The Divided Kingdom – 2019
Bristol 247 – Live at The Golden Lion, Bristol Nov 2016
John is from Bristol, and the owner of one of the deepest voices we’ve ever heard, like Captain Beefheart but even more so. In this growly blues performance he sings about the bottom of the ocean, and that’s how deep his voice is. – Classic Rock Magazine – Tracks of the week
Saltwater Review “Music Riot”
“If you’re sick of hearing second and third generation blues revivalists recycling smooth guitar licks and bland vocals (no, I’m not naming names) then this could be just the album for you; don’t file under easy listening.” – Allan Mackay, Music Riot
If you happen to have dipped a toe in the pool that is the British blues scene recently, you may have noticed that there are some very snappy critters swimming there waiting for the unwary. As with any scene that’s out of the mainstream, it’s inevitable that cliques develop, a fact that isn’t helped by too many performers chasing too few fans. It’s a classic supply and demand situation. As well as reducing the cash available to performers, it creates a situation where greed and selfishness seem to be excusable and some of those critters in that pool are piranhas. You can hear accusations of nepotism, award-rigging and other bits of nastiness, but the worst thing you can do is to question someone’s authenticity, which is ironic given that the players who are currently really successful are imitating the players from the 60s and 70s who imitated the original blues artists from the 30s and 40s.
Ok, so here’s where that was all heading; I’ve been listening to an album by John Fairhurst. The album’s called “Saltwater” and it’s not full of tasteful imitations of Clapton playing “Further on Up the Road” or “Key to the Highway”; the inspiration here comes from Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and many others. The smoothness has been filtered out and this goes back to the raw earthiness of early country blues and Chicago electric blues.
John Fairhurst is originally from Wigan; he now lives in Bristol and recorded this album in Bristol and London with the help of Toby Murray (drums), Joe Strouzer (harmonica and vocals), Emma Divine (vocals), Tim Loudon (bass), Luke Barter (bass), Jago Whitehead (drums & percussion), Phil Jewson (piano), Saul Wodak (guitar effects) and Alex Beitzke (bass). I have a little confession to make about the album; on the first listen, I was halfway through before I actually started to get it (during the guitar solo on “I’m Coming Home”, actually). I blame it on the previous review I did, which was a very cleanly-produced singer-songwriter and it took a while to move from that to the over-driven guitar, wailing harmonica and Tom-Waits-dukes-it-out-with-Mark-Lanegan vocals. So let’s go back to the start.
The two opening songs, “Breakdown” and “Who You Fooling” get things off to a raucous start with plenty of amped-up slide and harmonica to get things rolling before the album’s only cover, the Mississippi John Hurt song “Pay Day”, which is much gentler, using the old country blues devices of repeated lines and call and response with the help of the Dean Street Choir. There’s even a sneaky little Eric Clapton reference at the end. “More More More” and “Time Goes By” are rooted in the rural, country blues tradition, the first having a UK skiffle feel while “Time Goes By” could be Tom Waits with the badly-tuned pub piano accompaniment.
You couldn’t really describe “I’m Coming Home” as blues; it’s a mutant Jimi Hendrix/Neil Young hybrid with “Voodoo Chile”-style riff and fill playing in the verses and a Shakey-style solo from the “American Stars and Bars” era. It’s the first of the album’s epic pieces. “No Shelter” is another elemental piece built around a simple (but loud) guitar riff and a reasonably good choice for the album’s first single while “Black Cat” is pure Muddy Waters; it’s a straight-ahead twelve-bar with belting harmonica and that always sounds good to me. So, more of the same to finish the album off?
No way; the penultimate song, written by the whole band, is “Dance in the Pines”, a mad surf-punk piece which splices DNA from The Cramps, Dick Dale and The Ventures. It’s off the wall and it’s brilliant. The album’s closer and title track, “Saltwater” is the magnum opus and absolutely has to be the last track; it wouldn’t be as effective anywhere else on the album. The song, which is a restyling of the Robert Johnson “Crossroads” story substituting the ocean for Clarksdale, has the singer refusing to shake hands with The Devil. It’s an epic which starts with acoustic guitar and vocal (slipping into a Wigan accent) which builds through a rural bluegrass-tinged to a kitchen-sink finale featuring Emma Divine delivering a vocal which easily equals Clare Torry’s famous performance on “Great Gig in the Sky”. And it’s the last track on the album because you can’t follow that; job done.
If you’re sick of hearing second and third generation blues revivalists recycling smooth guitar licks and bland vocals (no, I’m not naming names) then this could be just the album for you; don’t file under easy listening.
SALTWATER, Review, Blues Matters
Not a name I’m familiar with but definitely one whose back catalogue and gigs I will be checking out. You get a dark and powerful voice coupled with a bottleneck slide and Southern style stomp to his music. My immediate thoughts were that he is from Mississippi – he has that North Mississippi feel – but instead he seems to hail from Sheffield England although his website suggests extensive travels through India and Asia and there is definitely a feel of more than typical Blues in his playing. The songs are strong on melody and chorus with his guitar almost relegated to a slide drone under the vocals but if you delve deeply into the sound there are some definite gems to be heard in his playing; needless to say his solos are monumental as befits the almost raga style to the music but overall you are left with an impression of his vocals. Opener Breakdown boogies along at a lick with his slide to the fore and when the vocal breaks in it is almost a shock to hear his vocals so closely aligned to the sound of the guitar but it works, creating an almost hypnotic groove where the words are unimportant and the sound of the song is all you get but then he hits the break and the whole song lifts into a higher gear before slowing back into the groove once more. Another album that raises questions first time through but that definitely grows and pulls you in to the music the more that you listen. Oddly, he reminds me of John Kongas (Tokoloshe Man) but the quality of his playing is definitely better and he makes a sound that has many layers and levels – the more you unpeel the more you get out of it. Blues Matters
Saltwater Review, FATEA
“it is physically impossible to listen to John Fairhust without moving some body part or another. Now, if this was polite, lightly-tap-the-steering-wheel-as-you-drive-along music, all would be well – but it isn’t. This is a magnificent thumping wall of electric blues. FATEA Tim Goodwin
Saltwater Review, Rock’n Reel
These songs have an authentic blues character running through their veins, whether it’s Fairhurst’s cracked vocal tone or the southern soaked slide-guitar you can’t help but get into the flow of these simply addictive songs.
Hungry Blues Review
“John Fairhurst’s relentless and seemingly endless international touring schedules prove him to be first and foremost a live performer. Raised in the north of England he’s gone from Wigan to the World travelling broad musical landscapes. With undeniable blues influences and a nod to Ry Cooder, on his journey he’s studied classical Indian music, played slide guitar blues in Bangkok bars and come up with a distinctive instrumental and vocal style. Just in the last year he’s performed a gruelling 200 plus shows across 10 countries, completed a European tour with blues legend Johnny Winter and has released his latest recording the ‘Hungry Blues’ EP in conjunction with Toby Murray on drums and harmonica from Joe Strouzer. Fairhurst is nominated for The British Blues Awards 2013 ‘Best Original British Blues Song’.
The ‘Hungry Blues’ EP woodcut cover design betrays eclectic influences of an essentially bottleneck blues man, closely acquainted with dubro guitar and in possession of a deep Missippi style vocal , that owes something to the likes of Howlin Wolf. Interesting then, that his 2010 release ‘Joys of Spring’ was an instrumental album with Ravi Shankar inspiration and meditative undertones, taking his most dominant feature out of the equation and laying bare his ‘digital’ musicianship. ‘Hungry Blues’ by contrast leans into the vocals and Fairhurst lets the depth of his timbre loose over the tracks. Lyrically laced with wanderlust from deep within the soul this is the American road trip of Fairhurst’s world panoramas.
With a 70’s guitar infused beginning opening track ‘Up On The Hill’ has the wind in its hair and a fast paced sense of wide open plains and expectation. As the trip gets underway the resonating vocal calls out ‘take me away from here now’. Track 2 ‘The Snow Lies Deep’ has more of a picking guitar-led sound that spirals into ever playful riffery before roaming into exotic film score sounds, evocative of David Lynch eerie twighlight moods, yet dominated by the vocal.
Emerging from the dead of night ‘Light My Way Back Home’ exudes restless spirit and fire in the belly but has a philosophy within, stripping back to catchy rhythmic simplicity ‘one way to be your own master is to find truth deep in your soul’.
Track 4 ‘I Don’t Know’ is reminiscent of earlier recordings, with twangs of nostalgic, blues harp from Joe Strouzer , the soft lilts of Fairhurst’s hometown on vocals, and a skiffle pace bringing a true blend of influences. Ever the wanderer he takes a more jaded world weary angle, yet exudes sounds of freedom and an ever intricate and engaging guitar picking to the finish.”
Louder than War Reviews by Bryony Hegarty
Hungry Blues EP Review
“Fairhurst can sound as mellow as John Martyn or as wild as Captain Beefheart growling at his most deranged – mellifluous as warm golden honey one minute and then dark as the most menacing of thunderstorms the next. But he really does his talking with his guitar, and he sure as hell is one mean picker of the six-string – boy, does he know how to make that guitar sing!
With some mind-blowing electric blues predominating his latest collection of songs, such as the finger-blistering ‘Up On The Hill’, or the foreboding ‘The Snow Lies Deep’, he’s more than versatile and still finds time to throw in a more traditional sounding number, the shantyish ‘I Don’t Know’.
Fairhurst has to be one of the most charismatic characters on the blues circuit right now and certainly one of the most talented. As such he definitely merits further investigation.”
By Rich Deakin
Hungry Blues Review
“Here’s a cracking little five-track EP release from Wigan lad, John Fairhurst, who has been making records since 2008, when his “Joys Of Spring” release gained critical acclaim and since then has been ‘fine tuning’ his music on the road, including prestigious slots at Glastonbury, SXSW and Green Man festivals to name but a few.
On “Hungry Blues” his guitar, harmonica and vocals are mainly just in the company of James Breen’s drums, and together they kick-up a storm . . . to me maybe a meeting of Scottish alt-bluesman Dave Arcari and the likes of Mississippi Hill Country legends such as RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, with giants like Robert Johnson . . . a heady brew!
Things get off to an absolute rollicking start on the ‘ass kicking’ “Up On The Hill” with Fairhurst’s gravelly roar and some ‘dirty toned’ slide guitar work, complemented by the driving drum work of James Breen . . . what a great opener! He takes the pace down on the sinister “The Snow Lies Deep”, with some more delicate picked guitar here; “Light My Way” features some tasteful acoustic slide work and another deep and intense vocal.
The country blues of “I Don’t Know” is a joy . . . very Dave Arcari to me, and that’s no bad thing! Again it features James Breen on drums and percussion pushing things along behind Fairhurst’s guitar and harmonica here. The closing title track, “Hungry Blues” sees the duo augmented by Alex Beitzke on harmonium and backing vocals by the eight-strong Hungry Blues Choir . . . it’s a brooding, rambling tune with Fairhurst’s vocal riding on a nice guitar hook.
A very fine recommended release from a young man to look out for in the future, and with dates upcoming supporting blues legend Johnny Winter and lots of shows planned for 2013 it seems we will be seeing and hearing a lot of John Fairhurst.”
Blues in the North West Review (Grahame Rhodes)
Hungry Blues Review
“Blues can be a difficult genre to master. It is, in its very nature, based on restrictions in terms of structure, subject matter and a typical style. John Fairhurst, however, is far from typical.
Upon listening to the opening track of Hungry Blues, Up On the Hill, you would be forgiven for thinking you were hearing gritty blues from the deep south of America. This is why the first two words of Fairhurst’s biography are so surprising: Wigan native. A deeper search of his backstory sheds some light; years spent travelling the world has resulted in a potent blend of Mississippi bottleneck blues and heavy repetitive African rhythms.
Hungry Blues marks the fourth self-released collection of work for Fairhurst. The EP deals with the issues you would expect from a blues record – disconnection, hunger, longing and soul-searching. These themes are delivered through a deep growling vocal with more than a touch of Tom Waits about it.
It’s difficult to settle on exactly what makes this EP so different and more appealing than other blues records. It takes a number of listens, but something gradually becomes more noticeable. Fairhurst is not afraid to let his natural accent slip through, most noticeably on I Don’t Know, and what is created is an enthralling sound that is difficult to take your ears away from.
It is refreshing to listen to a UK bluesman who is pushing the strict boundaries of the genre. The British blues scene is arguably stronger now than it has been for many years, and John Fairhurst is doing everything he can to make sure people see him at the forefront of this movement. This bold new EP should only help cement his position
Review by Chris Penfold. Positive Reviews
Joys Of Spring
“An instrumental record of immense power and creativity that blends eastern melodies with brilliant guitar dexterity. Fairhurst exudes a zest for life and being that is nothing short of intoxicating.” … (The Joys of Spring)
… “All the slide guitars skills of Robert Johnson” – Lee Edwards – Electric Ghost
Joys of Spring, Review
“The credit for John Fairhurst’s debut feeling different to that expectation is down not just to his talent but to the life that led up to its release.
It is music formed across the globe, from his travels to the Far East and beyond to his meanderings outside Wigan and it is shaped by everyone from Nick Drake to Miles Davis to K.Sridhar, the Indian Sarod master who stayed with his family when he was growing up.
The result is a mix of music that sounds both born in delta swamps and in wailing sub-continental mountains. It is part blues and part raga, as far removed from the English North West as you could get and yet oddly perfect for a region that thrives on its multiculturalism.
That mix makes for music that is intriguing, unexpected and ultimately satisfying. From the opening toe-tapping barnstormer, ‘Obnox Stomp’, to the closing, rolling splendour of the title track, there are moments of enormous subtlety and fascinating obliqueness, as the 11 tracks twist away from what you expect such an album to be.
Add to that the fact that it is difficult not to love an album where the instruments played include tin cans, a washboard, some pliers, a pan lid and chains, and whose only vocal contributors are “the avifauna of Billinge and Dalton”, and you have something that sounds exactly as the title suggests – an unbridled joyous explosion of simple textures, thrilling musicianship and handsome melodies.
Interestingly, the cover of ‘Joys Of Spring’ is a striking picture of a tree in full blossom, with not a green leaf in sight. It just goes to show that sometimes, what you expect is not what you get and that beauty, and music, can come in unlikely hues and shapes.”
From the BBC website: John Fairhurst – Joys Of Spring (Chris Long)
“John Fairhurst is worth every bit of praise he’s already garnered. Capable of creating jaw-dropping moments live, he is possibly the finest guitarist you’ll ever see – and even better than that he is able to couple those skills with brilliant songwriting and a gravel-swilled belter of a voice. Search him out and prepare to be stunned.” – (Chris Long – BBC Manchester)
“ Whiskey, cigars and too much good living gives musicians such as Muddy Waters, Mark Lanegan, Tom Waits, and John Fairhurst a deep growling gravitas, imbuing their music with a profundity unachievable by other methods. Fairhurst is both a masterful musician and songwriter, who carefully intertwines music of varying ethnicities into one roaring whole… It is this ability
to subtly subvert and tweak blues standards that lies of the heart of Fairhurst’s charm. By doing so he create his own land and makes his own traditions with a freshness that is breathtaking.”
“Makes Seasick Steve’s three stringed blues sound like the two-dimensional ramblings of a penniless hobo.”
– Chris Gilliver – citylifers.co.uk –
“As gripping as it is totally different. Trembling chords rise slowly out of the speakers like dark mist on a bayou, while Fairhurst’s Bangkok blues hang in the background, sliding in and out with steely precision.” – (Bearded Magazine)
“Joys of Spring is a truly great achievement. It’s an album of outstanding creativity, lush eastern melodies, and at its heart, John’s unbridled zest for life.” – (Piccadilly Records – Record of the Week)
“This was what the Old Crow Medicine Show would sound like if Ravi Shankar became their musical director; a drum circle-cum-barn dance. Newcomers to John Fairhurst certainly won’t be forgetting his name in a hurry.” – (Manchester Music)
Joys of Spring Review
“While a fair part of John Fairhurst compositions and improvisations are more deeply rooted in American blues and slide guitar blues, for a large part of the album this dominates other ideas. Besides he can also not hide his British nature which makes a few compositions more melodically delicate. Another early influence was the appearance of sarod master K.Sridhar who stayed at his parent’s home, making his interests open to Indian classical music. When he himself went to South East Asia however, he played slide guitar in a Bankok blues bar.
A blues dominating track is the opener, “Obnox Stomp”, a picking blues track, with a wilder stomping slide part with hand percussion, washboard and mouth harmonica moving forwards like a train. “Yew Tree Blues” is a blues steel string improvisation, with a not too loudly recorded noisy outdoor public in the background, capturing an older simple blues spirit with it, not as something special, but as fine honest playing on a podium, or in the shade, a practice in this spirit, that in the long-term could turn into more ideas, but now keeps its place as a context on this album, as if the whole album wants to show a more complete picture as a collection of John Fairhurst backgrounds, ideas and evolutions. Also “Blues For Bill”’s guitar piece is referring to the real, raw and simple old blues, means nothing new, keeps it simple but still is effective.
Than we have two compositions with a more British melodic approach. “Passing Time” for instance clearly shows this post-Renaissance British tradition, while still flickering with a blues touch in the back of the mind, has an extra layer of harp with a Celtic flavour by Nancy Elisabeth. Also “At the River” is a more descriptive and thoughtful melodic composition. Also “Friends” is a more melodic tune, played by 2 acoustic guitars.
Different again is “Shivver”, a more experimental track exaggerating with slides, droning and vibrating heavily, with some loose stoned djembe in the background. For this approach I could refer to this remark of his on the label’s website : “only more recently I also like to plug my guitar into big loud amplifiers and make as much noise as I can.” This droning tuning seemed to have been the sonic drone introduction for the next track, “On The Run” which is an improvisation that is also based upon blues but with a more improvised stoned vibe to it, and some mouth harmonica too. This might have hints of the approach of Captain Beefheart’s “Mirror Man” which went weird with blues in a comparable way but it might also have been the interest in eastern approaches that got him into this more…
What really shows the interest in eastern music and a sarod influence, for the first time more clearly on the album, is “How Far How Fast”. Even when this is pretty raga-styled, bluegrass/slide blues will have had its share of influence. It is well played and has an original approach. The last two tracks are mood excursions holding a blend between earlier approaches. On “Dawn” we hear a cracking fire in the background ; the instrumental is like a mood serenade. “Joys of Spring” features birds in the background, is a raga-esque improvisation, with a heavier percussive part.”