The essence of any form of entertainment is that it is fresh and exciting and you pick this up in so many ways when you are lucky enough to be sitting in front of Geoff Achison and The UK Soul Diggers. I absolutely loved the gig tonight acoustically but am also a keen observer of what is going on between the artists in any live performance. The beauty of Jazz and Blues is the flexibility and ability to adapt to follow a trail set down spontaneously by someone in the band and still remain within the general framework of the song. I recognised the communications going on tonight and a gesture kept appearing. I’m sure there must be a term for it but I can’t find it and am not even sure I can explain it but I’ll have a go. It looks like this.
· Someone in the band plays something that nobody in the band has ever heard before during a song that has been played many times
· The band members look at each other with smiles on their faces
· There is a weird facial expression that consists of a furrowed brow, a narrowing of the eyes and sometimes the mouth makes an “O” shape.
· The waist stays put and the head stays upright but the spine moves back at an angle of about 20 degress
· A lip reader would clearly see the words beginning with the letter "f" being uttered from at least one set of lips.
If anyone knows what the above is called please let me know. Anyway, that happened…a lot.
the uk soul diggers
Kirk: Hi Geoff and welcome to Glasgow. First time here?
Geoff: Yeah, first time.
Kirk: You certainly picked the weather for a first visit.
Geoff: Yeah, it’s a bit of an adventure for me. It’s the first time in my career that I’ve loaded in while it has been snowing!
Kirk: You’ve been coming to the UK for quite a few years now.
Geoff: Yes, more than I care to remember. It must be over 20 times now that I’ve played here, my first visit was in 1997. Only once in Scotland before though. I played over in Edinburgh in The Voodoo Rooms in an acoustic tour.
Kirk: You’re over there again tomorrow night. It’s a fantastic venue and a great crowd.
Geoff: Yeah, I’m hoping to see a bit more of the city this time. When you are on tour you often don’t see much of the places you visit.
Kirk: Talking of that Geoff, you have an amazingly packed tour this time. What is it? I think you have 33 gigs in 37 days. That’s impressive both logistically but also quite a pace. Is that how you normally work?
Geoff: No, this is a particularly full schedule. We had such an encouraging tour last year. We had the new album and had an American distributor who got right behind it. We also made a couple of music videos last year which I think helped with promoting the tour.
Kirk: It’s quite a feat.
Geoff: I guess so but that’s what I prefer to do when I’m on tour. It’s great to get a couple of days off when you are on the road but you haemorrhage money so it’s better to keep as busy as possible.
Kirk: You have been touring with the UK Souldiggers on the UK tours for some time. How did that come about initially?
Geoff: There was a guy called John Adams who was my first UK Manager and I did my first tour with him in 1998 and he had 9 dates for me. I think that was John’s first tour. He was a club promoter but that first tour was really encouraging so when I came back the following year he recruited the band and there was Sam Kelly on drums, Dave Clarke on bass and Dave Lennox on keys and that became the band for the next several years. Over the years that developed into the current line-up of Sam on drums: I’ve been very lucky to have Sam on most of the UK gigs. Paul Jobson has been my main keyboard player since 2005 and Andy Hodge came on board as our bassist last year and the line-up is just superb.
Kirk: It must be fantastic to have that core of reliable personnel that you can trust and have built a working relationship with.
Geoff: Oh yeah, for sure. We are like family. We have done so many shows together and we look after each other. Like you say, with a gruelling schedule it does get tiring and it does wear you down a bit and it is important to have a crew that support each other. We make each other laugh, which is very important.
Kirk: So how important is touring for you?
Geoff: That’s the whole reason I got into it. Besides the music itself, it’s all about playing live for me and the whole idea of getting of packing the gear into a bus and going on the road just thrills me. I love it!
It’s great to be at home as well. My wife lives there…and I like her a lot! (laughs)
Kirk: That’s good, I’ll include that!
Geoff: Yeah, please do. Michelle is amazing. She understands the necessity for touring. While it’s great to be at home there are only so many times that you can play to your home crowd. That’s the whole magic of touring. Every night you are playing to a different crowd.
Kirk: You mentioned home. Take me back to that time when you found the guitar under the stairs?
Geoff: Oh right, you know that story.
Kirk: Back then you were pretty isolated in a rural location and we were pre-internet, which encourage you to develop your own style. What motivated you?
Geoff: Initially I just loved music and I wanted to play an instrument. My Dad was a musician. He was a trumpet player and he played in the local Brass Band and he had a little dance band and he did that in his spare time. He was a music-lover, my mum was a music-lover and the house was full of music all of the time and I desperately wanted to play an instrument. When I found a guitar, that was the first instrument that I seemed to be able to figure things out on by myself. I’d previously struggled with trumpet and saxophone and things like that. I started playing very rudimentary rhythm guitar in my Dad’s band and then an experienced Jazz musician called Alan Watson came by and he had this big old place not far from us and he invited me round to jam. He used to do this if he saw anyone that he thought had some talent. So, I ended up spending all of my vacation time jamming at Al’s place and lots of pro musicians would converge there because he was a respected guy and we would just jam.
It was Alan that drilled “originality” into me. He would say that it was all very well to emulate your favourite players and learn from them but he would say that you had to find your own voice. You need to be original! So that is what I have always sought.
Kirk: So, what is your view on the level of accessibility we have now with YouTube and the Internet in general. I mean, you can just about search up the notes that Jeff Beck played in a solo back in 1978.
Geoff: I think it’s great! I think it’s amazing! When we were learning the guitar pre-internet you would put your finger on the side of the record to slow it down and try and figure out what was being played and it used to drive me crazy. I have used that very thing to learn certain songs. I’ll sit and struggle for a bit while I try and work it out and then I remember “Oh yeah!! The Internet!!” Someone will be there to show me how to do it and I think that’s great.
The other amazing thing that happens is that you get these kids that are learning an instrument these days and because of their capacity to learn at that age is just enormous they can advance a long way. This is necessary for the evolution of music. Otherwise the same ideas just keep going around and round in a circle.
Kirk: I watched a young lady on YouTube this afternoon and she was doing all the finger-tapping on the fretboard and she was incredible. I looked at the number of views that the video had and it was about 8 million which is unbelievable! To have a channel to the rest of the world at that magnitude is mind-blowing!
Geoff: Yeah, it’s unbelievable. Now here’s the thing though. That’s technically brilliant and I’m not taking anything away from it but is it tugging at my heart strings? Is that going to make me cry? Or is that just making me say “Gee!!! That’s amazing!!!”
Kirk: That’s a great point. You can be “impressed” by technique but you can only be “moved” by soul.
Geoff: Absolutely. I can be impressed by acrobatics and it can be really entertaining but the musicians that I will personally keep going back to over and over again are those ones that can bring a tear to my eye. The ones that can really move me.
Kirk: You say on your website that you are a Guitarist, Singer, Songwriter and Instructor. Can you tell me about the Guitar Camp at Fur Peace Ranch? You talk about individuality and soul. Is that what you are trying to get across to the delegates at this event?
Geoff: Yeah, you’ve pretty much summed it up. I focus on trying to draw out that individual “voice” that everyone had. I do find that a lot of people who have chosen guitar and particularly Blues get lost somehow. I even need to remind myself sometimes that it’s not just about licks and it’s not just about amazing acrobatic technique. You really have to try and figure out what you sound like inside. What have you got to say?
I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning how to teach. I don’t focus too much on the theory and mechanics although if someone asks for help with that then I can definitely help. It’s more about using the knowledge that you already have and playing something truly unique.
Kirk: You return to Melbourne at the end of April and you will be going Head to Head with Jimi Hocking. That must be fantastic fun!! How do the audience react to that?
Geoff: That is the key word. It’s fun. Jimi and I are good mates. He’s a Rock Star! He plays in one of the biggest Rock Bands in Australia. He’s got Gold Records on the walls and stuff like that. He will throw that out there every now and again. It is just fun. We’ll pick a mixture of different tunes and we realise that those guitar battles can be a bit ridiculous at times but they really are a lot of fun and very entertaining. There is no real competition it’s just good fun.
Kirk: So, you have a busy schedule for the rest of this year, you released the last album in 2017, is there another album on the horizon any time soon?
Geoff: Yes, I’ve been recording the next album. It’s due for release in August. It’s all new tunes and the acoustic guitar is at the fore. I’m just trying to make the stories come to life as best I can. I get right into playing parts with guitars. I’ll take a bunch of guitars into the studio and each one of them has a certain character or texture. We’ve done a lot of Live albums over the years but just recently I’ve become more interested in experimenting in the studio and creating a song around the story.
Kirk: Ok, last question. Do you find a new bad habit? (Based on a song from the latest album)
Geoff: (Laughs) I got plenty of them! That last album does have a sense of humour about it. There are some serious moments in it but even the cover art we did had a sense of light-heartedness and fun. When we do our shows, we are serious about our music but we do like to have a bit of fun.
Tommy Emanuel pointed out to me many year ago that what we do it the “Happiness Business”. You go out and play and the aim is that everyone feels good. That’s what we are going for.
Kirk: Thanks Geoff. Great stuff!
Geoff: Thanks man.