Introducing: Oli Brown
School’s out for the blues prodigy set to shake the British scene out of its slumber. Of all the daydreams that chase through a schoolboy’s mind during double physics, few can be sweeter than one where you’re asking teacher if you can be excused, because you’re the great white hope of British blues and you’ve got gigs booked.
“Yeah, that did feel pretty good,” recalls 18-year-old Oli Brown of his transition from school bus to tour bus. “School didn’t go well for me. The guitar came into my life and I stopped trying. It was an easy decision not to go to university. Everything I need to know, I can learn on the road.”
Classic Rock joins Brown in his new classroom a Transit van racing towards Chislehurst, where tonight his three-piece band will air debut album Open Road for the blues aficionados with their ears to the ground. Brown is likeable and modest; patently unaware of his talent and how far it could take him; wary that purists might dismiss him as a kid from Norwich, but not trying to pretend he¹s anything else.
“When I started playing at 16,” he says, “I didn¹t even try to understand the lineage of the blues. I was just interested in playing solos. But I was taken out to America in the summer of 2005 by a band called Blinddog Smokin’ and they gave me my wings. Those guys sat me down every night for two months and taught me all about the blues. They’d also tell me things to avoid.”
And he’s had other mentors: “Robben Ford was fantastic. At the end of our tour together he told me what I should be doing with my playing. John Mayall gave me advice. Walter Trout sat me down for two hours. Every musician I meet, I¹ll ask questions.”
Open Road suggests Brown isn’t about to become an identikit 12-bar bore. Witness the Hendrix grooves of Shade Of Grey and the dirty funk of Psycho.
“I try to get across different styles,” he says, “and I haven’t had purists yelling at me yet. Who’s the Psycho? She’s a disturbing girl who watched me while I was asleep. I’m not trying to attract these women!”
Touring Europe with Blues Caravan in January then returning to the UK for an extensive headline tour in March, as Oli points out, the album is really just a trimming to the main event: the gig.
“For me, blues can¹t come across on a CD,” he concludes. “I¹d be very disappointed if my show wasn¹t better than the album. It’s something you’ve got to see live. It’s got to feel personal.”
Open Road is out now on Ruf Records.
For fans of:
“Right now, I’m listening to Joe Bonamassa’s You And Me,” says Oli Brown. “I just love his approach to playing and he has such a great, soulful voice. He’s new to me a friend passed the CD on to me but he sounds fantastic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he influences me in the future.”