I have dates with Charlie lined up from late May through to the end of the year in Britain and in France to help promote the new CD and DVD. I’ve also got shows under my own name including the London Blues Festival on May 18th at The Pheasantry in the Kings Road. The dates with Charlie start on May 27th at The Rooster Bar in Lamberhurst and May 28th at The Jook House, Grand Victorian Hotel, Worthing followed by the Eel Pie on June 1st and The Boom Boom Club on June 5th with more to come later. Check out www.cox-fabert.com , or www.note-music.co.uk for all gig listings.
There’s a magical chemistry between you and Charlie when you’re on-stage – that sort of intuitive partnership is very rare –can you comment?
Musical respect I guess, we had no idea how it would work until we tried it and it seems to work, long may it continue!
I’m intrigued at how much your style crosses the blues and soul field – its individual but if was to make a comparison I think it might be to Delbert McClinton
Most definitely, I have always worn my influences on my sleeve and have no qualms with making that obvious but I don’t think that is a problem as long as you put yourself in there at the top of the list. I have been compared with many people over the years, I guess people need a reference point to put you in a place they understand but I always endeavour to put my own stamp on things as much as I can. Charlie does as well, its probably why we work so well together
We’ve trawled around You Tube, etc. and seen lots of video and your song choice is pretty wide ranging- I wonder if you could talk about your influences and in particular if there is one seminal influence that really inspired you – a sort of role model?
Not one in particular but I feel I am carrying on a line that started with Long John Baldry and runs up to today with the likes of James Hunter, you know, can Blue boys sing the whites? I reckon my earliest influences came from Radio and singing styles I heard when I was a teenager in the 70′s. It’s probably subconscious but more readily Soul/ Blues style passionate voices, Otis Redding, Al Green, Paul Rogers, Joe Cocker, Robert Plant, etc.
Do you differentiate styles – this is blues – that’s soul – or is it all just ‘songs’?
It’s always the song, hence so many covers I guess. I am an interpreter first and foremost; a song has to have something I feel I can give something of me too. I would love to write a song that could be covered, I think we have one on this new CD, but I will always bow down to the greats in the song-writing department, I know my place!
Let’s go back now – how did you start out in music?
My first pro gig was in 1978 with a rock band in Rugby called Oyster, great guitarist in that band called Robin Jones, he was a phenomenal talent and I believe he still plays. We met at Printing college in Birmingham and swapped cassette tapes of each other, he was playing along to John McLaughlin and I was singing ‘Black Dog’ to the record!!, very early recording I can tell you!!
What would you say were career highlights so far?
There are several I guess; the first time you hear yourself on the Radio is always nice, working with great guitar players is another, Snowy White, Ray Minhinnett, Henry McCulloch, the late lamented John Slaughter…and of course Charlie! Also making 5 CD’s of my own plus various memorable concerts and festivals, Montreux, Ronnie Scott’s, London Palladium (great blues venue!) Royal Festival Hall, opening for Ray Charles and Eric Clapton, singing with Paul Rogers, Bonnie Tyler, Sam Brown, Ruby Turner, Debbie Bonham; the list goes on…
You’ve been around a while and I imagine there’ve been a few low points as well?
There are always low points, but as the old sage once said ‘without the lows you can’t appreciate the highs’, although the balance has tilted somewhat into the former just lately! As you and many of our musical kin know that this game is like constantly entering the lottery and occasionally getting 4 numbers, just a little better than normal but not long before the ticket needs to be replaced!!
You’ve got a great voice, great performance, and in my view you should be up there alongside Farlowe and the rest – it must have been a hard struggle to keep going – what’s your philosophy in all of this?
I suppose never give up. There are times when the well of self belief runs a little dry but something or someone comes along to perk it up a little, i.e. Charlie. If I had as much belief in myself as others do then I should be a superstar. But hearing that all the while, the flattery, can in itself compound the frustration, but don’t stop saying it … PLEASE!!!! I guess its the love of doing it and the buzz etc., I mean what else could I do that I am good at, get paid for, have a ball, meet wonderful talented people who consider me an equal, and get a round of applause!! (Actually don’t answer that!)
Let me say without flattery, you’ve got a great voice and you are a great performer – do you think the best is yet to come?
For sure, I am just getting going! With this CD and a great band it can only get better, watch this space!! I mean fifty is the new thirty and I feel that I am a damn site better singer now than I was then.
What are you aiming for?
I always wanted respect and a regular income from music to sustain my life without being too grandiose. It has never really been about the money, though I have to say it is a bit more these days I… but being remembered and talked of in the right way; and I want people to LOVE ME!, but seriously getting people out to gigs, buying the CD’s and leaving a lasting musical legacy, not a lot you see!!
How do you see the music scene in general in these days?
It’s evolved in a way which I feel has marginalised a lot of live music in the U.K. The average good music venue, pub or club etc. is thin on the ground and there is a whole generation who have never really experienced good live music at a fledgling level. Nowadays it’s all O2 Academy and big sponsored gigs, it’s tough…
…the internet has opened up so many opportunities for people but there is no quality control so anyone can say they are a musician or songwriter but they’re not always gonna find an audience, I know! It reminds me of the Punk days but I feel that this revolution is technology led rather than talent based. As for the Xfactor, well that’s just another New Faces or Opportunity Knocks. We had those shows when we were young and this generation has their chance now, but it’s not a true barometer of what’s out there, it’s just Saturday night TV making money for Mr Cowell.
When we watched you at the Jook House last week, you were on the edge of the stage and the band was swinging and you were into that classic gospel style call and response thing – it was a great moment. But I wonder how do you see all of that in the light of modern culture – I mean the Dance Music / Rave / X factor culture – are we in the death throes of a musical style that’s just a preserve of the over 40’s or something else?
Well Charlie is only 22, Oli Brown is young, Chantel McGregor, etc., but I know what you mean, it’s the audience which needs to get younger too or this great music we love is gonna die out!
Musically, tell us how you go about arranging songs – are you a player as such, do you score charts – or use as form of short-hand – how do you do it?
None of that, I just sing. I use my recorder on my mobile, sing an idea then whoever I am writing with helps find the chords and we work it out from there, no set way. For instance on Ain’t Nuthin’ Doing’ I just sang the lyrics as we were putting down the vocal, it’s just whatever works.
Your career has already run a while – have you got any songs that you always come back to?
A few- in truth, like many muso’s, it’s the new ones that you want to play- but there are a couple, ‘Damn Your Eyes’ and ‘Dangerous Mood’ and ‘Walking on Sunset’ have become staple fayre these days.
So having reflected on a career that definitely seems to be on the rise – Paul was up and raring to get on stage for yet another show.