Blair Dunlop, English singer songwriter and guitarist, chats with Kevin Cooper about playing Glastonbury, Tottenham Hotspur winning the FA Cup, his latest album Gilded and his forthcoming tour of the UK
Blair Dunlop is an English singer songwriter and guitarist. The son of Ashley Hutchings (formerly a member of Fairport Convention) and singer Judy Dunlop, he took over the running of The Albion Band from his father in 2011 but folded the band in 2013 to focus upon a solo career.
He has released one EP and three studio albums. His first album, Blight And Blossom was released in 2013 with follow up album House Of Jacks being released the following year. His third album, Gilded was released on his own record label, Gilded Wings Records in 2016.
At the age of 13 Dunlop made his film debut in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory which was directed by Tim Burton.
Whilst busy getting ready for the first night of his tour of the UK, he took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Good morning Blair, how are you today?
Hi Kevin, I’m not too bad thank you, how are you?
I’m good thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
Not at all.
And just how is life treating Blair Dunlop at this moment in time?
Life at the moment is very good thanks; in fact things are really good.
You released your last studio album Gilded on 6th May 2016. Were you pleased with just how well it was received?
I was yes, really pleased. I have had good press before and good feedback but I have never really had the radio support like I have had throughout the last year. Things have been brilliant and not once did I feel compromised when I was writing the songs despite the subject of radio play being at the back of my mind. So all in all, I have been delighted with just how everything has worked out. I have to say that the recording process was just so much fun and I really enjoyed it.
Would you agree that it is your best work to date?
I would yes.
I have to tell you that I have been playing the album for a few months now and I love it.
That’s really awesome, thank you.
The two tracks that really do stand out for me are She Won’t Cry For Me and Up On Cragside. What is the backstory to those two particular tracks?
Right, here goes (laughter). She Won’t Cry For Me is a relationship song which I wrote when I first moved down to London just over two years ago now, and to be honest that is really as much as I would like to say about that particular song. I honestly think that track is my favourite track on the album. Up On Cragside came about when I took my mum away for her birthday and we headed off up north because she is from the Boarders. On our way up we stopped at Cragside which if you are not aware is a National Trust site and as mum is a member she gets free parking (laughter). So I thought that I had better take full advantage of that and so we had afternoon tea there. However, the place is so nice that we ended up staying there for hours; it is such an amazing site.
The guy who built it was called William George Armstrong who really is Britain’s forgotten genius. He was a visionary inventor, engineer, scientist and businessman back in the 19th century and the simple reason for the song is that I just thought that his story was so interesting. Cragside was the first house that Armstrong built; it was totally self-sustained and even had hydro-electricity which was so far ahead of its time.
Some places like Mansfield and Derby still don’t have that (laughter).
(Laughter) I know exactly what you mean (laughter).
Did you give any thought to releasing the album on vinyl?
Yes I did, I really did. But I put the record out on my own with no financial backing from a major label whatsoever. I left the independent label that I had been with previously; who I have to say had served me very well. I have only got good things to say about them. As I released the album myself you can imagine there are inherent problems when tackling a project as big as that. Let me just say that I haven’t totally closed the door on vinyl, so we will see in the future. I personally feel that the latest album would lend itself best to vinyl sonically better than the previous two albums.
Are there any thoughts on a new studio album as yet?
Yes there are and I will be going back into the studio after the tour. So I will be having a very quick turnaround this year.
What sort of time scale are you looking at for a release date?
To be realistic I am looking towards the end of the year.
And I assume that you will tour on the back of the album?
Obviously all of this has to be confirmed but yes, a tour will hopefully follow the release of the album.
You mention touring, you are about to set off on a UK tour. Are you looking forward to getting back out on the road?
Yes I am, absolutely. The tour will be in two legs because in the middle of it I will be going over to America to play a few shows which really should be fun. It would have been perfect if I had gone over to America after the UK tour but the way that the dates have aligned means that it is in the middle of the tour but it is great to be busy. I will be attending a roots music conference over in Kansas and a lot of my favourite artists are going to be there so it is going to be a lovely little break from the tour, meaning that I will be coming back fresh for the last few dates.
Do you still enjoy touring?
I love it. I love being focused and simply love getting the songs out there to the people. Having people sing your songs back to you is always pretty cool I have to say. It reminds me of the little things in my life that I am extremely grateful for. I enjoy gigging now more than ever.
What can we expect?
It will be mainly songs from the last album although I expect that there will be a few wildcards out there too. There will be a few new songs; a couple of rehashed songs together with a cover or two. It is going to be real fun for me to get out there and play the songs for the fans.
Who has musically inspired you along the way?
That is such a hard question simply because there have been so many people. I grew up listening to a lot of West Coast Americana thanks to my dad, so it would have been a lot of singer songwriters such as Jackson Browne. However, I grew up within the traditional folk scene so from a guitarist’s point of view I would have to say Nic Jones together with a whole host of the traditional English folk heroes. So really I have been inspired by a whole mishmash of different styles and artists.
Testing your memory what was the first single that you bought?
That was Pure And Simple by Hear’say (laughter) who were the first winners of Pop Stars which was the precursor to Pop Idol which was the precursor to The X Factor (laughter). I thought that the show was awful and even the single was awful but I still bought it (laughter).
What about the first album that you bought; was that any better than your first single?
The first album that I can remember buying was Room On Fire by The Strokes which was their follow-up album to Is This It which had the tracks Last Nite and Someday on, and I just loved that album. Because of that I bought Room On Fire and I was really disappointed with it. I felt so aggrieved that I had spent ten pounds on an album that I hated. However, I feel that it is important to do that because it helps you build up a relationship with music. So I think that everyone should give it a try (laughter). I feel that it is what we are losing with this generation; it seems to be more of an entitlement feeling now. I personally feel that it is important to buy a few albums and hate them (laughter).
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
My god that is such a hard question to answer. I don’t even know if I could tell you. Thinking about it, the last time that I shed a little tear was when I was listening to Sometimes which is an instrumental by an American Bluegrass group, the name of which escapes me now. I listened to the track one night after I had got home quite inebriated and I thought that it was amazing. That was a couple of years ago now but for me instrumental music has the power to touch people. I really do love that piece.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
I had a great time at Glastonbury last year and I never thought that would be up there with my highlights. Whenever you play at a festival such as Glastonbury you get used to the fact that there are so many artists there and it does to some extent feel like a cattle market. I was playing on a great stage; the sound was amazing, the crowd really loved it, and I have to say that was a really important time for me. I had some stuff happening in my personal life at the start of the year but playing Glastonbury last year really did mark the highpoint of the summer for me. It really did come at a time when I really did need it so that probably was my career highlight. Also, I really did enjoy being in the studio recording the last album so maybe that was a high too.
In 2005 you were in Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story Charlie And The Chocolate Factory working alongside a certain Johnny Depp. Is acting something that you would like to do more of?
Well I tried acting for a while but at that time I found that I preferred making and playing music. At school I did lots of acting but really I just prefer music. My flatmate is an actor and since I have been spending time with him and his thespian friends, I now feel that I have got the acting bug again, but just a little bit (laughter).
Where would you like to see yourself in five years time?
At Wembley watching Tottenham Hotspur wining the FA Cup (laughter).
Now we were getting along fine until you mentioned Spurs and the FA Cup. I remember 1991 and how a certain Paul Gascoigne conned the referee and Spurs went on to beat us 2-1 (laughter).
Oh yes, I remember, sorry. It’s not an ideal world is it (laughter).
I have to ask you, what’s your dad up to these days?
Well, he watches a lot of the football on the TV, and he is doing a lot of writing spoken word shows at the moment. He plays a little as well so he is keeping his hand in.
On that note Blair let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to seeing you at The Flower Pot in Derby on Thursday 9th February.
Not at all Kevin, it’s been a real pleasure. I hope to see you in Derby.