WHEN A MAN WALKS INTO A CLUB LOBBY WITH A VINTAGE GUITAR CASE IN HAND carrying a demeanour that implies nobody has ever once forgotten his birthday in the whole of his life, this man has captured your attention – if not for a moment. Then you notice he’s wearing a bright red, bell-bottomed corduroy suit and suddenly your senses stand alert; nothing out of the coming moment could be rendered unexpected to you anymore. But it would be too easy to describe John Fairhurst this way, as he is not a man to be summarised by his looks.
I’ve met John Fairhurst twice. The first was for an interview, when he entered the lobby of the Rich Mix in Shoreditch dressed in that red corduroy. He’s been described by many (the BBC included) as the best guitarist in England, which would make it a tragic mistake on your part to miss him and his band (two other bikes, a drummer by the name of Toby Bang, and Peter Episcopo on the bass) at Glastonbury this year. But in case you do, you’ll also be able to catch some of their sounds on the upcoming film Tomorrow, produced by Martin Scorsese. Fairhurst has also recently been signed for a worldwide publishing deal with the Metropolitan, a cooperative effort between him and Alex Beitzke – the man who’s produced artist ranging from the Editors, Ed Sheeran, and Young Buck, to Florence & the Machine.
We followed our interview with a wild late-night carnival party, something that would’ve gone down in my books as something special had it not been for what I soon realised. As I sat on the tube on my way home at 7 in the morning, I’d discovered that there, on my audio recorder, was a blessed, 46 minute long silence. I was left two choices – one, to fabricate the interview, or two, hang myself David-Carradine style.
Instead, we arrived at my second encounter with the gang, as they had agreed for a re-take. We sat down after their gig at the Magic Garden, an old-school Battersea club, whose stage has hosted the likes of Jimi Hendrix. The music was chilli, the atmosphere warm, the rack already set up for the following jam. John ordered himself some food and a cheeky pint for me. This time, the external audio switch was on.
So, how did we get here?
My dream when I was twelve years old, thirteen years old, was that I would have a band, and I would play Voodoo Chile on stage. I got to do it now, with the guitar I had when I was a kid. So, did my dream come true…? Yeah, it did. I feel like for a long time the music industry and public lads forgot about the rock n’ roll, but it’s nice to see it coming back to the forefront of people’s music, a bit of burgeoning revival, that kind of thing. Lately, I’ve been listening to a band called Ushti Baba, they are really good. Lots of bluesy kinda stuff, mojo hand. I watched them over night, came up with some ideas for this electro blues thing. But that also takes a lot of listening to dance music again, so I’m doing that too. You’re really just trying to pick up the pieces that are going to work together, to create a new genre.
One of your EP’s is called “Hungry Blues” – what are you hungry for?
Experience. Ideas, times, interesting people. When I’m soloing, it’s not about caring. I do care about notes, but I wanna make noise, noise that affects the vibes and the sound. Jack White is a huge influence, Jimmy Page as well, Frank Zappa, obviously Jimi Hendrix in a big way, and loads and loads of blues players. Indie, classical music, everything – anything with ideas. When you hear something, and it sounds and feels amazing, I’m really interested in why it feels good. I’m hungry to understand and create that feeling.
How come your voice sounds like you’ve been eating tobacco and washing it down with petrol?
That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing, yeah. I had a throat infection in Australia. It was like tonsillitis, but gone crazy. It used to kill people, quite regularly. Your immune system can’t even do anything about it anymore. So I had quite a bit of my throat cut out. That changed my voice a lot, made it how it is now.
Where did you shoot some of your recordings for ‘Tomorrow’?
Here. Magic Garden is probably the best place in London when it comes to meeting all sorts of people. A lot of things with Tomorrow came up here at Magic Garden. I met most of the guys when we were shooting here, including Sophie (Kennedy
Clark). Good blokes, good lasses. This is where we did all of the shooting on stage. One night I was playing a lot of blues with Joss Stone. She’s one of the main artists in the film.
What’s the process of cutting songs down from 13 minutes like?
Separating the weed from the chaff. Trying to find bits of gold, you know. There are a number of different ways of going about
that process. The last time we recorded, we didn’t have a lot of time. Toby was leaving to go back on the cruise ships, so in a month we just recorded everything we had, all the ideas together.
What was Toby doing on cruise ships?
We were recording in between his [Toby’s] trips. He spent a month on the first one, I think he was away for 3 months on the second one. His first trip was around Europe, and then it was around the Bahamas and America basically. He had a repetitive strain injury in his hand, they gave him like 2 days off or something (laughs). He was playing 5 shows, 6 shows a day, 7 days a week. They were playing in a cover band, different nights, different kind of stuff.
How did you two meet?
We’ve known each other for two and a half years. We went to the rehearsal studio, played together for a couple of hours, until eventually he just said to me, “have I got a fuckin’ job then or whott?”
I was just like, “Yes, mom.”
Where were you before all this?
I’d been living in Australia…just living in the countryside. I’ve travelled a lot, hitchhiked all the way from the north and back to Melbourne. Went up and down th e east coast quite a lot. I was playing with an aboriginal guy called Gumoroy for a while, a didgeridoo player. There’s loads of history and knowledge in aboriginal culture. I used to fish with him quite a lot, as well. We fished for all sorts of things, collecting shellfish, catching stingrays, gathering things from the beach. The biggest thing I’ve caught in Australia was probably a massive stingray. I lived in New Zealand for quite a while as well, with my girlfriend. We’ve just been living outside. So we travelled a lot together, cooked on the open fire, caught our own food. Washed in a river, made a shelter. We had no money, we were just living, you know? It’s very funny. There’s a lot of merry people, like, “why are you living like we used to live a few hundred years ago?”, and we’d always reply, “We haven’t got any money”. There is no chance you could live like that here in England. You can actually go and catch the things you eat in Australia. And obviously it’s much warmer, you’re not gonna freeze at night in the shelter you’ve made for yourself.
Where else have you lived?
I’ve travelled through Asia, from Singapore to Malaysia, Taiwan, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia. I lived in Thailand for quite a long time and travelled all around the country. My tattoos were done by monks, in a temple. They’re a very old, traditional form of tattoo from South-East Asia. They basically perform a kind of spell, or magic, to put a protection over you while your’e getting tatted. Each tattoo has a different meaning. I’ve got like seven of them. They were not Buddhists – they’re a different culture.
Each temple has its own lineage, its own history, its own way of writing, and different monks do different tattoos because of their age. I was taken there by my Thai friends when I was about to leave for the first time. The one on my chest means I can’t be killed, some of them are supposed to bring you prosperity. I’m still alive so it seems to be working!
Let’s talk about something more personal than jewellery or tattoos. Do you have any scars you’re particularly proud of?
Haha, I’ve got plenty of scars. This one is form a bottle…yeah, there’s quite a few bottle scars, and I’ve been knifed before on my neck…got plenty scars on my knees, some from fighting, but that was a very different time. I lived a very wild life for a long
time. I used to go to things like Megadogs, all the Free Parties and stuff like that when I was a teenager in Manchester during the early nineties. Glastonbury – I went to Glastonbury in ‘95. It was crazy the acid and ecstasy. The acid was cleaner than nowadays. All the way throughout the nineties I went to many festivals. We were very young teenagers experimenting with drugs for the first time. There was really kind of a …a real feeling about the whole party scene before criminal justice tapped in and banned all of it. Festivals were very different, they were not so corporate. I think that Glastonbury that year was the last of this era. Glastonbury 1995, when the fence came down there were like 250,000 people. It was a free festival and it thrived with drugs. Just really fucking crazy – a crazy time to be alive.
Now you’re playing at these festivals.
I love Glastonbury. It’s fucking insane. So much stuff going on. You can walk around the entire time and never feel damaged by the people, the performances, the whole vibe of the place. I feel completely at home there, you know?
What’s to come for you guys?
I’m excited about everything at the moment. We got signed for a worldwide publishing deal with the Metropolis. We’ll be recording demos and sending them over to Alex (Beitzke), he sends his ideas back, we refine, refine, refine them. Alex, the man is a genius! His consideration and understanding of everything… he’s interpreter essentially of… an overall flow in the recordings, the way the song and jukes work. I met him at the Dean Street studio. It was one of those times where you meet somebody, you chat for ten minutes and you’re just on the same page. We’ve been best friends ever since. I really trust his judgement. Tune after tune after tune we were continuously working on our ideas as we spoke.
We’ve also got a very busy festival season coming up. That is, several times at Glastonbury on the big stages, and some other great stages in England. Boomtown. We have to wait until everybody announces these things, but we’ll be putting it all up on our website as soon as it all comes out.
AND DON'T FORGET TO
The interview with John Fairhurst was recorded early in 2015. The original article appeared in Unsettled Magazine, Issue 001. Pictures are of Agnes Trawczynska‘s and my authorship, taken on the occasion for this particular interview. Two years later, John continues to do what he does best – you can see him live, in the Magic Garden in Battersea on the 20th of January, 2017.