innes si­bun

Innes Si­bun is a joy­ous and re­lent­lessly en­er­getic gui­tarist who is on elec­tri­fy­ing form on blues sen­sa­tion Sari Schorr’s new al­bum, A Force Of Na­ture. A vet­eran of world tours with Robert Plant and the East­ern Euro­pean blues cir­cuit, Innes joins us to ta

Guitarist - - Contents - Words Jamie Dick­son Pho­tog­ra­phy Joby Ses­sions

Afew weeks ago, Gui­tarist dropped by the Steam pub in Bris­tol to find Innes Si­bun – freshly re­turned from tour­ing Europe with blues singer Sari Schorr – ab­so­lutely thrilling a room full of pun­ters with his pow­er­house blues style. Innes just doesn’t know how to give less than 100 per cent, whether he’s play­ing sta­di­ums with Robert Plant or slap­ping smiles on the faces of pub-go­ers on a week­day night. Backed by an ex­cel­lent band, he romped through Rory Gal­lagher and BB King clas­sics like a man pos­sessed, pin­ning his heart to the fret­board through­out. Now, that’s the kind of player we like – so we in­vited Innes down to Gui­tarist dur­ing one of his rare quiet spells to talk about giv­ing the per­for­mances of his life in Schorr’s En­gine Room band. And we also heard some tales of duk­ing it out on the East­ern Euro­pean blues scene, and the time when Clap­ton lent a hand in the gar­den…

When did you first re­alise blues gui­tar was your call­ing? “Ini­tially I was into punk and all that. But then I heard BB King, and it was an epiphany. I must have been about 12. I re­mem­ber I shoplifted a BB King al­bum, Live At The Re­gal, from op­po­site the The­atre Royal, where there used to be a sec­ond­hand record shop. And I re­mem­ber stick­ing it un­der my coat, be­cause I was just des­per­ate – I had to have it. I played it to death, but I still feel guilty about that. Any­way, I did a pa­per-round, and I got this cheap sort of Wool­worths gui­tar, you know, re­ally bad elec­tric gui­tar. I would play the al­bum at night, with the speak­ers out, just in the groove – and I’d be up till three in the morn­ing, just to­tally ob­sessed.

“Af­ter that I used to go to the lo­cal record shop and buy al­bums on the strength of if they looked like they were go­ing to be a blues al­bum. So I kind of accidentally dis­cov­ered things that way. I re­mem­ber sav­ing up my pa­per-round money for Donny Hath­away – Live, with Cor­nell Dupree on gui­tar, and also get­ting the sec­ond al­bum by Free when I was 13 – al­though ac­tu­ally I was a bit em­bar­rassed about buying it at the time, be­cause there was a pic­ture of a naked woman on the front! And I also be­came ob­sessed with Rory Gal­lagher records. I was so des­per­ate to hear this mu­sic!”

There’s a Rory link to how you met Sari Schorr, isn’t there? “Yes. I met Sari [in 2011] when I got asked to go over to New York to play at a con­cert at the Irid­ium Jazz Club to cel­e­brate the re­lease of the Notes From San Fran­cisco al­bum, which Rory recorded in Amer­ica [between 1977 and 1979]. It was a lush pro­duc­tion, with strings and ev­ery­thing, and the fa­mous story is that he went to see the Sex Pis­tols one night in San Fran­cisco, then went back to the stu­dio and binned the tapes, say­ing, ‘That’s where I come from,’ mean­ing that ‘raw en­ergy’ thing. He felt they were mak­ing him over­pro­duce the mu­sic. Any­way, that al­bum was later res­cued by his brother Donal and re­leased. The orig­i­nal en­gi­neer and the pro­ducer were all at the launch and it was great.

“At the end of this event there was a bit of a jam ses­sion, and Sari, who lives in New York, got up. And I thought, ‘Wow, what a voice,’ and later on we met, chat­ted and promised to keep in touch. In fact, we didn’t keep in touch – you know what it’s like. But then last year I was on tour in Spain, play­ing with dif­fer­ent Span­ish bands. I kind of started off in the north and worked down. And, out of the blue, I had an email from Sari, say­ing, ‘Hi, re­mem­ber me? I’m in Spain, at Mike Ver­non’s house. We’re record­ing my al­bum. We’re dis­cussing what gui­tar play­ers we want, and I want you on the al­bum.’ I’d worked with Mike Ver­non

many moons ago, on the first record I ever made, so it was kind of like a full cir­cle. I said, ‘Well, fun­nily enough, I’m in Spain.’ And I had a cou­ple of days off. So, yes, so it was al­most meant to be. And then, once the al­bum was fin­ished, Sari was want­ing to put a band to­gether, The En­gine Room, to tour the al­bum in Europe. So I said, ‘Well, I hope I’m the first choice as gui­tar player…’

Seems like there’s a lot of love for blues gui­tar in Europe right now… “Yes, it’s good money and they re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate you. East­ern Europe is very good at the mo­ment. I think they’ve been mu­si­cally starved for so many decades, not hav­ing the records, not hav­ing the in­stru­ments, not hav­ing ac­cess to blues and rock mu­sic for so long [un­der Com­mu­nism]. I did two tours of Rus­sia last year, and it re­ally was an eye-opener. There’s a guy over there called Boris Litsinev, and he’s ob­sessed with Bri­tish blues. He took me to this cor­ner by one of the uni­ver­si­ties in Moscow, and he said, ‘This is where my brother and all his friends would se­cretly swap blues vinyl.’ Back then, they were wor­ried that the KGB was go­ing to ar­rest them be­cause that mu­sic was banned – in Soviet Rus­sia it was thought to be Western, im­pe­ri­al­is­tic, deca­dent, so it was only avail­able on the black mar­ket. And he said that one of his friends at univer­sity made a ma­chine for re-press­ing vinyl out of parts. So they would get all the BB King records, or The Rolling Stones or what­ever, and they would make these copies and then they would sort of se­cretly pass them on.”

What’s it like play­ing blues in the for­mer Soviet Union these days? “Well, it’s kind of gone the other way now. I did a gig in Latvia a cou­ple of months ago and Ziggy, the agent that puts me on over there, he said, ‘I’ve got a gig, €600, I’ll pay all your flights.’ So I went, ‘Great, okay.’ And I went over there think­ing it was go­ing to be a blues club or what­ever. Turns out it’s a pri­vate party for a bloody mafia boss. Oh my word! When I got there I was think­ing, ‘What the hell am I ac­tu­ally do­ing here?’ Christ, there were strip­pers, fire-eaters and ev­ery­thing… I was play­ing with this great Lat­vian band – but they all got com­pletely bol­locks’d on whisky [laughs].

“So, any­way, I get up with the band and it’s great un­til about the third song. Then Ziggy comes up and an­nounces to every­one that ‘there will be a short break for strip­pers’. And I thought, ‘I’m not hear­ing this right.’

“Once the al­bum was fin­ished, Sari was want­ing to put a band to­gether, The En­gine Room, to tour the al­bum in Europe. So I said, ‘Well, I hope I’m the first choice as gui­tar player…’”

So, any­way, we get off the stage and these two women come on in all the gear and start strip­ping off. Then they get this guy out of the au­di­ence – this big, burly, bald-headed guy – and he starts tak­ing all his clothes off. So he’s bol­lock-naked on the stage, on our stage, where we’re sup­posed to be play­ing. Then these two strip­pers run off. And here’s this guy, ab­so­lutely out of his head, built like a shit-house, still on stage… and for some rea­son he’s started throw­ing punches. At that point, Ziggy comes up and says, ‘You go back on stage.’ And I said, ‘No!’ But they in­sisted and told me, ‘No, you must play. We pay you, so you must play.’

“So we’re on stage try­ing to stay clear of this burly, naked gang­ster… It was just men­tal. And then it ended up in a food fight. And to top it all, I messed up my flight home. I’d mis­tak­enly booked the wrong re­turn date and so in the end I had to buy a flight to Fin­land, spend a whole day in an air­port in Fin­land, then fly back to Heathrow, then drive from Heathrow back to Stansted, be­cause my car was at Stansted. When I fi­nally got back, I think I’d made about £15 out of the whole ex­pe­ri­ence!”

Tell us about work­ing with Robert Plant. How did that come about? “Again, be­ing in the right place at the right time. Charlie Jones was play­ing bass with Robert and he was mar­ried to Robert’s daugh­ter, Car­men. They were in the mid­dle of a Euro­pean leg of what was a two-year tour, and with­out go­ing into too many de­tails, there were prob­lems with the other gui­tar player, so he got booted out mid­tour. I think they had a week off, and they needed some­body very quickly and Charlie sug­gested me.

“So we went to a re­hearsal stu­dio in Birm­ing­ham and we were just sort of jam­ming. Charlie said to me, ‘You’ll be all right as long as you play some coun­try blues and some­thing a bit ‘raga-es­que’… be­cause Robert loves all that West Coast stuff and the Mid­dle East­ern in­flu­ences. And so Robert walks in, and he’s got this Strat over his shoul­der – not in a case, over his shoul­der. And it’s the one that Stan Webb [of Chicken Shack] had given him. So he just plugs in and starts play­ing – be­cause he plays a bit – and we just jammed all day and he recorded it. And I was think­ing that I was prob­a­bly try­ing too hard, you know. So after­wards I just thought, ‘Well, I’ve met Robert Plant and at least I can say I’ve played with him, you know…’

“But then a cou­ple of days later I got this call say­ing, ‘You’ve got to get your­self down to Grosvenor Place to get your Amer­i­can visa, be­cause this time next week you’re go­ing to be play­ing Mi­ami.’ I thought it was a joke. But I think Robert just wanted

“So we’re on stage try­ing to stay clear of this burly, naked gang­ster… It was men­tal. And then it ended up in a food fight. And, to top it all, I messed up my flight home”

some­body that was sort of un­known and some­body that was easy to get on with who had the same in­flu­ences, you know. And ob­vi­ously I was a mas­sive Zep­pelin fan as a kid. So I was just re­ally lucky.”

Can you tell us what the next step is with Sari Schorr’s band? “Well, in Jan­uary, we go over to Mike Ver­non’s for a cou­ple of weeks. Then in March, April and May it’s solid tour­ing all round Europe. There are some stretches that are six nights with­out a break. When I played with Robert, he would never do more than three nights. He’d al­ways have to have a night off for his voice. But Sari, she can do it, you know? She trained as an opera singer. Af­ter that, the whole of Au­gust is record­ing the next record – and then the plan is to re­lease it in Novem­ber.”

Is it daunt­ing to work with the guy who pro­duced Clap­ton on the ‘Beano’ al­bum? “I used to think, ‘What does a pro­ducer do?’ But it’s al­most like a dif­fer­ent set of ears and brain. He’ll say some­thing like, ‘Don’t do that, play arpeg­gios on that track in­stead.’ And you think, ‘That’s a weird idea.’ But you do it, and you think, ‘God, that sounds great.’ Ev­ery­body trusts him so much. And you know, his mem­ory’s great. He said Eric and Peter Green were both real dreams to work with and he has all these sto­ries about them. He was at one of those Hyde Park con­certs a few years ago, and he said he caught some­body’s eye, wink­ing at him. And he looked over and saw this bloke with a cap and a scarf, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s Eric!’ He was kind of in dis­guise…

“Ac­tu­ally, I heard an­other funny story about Eric Clap­ton. I have a friend who’s a key­board player and his wife’s dad owned a plant nurs­ery. Any­way, one day her dad had to de­liver some big pot plants to an ad­dress in Glouces­ter­shire, which turned out to be Steve Win­wood’s place. So her dad, who knows noth­ing about mu­sic, sees there’s this guy stand­ing there by the door. ‘’Scuse me, mate,’ he says, ‘Can you help me carry these pot­ted plants in?’ So this guy helps him and off he goes again. After­wards, he phoned up about the de­liv­ery and was told, ‘You just asked Eric Clap­ton to help you!’ [laughs]. Poor old Eric Clap­ton – his hands are worth mil­lions and he was car­ry­ing these bloody plants in!”

“I used to think, ‘What does a pro­ducer do?’ He’ll say some­thing like, ‘Don’t do that, play arpeg­gios on that track in­stead.’ And you think, ‘That’s a weird idea.’ But you do it, and you think, ‘God, that sounds great’”

Bacci Martha sin­gle-cut “The Bacci gui­tars are hand­made in Italy in Lucca by a guy named Bruno Bacci. It has a one­piece body and neck. It’s just a beau­ti­ful gui­tar”

1961 Gib­son ES-335 “It still has the orig­i­nal pick­ups, al­though the bridge pickup had to be re­wound. It’s been re­fret­ted many times, but there’s some­thing about it that’s just right”

Cal­i­for­nia Artist S-Type “The Cal­i­for­nia Artist S-style gui­tar Michael Coul­ing made me is gor­geous. To me, it feels and sounds like a re­ally good old Strat”

“I’ve been through loads of Les­lie ped­als, but I just want some­thing sim­ple with con­trols that I can see with­out need­ing my glasses…”

Innes met Sari in New York in 2011, but lost touch un­til a serendip­i­tous re­cent tour around Spain brought the pair back to­gether­nessi­

Sari Schorr’s lat­est al­bum, A Force Of Na­ture, is out now on Man­haton Records

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