Sunday, August 26, 2018

Labour Of Love - Blues Enthused speaks to Chris Bevington about his dream blues project

That line “If you build it they will come,” from the movie Field Of Dreams, may not quite hit the mark, but it’ll do.
Seven years ago, at the age of 50, semi-professional bassist Chris Bevington had an idea, and now he’s on the phone to tell me the story.  After years of gigging with blues bands across the north-west of England, there was a bundle of favourite blues songs he’d love to record with a big band, just for his own pleasure.  But, as he puts it, “I knew that the bands I was in at the time, or I’d been in, probably wouldn’t get it.”
The Chris Bevington Organisation - this ain't no power trio
Pics courtesy of Netty G
There were some other musicians he knew though, or at least knew of, who would at least understand the idea. People like Jim Kirkpatrick from the band FM, and producer and multi-instrumentalist Scott Ralph, among others.  Would they maybe agree to contribute?  No harm in asking, he thought.
“But to be honest,” he laughs, “I was expecting people to say, ‘Nah, I’m alright thanks!’  Nicely, you know.  Or, ‘I’m a but busy, but if you get stuck . . . .’  But they didn’t – it was bizarre.  All these people said,  ‘Yeah I’ll come and do it with you.  Tell me when you want me, and send me the tracks.’  So I booked us in to do three songs in a local studio, with the idea that it would either work or it wouldn’t, and even if it worked people might not stay with it after, and then after a few months those three songs became eleven!”
At this stage the recordings were still just intended to be for the ears of Bevington and his pals. But then someone persuaded him that the end product was good enough for public consumption.
“So I packaged it up and that was the first album.  Then it went out and I was reallynervous,” he recalls.  And lo and behold, the self-titled Chris Bevington & Friends was well received. “Which was really good - I was really taken aback by all the lovely comments.  Then we started gigging, and it went from there, playing different venues and festivals.  It’s been really quite incredible.  And the band has stuck pretty much together, all the major players.”
A second album from Chris Bevington & Friends followed, and then – from the re-christened Chris Bevington Organisation – one of the most enjoyable blues albums of this year, in the form of Cut And Run.
“The third album is obviously all our own stuff,” says Bevington, “which I was delighted about. The first album was pretty much covers of blues tracks, but the third album’s our own, which is a different game, and I’ve really enjoyed that, we all have.”
As they should, because Cut And Run is a fresh and vibrant slab of rocking blues, delivered by a nine-piece band, that’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Chris Bevington may have his name on the tin, but he’s open about the fact that Scott Ralph and Jim Kirkpatrick have been increasingly at the helm.  All 12 songs on Cut And Run were written by the pair, and Ralph produced it with some additional input from Kirkpatrick.  So
how did they get going down that road, I ask.
“Well to begin with,” he says, “they only knew of one another.  But it was only when we did the first album, and then the second album, that they hit it off.  They never met one another when they did the first album, because they went in the studio at different times.  Then when they did actually meet they got on like a house on fire – and not only did they do the project we’ve got, but they’re helping one another with other projects.  Scott does FM recording, and all manner of stuff, and they became good friends.  And that’s really cemented it, because then they became a driving force for the third album.
Jim Kirkpatrick and Scott Ralph give it some welly
“Both of them came to me,” he goes on, “and they said let’s go for it.  ‘We’ll get to Christmas,’ – this was Christmas 2016 – ‘and then we’ll start writing.’  And then they went in the studio for three months I think, wrote the twelve tracks, and then brought us all in, and said ‘What do you think?’ and What can we do with this?’ and changed things around.  But they basically are a real powerhouse together – they’re good friends, very professional, they work well together because of the styles of the singing, and the guitar playing.  Having them at the helm has been brilliant.”
But even if Ralph and Kirkpatrick are in the pilots’ seats, the Chris Bevington Organisation is still very much an ensemble affair, as the man himself makes clear when I ask him how he’d describe their sound.
“I think we dip into the different styles of blues, but the emphasis is really on the big sound, to bring in all the brass and all the vocals.  So it’s got that big band sound, but what we try to do is keep an element of that raw slide guitar, so some numbers are more raw.  But in saying that we try to put some technique in there with the shuffles or the drum solos.
“So it does flick across the different styles, but the emphasis was really the big sound, and giving every musician the chance to shine – it’s the first album that every musician got the chance to really playon, if you know what I mean, wrote their own parts and all that, whether it was the horns or the backing vocals.  So everybody was given their space, and then Scott would be there to give advice.  But it was real teamwork, proper teamwork, nobody really demanding anything.  So I think that’s why I was pleased with the album, because I think every member of the band picks it up and thinks, ‘I really contributed to that.’”
I ask if it’s been particularly interesting for Bevington to see this whole process up close, and how Ralph and Kirkpatrick have pulled it all together.  I’m guessing that until he started this project, he’d never really had an insight into how real pros would do it.
“You know, that’s such a good question,” he reflects.  “Because it’s dead true.  When I started the project, I had no experience at all in the studio to speak of, apart from putting bass guitar down on a few recordings with other people. And it’s been a real eye opener, and I’ve really enjoyed watching the process – all kinds of things.  A fascinating thing for me is layering the tracks – which come in first, how to bring in the sounds – and where they bring in a lot of percussion to build up the vibe, and all these different types of instruments.  And they work so well together – because sometimes, honestly, I was probably a little bit lost, I was out of my depth listening to what they were talking about. But you could tell they were that in tune with one another, and Jim’s got such an ear for it as well.  But yeah, we spent many hours, I did, just sat there listening and trying to learn a bit.  And you could see the technique - and you know, they’re clever people. Scott’s clever with all the technology as well.”
Beyond all the technique though, Scott Ralph evidently had a creative vision.
“Scott said one of his objectives for the album was that he wanted to get a very live, 70s sound. And he was on a bit of a mission, to get the drum sound he got, and he did all kinds of things with my bass sound – it was through a valve rig and we did all kinds of things – but he had a vision in his mind of what he wanted it to sound like.  And he’d explained it to me the Christmas before, and he stuck by it all the way through.  Him and Jim had this view, that it’d got to be a little bit of a Seventies sound, with the big drum feel and all that sort of stuff.  And that’s a producer really, isn’t it?  He knew what he was aiming for, and all the way through the album he was making sure it was what he wanted.”
And credit where it’s due, Ralph has created a sound that unifies the whole album.  As I observe to Chris, it’s got an old-fashioned, bluesy, earthy feeling, but manages to be bright at the same time.  Skinsman Neil McCallum must be delighted with the thumping drum sound, the horns from Mike Yorke and Adrian Gibson are given plenty of room to shine, and the backing vocals by Sarah Miller and Kate Robertson slot in perfectly to add another dimension to several songs.  If you’re looking for a comparison, something like Paice Ashton Lord’s track ‘Dance With Me Baby’ springs to mind – which also happened to feature Jim Kirkpatrick’s chum Bernie Marsden.
Not your average 'geezer with a guitar' album cover
On a different creative note, Cut And Run also has an attractive and distinctive album cover.  Unlike your typical blues cover photo of a bloke posing with a guitar, it features a photograph of an old building, just as its two Chris Bevington & Friends predecessors did.  So how did that come about?  Bevington laughs.
“Well, on the first album, I went for a bit of a decrepit building look – it was in New York, and a photographer in New York, and I bought the photos off him.  One was a very derelict building.  And that came about from me with no real plan in mind. Number two was when Scott Ralph was producing, with Jim, some guy in Neary, in Ireland, and the second album cover was actually a picture of a house there.  It looked so authentic, and we got a bit of a feel for it, so I said yeah that’s fine, we’ll go for that.  And then for this latest one, Scott’s got a property in Portugal which he’s doing up, and he just so happened to walk past the house that’s on the cover.  And I gave it to a graphic designer, Michelle Lyons, who was super, and I said, ‘What would you do with that?’  And that’s the design she came back with.”
The new album also involved a rebranding of the band as the Chris Bevington Organisation.  So what brought that about, I wonder? Turns out it was Jim Kirkpatrick’s idea.
“Because Jim’s got quite a few contacts in the business,” Bevington explains, “people had said to him, ‘Don’t mind the name, but the “and Friends” sounds like a get together of musicians who are not necessarily a band,’ you know?  So Jim came along and said, why don’t we change the name and make it sound a bit more business-like?  And to be honest, I was saying to them, I felt they were the musicians, so did they want to keep the name the same, or come up with a band name? Because I’m not precious about it in any way.  But they wouldn’t change the name, with me in it.”
Which is a real compliment, I suggest.
“I know.  But I felt a bit awkward at the start, because I didn’t want it to seem like I was the
Chris Bevington - plenty to smile about
Pic courtesy of Netty G
big name, when there’s Jim and Scott and the rest of them.  But they said no, so we changed it to the Organisation, and changed the website and all that, and they just thought it would sound a bit more like we were a band, and not some jazz collaboration.”
The strong impression I have from speaking with Chris Bevington is of a very humble guy when it comes to his musical contribution.  But he does admit that in other respects it’s been a labour of love on his part.
“Over the time, I suppose I’ve put a lot of my heart and soul into it,” he says, “and money as well, and I’ve always tried to make it as good as I could, in a nice way.  So when we’ve gone in the studio, we’ve spent the right amount of time.  We haven’t skimped it.  And everybody’s been like that.  So we’re all out to do the very best we can do.  Scott’s recorded it and produced it with Jim, and everybody’s got involved, but I was desperately trying to make it something that we would be proud of.”
He may not be the front man of the Chris Bevington Organisation in a traditional sense, but in my book Bevington has every reason to be proud of bring into existence the band that bears his monicker.  He built it, they came, and the results are mightily impressive.  I’m counting the days till I see them live.

You can find an interview with Scott Ralph by a fellow blogger here.

The Chris Bevington Organisation are appearing at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival on Friday 28 September.

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