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Interview: CHRIS BIRKETT
Q. What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
A. My dad wanted me to be an Aircraft electronic technician, so I worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, UK on this vocation. However, I already had my own band called ‘Friends of Fernberg’, (The old name for Farnborough), and was gigging a lot in London.
I would get to bed around 4am after a gig and had to get up at 6am to leave for work at the Royal Aircraft establishment.
One day Deep Purple came to play at my University. Richie Blackmoor came from my home town and we had the same guitar teacher, Big Jim Sullivan.
At the concert I was standing in the audience right in front of Richie who was playing the solo to ‘Highway Star’ when I had my first epiphany. “I don’t want to be an electronics engineer, I want to be that guy” That was it, no turning back. A few days later I jumped on the train to London and started to live my passion for music, sleeping on the streets as a homeless musician, going to every audition and climbing from there.
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
A. I love to read books on spiritual subjects, I worked with the Gurdjieff institute in London for 15 years as a student. I’ve studied Buddhism, Taoism, Suffism and just about ever “ism” on the planet. I believe that music is a gift from a higher plane, and my search for truth puts me in touch with that place. All my songs come “through me” not “from me”.
I Love cooking. I find the combination of flavors while creating a meal is similar to the combination of vibrations while creating music. My wife enjoys my cooking.
Q. How long has your band been around?
A. It depends which band. I’ve been in many: ‘Montana Red Dod’, “love Affair’, ‘Omaha Sheriff’’ Buffy Sainte Marie’ to name a few. My most recent is the band called The Free Spirits with band member Shari Tallon, formed in 2017.
Q. Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
A. I’m from the UK, now a Canadian Citizen. I lived in France from 1993 to 2006. I released many records in France, notably an album called ‘Freedom’ featuring Tony Visconti on base among others. Although I drew big crowds at concerts in France the media was not interested in my music as I sang in English. I tried a few songs in French language, which I speak fluently, but was criticized for having a Brit accent. I realized I was living in the wrong country for my music. Moving to Canada was “a breath of fresh air”. Canadians appreciate my music, I love it here.
Q. How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
A. The Name of my current band The Free Spirits came from one of the songs on our debut album ’11:11’
I believe we are spirit beings living in a material world and are free to do great things or make mistakes in order to evolve and learn. We are “Free Spirits”.
Q. Tell me about your most memorable shows?
A. Playing with Rufus Thomas and Ann Peebles on European tours was full of adventures. I played Guitar in Ann’s band for the opening night of Beebas in London. John Lennon was there listening to me.
While playing in the Band Love Affair (Our Hit Single ‘Everlasting Love’) I met Lad Zeppelin who were, like us, on a Tax exemption break for 3 months on the island of Guernsey. They asked if they could come and Jam with us. So I got to Jam with led Zep for the duration of our stay.
Q. What is your fav venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
A. My fav places that I’ve played in the GTA are: Massey Hall (guitarist with Buffy Sainte Marie) and The Hugh’s Room as me.
I would love to play at the CNE band shell during CNE and at the Budweiser stage in Ontario place, also The Rogers centre Toronto as headliner.
Q. If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
A. It depends on how high I wish to go?
My A list line up would be Vinnie Colaiuta on Drums, Tal Wilkenfeld on Bass, Stevie Wonder on Keys and Jeff Beck on guitar with the addition of Jean Luc Ponty on violin.
My B team would be Gary Craig on drums, John Diamond on Bass, Bill King on Keys and Victoria Yeh on violin.
Q. What is the advice you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band, and advice you would give to your younger self?
A. I would advise anyone joining a band to ask themselves “why am I doing this”? If the answer is Fame and Fortune, then forget it. The business does not create this anymore. If your motive is pure passion and love for music this will give you integrity and sustaining power, leading to joy.
My advice for my younger self would be: Don’t allow any distractions that take you away from your chosen path. My big distraction was record producing, this took me away from my true passion of being a singer, songwriter for many years. I made a decision when I arrived in Canada to return to my true vocation. That’s where I’m at right now.
Q. Which songs are your favorite, and which get requested the most?
A. At the risk of sounding Narcissistic, I prefer my own songs to doing covers. However I have some fav covers: My version of ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ being one of the songs I produced for Sinead O’Connor, goes down really well and is often requested. ‘Hurt’ by Johnny Cash, written by Trent Reznor is a Fav with my fans.
‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ by Ann Peebles is a goodie as I played this song with her many times as her guitarist.
Q. What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
A. Writing songs with my band The Free Spirits was a wonderful experience. Myself and Shari Tallon, my co-writer and Flute player, would spend hours listening to some of our fav bands like ‘Yes’, ‘Gentle Giant’, ‘Jean Luc Ponty’, ‘Jeff Beck’, Mahavishnu Orchestra’, Dire Straights’ and ‘Level 42’ etc before we wrote the music. This put us on a very high level of inspiration.
Q. What kind of messages do you like to get across in your music.
A. I believe that music is a Universal language that crosses the barriers of race, culture and politics. So i try to use this language to communicate Truth, Beauty and well-being to anyone who wants to listen. My aim is to inspire the listener towards being more conscious of their divinity and grateful for being alive at this time on this planet. It’s essentially a “feel good about yourself” message.
Q. Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and if so, how do you get past them.
A. So far, so good. My band The Free Spirits are always on the same page as to musical direction.
Q. What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything to spotlight that is coming up?
A. 1. My personal plans are to release track by track the news songs that have come through me this year. The first single being the song ‘2022’ which has already notched up quite a bit of press, thanks to my awesome publicist Eric Alper and over 31K views on youtube.
I have enough new material for an album this year but I’m thinking of doing a track by track release system as most folks don’t need albums anymore, in fact I don’t know anyone who has a working CD player.
2. I have a batch of songs that I wrote while I was recording Buffy Sainte Mairie’s latest album in Hawaii. The title of this project is ’Songs From a Kauai Hotel room’.
3. This year, 2022, I will be releasing tracks from my fun loving, alter ego side with a band called ‘The Happy Campers’. The first release will be a song and video called ‘Icky Cottage Blues’.
4. A new batch of songs (album) from my band ‘The Free Spirits’ titled ‘Strawberry Moon’ will be emerging later this year.
So, lot’s happening and all good.