Monday, April 3, 2017

Good Day For The Blues - Blues Enthused meets Stevie Nimmo

It’s Sunday in the Green Hotel, Kinross, following the Stevie Nimmo Trio’s March show in the hotel’s cosy Backstage venue the night before, and as agreed after the gig Mr Nimmo strolls into the lobby at the pre-arranged time - what he colourfully described as “the arse end of the morning” - to meet me for a chat.  We find a quiet corner, I get the recorder rolling, and we ease in with a simple question - how’s the UK tour going?

Alright, aye.  It’s about ten dates in, something like that now, eight dates in?  It’s been pretty good so far, picking up as it goes along.  The numbers are going up as publicity starts, social media kicks in, people start realising “Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s on now.’’

Are you still finding there are people discovering last year’s album SkyWon’t Fall for the first time?

Yeah yeah, every night.  You get a lot of people say this is the first time they’ve seen you.  And then you go back through how they’ve discovered it, and a lot of it links to King King of course.  But a lot of it links to Thunder.  Thunder fans saw King King supporting them, and they thought “We like this”.  Then they checked it out online, found the Nimmo Brothers, and then found this.  It’s all good!

The Stevie Nimmo Trio - don't mention the 'R Word'!
 Have the live versions of the songs changed much over the last year?  I got the feeling some of the solos had taken different turns.

Some of them have, especially the one we do near the end, ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’.  On the album we kept it down to a minimum, but it’s one of those live songs you can just go off on a tangent.

I always thought of it being really funky.  But actually, regardless of the inclusion of the snippet of ‘Jessica’, which I’ve heard you do before, there’s quite a Southern rock feel to it isn’t there?

Aye, It’s a funny one, ‘cause I think when I wrote it, it had the funk – almost the soul-funk -  thing in it.  But then as the live thing progressed it just changed.

Craig Bacon does a great job on that, he gives it a lot of swing, and he’s all over the drum kit.

Aye, it’s important.  He’s all over it, but he’s not in your face with it, he just keeps it going – aye they’re good boys.

And you added something new to your set last night, ‘River Of Tears’?

It’s not my own song unfortunately – it’s Eric Clapton.

What encouraged you to do that?

I’ve been a massive Eric Clapton fan for years.  He’s one of these guys that, whenever I’m doing interviews and stuff, it gets overlooked. And even myself, I overlook it.  But then recently we’ve been talking about stuff, we were sitting talking between ourselves in the band, and Eric Clapton & Friends came up, from 1985 I think it was when he had Phil Collins on drums, and that came up and I started to realise that was probably the first video where I thought ‘Man, I wanna do this!’. You know I remember trying to learn ‘Holy Mother’, which is a Clapton song on that.  And then I started to realise what an influence Clapton has been all the way through.  And that song, I’ve loved it since it came out.

Is this part of your ‘find a different cover version’ approach, for future reference?  Because you’ve talked about liking to select less well known ones.

That’s it, yeah.  If you’re a Clapton fan you know that song, but if you’re not so much of a Clapton fan . . .  it was never a single, it was on Pilgrim, the album, which I think is fantastic but a lot of people don’t like it because it’s not very bluesy for Clapton.  When was it, in the Nineties sometime?  [It was 1998.]  It was a very produced album.  Simon Climie did it with him and it was very pop.  Steve Gadd was on it, but Steve Gadd did all the drum programming – now that already puts people off, you know?  But it’s a great album with great songs. ‘Change The World’ was the big song he had on it, and ‘My Father’s Eyes’.  But that song ‘River Of Tears’ has just always been a favourite of mine for years and years.  And we thought about it – well I did.  And then because I’m not a big fan of rehearsals – or the ‘R Word’ as the boys in the band like to call it, so that they don’t upset me – what we tend to do is, if there’s new material coming in, we tend to do it at sound checks.  ‘Cause I believe that’s the best environment to do it, you’re in the environment you’re going to be in on the night.  So we’ve been sound checking it for the last week or so, and we thought let’s just play it last night.

It’s quite a lyrical kind of guitar intro, if that’s the right word, and it takes its time.

Yeah, it goes on for a while.  If you listen to the original we’re doing it by the book, like Clapton did it, because – I know I’ve said this before, but with cover versions I do like to select them, but I don’t necessarily want to put my own twist on them.  I don’t believe I can better it, I just want to do it because it’s a nice tune.  Same with ‘Gambler’s Roll’, we do that almost note for note.

It felt to me like you’d reined that one in a bit, compared to when I’ve seen you do it before.

‘Gambler’s Roll’? No, ‘Gambler’s Roll’ is one of those songs, you could put a timer on it and it’s exactly the same time every night, because we play to click as musicians, so the songs are counted off at the same tempo every night, and it doesn’t move.  So that song has a start, middle and end, there’s no jamming on that one.  It might sound like it, but it’s exactly the same time every night, to the second.

There's nothing worse than trying to play a solo with an itchy nose
So, picking out a new cover like that, are you starting to think about material for a new album?

Oh that’s it, yeah.  I had a word with the record company a couple of weeks ago, and they're good for doing another album – his words were, “As soon as you bring me the material we’ll go in and do it”.  So the plan is, I think it’s October, we’re going to go in and record it, to bring out about this time next year – February, March, springtime.

That’s a long wait . . .

It seems like that, but honest to god, for me that time will be gone in a flash, it really will.  So we’ve got another UK tour in September – October, and what we’ll do is exactly the same as we did for Sky Won’t Fall, which is on the days off from the tour we’ll get in the studio and get it done, because you’re all warmed up.  You’re in the zone.  But as soon as he told me that I wrote four songs, so I’m four songs in!

And you had some material left over from the last one?

I had one acoustic one that I’ve left in.  There was another one that was written acoustically, but I might turn it into one of those country ones again, so I might just embellish it with the band.

And did you have a recording of Big George Watt’s ‘The Storm’ in the can?

No, we didn’t do it.  We’re still hesitating on that one.  It’s such a long song, and I refuse to condense it. It’s one of those songs that was written like that, you know, with the parts, and it needs it.

I never saw Big George, but funnily enough my girlfriend’s brother used to have a recording studio in Glasgow, and he engineered All Fools Day.  And he talks about the two of them having been in the studio at three in the morning, well drunk, recording the vocals and the guitar solo for ‘Ain’t Nothing Left But The Blues’, which is one of his more rocking blues songs.  But ‘The Storm’ is one of those songs that has a kind of universality to it, it’s really taking you somewhere.

Yeah, it’s such a simple song, you know? On YouTube of all things I found a bootleg, an audio bootleg that a sound engineer from Scotland somewhere had found.  And he said he’d forgotten about this, and he put it up.  And it started off and it was ‘The Storm’ – and then the words were completely different.  George was just making it up – you could tell he was just making it up!  But that must have been where ‘The Storm’ was born, basically.  He obviously wrote a song around it, and then went and recorded it.  It’s amazing, a mesmeric song – it’s two chords!  Again, as a musician, there’s two chords in that song.

But it’s what he does with it.

Yeah, it’s a lovely song.

So do you ever have “eureka” moments when you’re writing?  If you’re doodling around, and you come up with a riff, and you just think right away: “That one’s a winner.”

Stevie Nimmo and some other guy
Well, I’m kinda very brutal when it comes to my songwriting.  They either all do that to me, or it gets chucked in the bin.  You know, if I don’t feel it right away then I stop.  I just go, “I’m no’ getting anywhere with this.  This is not going to be good enough for me.”  So I put it away.  I’ll either completely put it away, or occasionally I’ll have come back to it and grabbed a piece from that song, and went, “Hang on, that goes with that,” fused them together, written another bit around it, and made another song out of it – that kind of thing.  But I’m very self-critical when it comes to songwriting.  I really do – I don’t have an ego, I don’t need it stroked, I don’t need my back slapped, and patted and all that.  If I think it’s a good enough song then that’s alright for me.  You know, I don’t think everyone else should think it is.  But if I let it pass that litmus test, if you know what I mean, then I believe it’s as strong as I can do.  And if I put that out then I can only do my best, and if people like then great, and if they don’t that’s fine.  But I know that I’ve not put it out as a bad tune, badly played.

Filler . . .

Nah, I don’t do that – any more.  In the past I might have put one or two, with my brother – not even fillers, we wrote songs.  But we did say, we need a shuffle blues here, or we need a slow blues here, and we kinda wrote to formula for it.  It’s not to say we didn’t write a song – still decent songs – but now I just think I’m gonna write songs and put them out.  Because my style’s been formed now, I don’t need to think about it.  And I think people have accepted that, which is good.  They let me play what I want to play.

You say a style, but you manage to incorporate different things, which takes me on to the next question.  It’s well documented about you and your brother Alan being introduced to the classic rock and blues stuff by your mum.  But you love country music and Americana – so where did that come from?

You know, I can’t remember who introduced me to that.  It was probably the Eagles, because the essence of the Eagles is country music.  So that would go back to the house again.  That was always on in our house, the Eagles.  So yeah, I would say the Eagles, and that pushed me towards the harmonies.  The harmonies drew me towards country music.  So that drew me in.  And then – the old style country I’m no’ that much of a fan of, I can appreciate it but it’s not my thing, you know.  But then some of the more modern stuff came out – you know, Rascal Flatts and all that kind of stuff.  And I like all that kind of stuff, and it’s the harmonies more than anything.  And then you start listening to it, and you realise how wonderful these musicians are.  I mean, they’re outstanding.

Friends of mine were at the Zac Brown Band last night in Glasgow, and I was as jealous as could be.  I love that band.  The Zac Brown Band, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard them, they’re a country band by name.  [I hadn’t, to be honest, so for anyone else in the same boat, check out this video of ‘JumpRight In’.]  But you listen to that and you’d go, “Where’s the country?”  It’s just rock – Southern rock.  That link is there, isn’t it?  ‘Freebird’, and all that?  ‘Sweet Home Alabama’?  There’s a country thing in there as well.

So – your first solo album Wynds Of Life leaned in that direction, with a kind of semi-acoustic sound, and you recorded it in Austin, Texas.  How did that come about?

It was the record company I was with, Armadillo Music, at the time.  They, for whatever reason, had started recording out there.  I don’t know how it first got introduced to them, but first and foremost they got on really well with the team out there.  And then secondly they could actually do an album out there cheaper than they could in the UK. Now that was just crazy.  So because it was just me going out, it was way cheaper just to put me on a flight out to Austin.

But the notion of it, the direction you took . . .

That was already there.

You’d done New Moon Over Memphis before with Alan, hadn’t you, which was acoustic?

You see that was already there.  And I really do enjoy the acoustic thing, I really do.  I enjoy sitting with an acoustic guitar, I enjoy doing little spiels before the songs, having a chat in that intimate environment.  But I tried doing it live, and I’m not gonna lie, I couldn’t pull a big enough crowd.  So if you can’t pull a big enough crowd then no-one’s going to keep doing it, and you have to say, “Right, okay, it’s not happening.”

The album was a semi-acoustic rather than a purely acoustic thing though, wasn’t it?

Yeah – the songs were already written in that kind of style anyway.  But the musicians made it even more so.  The guys out there just put that twist on it, and it got transformed into something else, which was amazing.

And part of them doing it cheaper is that they nail it in a couple of days.

Aye – the guys were just really, really good players, you know?  Top level, absolutely.  The guy that produced it, Pat Manske, he pulled out what he called his ‘A List’ players for it.  And they really were.  The bass player [George Reiff] had been on tour with the Dixie Chicks.  The keyboard player [Michael Ramos] had been out with Robert Plant and the Dixie Chicks.

Was that a bit daunting, when you could see what these guys could do?

Naw, no.  They were just sitting here like you and me, right now.  And that was one thing, I say it in
Stevie Nimmo cooking up a storm at Oran Mor in Glasgow, 2016
live shows, but I learned a lot from those guys.  You know, I’ve always been humble in my way of life – each to their own, and all that kind of stuff.  I’ll no’ let someone stand all over me, don’t get me wrong, but – I never criticise other people’s music.  Each person does what they do, and if they believe in it then I’m a fan.  I might not like it, but that’s music – taste.  But these guys were like, “how’re you doin’,” laid it down, and that was it.  And then they were off playing with other people who were playing in stadiums.  They were professionals – they didn’t differentiate between me, and Eric Clapton.

Yeah, you’re the guy who’s paying the rent today . . .

Exactly!  If you want to look that way, that’s one way.  But also – you’re the musician I’m working with today.  Because their fee is their fee, they’ll be getting the same from everyone.  They were so easy to work with, it was a pleasure.

You obviously listen to all sorts of stuff, people that I’ve never heard of, and I listen to a lot of music.  So who are you and they guys listening to on your travels just now?

What am I on at the moment?  I’ve been listening to a lot of Tedeschi Trucks – I’ve been listening to Made Up Mind, the one with the buffalo on the front.  That one, you see, when I heard it at first it didn’t hit me – it was a grower.  The third one I struggled with, but Made Up Mind – I’ve got that on constantly.  And I’m starting to listen to a little bit of this guy Marcus King, who Warren Haynes has been championing a lot, a young fella.  Again, Southern rock.  And I always jump back into the Allman Brothers and stuff like that.  But I listen to a lot of stuff, like modern stuff – Ed Sheeran, he’s a strange beast, but he’s a very talented guy.

I don’t know if you’ve come across Matt Andersen, a Canadian guy, who’s coming to Britain in May.

A big guy?  I think I might have heard some of his stuff.

I’ve been listening to his latest album, and it finishes with a track called ‘One Good Song’, where he says that all the ups and downs of a musician’s life are worth it, if you find yourself that one good song.  Are there any of yours that you look at, and you think, “If there’s nothing else, there’s that one.”

Ha ha!  Er, no actually.  I kind of think in recent years most of the songs I’ve written have been personal songs, so they’ve all meant something.  In the past I might have written songs with someone else in mind, or written it through the eyes of someone else – I’ve done that before, take someone else’s life, and look at it through their eyes and write as that person.  It’s not me, but I can touch on it.  But all the recent ones I’ve written are all of equal standing for me.  There’s nothing on Sky Won’t Fall that I go, “if I was to do that album again tomorrow I wouldn’t put that on it”.  Nothing at all.  Wynds Of Life?  There’s one or two songs maybe I would change how I did it, but I wouldn’t do other songs.  So I’m proud of all of them really.  I don’t think I have one that stands out.

That personal connection point is interesting.  Because the blues and soul music, that’s what it purports to be.  But a lot of the time people can be going through the motions, lyrically.

I think so, sometimes.

Whereas you, and Alan I would say, there’s an element of – this is real, we’re really writing about relationships, and emotions, and the music becomes part of that as well.

Yeah.  One of the songs on Wynds Of Life, the very last song, ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ I think it’s called, it’s just me and the guitar.  And that was a really personal song about having been unwell, and the thoughts you have when you’re unwell.  So I just put it all on paper, and recorded it.  And at the very few acoustic shows I have done, I’ve done that, and one woman came up at the end and she started crying.  And I thought, “Oh, shit!”  And she said “No no no.  I’ve suffered with the same kind of illness, and I had every one of those thoughts that you put down in that song.  Every one of them.  And the fact that I’m standing here, watching you having been through it, and you’re still there, gives me hope.”  And I thought “Man – that’s huge!”  You know, that’s huge, that transcends everything musically, that’s human touch.  And I thought that’s what it’s all about.  So going back to your question, that’s probably one of the songs that seems to have touched someone’s life very importantly.  So that’s probably one of the songs that I would say meant something to other people as well as me – which I suppose is what every artist strives to do, isn’t it?

And I guess you don’t get that feedback all the time, about things that have really made a connection . . .

No – not that I want people to cry all the time!  [Laughs]

No, it can be fun too.  For example my partner raves about ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’ – she loves that to bits.

That’s a funny one, because that again is a very personal song.  But because of how the music is, it sounds kinda “Oh yeah, here we go”.  But lyrically it means a lot, you know?  People take people for granted, and we don’t realise we’re doing it, and that’s what it's all about.  It’s like one day you look and think – “You’re still here, and you’ve put up wi’ me for so long, and I don’t tell you this enough.”

And Stevie Nimmo having put up with me for long enough, we then started to wrap things up, exchange some final pleasantries, and get ready to go our separate ways.

Sky Won’t Fall was the studio album that really hit the bullseye for me in 2016.  It was a pleasure to have the chance to chat with its maker, and a more straightforward, accommodating gent than Stevie Nimmo you could hardly hope to meet.  Now here’s looking forward to that next album in Spring 2018!

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