RED BUTLER from Brighton (UK) play an amalgam of blues styles (think classic Etta James) thrillingly mixed with modern interpretations of blue-tinged rock reminiscent of Glasgow’s King King.
Their songs — for example ‘Last Page Of The Blues’ — are feverish hot, and played fiercely and sensually by Alex on lead guitar, with oily-smooth bass-work from Mike Topp. And dynamic rhythms setting a vigorous pace, from the endearing Charlie Simpson on drums.
Vocalist Jane Pearce never stops moving and grooving. She has more energy than a king-snake trapped in a bucket… Spiraling, arching and tantalizing her way through every beat of every song.
We met up with the band at the excellent Ilfracombe Blues Festival after it was announced that Red Butler will be representing the UK in the 6th European Blues Challenge (to be held in Tuscany, Italy next April, 2016.) The band won the 2nd UK Blues Challenge on Saturday 24th October 2015 at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton, Surrey.
We started our conversation by discussing their relative youth. How did they fit into the relatively ‘senior’ British Blues scene? (The average age of Red Butler is just 22. The founder member of the band, their astonishing lead guitarist, Alex Butler, is only 21.) How would they get younger fans to ‘connect’ with Blues Music and how would they get the young to come and see their live shows?
“We try to avoid playing old, slow blues songs. If you take the blues, like we do, and cross-it (like we do) and we spice it up a little, then you can get some younger people. It’s also how we market the shows. For us, it’s all about image and energy. So, for example, if we had marketed our shows as ‘Come listen to our Blues band’ then [younger audiences] wouldn’t turn up. Perhaps, if we said, ‘Come listen to our Rock Blues band…’ Then they would hear the word ‘Rock‘ first and they might be interested… ”
“If we told our fans ‘We’re playing a blues festival…’ They would say ‘We don’t wanna come!” But if we say, ‘We’ve got a gig in Brighton, come and see us…’ They might turn up. If we spoke to fans after the show, and we asked ‘What style of music do we play?’ They would probably answer ‘We don’t know!’ If we asked them, ‘Is it blues?’ They would say, probably, ‘No.’ And that’s because young people see the ‘Blues’ as basically 12-bars. Or they think it’s gonna be one guy on stage with an acoustic guitar, and that’s it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and young people need to know that it happened (Blues happened) and we want to help them appreciate and understand that. ”
“And, with our songwriting, we think that it’s important to write about something that’s happened to us, something we understand, rather than inventing a tale. That’s why it’s hard for us to play covers. Because we are then trying to convey what someone else was thinking. Though it’s nice to have a few covers. And we do our own versions… ”
“But if we play something that we’ve written as a band, we ‘feel’ it more. We understand where it ‘came’ from. We care about it more. ”
Are all the band members involved in the songwriting process?
“Yes very much. We are always jamming in rehearsals. And writing down new ideas. Quite often we can write a song, have an idea for it, either Jane writes the lyrics or we all write something together and then piece it together. Normally, the music comes first. Always together. And then comes a lot of rehearsing. ”
What’s it like having the responsibility to represent the UK at the European Blues Challenge?
“We have got a lot of preparation to do. In fact we have just had a big meeting. We are talking about not only playing (and the importance of playing and how we do it) but also the logistics of actually getting there [Tuscany.] And it’s such a big thing! So many people wanna come! So we are now talking about flying out and then sending a bus full of people from England. Of course, it’s about a day’s drive (24 hours.) But we’ll get people there! And the atmosphere for the band is incredible. Because so many people are wishing us well with it. It’s amazing the support we have had. ”
“And it still doesn’t even feel real! For us, the first thing is to have fun! And hopefully that comes across in our shows. ”
“And we know the competition will be big. Britain has never won it… There’s gonna be some incredible talent there. But we are just going to go and have as much fun as we can… and put everything into it. Like we did at Boom Boom Club. We always do our best. And it’s fair to say that we often ‘rise to an occasion’ so we say “Bring on the pressure!” We feel like musical Olympians! ”
What is the secret of the band’s success?
“We are a band. We are hanging around together. We spend a lot of time as ‘a band.’ We talk about a lot of stuff. We have a lot of laughs. We have found that the closer you are off stage, the more it shows on stage. Often, after a theatre show, we go back to the hotel and we have a great laugh. Quite often we end up fitting four people into a [Travelodge Hotels] room! Which is just hilarious. We have fun, we have a lot of laughs. We share the god times and the bad times, too. We know that every member of the band is pulling their weight… and that’s what matters. And that ‘togetherness’ impacts on our stage performance. ”
“We all view being ‘a band’ so important. It sounds clichéd but, if one of us couldn’t do a gig, we probably wouldn’t do the show. It might sound naive and dreamy… but that’s what we thrive on, on stage. ”
Describe to those that haven’t seen your performance, what the Red Butler show is like…
“We each have our own personality on stage which we think we can look forward to developing more. We are gonna eventually be like Kiss… We are all gonna have our own ‘face’ ! ” [All laugh.]
So, along with prepping for the European Blues Challenge, what else is happening?
“We are recording in January. It’s very exciting. We are dying to play our new material… We want to try it out. Once the album is out (probably March) we will be able to play the material. We might do a few pre-release shows. Just to build up hype. ”
“And, like we were discussing before, so much of this album release is about trying to grab the attention of young people. It’s pretty much one of our biggest focuses. When you look at the musical genres you will see that Blues (as a genre) is falling behind. Country music now has louds of young followers. Jazz even has young followers. And we ask ourselves, why has blues music fallen so far behind in popularity? Because, what we play is closer related to Led Zeppelin or the Foo Fighters than, say, Robert Johnson.”
“But, to be honest, if blues artists want young people in their audiences (no matter what age the band members are) they need to think seriously about dropping the 20-minute guitar solos from their sets. And they also have to realize that young people will not want to see slow blues songs. Those things don’t ‘do it’ for young people. ”
“Blues musicians need to know their audiences, be creative with their marketing, and get out there and move it a bit (for the young audiences.) A good example of doing it well is Jack White. The O2 arena was packed out when he recently played there. And the audience were all young. Yet he plays predominantly blues. Full of young people – singing the music back to him! The Strypes are another good example. They are, pretty much, a blues band. Yet they pack out venues. ”
Anything else to tell us?
“Yes, we have a tour supporting Danny Bryant in February, 2016. He’s a really great bloke and we are really looking forward to that tour. It’s about a 12 date tour… ” (details below).
We can’t wait to hear the new album and we look forwards to seeing you on the Danny Bryant tour.
Thank you, Red Butler.