On May 13th, 2022, “Wish Her Well“, the new blues/soul album from the great Emma Wilson, was released. Emma has been attracting all the praise recently, winning the “Emerging Artist of the Year” Award at the 2022 UK Blues Awards. Thus, so far, it has been a great year for Emma, and the well-deserved praise for the album on its release should provide plenty of momentum for the tour ahead. Calling Emma, an emerging artist, does somewhat fail to acknowledge over a decade of hard work building toward success, but it was richly deserved all the same. She is very much an integral part to the exciting British current blues/soul scene.
Grabbing the opportunity to talk to Emma, who is a delight to chat with about the blues, Rock the Joint Magazine has this feature for all blues fans out there (and rock fans too, as this girl can rock-just listen to “Not Paying”)!
Emma originates from Teesside, and I wanted to know how much the North-East resonates in the music.
Emma- Well…Paul Rodgers (Free) is from Middlesbrough, and his influence has definitely come through me. The influence from the North-East is huge. With “Not Paying”, which is a more rocky song, and having Paul Rodgers as someone to look up to, influence from the North-East is huge. Wherever I go on stage, people will ask where I’m from, and I’ll say Middlesbrough, and you’ll get a Paul Rodgers response! I’d say Teesside has come through me mainly via him and his influence. I lived in London for a long time, and a lot of people think I’m from there, but being honest and proud of where you are from matters. Come on! There’s Chris Rea too, and David Coverdale is from Redcar. We have created some pretty heavy hitters!
We had a brief digression into the heat of summer and then turned toward the history of the blues and the current, exciting British blues scene. I asked how Emma saw herself within the wider blues scene.
Emma – Be respectful of the genre, be respectful of the roots of blues, and perform it with honesty and respect. If you perform it with honesty, you are not going wrong. You are not disrespecting the genre. So it’s telling your story and using the music as a cathartic way of healing, of sharing your story and emotions with other people to support and heal them. If you watch footage of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, they may be hurting, but they are sharing it with you. The key is honesty in what you are doing, believing in the Blues.
We discussed Shirley King (see the Rock the Joint Magazine features) and her thoughts about BB King and how he would go into the variety shows as an entertainer. BB King entertained. He showed his blues, but he performed to entertain.
Emma- Absolutely… You can deconstruct any record that comes out today – I challenge you to take any track from Ed Sheeran to Lady Gaga – and they all have blues in them. However I think an artist such as myself is more in touch with the traditional style of Blues. That is my taste, and when I made the album I was working with three musicians who were from very different areas of the business. Drummer, Mat Hector, works with Iggy Pop, Guitarist, Adam Chetwood, is currently with Imelda May, and my Bass player, Mark Neary, works with Noel Gallagher and is a producer for lots of different great artists. The musicians bring different flavours to the album, and when we went to make it, obviously, because I come under the blues umbrella, I was conscious of making a blues album. But the guys said, “Emma, just make a great album, let it come from the heart.” They entrusted me with that and believed that I knew enough about my voice and what I wanted to get across, and don’t forget, I’ve been singing a long time, doing gig after gig, from weddings to parties to huge festivals, and on every gig you learn something. You learn about your voice or about a song. Maybe you deliver a line and it triggers something in your emotions, so I brought all that to the album.
We moved onto talking about the album and the amazing critical reception it received. It was recorded with a live feel and for anyone who is reading this and hasn’t checked it out, it is one of the best blues releases in the last few years.
Emma – We made it in nine days at Jackdaw Studios in Kent. I don’t know how we did it! I suppose it is because I was surrounded by 3 of the most talented and generous musicians. It was a case of opening the doors of my mind and spirit and soul, and using everything I have ever learned about myself as a singer and performer . I hope we’ve given everybody a real taste of that good energy and they get to see it when we do the live gigs
I pointed out that The Beatles recorded Abbey Road in less than a month. Some bands can be locked away in a studio for years and achieve nothing.
Emma – You can certainly overwork something. It’s like pastry, If you overwork it, it goes wrong! Overthink and you can lose the essence, I was allowed to get right into the music as we were pretty much locked in for the whole time in a bubble, recording the album “Wish Her Well” was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.
A favourite track on the album for Rock the Joint Magazine was Mary Lou.
Emma – I do love that track too. I love classic Motown, so that was my touch on the Motown feel, ‘Mary Lou’ has sadness to it yet the melody is somewhat ironic as it is lilting and quite jolly. Mark Neary, on bass came up with that brilliant riff and he nailed it because it works so well against the lyrics. The girl in the song is thinking about her boyfriend, and she is thinking about where he is. She’s dreaming about him. Then it comes into her head that he could be with someone else.
the lyric goes…‘Are you lying in your bed with your arms around Mary Lou?’
She’s wondering where he is, then an arrow goes through her heart, and she imagines he’s with Mary Lou. I guess I was thinking of a pretty girl who could shimmy past him, and take him from me. But Mary Lou is no one really, it’s all in her head. That was my nod to Motown the way the female singers could be so emotive about love and loss.
The album is part of the ‘British Blues Scene’, and this is a scene that is really booming. Emma is one of the leading lights of a very vibrant scene.
Emma – I’m really happy about how healthy the scene is. It is buzzing. We have two great publications, Blues in Britain and Blues Matters, then you have The British Blues Federation and the Venues doing great things, it’s really cooking now that we can get back inside the clubs and gig. There are some great bands out there really showing a lead, and I think it’s exciting. I was at the British Blues Awards, and there I was, my friends were joking and saying “10 years hard work to become an overnight sensation!” However, what really defines me and my career right now is this original album, people have said to me for a long time that I should do my own music. What’s been great is since recording those songs on the album, which I wrote from the heart, and believed in, that has launched me into people’s consciousness and enabled me to be heard around the world. It goes back to what I was saying about the blues. If you are genuine and honest, you can succeed.
To finish with, there is a lot still to come in 2022!
In 2022 I’m starting a UK tour in July that goes through to April 2023. I have gigs all the way through this year all over the UK. I’m also hoping to get over to the USA and Europe, maybe in September, as the album is doing great and getting a lot of plays especially in America where it hit No 1 in the ‘Roots Music Report’ Chart ,also my distribution company is based in Memphis, so I would love to get over there and do some acoustic gigs. But getting to perform stateside is really expensive. In the meantime I’d love people to come and see me play live here in the UK with the musicians that made the album with me, you will get the full fat version of the album! You can see some live footage from our performance at The UK Blues Awards here Emma Wilson Blues Singer – YouTube for a taster and everything else is on the website!
By E.M.C Chambers.