Interview by Adrian Hextall
Big Boy Bloater & The Limits are getting some serious press at the moment. With great quotes and comments from artists and press alike, it’s no surprise that the big man of the British blues scene is making waves.
“One of the great blues men of our time” – Jools Holland
“I’m a massive fan of Big Boy Bloater” – Imelda May
“Bloater’s a phenomenal guitarist” – Mark Lamarr
“The finest R&B guitarist & singer in the UK” – The Blues Magazine
With a great performance at both Camden Rocks Festival and Ramblin’ Man Fair, the latter allowing Bloat to park his custom Airstream caravan in the main arena for 3 days, MGM took time for a catch up.
AH: A pretty special performance at Camden Rocks this year. A slot early in the day must have left you some time to catch a few other acts?
BBB: I hung around and didn’t see anyone else. I just gravitated the bar with this reprobate really. (A nod across to his partner in crime Lee Puddlefoot from Big Boy Bloater’s record company, Mascot Label Group.)
AH: Ah, so it’s all Lee’s fault then? Fair enough.
BBB: Yes. So we didn’t get any further than that, really. [Laughs].
AH: Now, the sort of recognition that you seen at the moment, whilst in the industry, it seems to have been quite strong over the last year few years. You’ve got the latest album and your first one with Mascot but you’ve been doing this for some time now?
BBB: I put out a few albums before that. Two albums with The Limits before that and then some other albums with much older bands. So, there is other stuff. But I think it’s moved on over the years as well. So for a lot of people coming in, they’re going to like that and think, “Oh, that’s different from what he’s doing now.” So for me, I mean really, you can look back too much. So what I’m doing at the moment and what I’m doing next is what I sort of want to focus on.
For a few years, my previous band was called, Big Boy Bloater and his Southside Stompers, that split in about 2009, something like that. And that was a six-piece sort of 50’s blues type thing. So, that’s saxes and pianos and all that kind of thing. So, it was quite a bit different. This is a bit more experimental, a bit more hard edged, a bit rockier. Still got some roots influences in there. But it could be interesting, just the idea that we can just go where we want musically.
AH: As it stands now, a lot of deep south influences..?
BBB: Yeah, all the way from Portsmouth for the most part.
AH: [Laughs] How about on the US side……
BBB: [Laughing] Yeah, yeah. Of course, yeah. Yeah, definitely a lot of that Americana and roots stuff, is where I came from. Blues is my sort of my first foray into music, I guess. But after a while, like a lot of bands, I see a lot of– a lot of bands in the 60’s, start off as blues, guys like The Stones and Fleetwood Mac. And they all start off with blues. But they moved on after a while. I think I can only do so much with that. So I want to start doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that and see where it goes.
AH: See where it goes to. Help you almost find your own place, your own– gravitate towards your own particular style?
BBB: Not like there’s anything wrong with being a Bluesman at all, of course. But I just found it a little bit restricted after a while. So I want to branch out a bit.
AH: All of a sudden there’s a wealth of it out there as well. So you’re fighting against the tide, to raise your head up above the others?
BBB: I think there’s always been a lot of Blues out there anyway. I think it’s more popular now. It’s more mainstream these days, definitely. Yeah. There’s a lot of good guys out there. But we all do different things. I think it’s all viable. It’s all good stuff.
AH: Before TeamRock went under for a while last year you had your own blues radio show as well, didn’t you? Now that the company has reemerged have you got the show back? Are they reinvigorating that?
BBB: They’re talking about it and might bring it back. I don’t know what’s happening at the moment yet. I’ve had a brief chat with them saying, if they did want to bring it back, I’ll be happy to do it again. And I think they’d be happy to have me back. So if the industry goes back that way again, cool. I’d love to do it again because it’s quite fun. I got to meet a lot of people and hear a lot of music that I might not hear before. So that was the great thing about it. So yeah, hopefully, I’ll be doing something like that again soon.
AH: You’ve got that great voice on the show that just makes everybody smile as we’re listening to you, doesn’t it? There’s a little bit of cheeky humour in there. It’s mixed obviously with the knowledge about the subject. But the balance of the two is presumably perfect for radio.
BBB: [Modestly] I couldn’t possibly say. I mean, I seem to get a lot of nice compliments. So I’ll take those and go with that. But I enjoy doing it. So that’s the main thing. They say, if you can’t enjoy what you’re doing, don’t do it.
AH: And a chunk of referrals and studio sessions and the like with very well-known people. How does that all come about? Have they heard your material previously? Are you known as a session player?
You’ve got great referrals from Jools [Holland], for example. You’ve worked with Sir Paul with Abbey Road as well. I mean they’re the ones that actually stick out by a mile.
BBB: Well, Jools. Yeah, I sent him a CD a few years back. He really likes the track and he played it on his radio show. He invited me onto the show and we played together. He was, on the spur of the moment very gracious. He said, ‘one of the greatest bluesmen of our time’ or something like that. I can’t remember what he said now. So that was just, yeah, it was really nice of him to invite me on the show. It’s– I don’t know, I don’t think too much about it.
AH: It’s a nice prestige piece to get on Jools Holland’s show, though, isn’t it?
BBB: It is. It was super cool. Such a nice guy. We played a couple of songs together. Jammed with his band and he played along. And a chat, very informal chat. He gave me his phone number and he said, “If you ever need anything. Let me know.” He’s a really cool guy.
It was great to have the support of someone who’s so prominent in the music scene in this country, anyway. It’s sort of backing me like that. So yeah, I’m really pleased and proud of that one.
AH: Because he’s one of the critics & musicians as well that the music industry will respect. And if he says something, people will actually take notice, won’t they?
BBB: You would hope so, and I mean, he’s been around long enough. He’s done– he’s worked with– he must be the hardest working musician, really. Given how many acts he’s worked with…… If he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, then– I don’t wear a hat. [For the record, the hat is always present. To the point I’m not sure man and hat can be separated.]
That was several years back and since then, I mean, I think progressively I’ve got better.
AH: When you’re out playing with the guys now, is that still Matt, Dan, Steve and yourself?
BBB: It’s Matt and Steve as you saw it at the Camden Rocks. We sort of streamlined this year. We’ve cut out the keyboards. And we’re doing a couple of different, slightly different things with other bits of technology. So to try and update things a little more. I wanted to change things up a little bit. So we’re just starting to work on the next album. I think there are new slightly different ways to go. So again just pushing it on a little bit.
AH: But that three piece component works well in the live environment, doesn’t it?
BBB: Yeah, but I know that those guys, they are so good at what they do. It’s just– we get together and I’ll say I want to do something. And they do it and it’s just fantastic. It’s none of this endless rehearsing sort of stuff, like– it’s just that they get it straight away.
AH: I was going to say, listening to the two of them playing as you were on stage. You can imagine that you come in to the room, state that ‘I’ve got an idea’ and you just jam it through and then it turns into something.
BBB: It’s almost not even that. What happens is I do some demos and I send them in and I sort of put down some rough, really rough, terrible bass and drums myself. And I take it and they go, “I want to know what you meant to do with this. I can see what you’re trying to do”. And then they do it like sort of things so well. Yeah, they’re very good at interpreting and developing, which is great.
AH: And has that ever sort of changed the whole style or approach to a particular song? Have you gone in with something you thought was say going to be slow and then said, ‘actually no, this is a stomp along absolute belter’ that we’ve got here?
BBB: I can think of one example of the last album. I have turned up with the few chords for a song and I played a tune. And Steve, the bass player said, “That sounds exactly like such and such.” And I went, “Oh God, yeah. It does, doesn’t it?” So we came out and we added an extra chord. Change the chords around a bit and it was like, “Okay, that’s it. “That’s a bit more unique now.” So yeah, it’s great from that point of view. They have that input.
Sometimes you get really close to working something. You’ll be like, “Sounds great, sounds great.” And you don’t realise that they, “Oh, yeah. That’s exactly like a–” something even released by someone else just a couple of years ago.
AH: I suppose that’s a danger these days, isn’t it? There’s so much music out there. So many bands and also the history of music. Something that you might think, “I like the sound of this, could actually be just a flashback memory recollection of something?
BBB: I don’t think there’s anything really new these days, original. I think it’s all pretty much been done. But it’s the way you package it up. Obviously, lyrics. You’ve got a lot of original lyrics. But notes wise, we’ve only got thirteen notes. There are only some many combinations and it’s kind of– all the good ones are being used up, I think. So it’s a case of taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that. So you inject your own persona. And that’s why you come up with your own sound and a new kind of dynamic for it, yeah. It’s tough, yeah. All the good ones are gone.
AH: You say you’re writing a material at the moment. A continuation of Luxury Hobo…?
BBB: A lot of things moving on a little bit. It’s still got some roots in there, still a bit rocky. I always try and move it on some by or other every– raise up the bar. I’ve learned things over the last 18 months since the last album. So try and put that in and new experiences and things like that.
AH: That’s fair enough. I mean the thing on this album, of course, that caught a lot of people’s attention was that it was the video with stop motion animation using LEGO. Obviously, great fun to play and especially live. But how long did video takes to put together? Somebody must have been working on that for months in the background?
BBB: [Laughs] That was actually me that did that. It took me about six weeks. I would’ve liked to take longer, but we had a deadline. So I cut a few corners. I could probably still be working right now, to be honest, and tinkering with it and playing with it. But I think, yeah, getting out and just getting it done was good. It was great.
AH: Perfect throwback sort of the 50’s and the old B movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. That sort of era.
BBB: Exactly. It was one of those sorts of things. It was a lot of those 50’s….
AH: The old drive-ins.
BBB: Yeah. I’m a bit of a fan of some of those B Movies. So it wasn’t too much of a leap for me, really.
AH: To do it yourself, though. I mean that’s a bit of commitment and dedication. I mean, how do you film something like that?
BBB: Yeah. It was a bit of a hobby of mine, anyway, before that song came along. So I was already doing some stuff. I was looking for the next project to do and like I say, it just so happened that at the right time, I wrote this one song and it was like 12 months to figure. And I just, “Oh, it’s got to be done.”
AH: Very cool. Now was that probably the track that has drawn, drew people into the album, to begin with. One of the stand out tracks for me is Robot Girlfriend.
BBB: I think that’s my favourite, actually. I don’t know. That’s one of those songs, I just came up with a bit of a riff. I wanted to introduce a guitar riff I’d mucked about with. Again, I did a rough demo for the guys and play a tune. They went, ” Okay. Yeah. I think we like it.” And as soon as the bass and the drums, I think the keyboard that may actually does that quite a lot to it. It was the groove that really drew all together, I think. It’s all those components. And I love the story of that song. It’s one of those morality tales of like be thankful for what you’ve got and be nice to people kind of thing because otherwise, it’s going to come back on you. And it’s– for me, the whole thing worked. I mean, I think that’s my favourite song on any album.
AH: Given it’s your favourite, it’s a long way into the track list before you get to it.
BBB: Yeah. Well, you know what, it was a tough album for me because they were all– they’re all like your children. You can’t– it’s very hard to pick a favourite song. I don’t know. Yeah. I just– I really believed in a lot of the album and thought– I think a lot of the tracks stand up on their own as a single. So put them in an order was really, really tough decision. And then we had a different order for the vinyl as well.
AH: And why is that? Is that because one set of songs work better as a single side?
BBB: That was– because of the timings had to be roughly the same amount of time on both sides.
AH: Got you. HAHA Okay.
BBB: There’s all sorts of stuff on it really from blues stuff or do you like a lot of the classic 50’s guys like Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters, something like that stuff. So that sort of kind of what I grew up on, a lot of that 50’s blues, rock and roll stuff.
AH: And just on that point. Is your voice natural similar to those two or is it something you’ve worked on?
BBB: Oh, I never worked on it. [Laughs] You’ve got to listen to it. No, I’ve never worked on it. My voice is kind of all or nothing. It’s 11 or off. And that’s it. So, I guess there was only sort of few paths I could go down anyway. I’ll never be going to be in a boy band. I got the looks obviously! But the voice is [Laughs] a bit gruff that sort of thing. You start to find your niche and work with it. Work with what you got, rather than what you haven’t got.
AH: Yeah. So it’s still at its heart a blues album. But it’s got that bounce in it as well. Not what you would normally get from a run of the mill, everything’s gone wrong and I’ve just shot my dog album?
BBB: Exactly. I wake up this morning and my dog’s dead. And actually on Luxury Hobo, the first verse of that was act — it was a proper dig at that. I mean, the first lines are, “I woke up, it’s lunchtime. My baby still here.” I want to introduce an angle, go right against the blues. ‘Robot Girlfriend’, now that could be a disco track. I think it’s got that sort of groove to it.
AH: Final question.. A tour coming up, September and October?
BBB: Yeah. I like to do– I think the way the band works is, we’re not– not as a band, we’d rehearse week after week, no matter what’s going on. There’s nothing going on, we won’t rehearse. So it’s nice to put together a bunch of shows. We’ll do a couple of rehearsals. And we get out there. And it’s all sort of keeping it fresh, rather than just playing through all the time, the whole time. So it’s a good sort of sharp hit of Big Boy Bloater and The Limits rather than just dragging it on kind of thing. So yeah I try and keep a bunch of dates together and really just bang through in.
BIG BOY BLOATER & THE LIMITS TOUR THE U.K. AS FOLLOWS:
Fri 15 Sept
ALDERSHOT – West End Centre, Queen’s Rd, Aldershot
Fri 22 Sept
SHOREHAM – Ropetackle Arts Centre, High Street, BN43 5EG
Sat 23 Sept
*FESTIVAL* KENT BLUESROCK, Red Lion, Gravesend – with The Boom Band & more
Fri 29 Sept
BRISTOL – The Louisiana, Wapping Rd, BS1 6UA
Sat 30 Sept
NEWBURY – Arlington Arts Centre, Mary Hare, Newbury
Thur 05 Oct
NOTTINGHAM – The Maze, Mansfield Rd, NG1 3FT
Fri 06 Oct
GLASGOW – Stereo, Renfield Lane, Glasgow
Sat 07 Oct
PRESTON – The Continental Club, South Meadow Lane, PR1 8JP
Sun 08 Oct
BIRMINGHAM – The Dark Horse, Moseley
Thur 12 Oct
SHEFFIELD – Greystones, Greystones Rd
Fri 13 Oct
DARLINGTON – The Forum, Darlington R&B Club, Borough Road
Sat 14 Oct
HULL – The New Adelphi, Hull
MORE DETAILS HERE: