Marcus Bonfanti – Ten Years After
Blues rock guitarist Marcus Bonfanti is well-known in the UK blues music scene for not only his solo material but also his work with outfits including The Boom Band. However, Marcus is now part of Ten Years After alongside Ric Lee, Colin Hodgkinson and Chick Churchill. With an extensive European tour and a new Ten Years After album release, Pete sat down and chatted to Marcus about his new project:
- Could you nominate for us two recordings (artist/title/source album) that make sense as night time listening and two that make sense as daytime listening?
At the moment its these but these tunes change daily depending on what’s going on, you know how it goes…
Night Time Listening – Tom Waits – Hold On – Mule Variations
Night Time Listening – Freddie King – Help Me Through The Day – Woman Across The River
Day Time Listening – The Meters – People Say – Rejuvenation
Day Time Listening – B Movie Box Car Blues – Delbert & Glen – Delbert & Glen
- It has been said that you shouldn’t write songs when you’re in love ..what are your thoughts on this notion?
I think You got to be in love to write songs, love is probably the strongest feeling out there and to write music that touches the people who listen to it you got to talk about things we’ve all felt; love is most definitely one of them. You don’t necessarily have to be in Love with a person, you could be in love with the idea of something unrequited or a place or anything that makes you feel that way. I been in love many times and as a result had my heart broken many times too and this all goes into making me who I am and giving me real things to write about. I sometimes think that if I’m too content I might not be able to feel certain things and write the songs I want to write but for example I’m in love right now but I still got things in my life that make me unhappy and give me plenty of vitriol to write the angry song when I need too. Love is a universal thing we all understand but its not the only thing…
- Have you ever in your life/would you ever take part in a song or singing contest?
No I’ve never really gone in for that. In fact I don’t like the idea of music being a competition at all it’s the opposite of why I got into music in the first place. It was also one of the reasons I left the university I was at in Liverpool. The ‘songwriting class’ was exactly like a competition. The lecturer thought that anything other than Elvis Costello and that kind of writing wasn’t any good. Now I love Elvis Costello but I don’t write that way and I constantly felt I was being derided for writing the way I wanted to and not being told how to improve my style, just judged against my fellow students. I don’t think I’d ever enter a singing or song contest and in truth I don’t think I’d be in with a shot of winning either of those things.
- Best song ever about drinking? Who is it by? Why do you favour it?
Whiskey River – Willie Nelson and there’s a version by Canadian Band ‘Grady’ from their album Good As Dead which is killer. I like it because the lyrics are simple and it talks about one of the reasons we sometimes drink which is to forget about something or someone but it’s not a dark tune it captures that blissful moment of inebriation when everything is great and there are no consequences. Grady take that song and that idea and turn it right round into something that sounds like a three day bender where all the bad stuff happens. When you can do that to a song without changing the lyrics you know it’s a good song.
- For dates with Ten Years After, are you tempted to use gear similar to the late Alvin Lee? I recall his red ‘Chuck Berry’ Gibson with the peace sticker….what are you taking out on tour?
I have an endorsement with Gibson Guitars and they called me when I got the gig with Ten Years After asking if I’d like to use the Alvin Lee signature guitar but I declined as I felt it might be a bit weird. I spoke with the guys in the band and they agreed, they wanted me to come into the band and do my own thing with the material and not ty to emulate Alvin. Now obviously as a guitar player I think Alvin is pretty untouchable but I’ve never wanted to be like him or anyone else for that matter, I wanna be me. In the band I use a 74 Gibson SG through a Blackstar Artisan 15 head and cab it definitely gives me the sound I need at the volume everyone can deal with. It’s a great looking guitar and all, goes with all my shirts!
- I saw TYA at the Toby Jug in Tolworth back in the day, Alvin said they’d do a long set – which they did, including Crossroads – as they were off to an American Festival… turned out to be Woodstock. What are your thoughts when you see the footage?
My thoughts are usually; wow I get to play with these guys most nights, that’s pretty special. I’ve always loved that era of music and especially the live concerts that are available to watch. They are all really on the edge which is how I like my music played. The musicianship on these guys is great, everyone is listening and looking to take the song somewhere interesting and different each night. I remember seeing the Woodstock footage many years before I joined the band and just thinking how cool it was that they basically had a great jam in front of thousands of people and how amazing that band sounded together also watching Alvin in that short clip tells you all you need to know about how to front a band. Incredible.
- Two tracks by TYA that I loved were Portable People the acoustic style song and moreover I Can’t Keep From Crying. I have played with Roy the drummer of The Blues Project and we agreed this song still has a supernatural vibe. Will you be playing it?
Portable People is a great tune, I’d love to do some more of that acoustic Broonzy inspired stuff that Alvin did and I think we will live at somepoint. The new record we’ve been writing has a few of those moments on it so I imagine they will make there way into the set soon.
‘I Can’t Keep From Crying’ was one of the songs the boys retired from the set as I joined in favour of doing some other material that was requested by people on the website like Help Me, Standing at The Station, I Say Yeah.
I first heard Al Kooper’s original version and was well into him for ages so I didn’t hear TYA’s version until very recently but it’s great.
So sadly neither of them songs are in the set at the moment but by the time we hit England who knows…
- The third track on an album is often a gem – can you think of any? (artist / title / source album ) – as many as you like!!!
Spanish Castle Magic – Jimi Hendirx – Axis Bold As Love
Lucy In The Sky WIth Diamonds – The Beatles – Sgt Pepper
Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis – Tom Waits – Blue Valentine
Roll Um Easy – Little Feat – Dixie Chicken
Skin It Back – Little Feat – Feats Don’t Fail Me Now
Texas Flood – Stevie Ray Vaughn – Texas Flood
Sound of The City – Delany & Bonnie – D & B Together
I Want To Be Loved – Muddy Waters – Hard Again
I’m gonna stop there cos I got things to do and this list could go on for a long time…
- Name a song or instrumental that fades too early, for you (artist / title)
Spanish Moon – Little Feat – Feats Don’t Fail Me Know
This tune is one of them ones you never want to stop, the groove is killer and Lowell George’s vocal on it is just too cool. Right at the end it starts to fade as they settle on this real nice chilled outro and then just as the fade is about out you hear it break into something bigger and then its gone. Geniuses.
- A recording that makes you laugh ….intentionally or otherwise ! (artist / track / source album)
Haha, that’s a good question.
Bill Withers – Medley: Harlem/Cold Baloney – Live at Carnegie Hall
The whole record makes me laugh cos Bill Withers is so damn funny between songs, telling stories and joking with his band.
This track makes me laugh because during the outro he introduces the band using funny anecdotes about them and also the way he talks to the New York audience and jokes with them as they try to sing with him is beautiful.
Then you hear the groove the band are laying down behind him and you just have to laugh because its unreal.
- Name an album or a couple of albums where the cover or artwork could have been better, in your humble opinion….give any thoughts around this
Easy, my first two albums. Especially the second album man I do not like that cover.
My old record label sort of took creative control over them and by the time I had a chance to object they were already pretty much printed. I was quite young when I did these albums but also old enough and broke enough to know that I needed this deal otherwise my records weren’t coming out! I remember the photoshoots being a lot of fun and getting a lot of interesting shots. Just seems none of them made it on to the album covers though! Still I don’t mind, it’s what’s inside that counts and I’m very proud of both those albums.
- Best rock’n’roll swagger recording NOT by the Rolling Stones (artist/track/source album)
Bad N Ruin – Faces – Long Player
This band just had it all, Rod Stewart was probably the hippest thing on the planet round this time and the band sounded so good behind him. I feel these guys are some of the most underrated musicians, no one ever talks bout Kenney Jones enough. He is a great drummer. I always feel that way bout Ric Lee too, back in the day the stuff him and Alvin were doing together during solo sections was key to that band sounding the way they did.
Bad N Ruin has got all the swagger I need to feel good on a bad day.
- Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs record a duet – which song and who is in the backing band?
Willin by Little Feat.
If its happening right now its:
Jim Keltner on Kit, Colin Hodkinson on Bass, Dr John on Keys and Derek Trucks on Guitar
If those guys can’t make it then my band will be there!
- Best 2nd or follow up album of all time and why? ( I love The Doors ‘Strange Days’)
Led Zeppelin II – I mean it came out less than 10 months after the first one. No ‘difficult second album’ here just an incredible follow up to a great debut.
I think it’s arguably the majority of peoples favourite Zep album (mine is III but that’s not important now). Chick Churchill from TYA told me about the first time he heard Whole Lotta Love in an A&R man’s office before anyone else had heard it and he said it blew him away and Chick don’t get blown away by much!
I think your shout of Strange Days is great too, I love the Doors and agree that it’s a great follow up but for me Zep II edges it.
- Name an actor or actress who made a listenable song recording – and what’s the appeal?
I’m not sure if I understand the question totally so sorry if I get the wrong end of the stick here but Tom Waits has been in loads of great films and made so many incredible albums.
Check out Down By Law to see him at his acting best, it’s a real funny film.
- Where are TYA planning to tour next?
Well we have Germany, France and Belgium to do at the beginning of the year and then we come to the UK in April as well as Russia and more Germany & France and lots of Festivals over the summer culminating in a big tour of Europe in November. We are pretty much always on tour which is great as there are so many people that want to see the band. We also have to find the time to record this new album we’ve written somewhere in amongst all that as we are releasing it before the November Tour.
- Which artist did you go to see perform with low expectations but ended up impressed? Where and when was this?
About 6 or 7 years ago my Girlfriend took me to see Tori Amos. Now I didn’t have low expectations I had absolutely no expectations. She was someone who had seemed to have passed me by. I’d never even heard a song by her and knew nothing of what she did. After 2 hours of watching her at the Apollo I was totally hooked. She is an incredible performer and writer and her band were something else too. I’ll never forget having my mind blown open that night. It sadly doesn’t happen enough at gigs these days.
- Where in the world in your opinion is live music best received? What venues appeal?
To be honest all the audiences I play to are great but you’re right there are some places or some situations where the audience are that extra spoonful of crazy. I like touring Spain a lot, I like they way they enjoy music over there. Some of the best audiences I’ve ever had have been in Germany but the most incredible night we had was in Lyon. It was the day after the Paris attacks and we flew out with TYA to play a show in Lyon which I was expecting to be pretty badly attended after what had happened the night before. Instead we had a packed room of about 500 people all wanting to lose themselves in music and make a stand that their lives wouldn’t be dictated to by fear. It was an unforgettable night. We dedicated “Love To Change The World” to them that night.
- Has a radio DJ anywhere (and any era) ever impressed you and if so why?
Weirdly enough I don’t listen to much music radio these days, I should probably listen to more. Maybe that’s my new years resolution… That and learn to drive.
Huey Morgan on 6Music has turned me onto loads of new music. It was his show I first heard Houndmouth and got their first EP off the back of it which I’ve played to death at home. Yeh Huey Morgan, Guy Garvey and Cerys Matthews always have really interesting stuff on their shows.
- Name a recording (an album maybe) that really ‘grew’ on you and has ended up as essential listening? What is it about this recording that you value?
Swordfishtrombones – Tom Waits
When I first heard this album it scared the hell out of me. I wondered what happened to the guy from Blue Valentine and Heart of Saturday Night that had turned him into this creature from the deep. It wasn’t until I went back and listened to the albums in between these records that I saw the progression and understood what was going on and now I think it’s a great record. I also just shelled out a lot of money for an original vinyl of it so I must like it now.
- Everytime I get a ‘Best Of…’ of anybody, there’s a song or two missing that I wish had been included….can you think of an instance of this ? what are the missing items that you would like to have seen included?
In all honesty I don’t buy ‘best of’ albums. I sometimes start there on spotify if I want to check out an artist I don’t know and haven’t had a specific record recommended to me. Then if I dig it I buy the full records. Maybe if the Beatles Blue album is classed as a ‘best of’ I wonder why more of the White Album second record isn’t represented on it.
- Suggest a song that reminds you of your childhood – and why might this be?
Wild World – Cat Stevens.
My mum used to clean the house listening to Tea For The Tillerman on a Sunday morning when I was little. I’d always be woken up by the sound of her dusting the piano from high to low just before the chorus of Wild World. It sounded like Jerry Lee Lewis had jumped up on this track for a second when she did it. It almost seems weird listening to it now without that cos this was happened every Sunday for about 15 years.
- Is there a book or novel that you would like to create songs or the score for? Why is this?
Old Man and The Sea – Ernest Hemmingway.
I’d love to do the score for whoever would be brave enough to make this film. It’s one of my most favourite books, everyone should read it. I’ve read it so many times now, I reckon I could write some great tunes inspired by that book. In fact I might just do.
For more information about Ten Years After visit their official website here: http://bit.ly/21zwvDE
(Many thanks to Marcus for taking part in this interview)