Style: Classic Blues
Influences: Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Freddie King, David Gilmour, Stevie & Alan Nimmo.
John discovered the Glasgow Art Club while looking for a venue for his wedding. There is also a family connection through art with his Dad going to the Glasgow School of Art.
K: Hi John. You’ve chosen an amazing location here. Why the Glasgow Art Club?
J: Laura and I are getting married here in March next year and it’s somewhere that’s going to mean a lot to me. It’s somewhere I wasn’t even aware of before we started looking for a wedding venue. It’s the perfect size and we can do the whole thing here. I didn’t like the idea of bussing people from the wedding to the reception so we can do the whole thing right here.
K: So you’re actually having the wedding here as well?
J: Yeah. There is another reason I like this place and that’s the art connection with my Dad. I consider him an artist. His whole work life was in signage and to me he was a designer first and foremost. He’s a very good salesperson and a good people person but he’s always been a designer and he’s always been the top guy. He’s respected and well known and I love the paintings he’s done and he has them dotted around his house. I don’t think he considers himself as an artist but he is. Since his retirement his main passion is his saxophone & Jazz/Blues music.
K: So there’s an artistic influence in the family. Did that translate into music as well when you were growing up?
J: My whole upbringing was very musical. I was always very aware of Elvis. I’m a massive Elvis fan as a result of my Mum’s input. She’s a huge fan, I think she has all of his records and we used to watch “That’s the way it is” the live concert and “Aloha from Hawaii”. We were always watching stuff like that.
My Dad, although he liked Elvis, was always a wee bit more Jazzy and Bluesy. He had BB King “Live at the Regal” and T Bone Walker records with the John Mayall Bluesbreakers stuff. Louis Armstrong was another. I love Louis Armstrong and I wish I’d spent more time listening to that kind of stuff.
My big sister also introduced me to Rory Gallagher, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. When I was 10, for my birthday in October my older cousin Andy visited with his Strat copy & a VHS of Hendrix live. That was it, I was hooked & by the Xmas my folks had bought me an Electric Guitar. I just loved it & pretty much have not put it down since!
My Aunt Betty – My Dad’s sister – bought me a VHS video of Eric Clapton “Live 85” and that was me…sorted! I ended up buying anything live by Clapton and from a young age would spend hours playing along with concerts like 24 Nights from 90’-91’ & Hyde Park Live 96’. I’ve spoken to a lot of the guys in Glasgow and there is a huge Clapton influence in many of them and you can see it and hear it in their playing. There a couple of players that I’ve just gravitated towards and become mates with because of that commonality. Jim Keilt, Henry Riley & Alan Anderson for example.
K: Any other players that inspire you?
J: Yeah. I love BB King and Freddie King, Pink Floyd with David Gilmour too but if I was ever wanting to sound like someone it would always be Clapton. I do find myself being more and more inspired by people like Stevie and Alan Nimmo and all of my peers around me in Glasgow. Guys like Colin Robertson, Brian Rawson & Henry Riley. I don’t know if these guys realise I’m watching them but I’m picking up everything while they’re playing…even things like pickup selection and volume. There are some phenomenal players…Alan Brown! What a phenomenal tone! I heard him once in the Big Joint in South Street and I was running a bit late and as I walked into the place I could hear this tone. It wasn’t even a Fender Strat, I think it was Tokai, through a tiny wee amp, with no pedals, and it was…huge!! What I love about Al is the dynamics in his playing and I love that about Allan and Stevie Nimmo as well. Those are the guys that I aspire to.
K: You’d be hard pushed to find any better.
J: And they’re lovely guys as well. We’re lucky to have them and I was fortunate enough to play with Stevie back in 2003. Gary Miller, who is another great influence, set up a scenario for me to play with Stevie Nimmo.
I remember thinking that I would just be there to play rhythm guitar that night and didn’t expect to play any solos but he nodded me in the first song for a solo and then again in the second song and I was soloing all night which was so good of him because nobody knew who I was.
My Dad recorded that gig because he was quite excited about me playing with Stevie, and I heard it back and I started every solo with the same damn lick, and I didn’t realise I’d done it! Whereas now through learning from guys like John Doole and Jim Keilt I’ve got things up my sleeve that I can use. I’m learning all the time. I see something new every time I’m at a jam.
K: It’s just experience. Getting to a place where you can power everything through that one channel without even thinking about it and getting to the end and sometimes wondering what the hell you just played, because it sounded brilliant and you know you could never do it again (laughs)
J: Yeah, I was lucky enough to play with Jimmy Johnston, the bass player, when I was younger. The first band I ever played with was the “Rhythm Rouges” with Alex Stenhouse, Jimmy Johnston and Roddy Clowe. Jimmy is a big part of the Southside scene. I grew up on the Southside near Hampden. I would gig with Jimmy in places like the Old Toll Bar across from the Grand Ole Opry on a Friday night. We had a residency in there and Jimmy was one of these guys who, as soon as the bass was on he was “on it”. I really learnt a lot from the way he would just get into it and channel himself into the music even if he wasn’t in the mood. The moment he got in front of the microphone he would be “Jimmy Johnstone”. Brilliant player and fantastic singer.
K: So do you feel like you’ve been mentored by these guys?
J: I do actually, yeah. You’ve got guys like Alan Nimmo, Jim Keilt, Al Flemming, Jim Ward. They really were mentors to me through the Jam scene. Zander Green & Gary Miller too, it’s almost like a family, this whole Glasgow Blues thing. Another influence is Gus Munro and you won’t meet a nicer guy. They’re all very supportive.
K: It’s a good community and it seems to be getting better as people mature physically and musically.
J: Yeah, I think when I was younger there might have been a few egos around but maybe as I get older I’m maturing away from my own ego, which I would like to think is happening but also the guys around me seem really comfortable too.
K: So have you ever had any guitar lessons or are you completely self-taught?
J: I’ve never had a guitar lesson in my life. I’m not a technical player and I don’t know too much about the notes, keys or chords, I play by feel and by ear, but the biggest influence on my playing as regards to sitting down with someone on a “1 on 1” is John Doole. He took the time to sit down with me and show me how to get what I wanted out of playing guitar. He showed me the finer points of the style of Eric Clapton compared to BB King and compared to David Gilmour and he would just sit there with a Strat and a clean guitar sound and you felt like you were in the room with a great guitarist. You could close your eyes and you would feel like you were there with Dave Gilmour and his Clapton playing is second to none. So I would just be sitting there lapping that up. He really helped me cut my teeth and learn a wee bit about where to go with the structure of a solo. Brain Rawson recently really expanded my chord knowledge but I need to work at it!
K: You’ve talked a lot about influences and mentors in the Glasgow scene but what about you? Are you writing or do you have any plans to get your own stuff down?
J: I’ve never really applied myself to writing but I should. If I was talking to a friend who had my own abilities I would be encouraging them to write and I would be pushing them a bit. That’s one of my weaknesses, I wouldn’t say I was lazy, I’m just comfortable with the level I’m at. I just don’t push myself enough. I don’t challenge myself enough and I know that I should work on this. Someday!!
K: Do you work on solos and arrangements with the bands you are in or do you follow the Blues/Jazz improvisation on the night approach?
J: People have got quite frustrated with me in the past sometimes because I play the same song differently each time. I’ve been asked by singers and writers to “Play the same thing you played last week” but that’s not the way I play and I openly admit that I struggle with that. You take guys like Joe Satriani who play the same solo every time and polish it to perfection but I’d rather go and see Buddy Guy. I saw Satriani with my good friend John Shaw & frankly although amazed we were bored after 20 min!
K: I’m a bit like that myself. There’s advantages and disadvantages. Some nights you can be off the chart and exploring completely new territory and I often compare it to the feeling you get when you’re in a plane and the pilot drops the throttle and you get thrown back in your seat. Other nights, when you’re not in the mood or there’s nothing to feed off in the band or in the audience it can come out pretty mediocre and flat. It’s sometimes good to have the bones of something that you can fall back on.
J: Yeah, exactly. So I know I’ve frustrated some folk in the past with that but I know what I need to do. I need to be the boss of my own band. I’m quite comfortable in that role and I’m not great at being told what to do, not that I’m difficult, I hope! I just don’t understand the technical side, even chord names throw me!!
K: Have you got anyone in mind for that?
J: I’ve been working with a great singer, I met him at my previous work. A guy called Hugh Barclay. When he sings it’s absolutely beautiful. He’s one of these guys who works at it even though there’s a great natural talent there but he’s done a lot of work as well on top of that. I don’t think people realise that about singers sometimes…the amount of work and practice, maybe not practice but hours of honing their voices.
Singers like Stevie and Alan Nimmo, Gary Miller, Charlotte Marshall. Charlotte has a great natural voice but she has studied music at college and has worked at her sound and now I don’t think you’ll hear anyone better.
So yeah, I’m really looking forward to what’s coming up, even the scenario of me sitting with an acoustic with Hugh, playing some of the older Delta Blues stuff.
K: I guess the 2 piece approach is easier to manage and you’ve got the wedding coming up. It takes a lot of commitment to take a band to a level that fits everyone’s expectations. To get the quality of players you often find that you end up working with people that want to make a living out of the music
J: That’s always been my struggle. “How much music can I commit to?” Iain McDougall for example has been great, getting me involved in recording projects with big Neil McKenzie. You meet creative folk all the time.
K: That’s why I’ve put it to one side at the moment.
J: Yeah, it is a big commitment, even rehearsals, I’m not a big fan of rehearsals either. I just prefer to turn up to a gig and say “Shuffle in C…go”. That’s the way I’ve always been.
K: So let’s take a look at the Glasgow Blues scene as it is now. We have a high level of quality players, a strong will to continue, promote and develop the Blues community. We have loads of good venues. What is missing at the moment? Have you any ideas about what we could add?
J: I actually miss Jim Ward’s institution that was the Sunday Jam. That just worked so well. Jim’s Sunday Jam was a like a good pair of slippers. You were always guaranteed good players. Even if you didn’t get up to play you had a great night. Guys like Sam Firth & Davie Boyle behind you, Miles O’Neill & Scott Pentland – players of the highest level.
I would actually really like to start one up with a slightly different format and the house band would have different line ups with guest players invited along to do the whole gig and it would be on 2 or 3 times a month with different band line ups. There are so many great musicians I would just like to experiment a wee bit with it. I chatted with the likes of Henry Reilly & Alan Anderson, who were up for it. You just know they can play the guitar and do that kind of long jam justice….Rather than squeezing in two songs per guest player.
K: You could do it in here? You were saying that the guy that helps run this place is right into the Blues.
J: Ohh! Possibly… I’m also quite well connected with a load of other places from the 12 years I was in signage. I met a lot of the guys that run the pubs and clubs.
K: I’ll keep bugging you about it then. You need a good venue, somewhere that people will be comfortable in, & you need the high quality players.
J: There are a lot of great young players coming up just now as well. Jamie Martin & Connor Burnside are really talented & work their socks off! The future is in good hands.
K: When you see these guys give them a nod towards this site. I’m very keen to get the new blood on here as well.
J: Yeah I will do.
K: As we discussed earlier it’s a great community and I’m keen to link everyone up and keep it growing.
J: Yeah, I’m just glad to be part of it and I’m really glad to be part of your project as well because to me I owe a lot to a lot of people. For me, I’m at my happiest when I’ve got music live in my life. It’s picked me up when I’ve needed picked up and it’s kept me just at the right level when I’ve needed a bit of help to stay there. It brings a lot of joy to my life with Laura too. Laura has been a massive support with regards my playing & that of my peers. She loves coming to jams & gigs with me. In fact she hasn’t missed a night since we met over two years ago. It’s a massive boost! We have a great time & it means the world to me to have my partner so involved & so supportive of my music and the scene around us, everyone is so warm. You just put your jacket on, grab your guitar and before you know it you can leave all the other stuff behind and you’re in the moment.
K: Well, best of luck with everything in the future. The music, the wedding and everything else.
J: Thank you. It was a pleasure to meet up! I’ve really enjoyed it. Really appreciate your time. Good luck with the rest of the project.
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 24-120 f/4
Focal length: 78mm
Exposure: 1/60 sec at f/6.3
Time of day: 16:16
Lighting: White/Black Westcott umbrella, Nikon SB910
the glasgow art club