After spanning the globe on never ending tours, getting tattooed by monks in a Thai temple and playing festivals such as Glastonbury and SXSW, John Fairhurst finds the time to tell Tom Walton about his past, a return to Sheffield and his new album...
The yet-to-be titled long player is pencilled for release in September, with recording to take place at Sheffield’s Club 60 as the talkative 33 year-old bluesman explains: “It’s one of those rare places, it’s got a great vibe, I want to try and transmit that through to the music, and they’ve got fantastic 24-track analogue recording facilities.”
It will be a return to a city Fairhurst has fond memories of, he studied environmental conservation at Sheffield Hallam University and recollects: “I think it was 2001 when I finished at Hallam,” before laughing: “They’re pretty much the years when I really learned to play the guitar. It’ll be nice to spend some time there again.”
Originally from Wigan, the well travelled musician has wandered the world with his finger picking blues and gypsy jazz. He’s amiable and spins tales of the Rif Valley, living in Spain, Australia and New Zealand into conversation before explaining why it took until 2007 to record his debut album, ‘Joys Of Spring’ (released in 2008.)
With the studio set in a countryside cabin just outside of his hometown, he and friends collaborated on his instrumental curtain raiser. It later sold out of the limited run of 1000 copies and led to critical acclaim.
As Fairhurst looks back on the recording of the album, he reminisces fondly: “It was my first opportunity to actually release anything, I’ve been recording stuff and gigging since I was about 16 but this was the first time I managed to stay in one place and get it all down. It was very intimate, it was a beautiful summer and we recorded a lot of it with the doors open, all of the art work was done on site while we were recording and it was just a very organic way of doing things.”
He describes his second long player, ‘Band’ without the fond sense of nostalgia and labels his sophomore album as a “troublesome beast” and a “labour of love” that was a more difficult experience compared to his debut.
"The blues is coming back."
With the guitarist adding his gnarled vocal to the equation and a host international musicians taking part, sessions didn’t run as smoothly as ‘Joys Of Spring’ but it was a progression and the more highly charged blues material was perhaps easier for the listener to grasp.
Fairhurst first picked up a guitar at the age of 11 after listening to his father play slide. Taking influence from Captain Beefheart (“a genius, way ahead of his time,”) Tom Waits and Robert Johnson among others, he began to develop his well honed finger picking blues.
The guitarist considers Johnson and Waits as the men who set him on the road to playing with his father being a particularly strong influence despite the fact “he never even played a gig.”
When the guitarist was five years old the iconic Sarod player K. Sridhar stayed with family Fairhurst and it had a profound effect - Fairhurst has met with the musician several times since his stay in Wigan nearly 28 years ago and now considers him as something of a mentor and Eastern blues licks are visible in Fairhurst’s music today.
"Third Man Records is the most forward thinking record label."
With talk of blues and guitar bands facing a slide in mainstream popularity to the rejuvenated electro and dance scenes, Fairhurst rejects talk of a dwindle,saying it’s more important than ever: “The blues is coming back, if you look at Seasick Steve playing the main stage at festivals and the Black Keys – who just won a Grammy and they’re essentially a two piece blues band. They’ve taken the ball and run with it, they’re taking blues to new places.”
It’s a topic he knows and adds: “Look at my label [Debt Records,] they’ve got some great blues artists, like the Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six.”
The progressive musician believes music is expanding and the industry is coming back to life, the modern diversity in the current market fascinates Fairhurst who seems the perpetual optimist and welcomes the constant birth of new genres.
Before the conversation ends Fairhurst is intent on making his point and adds: “The White Stripes may have ended but Jack White’s Third Man Records is probably the best record label in the world, by far the most forward thinking. He’s [White] releasing records by fantastic folk and blues artists,” before laughing: “I wouldn’t mind being on it myself.”