Guitarist James Blackshaw On Musical Inspirations, Comic Books And Almost Getting Glassed

Photo by Kirstie Shanley

Ahead of this Saturday’s Denovali Swingfest, an inaugural experimental music festival at King’s Cross’ Scala, we caught up with one of the night’s performers. London’s very own James Blackshaw is widely regarded as one of the finest young guitarists around — a virtuoso performer on the 12-string, with modern classic records like ”O True Believers” capturing his raga-inspired take on classic folk elements. While most would be content to riff on the same theme, James has continued to expand his sound, with new releases displaying his considerable piano skills and the fruits of collaborations with Josef Van Wissem and Geneviève Beaulieu. With a new collaborative record recently released, James talks to Londonist about musical inspirations, comic books and getting glassed.

You have claimed before that artists like Robbie Basho and John Fahey are some of the biggest influences on your music. Are these still the records you turn to when creating new work?

I haven’t really listened to Robbie Basho or John Fahey in a while now. I love their music of course and there’s no question that without them, it’s unlikely I’d have ever approached making music for guitar in the way that I do but, with a few exceptions like Baden Powell and Bola Sete, I find it quite difficult to listen to other guitar music for fun. Maybe it’s just a little too close to me now. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of 60′s and 70′s pop rock, NY minimalism and classical music. The music I enjoy listening to at home is quite different to the music I make and I think that somehow gets filtered into my own work too.

Can you tell us a bit about your latest release, a collaboration with Lubomyr Melnyk. Apparently you recorded it at Dalston’s Vortex Jazz Bar?

That’s right. It was improvised live over the course of six hours at Vortex Jazz Bar. We just recorded a couple of takes of each piece and chose the best ones later. It was very natural and surprising how Lubomyr and myself were able to lock into something so quickly. I’m a huge fan of Lubomyr’s music and it was really a great honour to work with him.

The music you make is very soothing, so we were surprised to hear you started out playing hardcore. Can you tell us about your early bands?

Well, I’d use the term ‘hardcore’ a bit loosely! I played in a couple of different rock bands that were pretty angular and noisy. I played bass in one, ‘sang’ in another. We only played a handful of shows around theUK, and never released anything but it was quite a fun time generally. I still like a lot of that 90′s San Diego stuff like Drive Like Jehu and Clikitat Ikatowi. Oh and The Jesus Lizard!

Many of your recent records have been made as part of a duo. Who would be your ideal collaborative partner?

I’m a big fan of Jim O’Rourke. He’s my friend, but I don’t know if that would ever come about. Regardless, he’s an incredible musician, engineer and producer, and I think he’s made some of the best records of the last 20 years.

Where’s your favourite place to play in the capital?

I like Cafe Oto a lot. Nice ambience, interesting programming. Plus, I met my girlfriend there!

And the best place to buy records?

It’s been ages since I’ve been record shopping in London, but I used to work in Reckless Records in Soho for three years and did a brief stint at Music and Video Exchange too in Notting Hill, Soho and Greenwich. It was cool most of the time, a lot of interesting records got sold into the shop and you’d make many interesting discoveries.

What are your favourite spots in London?

Honestly? I just love going into Forbidden Planet, haha! I love comics like Saga and Fables, and manga like Berserk. In my opinion more people who listen to music should read comics and visa versa.

We see you DJed on Monday the Flau night at Cafe Oto — how are your mixing skills?

Terrible! I get so nervous. The previous time I attempted to DJ someone threatened to glass me…

James Blackshaw plays Denovali Swingfest 2013, 20-21 April, Scala,  N1 9NL. Tickets and more information here.

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