Music Notes: Norfolk bluesman Oli Brown goes global

It's safe to say that Norfolk singer-songwriter Oli is far from sounding like every blues man. He might only be in his early 20s but he's packed a tremendous amount into his career so far.

'With the blues there's that horrible assumption that it's about someone waking up in the morning and being miserable about someone leaving,' says Oli Brown with a laugh. 'I don't want to sound like every blues man. I like to do something different.'

It's safe to say that Norfolk singer-songwriter Oli is far from sounding like every blues man. He might only be in his early 20s but he's packed a tremendous amount into his career so far — from high-profile support slots with blues legends to scooping a mantelpiece-full of awards.

And what makes his achievements all the more impressive is that he didn't pick up a guitar until he was 12.

Now living in Yorkshire, I caught up with the former Broadland High School student as he's rehearsing for a tour which currently sees him playing across Europe before heading to Canada in July and the US in August and September.

His current lengthy tour — though he has scarcely been off the road for the last few years — is in support of his third album, Here I Am, which shot straight to the top of the iTunes blues chart beating albums by Ray Charles and Joe Bonamassa in the process.

The album was written and recorded in a different way to his previous two. 'It was really nice because on the last two albums I had two weeks to do a whole album — pressure! But this time I was able to create and relax.'

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Here I Am features the Oli Brown Band's new line-up of drummer and album producer Wayne Proctor and bassist Scott Barnes. It was recorded in one take to capture the essence of the band's live performances.

Having more time to work on the record meant that Oli could develop his lyric writing. 'I haven't had the chance to focus on the lyrics before. I was listening to more writers and how they tell stories. One of my heroes is Tom Waits — I love his dark stories,' he says.

Oli served his blues apprenticeship on the road. When he was just 15 he was invited to America as the guest of the band Blinddog Smokin', taking to the same stage as Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal.

In 2008, he signed to the German blues label Ruf Records. It was a defining year for his career. He also released his debut album, Open Road, to positive reviews. His second album, Heads I Win Tails You Lose, released in 2010, was recorded with Mike Vernon, who has worked with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton and David Bowie, and who came out of retirement to work with Oli after seeing videos of him on YouTube.

He's excited about taking the new tracks out on the road. 'I guess one of the main things I love about the blues is the entertainment side of it. A person I like to reference is Buddy Guy. When you watch him perform his smile is infectious – you can't help but be completely transfixed,' he says.

His lengthy tour schedule means eh won't be back in Norfolk until his now traditional pre-Christmas bash at the Waterfront, but he's already looking forward to it. 'I love playing in Norfolk because it's where I started out, doing small pub gigs. It's a special place for me.'

t Oli Brown will be playing the Waterfront on December 16, tickets on sale now.

t Here I Am is out now.

t Further listening:

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