Why Oli just loves the blues...

RURAL north Norfolk doesn't fit the usual criteria for giving birth to The Blues, but in this week's Face to Face interview Alex Hurrell meets rising musical star Oli Brown, raised not on the banks of The Mississippi, but round and about The Broads.

RURAL north Norfolk doesn't fit the usual criteria for giving birth to The Blues, but in this week's Face to Face interview Alex Hurrell meets rising musical star Oli Brown, raised not on the banks of The Mississippi, but round and about The Broads.

OLI Brown is heading where many a previous north Norfolk schoolboy guitarist has only ever dreamed of going.

At just 20, Oli has already toured extensively in the USA, continental Europe - he's gigging in Germany this week - and the UK, received high praise from revered blues musicians and publications, performed with the likes of John Mayall and Paul Jones, and releases a second album on Monday which is already at number 19 in Amazon's Blues bestsellers chart.


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Before 2010 is out, The Oli Brown Band will also have wallowed in Glastonbury glory, played in New Zealand and completed their first solo USA tour.

Constant travel, fresh venues, mounting success, growing audience numbers - Oli's in heaven.

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'I love living out of a bag and I love being in the spotlight,' he said. 'I'm happy in a random bed - I like not knowing what's coming next, but the food can be tedious. I love the travelling, looking out of the window - it's all new.'

As Oli's fame grows, north Norfolk likes to claim the rising blues-funk star as its own son. In fact, Oli's officially a Yorkshireman, born in Beverley. But the family moved to Neatishead some 15 years ago and now live in Sco Ruston.

The youngest of three children, Oli wasn't quite the proverbial child musical prodigy. He was already 12 before he played his first guitar, taking advantage of lessons on offer at his school, Broadland High. And it was a year or two after that before he remembers 'really clicking on to music.'

The first guitarist who influenced him was Jimi Hendrix but he had infused a lot of blues at home listening to the collection of his dad and co-manager, Graham.

'My musical tastes at 12 to 13 were not very distinct - probably very shameful!' said Oli. 'I'm catching up now though. I can't spend a moment without music in the background.'

He was jamming in pubs when his big break came five years ago; the chance to tour through the summer with American blues band Blinddog Smokin.' Graham had sent their vocalist, Carl Gustafson, a video of Oli performing. Oli still has Carl's email invitation up on his wall. He's eternally grateful to his parents for allowing him to go but remembers getting cold feet on the plane and wanting to go home.

The experience, he says, was 'a bit surreal': an English schoolboy off to join well-seasoned American bluesmen - but what an experience.

Oli has treasured memories of back-to-back, three and four-hour gigs around the American heartland states.

There was a night in Kansas where adoring Blinddog fans had a barbecue ready for them but no-one would touch the food until the band began to eat.

The stage, beside a lake, was rigged with the only light source in the darkness. Oli has clear memories of a succession of monster bugs crashing into his face as he played.

He is forever indebted to Blinddog for encouraging his talent. 'They had been performing for 20 or 30 years and they wanted me to take what they had learned,' he said.

'They told me I had to sing and that I had to form a band with my own name. Every night I was watching really masterful performers, interacting with the crowds. I was in my element. It was just what I wanted to do - and they set me off.'

Between gigs Oli also managed to attend Paston College, where his studies included A-level Performance Studies. He says his passion for performance means that he never feels stage fright, just 'over-excitement.'

He composes in his bedroom, using a computer with a recording device attached and says his music is often 'feel-good,' reflecting his own energy and life experience.

Oli has performed in many Norfolk high schools, trying to enthuse children with raw, live, performance; frustrated that many only know over-produced, studio music. And when it works and they respond, Oli says it releases a youthful energy which is infectious - and unbeatable.

HEADS I Win, Tails You Lose, Oli's new CD, was produced by the legendary Mike Vernon, who has previously cut discs with star names including Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Fleetwood Mac.

Mike came out of retirement to work with Oli on the Ruf Records label CD which contains eight tracks written by Oli, two by Oli and Mike, and two covers.

Early reviews are enthusiastic and note Oli's developing musical maturity. Ken Smith, writing in the specialist music magazine Properganda , described Oli as a 'great songwriter and performer' and said the 'terrific' CD could be put alongside Little Feat, Robert Palmer and Bozz Scaggs.

Oli's acclaimed first album, Open Road, recorded two years ago, is still in the iTunes charts.

Next month Oli embarks on a 15-gig New Generation Blues UK Tour which also features Joanne Shaw Taylor and Virgil and The Accelerators.

Oli will be appearing at the Holt Summer Festival, from July 25-31 and you can also see him in Norfolk at The Waterfront, Norwich, on December 19. For more information or to order his CD, visit: www.olibrownband.co.uk

The lowdown:

What's the best thing about your job?

'Everything.'

… and the worst?

'Ask me in five years' time. I still enjoy everything about it.'

Where do you hope to be in 10 years' time?

'Doing what I'm doing now. Hopefully the audiences will grow and so will the venues.'

Who are your heroes?

Musicians and singers: 'Chris Cain, Sean Costello, John Cleary, Tom Waits - and Carl Gustafson.'

Favourite book, film and TV programme:

Book: 1984 (George Orwell). Film: Avatar. TV: Family Guy.

Favourite place in Norfolk

'Blakeney - going crabbing there - everything about it.'

What one song or piece of music would you have to take to a desert island?

'It changes each day. Currently it's probably 'Ta Ta You' (Johnny 'Guitar' Watson).

Tescos in north Norfolk towns - yes or no?

'No, just because of other people in business. Tescos takes shoppers away from smaller stores.'

What's the best thing ever invented by man?

'Musical instruments.'

Pet hates?

'Bad moods and stressy people with bad attitudes - I don't have time for them.'

What do you eat for a treat?

'Sticky toffee pudding.'

What keeps you awake at night?

'Music. I can't sleep because I'm busy thinking about so many different aspects of it.'

What's your worst trait?

'I'm very opinionated, especially about music, and I'm too laid back. At school I had a two-year project in DT and I left it until the last day. I was up all night doing it.'

Do you have an over-used work or phrase?

'Vile'

Global warming: myth or reality?

'Interesting. I would say it's a very slow reality. There's obviously something going on but it's not all caused by us.'

What have you got from your parents?

'They have supported me more than I could ever have hoped for. They are pushing me to live the life I am dreaming of living.'

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