Blake is a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter who has earned a cult following with his lo-fi releases. He has now released his latest album 1971 which is an eclectic mix of classic 60s sounds and early 70s with a sprinkling of 80s. We sat down with Blake to talk about 1971, his music and much more!
OSR: What is the story behind the name of your new album 1971?
Blake: I had a bit more time on my hands because of the lockdown and I was listening to a lot of my favourite records. I realised that a lot of these happened to be released in 1971: Donovan’s HMS Donovan, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, Spirit’s 12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus (OK, actually November 1970), Status Quo’s Dog of Two Head, Paul and Linda McCartney’s RAM, to name just some. I then started to write a bunch of new songs and I realised that these were influenced by the records I had been listening to. The title, therefore, seemed to fit.
OSR: Why did you choose to have a cover for the first track?
Blake: A few months ago a friend of mine sent me a compilation tape he’d made (yes, an actual cassette) of songs from the KPM record label, which releases library music from the sixties and seventies. ‘The Free Life’ was the first track on it and it immediately awakened some distant memory of my childhood. I discovered that it was the theme tune to the ITV schools programme ‘My World’ and its wave of nostalgia seemed an appropriate way to open an album of songs influenced by a time gone by.
OSR: What emotions motivated ‘Peter Green’?
Blake: I have a big emotional connection to the music of the early Fleetwood Mac. I have been a huge fan of the original incarnation of the band since I was at school. I’ve covered a couple of their songs in the past, ‘Dragonfly’ and ‘Dust’, and I wanted to write a tribute to Peter after watching the concert at the Royal Albert Hall in February dedicated to him and featuring lots of famous musicians paying homage. I suppose I wanted to write something to help keep awareness of Peter alive and, on a personal level, to thank him for being such a massive inspiration to me as a musician.
OSR: Since you are a multi-instrumentalist, which instruments do you play and which is your favourite?
Blake: The advantage of being a multi-instrumentalist is that I can record my albums without needing the help of other musicians and this has turned out to be very handy in the lockdown! I love the process of recording and overdubbing instruments, I still find it magical. I consider myself to be a singer/songwriter first, however. Although I can play guitar, bass, keyboards, harmonica and drums, I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. Saying that, I try to express myself as much as possible in my playing, so by creating all the sounds myself, my music is as honest as possible, at least. For the last fifteen years, I have been playing the role of John Lennon in a Beatles tribute band to earn money and I would say that John is the musician that I most closely resemble in terms of my technical abilities. If only I could write songs like him!
OSR: What is your creative process?
Blake: In recent years, I’ve found that I write most of my songs in the springtime. I’ve no idea why this is. I wrote all of 1971 between March and April. I very often dream melodies and sometimes lyrics, too. I often force myself to wake up and record the tune on my phone before it’s gone. I’ve often wondered whether songs exist fully formed somehow in our collective unconscious and that the trick is to find them, a bit like the BFG catches dreams. Of course, this is probably utter nonsense!
OSR: Which is your favourite song on 1971 and why?
Blake: Oh crikey! If I had to pick one it would be ‘Over and Over Again’, just because it sounds like a lost Status Quo track from 1971. Oddly enough, it started life as a Marvin Gaye influenced sixties soul song.
OSR: Would you like to collaborate with other artists? If so, who would that be?
Blake: I would love to collaborate with New York punk poet Hamell On Trial. I’m a big fan. I’ve met him a couple of times but I’ve always been too in awe to say anything coherent.
OSR: What is the biggest problem you have had to face in your musical career?
Blake: Getting heard. This is probably the same for 99% of musicians, in all honesty. These days writing good songs is not enough because there are literally millions of bands and artists out there trying to get their music heard above the “internet noise”, too. You have to be good at PR and selling yourself, which doesn’t come naturally on the whole, I would say, to people who enjoy creative expression.
OSR: You have been in the music industry for quite a while, what advice do you have for would be musicians?
Blake: I would suggest not copying my example of releasing stylistically diverse material, but concentrate on developing a recognisable “sound”. This way it’s probably easier to target the right audience for your music. The thing that unifies my songs is their 60s and 70s influence but one minute I’ll be writing a folk ballad and the next a garage rock song. In marketing terms, it’s nuts! However, this is what a lot of artists used to do back in the day; make stylistically diverse records. The prime example of this is The White Album.
OSR: What can we expect from you in the future?
Blake: I am in the process of signing with a record label, which is very exciting, and this should see the release of 1971 on CD in September. I also hope to release a compilation album showcasing some of my favourite songs from the course of my career. I can’t wait to be able to get back to performing live again when circumstances permit and trying out some of my new songs with my band. Thanks for the interesting questions!