Armstrong is something of a local musical hero in these here parts – his songwriting ability and performance skills are winning new fans. A new single ‘ The Radio Years’ blends the familiar with the fresh to create an instant classic and an album is on the way. Hence we invited Michael to open up and answer one of our Pete Sargeant (customised) question sets…….

  •  Your favoured stage guitars and why?

I play an Ovation Adamas semi-acoustic which has a beautiful tone and looks quite striking. I have never seen another like it. I bought it before I had any responsibilities, those younger years when you have a bit of disposable income!

  • Name a favourite song about a place? Have you been there?

I have to say Johannesburg, as that’s the name of one of my own tracks and is in fact the opener on the new album, featuring some fantastic guitar playing by the legendary Elliott Randall. I haven’t been there, but my Dad worked there for a couple of months when I was a kid. The song is about a guy who leaves his family to go and work there so I guess that had some effect on me, but it isn’t autobiographical story-wise.

  • Bukka White or Booker T?

Booker T. Saw him and the MGs performing with Neil Young. Great band, great gig!

  • You clearly love music, but what would you cross the room to turn off, if it came on the radio?

I’m not sure there is anything genre specific. I can appreciate a good song, good playing, singing, or production across all forms of music. If something doesn’t contain any of those elements then it would get turned off.

  •  Songwriting – do the lyrics or music form first, for you?

99% of the time it’s the music first. I come up with a chord progression or melody that excites me and then I try to see what emotions that music stirs in me and let that lead me to a lyrical subject. My songs are very ‘wordy’. I love a story. I like to keep the listener and myself interested from start to finish.

  • Do you play with a plectrum?

Yes. I play with a Landstrom Sharkfin Soft Red Plectrum. I have a bag of them and panic when it starts to look like I’m down to around 50, and order a load more. It has to be THAT plectrum!!

  •  Name an album cut ( title / artist / source album ) that would / should have been a hit single ? ( I think The Hollies albums are full of them ! )

I’m a big fan of Charlie Wood’s most recent album ‘New Souvenirs’. I thought the opening track ‘No Repose’ was a fantastic single but I guess it was just a little too jazzy and high-brow to make the mainstream. For me it has everything, the writing, the playing, Charlie’s voice and the production are all just brilliant. I really think if the DJs and stations were prepared to take a risk they’d be surprised at the reaction of real music lovers out there.

  •  Nominate a favourite song by any artist about a train ? what appeals to you about this cut ?

‘Slow Train’ by Bob Dylan is a fantastic song. It’s not about a train as such, but rather a metaphor. Lyrically it’s typical Bob. I love his voice on this whole album. No one can deliver those lines like him. When he’s on form he is one of the best singers that I’ve ever heard. This album got me into Bob big time and now I own everything he’s ever done…..and there is a lot!

  •  Suggest an album that you like but that should have had a better cover or artwork

Tim Finn had a great album called ‘Before and After’. I never liked the cover of that much and thought the songs on it deserved better.

  • Tell us which Chuck Berry song best demonstrates his genius / magic touch

I guess ‘Johnny B Goode’ is the stand out track for me. I remember being taught the guitar intro very early on in my lessons and you come across it and variations of it in everything. Still a great song to jam on. Everyone knows it and gets up for a boogie. 

  • Presley or Costello ?

I’m a fan of both, but as a songwriter you’ve got to look at Costello. He’s like a British Dylan. Hugely prolific, and so clearly a man who just loves music. He’s dabbled in so many styles, and even at his age now, he somehow remains ‘hip’. I can hear his vocal style slipping into my own voice on some of my recordings.

  •  Can you /do you enjoy musicals?

I don’t make a habit of going to see them but when I have, I’ve mostly enjoyed them. The acting, singing and performing is always first class. I saw the ‘Jersey Boys’ on Broadway in New York which was a stand out for me.

  •   Which live album do you like best and why ?

I think ‘The Eagles – Hell Freezes Over’ is a bit special. The anticipation of those guys getting back together after so many years was immense and they didn’t disappoint. The re-interpretation of the songs in an acoustic setting really highlighted their fantastic musicianship and vocal blend, and of course that collection of songs rate among some of the best ever written. I was lucky enough to meet Glen Frey when he was promoting his last solo album and he had some great stories to tell.

  •  Was a film sequel (musical or not) ever better than the original?

I always thought ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ was better than ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’!

  • What are your favourite recording by each of these artists? Diana Krall, Diana Ross.

I like the Diana Ross 80’s style so I think ‘I’m Coming Out’. Can’t really say on Diana Krall. I’ve seen her perform with her hubby, Mr Costello, and she’s great though!

  •  Can you dance? Do you dance?

I can’t dance very well, but have been known to after several beers.

  •  Tell us a keyboard break ( any era ) that you particularly like ? artist/title/source album

That would be ‘School’, by Supertramp, which is the opening number on their classic album ‘Crime Of The Century’. Theirs a fantastic piano solo in that and the band are absolutely rockin’. When that comes on the CD player in the car I need an open road in front of me, ‘cos its foot to the floor time!!

  •  Which book would you like to create the music for? Or contribute some songs to?

My eldest son just studied Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ and left a copy lying around. I read it in a few days and really enjoyed it. I reckon I could right a song or two for that.

  •  Who is in your touring lineup at present, playing what ?

I’ve been touring solo for the last couple of years, but am planning some full band shows to tie in with the release of the album. I’ve sounded a few of the guys out who played on the album and it looks as though I’ll have Stephen Walters on Bass (George Michael), Matt Prior on Guitar (Bonnie Tyler), and Lawrence Giles on Drums who’s a fantastic young drummer. I’m hopeful that I’ll have a couple of special guests too….Elliott Randall (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers) played on several tracks on the album and has said he’ll join us if he’s in the country along with Ed Barker on the sax.

  •  Name a favourite song with a colour in the title – artist / title / source album

I’m a big Jeff Lynne fan, which I think you can pick up from the album, so I’ll say ELO’s ‘Mr Blue Sky’ from ‘Out Of The Blue’.

 Pete Sargeant

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