Blues brother

Dave Woodhall talks to one of Britain’s most respected musicians.

Slide guitarist Dave Kelly is one of the mainstays of the British blues scene, best-known now for being a founder member of the Blues Band, who are still going strong after more than thirty years together.

“It’s 34 years now. We started in 1979, just to do a few pub gigs, then we split up from 1982 until about 1986. We got going again, one of the first gigs we played then was Glastonbury, after that we did the Montreux Jazz Festival. I remember saying after that one ‘We could do this until we drop if we want to,’ and so far we have.”

It must be very difficult to keep the same enthusiasm when you’re constantly touring after so long together.

“It’s still fun, we still pay the blues and we still keep the enthusiasm from the music. We’ve just had a DVD and CD released from 1980, which was the Rockpalast programme in Germany just before the band’s first birthday. We formed to play pubs and within a year we were playing in front of ten or fifteen thousand people in the Grugahalle in Essen and millions watching on TV. It went out live, we were on with ZZ Top and Joan Armatrading and it went right across Europe. It was the first time the USSR had broadcast the programme so we were watched from Vladivostock on the Pacific right across to the west coast of Ireland. The only country that didn’t take the programme was the UK, so the show we performed hasn’t been seen here until now. What we’re doing live now is starting with the first four songs from that show in the same order, which has been quite invigorating. We’re also doing other numbers from that set, some of which we haven’t done for some time and it’s quite fun to do them in that order again.”

Every couple of decades or so there’s a blues revival, and one is taking place now. The last one two decades ago seemed to be sparked off when a few rock guitarists such as Gary Moore began to re-discover their roots but this one has been more spontaneous.

“Seems to be like that, it’s good. It’s a great music, it’s communicative music, you can let go in it. The blues is a musical format that’s vast.”

The main difference between the revival now and the one that occurred in the nineties is that now there are a lot of new British musicians and singers, and instead of recycling the classic blues themes they’re adding their own interpretations. In particular there are a lot of women blues musicians now; it could almost advertise itself as an equal opportunities genre.

“It’s good. It’s a generational thing – you stick together and the music you discover when you’re growing up you generally stick with and there’s lots of good new players, good stuff now.”

Who would you say are the best of the new breed?

“I like Ian Siegal, I think Chantel McGregor is adding a new twist to blues. I listen to a lot of country music as well. I started doing country blues in the beginning; as a slide player I still play country blues only now it’s with a slide and an electric guitar. I still approach it that way.”

It’s strange in a way that all the great rock’n’roll songs were written over a period of no more than about five years, yet blues classics have been written for a century.

“Indeed, it’s, well, that’s the nature of the blues really.  It can apply to any era, people can take to the blues at any time. It’s home-made music, you can sit in your bedroom and work on it. You don’t need a big rehearsal space or a lighting rig, so it springs up out of the grass roots. That will always be to some degree why it keeps coming back.

And does that longevity encourage bands to keep a stable line-up?

“Yes. We’ve got four original members and Rob Townsend, who’s only been with us 32 years. I think he’s got the job now.”

Dave Kelly plays with the Blues Band at the Robin on 20th November