Monday, 30 November 2020

An Interview with Adrian Thomas

My recent post, Create or Destroy, included an offer:

'If creative people out there would like to be interviewed for my blog then just let me know.

We can talk about the positive aspects of your life and work. We can get your message across.

This offer is small fry, in the grand scheme of things - but nevertheless it is a positive action.'

Samantha Durnan was the subject of the first interview in this series and today we proudly present our next instalment.

Today we enter the world of British Rhythm and Blues and welcome Adrian Thomas to our series of interviews.

Adrian plays with The Voodoo Sheiks, who have been featured here at Marsh Towers once before. That was back in 2014, when I reviewed their Borrowed and New album. Looking back on the review, I find I took the Voodoo Sheiks to task a little, as I wanted to hear more of their original songs amongst the cover versions.

Adrian and I have been friends (in a virtual world) for a long time now. Despite claiming to know nothing about chess, he even participated in our most recent Project 30 Zoom Quiz - outscoring several established chess stars along the way.

Sit back, relax and enjoy our in-depth interview...

Who introduced you to music?

My Mum and Dad had a collection of 45s which I used to play on their mono record player. I was introduced to the likes of Des O’Connor, The Hollies, Connie Francis, Leapy Lee and Cliff Richard, Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, The Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band plus many more.

Dad always had the transistor radio on in the mornings and at the weekend so there was a constant musical atmosphere in the house, including an upright piano in the living room!

Are any members of your family active, musically?

My elder brother plays guitar and bass. He’s in a couple church bands and has his own three-piece rock band. He helped source my first two drum kits!

How old were you when you realised music was going to be a major part of your life?

I was about five years old when I became interested in listening to music. As previously mentioned there was always music on in the house somewhere.

How would you describe your musical style?

My general musical style I would say is rock with a sprinkle of blues. I was brought up on The Sweet, The Beatles, Dr. Feelgood and Deep Purple.

Tell me how the Voodoo Sheiks started out.

Crikey, I’ll try and keep it short as it’s a longish story!

Slowblow Dave was putting a band together with original drummer John Coombes and bass player, Bob Francis. They were looking for a guitarist and I had previously auditioned for another band that Bob had tried to put together but never amounted to anything.

Bob called me and said they were looking for a guitarist would I like to audition. I went along with a few other guitarists and well, here I am still! After just two gigs, Bob decided he’d had enough and left the band.

We auditioned a few bassists and Andy was the man for the job. I’d actually known Andy from our days at ACM Guildford in 2005/06.

Can you tell me something about your creative process? Are you writing songs more or less all of the time, or do you have to take time out from other aspects of your life in order to fully focus?

Personally, I’m not a prolific songwriter, so I’m not writing all the time. If I am writing then I do indeed have to take time out and focus on the task in hand.

Do you write better on your own, or with the help of others?

I definitely write better with other people. I tend to bounce off their creativity and come up with ideas as we go along.

What usually comes first – the music or the words?

If I’m writing with The Voodoo Sheiks then it can be either. Often, Dave will have a whole set of lyrics ready to go and I’ll come up with a riff or chord sequence and we fit it together. A lot of the band’s songs have been guitar ideas from which we have built upon.

How do you balance your musical career and aspirations with the ‘real life’?

I’ve been a professional musician since 2002 so everything has revolved around that. Real life is my music - until recently, when everything was turned on its head!
What interests do you have outside of music?

Outside of music I like keeping fit by going to the gym. I love walking the dog in the forest where we live. I enjoy standup comedy and some comedy-style panel shows. A good film is always an escape too.

Are you available for lessons?

Yes, I am available for lessons. Normally I do one to one lesson at my home studio but since March when everything changed, I now only do online lessons via Zoom.

You play your own, original songs but also have a full repertoire of cover songs with The Voodoo Sheiks. Is the former body of work easier to remember and play than the latter?

Now that’s a good question! I would say yes, original songs are easier to remember as you’ve been involved in the creation from start to finish. You know every dynamic of the song!

Having said that, I’ve been playing with covers band for years and some of those songs I can play on autopilot!

Are there any internal battles within The Voodoo Sheiks when it comes to choosing the set lists? Are there any songs that you really wanted to include, but didn’t?

No internal battles, it’s all very amicable. Dave tends to sort the set lists but he knows what we like to play but you can’t play every song at every gig so we chop and change the set as we see fit according to venue and gig type!

Which artists/groups do you most admire?

That’s a tough one because I admire anyone who has made a success out of music. Whether they be famous or otherwise. I know a ton of musicians that are industry professionals and they teach, record, tour etc. but unless you actually know them you wouldn’t have heard of them.

As far as famous artists are concerned, I’d say I admire Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr for different reasons. I also think that Nine Below Zero are to be admired for evolving through the years and continuing writing, recording and touring.

Which albums would make it onto your desert island list?

I just think about the albums that I have probably played the most over the years. ‘Flying In a Blue Dream’- Joe Satriani, ‘Made In Japan’- Deep Purple, ‘Malpractice’- Dr. Feelgood, ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’- The Sweet, ‘Escape’- Journey, ‘Departure’- Journey

Which song do you wish you had written?

It’s either ‘Smoke On The Water’ - it’s such a great riff and a catchy, singable chorus, or ‘Burn’, another Deep Purple classic. Ritchie Blackmore is a genius at writing memorable riffs.

The Internet has impacted greatly on the music industry. What are the good and bad points from your point of view?

I suppose the obvious bad points are that music has become almost give away and that the cost of recording and pressing CDs is never recouped at this level due to downloading etc.

The good points are that you can reach a worldwide audience with all your social media and music distribution etc.

For your dream gig, with whom would you love to perform?

Deep Purple or Journey.

Are you nervous before the gigs?

I’m not nervous but I just want to get started, so the waiting around after you’ve set up and sound checked makes me slightly anxious! When I was younger I used to get very nervous to the point where, for the first few numbers my hands were shaking!

You have just left the stage at the end of the shows. You have connected with – and entertained – every person in the hall; a success by anyone’s standards. How does it feel?

It feels amazing! Especially if you’ve really connected and people are coming up to you, chatting and buying merchandise.

How long does it take you to wind down afterwards?

Like the above answer, it does depend on the venue and the gig! When you play a big stage to a large room then you are buzzing when you come off stage. If it’s a smaller pub type gig then whilst it’s still a buzz you don’t get the same adrenalin rush.

What are your most memorable gigs of your own?

The most memorable gig of my own was when we played The Half Moon, Putney in 2016. We played there a few times but this was the first time we’d headlined and it was a real blast.

How about memorable gigs by other artists or bands?

The one that always sticks in my mind is seeing Whitesnake at Hammersmith Odeon in 1980. There was a real atmosphere and place was electric, the band were absolutely in the zone!

Is there anyone you have never seen play ‘live,’ but would like to (have done)?

This is an interesting one as I have turned down tickets to see some amazing gigs which I have later regretted. Zeppelin at Knebworth, U2 in 1980 and my local Sports Centre, Pink Floyd - The Wall at Earls Court 1979-ish and The Killers at a small club in Reading when they were virtually unknown!
I understand you have recently switched from guitar to drums for the Voodoo Sheiks. Why the change and with which instrument do you feel the strongest natural connection?

Over the last two to three years I started to developing psoriasis on my hands and finger tips. I didn’t know what it was but it made it more and more difficult and painful to play guitar for prolonged periods. I recently saw a specialist who diagnosed it as psoriasis.

I’m currently using various emollients and hand washes to get on top of it but it still seems to be fighting back!

I started drumming when I was about 10 and got my first kit on my 11th birthday. I have always felt comfortable behind a drum kit. Whilst guitar became my number one instrument, I always kept playing drums and have gigged many times with an assortment of bands.

Switching was an easy choice as I can still play with my hand condition although it takes its toll I can at least strap my hand up which you can’t do if playing guitar!

I would definitely say that drumming is my strongest natural connection.

What advice would you give to anyone starting out in the world of music?

You have to love what you do. Be positive and believe in yourself. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks but of course take on constructive criticism and advice along the way.

I know a lot of people who seem to be seeking approval before they do anything like, “do you want to hear some new music from me” or “If I gig will you book me”, just do the music and get the gigs!

The entertainment industry has been very badly hit by the pandemic. How do you think the Government has handled the situation?

I don’t think it was handled very well. The Government didn’t act quickly enough and then weren’t definite on actual do’s and don’ts!

What would you have done differently?

I’d have been more assertive and definite about the rules!

How long do you think it will be before the emergency clears?

I really couldn’t say. It’s unchartered territory! I’m hoping that by spring it’ll be as good as

Do you think most things will recover (in time) or do you take a more pessimistic view?

I’d like to think that most things will recover but inevitably some things won’t. It’s had a massive financial impact on the world and the live music industry has been particularly hard hit – who knows how many venues will be closed permanently?

What is in the pipeline from the Voodoo Sheiks? Have you been active during the entirety of 2020 or has everything been on hold during the lockdowns?

Well, I’ve continued with my teaching throughout 2020 - doing my lessons online instead of face-to-face. With regards to the Voodoos - we’ve been keeping in contact and brought in a new guitarist to replace me whilst I step over to the drums.

We managed a few rehearsals in between lockdowns and have written some new tunes. I’ll be heading to a recording studio in the very near future, to track the drums for three new tunes then we’ll most likely record the rest remotely.

I can’t wait to get out and gig again, and with me on the drums, it’ll be a whole new vibe!
Thank you very much, Adrian!

When gigs are possible again, let's work on a plan to bring The Voodoo Sheiks to Teesside for a celebratory blast of Rhythm and Blues that will not be forgotten!

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