Introduction – what is Roots & Fusion..?
As this is my first (ever) blog, I guess an introduction is in order.
For the past eight years I have presented Roots & Fusion out of Stockport, England, a show built up around the links between genres – basically, “if you like that, you’ll like this…”. I haven’t studied music, or spent much time reading about international music connections, but I did spend almost ten years working in a specialist music shop throughout the 90’s…
Listed about midway in the Independent’s top 50 UK best independent record shops, Decoy Records was cited as the shop most closely resembling the one in Nick Hornsby’s Hi Fidelity. To this day I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing.
But, what was most definitely a good thing was the huge amount of music from all over the world I listened to during those years. Jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass, Cajun, zydeco, country, reggae, soul, funk, traditional and fusion music from every continent. It was during this time that I realized that the Appalachian banjo sounded similar to the West African Kora, for instance, and they’re both linked to the blues.
Now, there is no easy way to say this, but I believe that a rather large amount of the record buying public can be quite unthinkingly blinkered in their attitudes towards music. For some this is fine, there are people who do actually know and like what they like and that’s it. But there are those who say they like blues and only blues for instance, but would enjoy Bela Fleck’s banjo playing if they heard it in context. And this is the trick. If you played any self respecting John Lee Hooker fan a track off Bela Fleck’s Drive album, you would probably get one of those sideways glances that says, thanks, but have you got any Muddy Waters..?
But, if you played JLH and then followed it with something a little older, maybe Skip James or Mississippi John Hurt, then further back – Gus Cannon maybe – you could then move over into Hank Williams Jr and before you know it Flatt & Scruggs and up to date with Bela Fleck…
And that’s mostly what Roots & Fusion is about. www.rootsandfusion.com
Personal gigs (or Roots & Fusion sessions)
Over the course of the show, many musicians have come to record sessions. The sessions feature not only local artists, but international too. One of my favourite stories is about Ruth Roshan, a tango influenced singer & mandolin player from Australia.
I’d come across Ruth’s music thanks to a Leonard Cohen cover hidden away on a blues compilation and we’d started talking via email. I remember she said she had a concert in St Petersburg booked and that, as she was in the neighbourhood (it’s all about perspective), she would drop in and see some friends in London, which is just down the road from Stockport (about 200 miles… ), so would it be okay if she came to see me and have a chat in the studio? This was marvellous – I had fallen in love with her voice & playing and so we arranged a date.
The morning of the session dawned. I turned up early with my sound engineer ready to record this incredible artist. Bang on 11am she arrived, all smiles and happy. Just her. No mandolin. “Oh”, she said, “I didn’t realize you wanted me to play…” So we recorded a chat instead…
Credit to her though, she has come back twice more since then, with her mandolin, and recorded alongside a guitarist who she had never met before. The first was with Ben Walker, a multi-instrumentalist living in Darwin, Lancs and the second time was with Mike Rolland, singer-songwriter from the Fylde coast.
Each time, the duo met a couple of hours before the session, and then recorded some lovely music together.
I am always humbled by the attitude of these artists who give their time, effort & music at their own cost to give me a personal gig. Sorry, Roots & Fusion session…
One to watch – the voice of Anne Sumner
I am always happy to receive recommendations from listeners – especially as I already know they have good taste…
Last year I got a message from Mark Flanagan, a friend of the show, who had been at an open mic night and heard a couple of songs from a singer / guitarist by the name of Anne Sumner. Seems she had played numerous small gigs over a few years around Surrey way, but never had her music played on the radio. This was in part because she had never actually sent any off, for fear of rejection.
Now let’s get one thing straight right here – Anne Sumner has an incredible voice. I was stunned. So I told Mark I would play some of Anne’s music in the next show. What happened then was one of those moments that make this whole thing worthwhile. Turns out Mark hadn’t actually told Anne that he’d sent me her music. They were in a wine bar in Surrey where she plays regularly on the night of the show – Mark had managed to get the show played through the PA system and Anne had burst into tears when she heard her song. I was told she was actually crying into her pint…
Since then, I have played more of her music on the show, and she has also come up and recorded a session. When she first started singing, I remember my sound engineer and I just looked at each other with stunned open mouths… To experience this incredible musician singing her heart out not six feet from me was something I will cherish.
Well, that’s me done for now. I’ll be back in six weeks with another set of R&F ramblings. Next up in this series of blogs from UK presenters on Blues & Roots Radio will be the host of The Acoustic Café himself, Mr Brian Player.