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Interview: Oli Brown

PUBLISHED: 17:00 12 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:40 29 October 2010

Rob Garratt

Norwich's blues guitarist Oli Brown is on the Open Road again and at the Arts Centre. ROB GARRATT traded some licks with the teenager even the blues legends respect.

Further listening: Oli Brown Band

Norwich's blues guitarist Oli Brown is on the Open Road again and at the Arts Centre. ROB GARRATT traded some licks with the teenager even the blues legends respect.

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Teenage guitar-slinger Oli Brown is making tracks in the blues world, fresh from appearances on BBC Radio 1 and 2 in the last few weeks.

Last year's debut album, Open Road, picked up rave reviews from Mojo, Uncut, the Sunday Express and various guitar magazines, and was voted number two album of 2008 by readers of Blues Matters magazine.

Now with a signature guitar in shop windows named after him from Vanquish and an HMV-endorsed tour, 2009 could see him breaking out of the blues world and into the mainstream - not bad for a 19-year-old.

t Tell us about your gig at the Arts Centre.

“It's going to be red nose day. We're going to have a raffle and I'm going to give away my first guitar, I played it lots and I love it. It's a bit sad but I wanted to do something for red nose day. The tour is to promote our Open Road album. We've got a lot more going on than before we're just trying to make it a bit different.”

t Different in what way?

“We've got a new stage show, a lot more harmonies and backing vocals to fill out the sound of the trio. The microphone company Shure have endorsed me for this tour, I just got delivered all this stuff today, so it's been fun playing with that. Some more guitar news is that Blues Matters magazine voted my album number two in public votes last year.”

t A lot of your fans are guitarists, what's it like outplaying all these people in the audience more than twice your age?

“It's nice but I'm just doing what I do. It's more of an achievement for me. There people who've come to our gigs are really supportive.”

t What kind of fan base do you get?

“The age range is growing. We recently did some high school gigs around Norfolk so the gig at the Arts Centre will really show if that worked. It's mainly an older audience because blues is not as open to the public as pop music. The age range is growing a bit more and parents are taking their kids and then their kids are emailing me.”

t Would you like to appeal to people closer to your own age?

“It doesn't bother me really, I have got used to that kind of thing. I can say I am very comfortable with the audience I have. They are all very respectful about the blues genre and that's something I really love. It's about the audience and they really love the music.”

t Do you play mainly blues standards or your own stuff?

“Most of it's our own stuff. We want to do blues but we don't want to do all the standards. We want to grab a new audience. We do some 12 bar blues but we try to change it around and make it more interesting. We love funk music as well and getting and that really helps us getting into the groove. We do a cover of an old 90s hip hop song with a good funk groove, which probably doesn't sound as good talking about it as when you hear it.

t Are you Norwich born and bred?

“I'm originally a Yorkshire boy but I've lived here 15-years. I started playing when I was 12 and I just did it for fun because I wasn't very good at school. My dad was in touch with an America blues band called Blinddog Smokin' and when I was 15 the lead singer invited me to tour with them, I went with them for a month and they taught me everything about blues music. They're the reason I do what I do.”

t And when you were 17 you formed your own band?

“Yeah, I got my own band. The guys are really good, we've been working really hard. We've been playing for two years now and this tour is a big step for is. I'm really looking forward to this year.”

t What's your personal highlights of the last two years?

“I can't pick one thing…you've made me go quiet with that one. I lot of good things have happened. I really enjoyed going to Memphis and recording there, it's the home of the blues and that was quite overwhelming. The past two years have been fantastic.”

t What is about the blues that keeps people coming back to it?

“Maybe there's different reasons for different people but my personal reason is that there's a lot of soul to the music. It's the king of improvisation, people like Buddy Guy have such a stage show, telling stories and going off on a tangent and the whole performance side of it. The enjoyment of it all. There's so much more going on in blues than people don't hear. There's a lot of history to it.”

t Do you think you'll always be playing blues>

“As long as I'm making a living and doing what I am doing I could be happy for the rest of my life.”

t The Oli Brown band play Norwich Arts Centre tonight, 8.30pm, £10 on the door.

Further listening: Oli Brown Band

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