Steve Clayton, doyen of the Birmingham music scene, speaks.
If Steve ‘Big Man’ Clayton was a guitarist he would be a legendary figure amongst Birmingham’s musicians with his own star on Broad Street and worldwide fame. But he plays piano, his boogie style making him a unique and highly-respected figure on the European jazz and blues scene. Steve now lives in Germany but still returns home to perform and as part of his annual tour he plays the Adam & Eve in Digbeth on Saturday 15th February. We spoke to him on a rare night off.
“I come home to visit the family and do a few gigs, earn a few Euros, catch up with my old band and have a good time. It’s nice to have a night off at the moment. They’ve all been good gigs, all local around the Midlands so it’s been good to see people remembering me. There’s been some good turnouts.”
How did you end up living in Germany?
“I married my agent. She takes more than 15%, but I do get more gigs. 16 years I’ve been over there now and gigs are a lot harder to come by now – it’s more expensive to live over there, everything seemed to double when the Euro came in. Gigs in Germany though, you get looked after much better. Free drinks, free meals and hotel rooms. Coming back to Britain puts your feet back on the ground.
How often do you return home?
“Three or four times a year. I come back for the Marlborough jazz festival in the summer, then if there’s any other gigs and a couple of longer tours, one at the start of the year then another in the autumn.
What musicians do you notice on your return?
“Some of the old bands are still around but to be honest I’m not close enough to the scene now to take notice of what’s coming through. Joe Bonamassa for example, a lot of the new breed are talking about him but it took me a bit of time to listen to him. I’m very much of the old school though, I prefer the Chicago shuffle, raw, I don’t like it clean. If you don’t get the right feeling it doesn’t matter how technically good you are.
There’s a disappointing lack of small venues in Birmingham compared to your heyday.
“The Actress & Bishop’s gone, the Bear was a great venue, the Adam & Eve is a different crowd now. Tribute bands and free gigs have killed off a lot of the scene; venues will only put on stuff that the audiences know and they won’t pay to see it. I do a lot of my own stuff, but even then people expect me to do Blueberry Hill or play the piano with my foot. It’s a shame because I want to do my own thing a lot of the time but they want what’s familiar.”
Do you ever wish you played guitar?
“No. There’s too many of them. An acoustic guitarist, doing the slow fingerpicking blues stuff, I do admire them but there’s not many piano players around. Lots of keyboard but no pianos. When I was growing up there wasn’t anyone playing blues or boogie piano. I was inspired by Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, all the Chicago stuff but really I was into piano first, then got into blues through my piano teacher. I liked Status Quo; the first boogie I ever learned was Down the Dustpipe and it all went on from there.”
You used to joke that your band were called the 44s because that was their average age. With the passing of the years that’s not a joke anymore is it?
“We could call them the 88s now. We could do Ike Turner stuff – the Rocket 88s.”
Big Man Clayton and the 44s pay the Adam & Eve, Bradford Street, Digbeth on Saturday 15th February. It won’t be the biggest gig in the city this weekend but you’ll do well if you find one that’s more enjoyable.