Man in Blues: Al Hughes interview


David Hershaw: The first question I want to ask you is; how does a Scottish guy, living in Markinch, develop such an authentic mid 20th century American blues sound?

Al Hughes: It’s just kind of evolved I suppose. Listening to bands like Cream and Savoy Brown, the British blues bands, you hear these songs. The first time I ever heard Robert Johnson’s songs or Howlin’ Wolf’s stuff was by British bands doing it, and a lot of people took that for what it was and never went any further with it, but a lot of other people wanted to investigate it further. So it came from that I guess, although I’ve never sat down and consciously tried to sound like anybody, you just absorb things and develop ways of playing. It’s a very natural process.

DH: The students of St Andrews will know you best from your performances at Aikman’s, what keeps you coming back?

AH: It’s got a great buzz about it. It’s noisy and sometimes you think no one is paying the slightest bit of attention to you, but I honestly can’t think of a gig that I’ve done there where somebody hasn’t come up at the end to say something complimentary or buy a CD. It’s also nice to play to an audience that are slightly different to my usual crowd, there are a few less grey ponytails in Aikman’s than at the Blues Festivals I play. And I do think young people are more open-minded about music now than they were. Going back to the punk era, people used to be very dismissive of certain types of music and I know from my own children that young people listen to all kinds of stuff now.

DH: Are there any future plans for your band Lights Out By Nine?

AH: We’re still together although we’re not playing as much as we used to. The band’s been together for a long time; in fact this is our 25th Anniversary this year. We’ve got a gig next month and after that I don’t know what will happen. But the band’s still ticking over.

DH: In recent years you’ve been a prolific songwriter, with your new album being your sixth original album. How would describe your songwriting process?

AH: I kind of write in fits and starts. Usually when I’m recording I start with about 12 songs and by the time we’ve finished I have about 20, because once you get into the way of recording it sparks things off and then you have another idea and another idea and another idea which is nice because you have stuff to choose from and you don’t have to put out the things that, for whatever reason, didn’t turn out the way you thought they might.

DH: How do you think things have changed for live musicians and songwriters in the last few years?

AH: It’s always been difficult. A lot of people are quite conservative about the music they listen to and if you go into to your local bar or club then most people want to hear things they know. So it’s really about finding the right places to do it. I mean there are more opportunities to have your music heard now, there are more open mic nights and acoustic music in particular is more high-profile than it was at one time. Likewise the internet makes it a lot easier to get your stuff out there. But you’re still really in the position of just trying to get your stuff heard.

DH: Do you see Dancing In The Minefield as being particularly different from your previous ones or is it a continuation of where you left off?

AH: It’s a wee bit different. The last two albums were really just vocals and acoustic guitar and I wanted to do something that was edgier and more textured. Hence, there’s two or three more electric sounding things and we recorded the vocals for some tracks through harmonica mics and old crystal mics just to roughen it up a little bit. There’s a couple of nice acoustic things on it as well but its a little bit different.

DH: Two quick fire questions to finish. What is your favourite song on the new album?

AH: ‘Giving The Blues A Try’

DH: If you had to recommend one album to the students of St Andrews from any point in time which would you choose?

AH: Captain Beefheart – Safe as Milk


Al Hughes can be seen performing Movin’ Right Along on The Saint Live here.


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