The 29th of April sees a new album from Bonham-Bullick, and for anyone wanting to hear a fresh blues/rock sound in 2022 then this is a great way to get Spring off on a roll!
Deborah Bonham needs, perhaps, little introduction. She’s part of a legendary family; her elder brother was among the greatest drummers ever to come out of the UK, John Bonham. Her other brother Michael was a DJ for Northern Soul and Motown, and so her house was filled with music and she developed a passion for soul, blues and rock that has never left her.
Artistically, Deborah has performed at the Royal Albert Hall and the London Palladium; she has released several albums and is recognised as being at the forefront of the UK blues scene today. Her partner in crime for this album is Peter Bullick. Peter, born in Belfast, is a well-known (Paul Kossoff influenced) blues player who has been with Deborah Bonham band, and then (post-2018) they joined forces with Bonham-Bullick, and signed up with California based Quarto Valley Records.
Their creation, the Bonham-Bullick album, is a great achievement and it was lovely to talk to the pair about the album pre-release.
We started talking about the blues and how it moved from its black roots (BB King once described to play the Blues as being born black twice) into a rock culture. What state of health is the blues in today?
Deborah commented that this album is based on the blues tradition; they have taken classic tracks and re-worked them in their style.
“For me, the blues is very much an emotion and a feeling, and that’s why it felt the right time now as we are mature enough, we’ve gone through enough stuff in our lives to be able to tap into that emotion and do our own thing with it, but be deeply respectful.”
The album is no straight copy of the blues, but both artists noted that this is not where they have come from. The album is a “songbook of interpretations.”
Peter had some thoughts on the position of the blues in music saying,
“What we did was reach into our soul and give our version of what made us blue in our lives…as Irish, there’s a story of the sign on the door when we came to England: No blacks, no Irish, no dogs…and we have certainly not been born black twice, but maybe born Black once and Irish once!”
It reminds us of a T-Shirt that said “More Blacks, More Irish and More Dogs,” so maybe we need to look at something similar in our range for the magazine shop when we put it out!
On the state of the blues nationally, Deborah said she was less of a fan of the straight copy, white blues, that was out there. She is a fan of the old blues, but wanted to see artists add to the song and develop it, not do a straight copy. It is healthy to take the blues and then go your way, show respect, but then recreate it with a new energy. There are great British Blues acts out there, earning their spurs on the festival scene. Here at Rock the Joint Magazine we are excited about the new Bonham-Bullick album, and see it as part of a wave of great Blues artists on the scene in 2022. Peter remembered at the British Blues Festival a band called When Rivers Meet who are doing great, having a powerful sound and we love them here at the magazine too, and will be doing a piece on their music in the coming weeks. The general agreement from us all was that British blues is healthy and adapting the sound for the new generation.
Peter commented that although the album has the blues heritage it is also rooted in the soul sound. There is a track called The Changeling, near the end of the album that here at Rock the Joint Magazine we found to be a beautiful, soulful sound. It is a song with a lot of pain and Peter commented that Chris Wilson (who passed away from cancer a few years ago) imbibed the song with passion and pain. And as we grow older we take our life experiences into the music, and the shared human experience can be translated into the music.
(Peter) “It’s what you can draw out of the pain to make the pain more bearable.”
(Deborah) “It’s the emotion, blues, and whatever the emotion, it can be dark, but also light-heartedness with a dark undercurrent. At this age, we have been through a lot.”
But this is by no means an album of pain, it is remarkably upbeat and I felt happier for the experience of listening to it through. Peter noted the more up-tempo beats; there are good times that come through as well.
As a female vocalist, Deborah noted that with The Changeling (a song never previously recorded, but exists as a YouTube clip), she started to sing it with a couple of candles and did it in one take, digging deep into the soul.
It Ain’t Easy was another favourite from the magazine, and this is a much lighter song. Deborah knew the song from Ron Davies and Maggie Bell (who was a vocalist for a time with Stone the Crows), and she had always loved that sound and Maggie Bell’s vocals.
(Peter) “My response to that song is a bit shallower, a bit more of a blues response, but you sling on the guitar and dream of the booze and the chicks! But the song I came across was with Bowie who did a version, the Les Paul slung low.”
Deborah remembered the slight clash in the studio on this number as Peter was going down the Bowie route, he started playing that, but she was going the other way and they had to meet in the middle. The result is some sleazy rock and roll on top of the blues, there in layers.
The interview moved into a general fan moment as the name of Nina Simone came up; there was full agreement that Nina as a singer and songwriter is one of the best of all time. She was also such a pioneer and activist as a black woman, a superb piano player, and her music was even considered by Deborah for the album, but she rejected it because she couldn’t bring anything fresh to it. The album was a heavy responsibility as it was!
The album track choice came naturally between four friends and Deborah/Peter, there were around 100 songs in the pot, and then the experience of around 30 years playing together meant Deborah felt she knew instinctively where the band were comfortable, and the 13 tracks appeared from the sift. Deborah also produced the album, her first time producing.
It is a band effort, with musicians who have been together for over a decade and the songs come naturally with a band that is comfortable with their sound.
There is a tour starting soon, six of the new songs already aired live (with the hope of getting 8/9 of the new tracks in the set). The main tour begins on 28th April and will take in theatres around the UK, some Summer Festivals and a trip to Holland and Belgium. Both artists noted how well the “Bleeding Muddy Waters” song is going down live, and live it becomes a different animal, but the track is going down a storm. The tour is exciting, and we at Rock the Joint will be checking the live version out, and try and get a review up in the Summer.
As a last note, those vinyl lovers (like us here) who are looking for a vinyl version may well find there is one coming out soon, for listening pleasure. On the subject of those listeners who prefer to download one or two tracks out of order, and ignore the album as a whole, Deborah had her reservations.
(Deborah) “As a writer/producer it drives me insane if it is just all random. A lot of thought goes into the sequence of how they fit together. It’s not just thrown together, a lot of thought goes in there, and that’s what we have done for this album. A lot of me wanted it to be vinyl where you listen to the side then turn it over.”
However, there is the risk of losing four tracks for the vinyl, so maybe listen to it on CD first!
Check out the single first here!
Then go and get the album, if you love modern blues and soul then there is so much here to explore, I’m happy to say it would be my album of the month. You may notice we don’t really do album reviews here in the magazine, we prefer to talk to artists whose work we love and say – go get it! This is one of those cases, you will not be disappointed.
By E.M.C Chambers