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Any other gui­tar mo­ments you like on What­ever It Takes? “Well, I’m proud of Blis­ters. It might not sound like much to some peo­ple. But I’m play­ing that track with­out a pick, and for me, it’s a chal­lenge to get a half-de­cent noise. Why no pick? Partly to see if I could. And partly be­cause you get a dif­fer­ent sound. I mean, I’ll hear Gate­mouth Brown and Johnny ‘Gui­tar’ Wat­son’s stuff, and I’m sur­prised how much at­tack you can get with­out a pick. On that track, I threw my weight around, turned the amp right up, over every­body’s ob­jec­tions, to an ob­nox­iously loud level – and got ex­actly the sound I wanted.” Do you have any sig­na­ture moves that iden­tify you as a gui­tarist? “Yeah. I have this sort of lit­tle ‘stut­ter’. Like this Porky Pig stut­ter on the gui­tar. And it does re­quire the pick to do that. It’s a clipped, stac­cato sort of thing. It doesn’t grab the at­ten­tion like Van Halen stuff, but it does star­tle peo­ple some­times. Or I’ll har­monise with my­self on the gui­tar. Which is an ex­ten­sion of what I’m do­ing with the horns – y’know, the two horns har­mon­is­ing with what I’m singing. It’s me try­ing to get the ef­fect of the vo­cal groups live on stage… when we can’t af­ford back­ing singers.” So tell us about your Les Paul… “It’s got a bit of his­tory, that one. Peo­ple think it’s an old gui­tar – and it ain’t. I bought it new in 1999, in An­gel, Lon­don. Around 2005, it got in­volved in a fight in a pub. This mad bird at­tacked me at a gig. I didn’t take it per­son­ally, be­cause this per­son at­tacked every­body. Some­body else in­ter­ceded and pulled her away. But in the scuf­fle, she knocked my gui­tar over and the neck broke. So I had it fixed on by this ge­nius bloke who worked out of Den­mark Street – his name’s Philippe [Dubreuille]. He took the re­mains of the neck and made a whole new one. So it’s a boot­leg neck. And it’s bet­ter than the old one. Philippe even put the Gib­son logo on there.” What drew you to use P-90s in­stead of hum­buck­ers? “Well, I’d never tried hum­buck­ers, so it was purely on word of mouth. Every­body’s go­ing: ‘P-90s have got loads of at­tack’. And I’ve since bought an­other Gib­son with hum­buck­ers, and the P-90s do have an at­tack. They’re as clean as you want, and they can get dirty. The neck pickup is ac­tu­ally a P-100 and the bridge is a P-90, given to me by Sey­mour Duncan. He turned up at a gig around 2006, gave me this thing per­son­ally. Of course, since I had a mis­match, I had to tune ‘em in so they wouldn’t phase.” That main Les Paul looks bat­tered… “I don’t get it over­hauled as of­ten as I should, and it’s just taken a beat­ing. It’s the wear and tear of the road. You can thank Bri­tish Air­ways as well – they’re good at throw­ing stuff about. Ask any mu­si­cian how much they love Bri­tish Air­ways [laughs].” Most peo­ple don’t as­so­ciate the Les Paul with soul mu­sic… “No. Since the 70s, I think it’s been a greebo’s in­stru­ment, to use a Colch­ester term. It’s as­so­ci­ated with heavy metal. But if you lis­ten to the first guys on Sun Records, you can hear that a lot of them are play­ing a Les Paul. It might have been the same one, be­ing passed around. Lowman Pauling played one with The “5” Royales. If you want to hear gui­tar play­ing, lis­ten to him.” Does the Les Paul fit with your voice and the horns? “Ei­ther that or we’ve adapted what we play for the in­stru­ment. But yeah, the sound is fat enough to bridge the rhythm sec­tion.” Any other Les Pauls in your arse­nal? “I bought one re­cently. It’s a lovely-look­ing thing. It’s a sun­burst, 2003, barely been played. But the neck needs do­ing be­cause the frets are too high. My wife picked it up and said, ‘This neck’s a bas­tard!’ So at some point, next bit of pocket money, I’m gonna take that in to Philippe, see if he can do things to it.”

“My Les Paul has a boot­leg neck that’s bet­ter than the old one”

So you’re not one of these guys with hun­dreds of guitars? “No, I wouldn’t fancy that. They take up a lot of space. I’ve only got a small flat. I do have a Dan­elec­tro [DC59], which looks beau­ti­ful but isn’t very good. The sound is half-de­cent, but it hasn’t got enough power or sus­tain to re­ally help what I do. It’s fun for play­ing demos, feels nice in your hand. I’ve got an­other Dan­elec­tro bari­tone, which I use for do­ing demos on the four-track, and I fake the bass with that.”

We’ve heard that you’re staunchly anti-ef­fects? “Yeah. I use a Vox AC30, and I used the amp’s vi­brato for one song. For years, I strug­gled along with a Fen­der Twin. It sounded like knit­ting nee­dles clashed to­gether, it’s rot­ten com­pared [to the Vox]. When I fi­nally bought an AC30 new in 2007, I won­dered what I’d been do­ing all that time. I’ve never looked back since. It’s pretty pow­er­ful. You get some slightly older mod­els, and they’re

a bit dirty-sound­ing when you don’t want them to be. Slightly nasal. Y’know, you can do the pretty stuff on this and get nasty on it too. I like to have the op­tion. I hate amps where they’re al­ready dis­torted when you put them on ‘1’. To me, that doesn’t sound edgy – it just takes all the def­i­ni­tion out of it. Be­cause you can have a dirty sound with def­i­ni­tion at the same time, but some amp-mak­ers think the two are mu­tu­ally exclusive.” You don’t in­sist on vintage gear then? “No. I mean, it has a cer­tain ca­chet, doesn’t it? But y’know, back in the 60s, peo­ple weren’t go­ing, ‘Oh, this is an orig­i­nal…’. They’d just go, ‘This sounds good’. And that’s how it should be now.” The lat­est al­bum is called What­ever It

Takes. So what has it taken? “Well, I drifted into [this ca­reer], and I’ve just rolled with the punches. I’ve never had a game­plan or any­thing – I’m not or­gan­ised enough for that. I just take life as mul­tichoice – you’re faced with a range of op­tions and you take the least worst [laughs].” Have there been harder mo­ments? “Oh yeah. It’s been a se­ries of troughs in­ter­spersed with the odd peak. But a lot of the troughs came in rapid suc­ces­sion, so it might have been one long one. Y’know, the gigs thin­ning out and you haven’t the [money] to pay your rent was a low point.” Didn’t you have to go back to a day job at one point? “Yeah. I was work­ing for an agency, do­ing labour­ing. It’s the only other thing I can do. And I went from that to busk­ing be­cause it paid bet­ter – and be­cause you met a bet­ter class of peo­ple on the streets than you did in the agency. They were com­plete bastards. The only good thing about that was the free­dom to work or not work. So you could stay off the dole and if a gig came, you could blow the work off.” What do you re­mem­ber about busk­ing in Lon­don? “It was hard. But it did im­prove your chops and your stamina. You had to be street­wise some­times. We got in a few scrapes. One time, we got a re­ally ag­gres­sive beg­gar, who ap­peared to be Glaswe­gian. I un­plugged my gui­tar and had it over my shoul­der. He said: ‘Are you gonna hit me with that?’ And I said: ‘I hope not’.” You also sang in Van Mor­ri­son’s band in the 90s… “Yeah, I played gui­tar with him as well. Quite wisely, he wouldn’t have me on any of the sen­si­tive stuff from Vee­don Fleece or As­tral Weeks. But he’d have me on the blues stuff. In fact, we’d play Shakin’ All Over at the end of his set.” How did it im­pact your ca­reer to get a Grammy nom­i­na­tion in 2006? “I didn’t feel one way or an­other. But I thought, putting ‘Grammy-nom­i­nated’ on our pub­lic­ity couldn’t hurt. Peo­ple see the word ‘Grammy’ and every­body thinks we won.” If some­one hasn’t heard any of your al­bums, should they start with this one? “I think they should start with the last one [2016’s Hold On], and then work up to this one. Or work back­wards. But don’t go back too far. The last three al­bums are the ones I’m most proud of. Minute By Minute was the first time we’d worked with [pro­ducer] Gabe Roth. The first time we re­ally sounded like we were sup­posed to.” How im­por­tant is it that you record live? “It helps the feel. You can do it in lay­ers. But if you record the drum­mer with the bass player first and then you do some­thing on gui­tar, it’s too late for him to re­act to it. You’ve got to have call-an­dresponse. We used to do it in lay­ers and it just sounds ster­ile.” Is it hard to stay grounded when Mojo calls you ‘the UK’s great­est soul singer’? “Well, I’ve al­ways had a big head. But yeah, I did feel very pleased when they called me that. I just don’t like it when any­body calls me blue-eyed soul. I hate that!” We live in the mod­ern world – why does your vintage mu­sic strike such a chord? “Maybe just be­cause it’s dif­fer­ent. The thing about now is that there’s room for ev­ery­thing. And that’s how it should be. There might be a lot of crap… but there was back then, too!”

The James Hunter Six and their in­stru­ments have taken the rough with the smooth

Though his mu­sic has the feel of yes­ter­year there’s noth­ing vintage about Hunter’s Les Paul

What­ever It Takes is out now on Dap­tone www.jameshunter­mu­

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