When ‘Is It That Time Already?’ dropped through the letterbox back in the middle of 2012, there was little indication as to just how special the album would quickly become. Ray Humphries was a new name to us back then. All we really knew about this singer/songwriter was that he was based in Warrington. With a bunch of equally talented local musicians, he delivered a diverse, richly melodic set of songs, each of which painted a vivid picture with Humphries astute lyrical observations. His refusal to adhere to any given genre just added to its enjoyment. Humphries distinctive vocals and his talent on the guitar all gave notice that Humphries was an artist to look out for in the future.

A couple of websites were listed on the album inlay (www.reybridge.com and www.rayhumphries.com), but they shed little light on where Humphries had come from musically, despite the fact that he had managed to blow almost everything else released during that period out of the water.

Which was just as well really, because Humphries’ debut was all we heard from him over the next four years. While ‘Is It That Time Already?’ was never forgotten, it did appear that Humphries had made a mini-classic, left us wanting more and disappeared.

Then ‘Nothing To Hide’ suddenly arrived. Seeing the name Ray Humphries on an album once more was unexpected and welcome, but it was difficult to shake the fear that he’d maybe lost some of that magic that made his debut so rewarding. How could he better such songs as ‘Laurel Canyon’ – a wistful nod to the classic sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s – that littered ‘Is It That Time Already?’

‘Nothing To Hide’ was recorded at same Warrington studio and with the same core musicians who helped bring his debut to life. At the very least, it suggested a repeat of ‘Is It That Time Already?’, which would be no bad thing. It takes all of four seconds of opener, ‘Come Fly With Me’ to get under your skin. Another of his unique power-pop infused love songs, it has a killer chorus, a searing, short guitar solo and vocals from Suzie Lowe, who takes Humphries songs to another level on the five songs she lends her vocals to. It was an inspired move by Humphries to add Lowe’s vocals to his songs this time. While the album is an extension of the work he started on ‘Is It That Time Already?’, touches like this prove that he’s far from resting on his past laurels.

There were still gaps to be filled around Humphries musical past. The fact that he’d just produced another set of melodic songs that confirm that he’s lost none of the magic gave us the opportunity to put a few questions to this talented musician; we thank him for the time he took to answer our questions so fully.

PB: We came to you via your two solo albums, but you had been in a number of bands before that. Can you tell us a little about those bands and when you started playing music?

RH: I first started playing music when I was about 11. I had been pestering my mother for a guitar and she eventually got me one. I did all the usual things – learning a few chords, a bit of classical guitar etc – and then started taking my guitar to school, where I started playing songs with other guitar players. In my class at school there was an American guy, Chris Crane, whose father was the Colonel of the Burtonwood Army Depot near Warrington. He asked me to bring my guitar up to the base and I started to play with what would eventually be my first band. Chris’s elder brother Bill played guitar and switched to bass so that we could play properly. We started doing lots of gigs at the base and then moved on to playing around the North West of England. We did lots of cover songs, Credence Clearwater Revival songs, Steppenwolf songs etc. Crowd pleasers. It was a great little band, originally called Spruce Goose after the giant plane designed and built by Howard Hughes, but the word Goose was dropped for most gigs and we were known as Spruce by most people.

After that I played in a band called Tartan, again doing covers but doing a lot more gigs and travelling further. This band consisted of two friends from school, Raymond Pitt on keyboards and Ken Mellor on drums (backing vocals on both of my albums) along with Mick Wheeler on vocals and harmonica and Chris Keeley on bass. We did lots of covers and worked very hard. You’ve got to remember that at this time, clubs were open a lot more than nowadays and there were lots more gigs for bands to do. It was a great scene, with a lot of hardworking bands all over the country.

When Tartan came to an end I formed a band with Ken Mellor and Chris Keeley along with a guy called Keith Dutton, and this became the first line up of a band called Buster, which played just about everywhere. We used to joke that our agent would give us road maps with our schedule of gigs. Chris left and a guy called John Sweeney joined. He then left and Dave Hollington joined us. After a while Keith left and we continued as a three piece. It was the start of a really busy time for us. It was a great band and so much fun.

While we continued to do covers we also started working with original material. Dave brought the concept of writing to the fore and it was a real change of direction in my musical career.

Due to pure luck we happened to stay in digs in the North East with 60’s hit maker Billie Davies, whose husband, record producer Alan David, was looking for a band to front one of his own self-penned numbers. We changed our name to Streetkid for the purpose of a teeny pop release called ‘Skateboard Harmony’. It failed to make any real impact and the band folded shortly afterwards, with different members wanting to move in different musical directions. It was a great experience though.

Having got the bug for writing, I started work with Dave Buckley, a drummer I knew who also wrote songs and we started making demos. At this time I had made the decision to move away from doing any covers and focus on original material. Anyway, Dave was out visiting friends down south and met up with a guy called Jeff Hill on a bus back from London. Jeff had just released a single on Chiswick Records and needed a band. Dave suggested that I could play bass and Dave could play drums, so The Jeff Hill Band was formed. We recorded a lot of material and we released a single (‘Something’s Wrong with My Baby’). We supported John Cooper Clarke, which really pushed the band into a good position. Despite good press and a lot of good gigs, nothing really happened and the band folded. There had been so many promises, so many bad experiences and a lot of let downs, I became quite cynical about the whole business side of music and felt that I needed a rest from touring.

PB: There was quite an extended break between those bands and the recording of ‘Is It That Time Already?’ did you totally abandon your musical career then?

RH: After the Jeff Hill Band folded, I initially did some work as jobbing musician and played in a function band – no pressure, just turn up, read the music, do the gig and go home. I started giving guitar lessons. So many people wanted to learn that I quickly built up a way of earning a living without gigging. I also found time to set up another business not connected to music, which allowed me to spend more time with my family. By this time I was married, and although I wasn’t playing in a band, I still kept the passion for music. After some considerable time, my old friend Dave Buckley approached me to play bass in a band that he was trying to put together. Along with Mark Petherbridge on drums and Steve Watkiss on guitar, we formed “The Tribal Elders”. It was a really good band and played an eclectic mix of material that was generally well received everywhere we went. We never set out of do a lot of gigs but we really enjoyed the ones we did. Dave was a writer and so was I, so we recorded a few tracks and a released a single, ‘Cardboard City’ which was one of my songs – you can still hear it on YouTube.

The Tribal Elders came to a natural end and I moved on to a country band called Rockfield Express, with Steve Watkiss, Mark Petherbridge, Steve Forber, Dave Shaw and Dave Scott. The band had a lot of potential. There were three of us writing songs for it and we would only do original material, which was how I like a band to be. We did a few gigs, but it was just not moving in the right direction. The members all wanted something slightly different and it was just not working so I left, which was sad really as it could have been good.

PB: What gave you the motivation to return to music and why as a ‘solo’ artist?

RH: Having worked with so many bands and knowing so many musicians, it seemed like so much effort to put a band together and keep it together. So many gigs just want cover bands and I really did not want to play covers any more. I did not want to do a lot of gigs but I was writing and I wanted to get my songs out there.

I had always enjoyed the recording side of music and felt that the industry had changed. When I started out in music, the only thing to do was to get some gigs and try to get a record company interested. Now there was You Tube and social medial. People were listening to a lot of music online. I felt that I should try my hand at music again and started to put together an album with the intention of getting some air play, pushing it on the internet and getting some gigs to promote it.

Once the album was half recorded, an old friend suggested that he could get me some gigs on the singer songwriter circuit as a solo performer and that he could also get some gigs for me with a band. At that time, the intention was to complete the album and do some gigs to promote it. All the musicians were in place as I had formed the core band for recording. Unfortunately, just as the album was due to be released, I lost my hearing in my left ear due to sudden sensorineural hearing loss. It really floored me. I was left with unbelievable tinnitus and all I could hear in my left ear was distortion. As such I was not able to gig and the album, although released, was not promoted as well as I wanted it to be.

PB: ‘Is It That Time Already’ covers a lot of musical ground, as does your latest album. Who would you name as your influences?

RH: There are so many. I grew up in such an exciting time for music. The obvious influences are The Beatles, the Stones and the Kinks. Ray Davies is such a great songwriter.

My record collection has never been made up of just one genre. I listen to Stax, Motown, country, rock, in fact virtually everything I could get my hands on. Credence Clearwater Revival were inspirational. I love John Foggerty as a singer, songwriter and guitarist and I still listen to Credence a lot.

Paul Simon was in my CD player driving out this morning. The great rock bands were always influential and I listened to many of them. I loved the fact that Led Zeppelin used mandolin on some tracks, which I thought was amazing. Paul Kossoff of Free was my favorite rock guitarist, his sound and technique was wonderful.

I have always loved country music and Johnny Cash could tell a tale in his songs that made you sit up a listen; so simple, yet so real. The harmonies of the Carter Family were beautiful. I loved the West Coast music scene and I’ve followed that through Gram Parsons, Poco, Buffalo Springfield, Judee Sill, Carole King, Joni Mitchell and of course the Eagles. This entire scene was the influence for my song ‘Laurel Canyon’.

Nick Drake is always in my CD player. His guitar style is brilliant and I’m just so sad that we lost him so young. I could not end this answer without mentioning James Taylor. I love so much music but singer songwriters are where I focus my attention.

PB: There’s a certain grace that informs much of your work. ‘Laurel Canyon’ and ‘The Ballad Of Snow White’ are two that come readily to mind. Songs of that caliber must surely take some time to complete?

RH: Song writing is an interesting process. Some are written quickly and some take a long time to complete. With all of my songs, there is the initial inspiration for the song, followed by the process of actually writing the song. The inspiration may be musical, in that I might have a lick or musical phrase in my head which sits there until I have the subject matter of a song that fits in with the music.
Sometimes I have the subject matter thrust upon me by reading something or seeing something and it triggers a thought process for a song. Sometimes it may be a subject that I am interested in and have been interested in for some time that I feel needs a song, and I have to sit down and work at it.

‘Laurel Canyon’ took some time to write as I wanted to outline the West Coast scene, warts and all, in a song that was fitting to that era and that style. After some time, lyrically I was very happy with the song and I liked the acoustic guitar basis for the song. I also wanted a big harmony job on the song and both Ken and Mike were amazing in the studio.

We worked on the harmonies and recorded them quite quickly. I then asked Steve to put a slide piece on for me and he sure did. The great thing about the team that play on the albums is that I know I can rely upon them to give a great performance and to deliver exactly what is needed for the songs.

By contrast, the song ‘The Ballad Of Snow White’ was written quite quickly. I had a little guitar piece going on in my head at that time, but no lyrics or subject matter. I then saw a film with an earthier stance on the Snow White fairy tale than the Walt Disney cartoon and the song just came to me quite quickly.

The concept of Snow White leading an army across the sands to fight the wicked Queen was amazing, it was so different to the gentle and sweet version that everyone thinks about. The betrayal of Snow Whites father by “the woman that he saved” is a great story and one that sets the scene for Snow White to save her people.

Once in the studio it was quiet easy to record. The structure of the song was there and the idea of the harmonies was just waiting for Mike and Ken to do what they do best and they both gave a stunning performance. The strings add so much to the song and build the simple acoustic song into a much bigger sounding ballad.

PB: You’ve used the same core of musicians on both albums, are they local musicians you’ve created music with over a number of years? It sounds like a tight unit who can tackle all the different variations in your music.

Mike Evans and Mark Petherbridge are guys I’ve known for years. Both Warrington-based musicians and great players. I’ve worked with Mark in The Tribal Elders and also in Rockfield Express. I know that I can rely upon him to provide a solid platform to build a song on. Mike is such a great friend. I remember seeing Mike for the first time playing in a band called Moonshine when I was just starting out in bands. They were amazing and really inspired me, it was great to get to know him all of those years back.

Moonshine was on the road while I was in Buster and although they were a rival band at the time, we were great friends and have been ever since. Mike plays bass, provides harmonies but also helps so much with the whole recording process and has been there for every session involved in the making of both albums. You can always rely upon Mike.

PB: The addition of Suzie Lowe on backing vocals on ‘Nothing To Hide’ reveals another facet to your music. Where did you discover Suzi? Were you actively looking for a female singer to add this other level to your sound?

RH: I met Suzie Lowe through Dave Buckley. She sang in a couple of bands with Dave and often came out to watch The Tribal Elders. Sometimes she would get up with us for a couple of numbers and I always loved her voice, so it was a natural choice to ask her to sit in on some of my songs.

I knew that she could complement the softer harmonies that Mike and Ken provided but could also add that raunchy rock sound when required, so I just felt that I had to get her into the studio and let her add her voice to the songs. Working with Suzie is always a pleasure. She turns up so well prepared and always has some great ideas to add to the songs.

Everyone who contributes to my work is a friend and they are all so incredibly talented. They are all local musicians or at least currently live locally. Some I’ve known for 40 years or so and some I’ve met more recently. Ken Mellor was a friend at school and was the drummer/vocalist in Tartan and Buster back in the 70’s. Dave Hollington was also in Buster, playing bass and providing vocals.

Dave Buckley was the drummer in The Jeff Hill Band in the 70’s. Dave Buckley also played guitar and sang vocals in The Tribal Elders. I met Steve Watkiss when we formed the Tribal Elders, he’s a great guitar player. Pete “Sarge” Frampton is a friend from years ago and is involved in so many musical projects that it’s hard to keep track with what he is up to.

Dave Carey is more recent friend but he has a great pedigree musically having played keyboards for Gloria Gaynor for a long time some years back. Derek Humphreys is a sax player that I first met when I was about 15 years old while playing in Spruce.

We used to rehearse in the same building that Derek’s band used for rehearsal. They were in a room down the corridor from us and his band, The Lewis Goodman Explosion, was so good I remember being blown away the first time I saw them. They just worked so hard and inspired so many musicians. They were all a bit older than us and very experienced so we looked up to them and so it was a great feeling to have Derek sit in on one of my songs. As for Ben Blease, he is just amazing to work with. He is so talented and he has great ears when it comes to mixing.

PB: Was the guitar your first instrument? There are some inspiring guitar solos spread throughout both albums.

RH: Yeah, guitar was my first love, although I’ve had a great time playing bass in various outfits. I also enjoy adding mandolin to songs and banjo from time to time but I always go back to guitar.

PB: The honesty in your lyrics is one of the elements that make your songs so appealing. How complete were the songs before you entered the studio? Did you have a firm idea of each arrangement before the sessions began?

RH: Sometimes I have very firm ideas on what I want and sometimes a song shifts direction slightly once we are in the studio. I love to hear other people’s ideas and sometimes we go with them and sometimes we don’t.

With the slower songs, the ideas are probably more fixed, but when it comes to the more up-tempo songs, I love the way Mark and Mike work together. They can get a groove going that may be slightly different to what I had in mind to start with, but moves the song into a better place.

Then again, sometimes they just lay down what is so obvious from the way I’ve demoed the songs. I think a lot of what goes on is the way we discuss the songs before recording. If you give a good brief on what you are trying to achieve, musicians like these players will always deliver.

PB: Having been involved in the music business for a number of years, do you feel it is easier to get your music out there than it was when you started, or does the fact that anyone can post a clip on YouTube these days make it harder for serious musicians to be noticed?

RH: The whole industry has changed so much. In some ways it is much better, but in some ways it’s not so good. Regardless of what you think about it, you have to embrace the new technology and methods of getting your music out there or you will not get anywhere.

I love the way now that you don’t have to gig as much to reach an audience. Social media and YouTube allow anyone to get something out there and have an audience, but the live scene is not as good. There are fewer gigs taking real live music and the audience expectation is so different. So many audiences don’t really want live sounds as they are so conditioned to artists using backing tapes.

On the positive side, I think it is great that so many people have been able to listen to my songs without us having to play live. Radio play is essential, and through social media I’ve been lucky to have my songs picked up and played on stations around the world. It’s really exciting to have people in the USA, Australia, SA and various countries in Europe being in touch, as well as UK based music lovers.

PB: Have you any plans to tour ‘Nothing To Hide’ or do a few one-off gigs to promote it?

RH: I’d really like to tour, but I’ve held back due to my hearing. Earlier this year though, knowing that the album was due out, I decided to take a step forward and I recently did a solo gig at The Picnic Club in Manchester which has made me think more about playing live again.

The Picnic Club is a fantastic original music venue at the Fuel Bar in Withington, Manchester run by a guy called Andy Callen. I only did a short spot by myself, but it has made me realise that I can get out there and play provided it’s not too loud. I’ve started work on planning a few gigs with a small acoustic band. Once I’ve done that and tried a few gigs out, if it goes well we may do a tour.

PB: We’ve had 24 superb songs from you in four years, and my day is not complete without at least one play of ‘I Wish I Knew’, one of the most insightful, touching love songs ever written. Are you working on new songs or have any plans set for future recordings? Are we going to have to wait another four years?

RH: Ha ha, time moves so quickly! I’m always working on songs. At the moment I’m working on an album for Mike (Evans). He’s putting together an album with some of my songs and some by Dave Buckley. One is a collaboration between myself and my old friend Dave Baxter and there’s also one by Steve Watkiss. We’re using the same core musicians so we’re quite excited about that.

I’ve also got a few tracks in the can with Mark and Mike under the name of The Clocks, which is a raunchy power pop band. We’re looking at putting an EP out some time next year. I’ve also got a number of songs that I need to start recording and so another album will be done, but how long it takes is hard to say. There is always so much to do.

PB: Thank you.













Related Links:

https://www.facebook.com/RayH55


Commenting On: Interview - Ray Humphries








ie London, England

tick box before submitting comment
 


First Previous Next Last