A retired TV executive, who made programmes about the arts, is heading up a new blues band performing its first, full-length gig in Shaftesbury this Sunday. Alan Benson used to produce and direct TV’s ‘The South Bank Show’ and ‘Omnibus’.
Last autumn he formed the five-piece ‘Kind Of Blue’ group and they’ve been busy rehearsing ahead of this summer’s Shaftesbury Fringe and their Angola ’76 appearance next weekend. “I’m doing something that I have wanted to do, for about fifty years – start a blues band!” said Alan.
Alan is a passionate pianist and has performed in bands before but he had to drop out when his commitments got in the way. “Many years ago, when I first started at the BBC, I played in a band that we formed at the BBC. It was a covers band and we used to do posh private parties and debutantes’ gigs,” said Alan. “I had to stop that because it didn’t sit well with being a husband, a father and having a career. We would go off and do gigs on Saturdays and come back at four o’clock in the morning. So it didn’t really work.”
North Dorset resident Alan occasionally volunteers as Musical Director for Mere’s Amateur Dramatic Society. He met guitarist Mike Durkee there. “I rang Mike and I said that I was thinking of starting a blues band and before I got any further he said ‘I love playing the blues!’ Mike and I got together. He introduced me to a really good singer called Vicky Louth, who lives in Tisbury. They’ve performed together. She became our vocalist and then a very good bass player called Steve Fletcher turned up,” said Alan. “We were getting together and just mucking around a bit and then we found an insanely talented musician called Matthew Glide, who plays anything that you can hit, bash, blow or strum. We persuaded him to get his drums out of the attic. Then, we were a five piece.”
The band was formed last October and since then its five members have been practicing together regularly. “Although we’re doing it primarily for enjoyment what we really want to do is perform,” said Alan.
They have carefully considered their name and slogan. “Kind of Blue will be familiar to some people as one of the most famous jazz albums of all time, by Miles Davis. It also indicates that we don’t only do the blues. And our little strap line is ‘dishing up the blues with a side of country’.”
Alan is keen for potential audiences to understand how varied a blues-inspired set can be. “I think when you say the word ‘blues’ to people, they think about somebody singing, ‘I woke up this morning and I wanted to kill myself’, – that’s the sort of thing. That came out of Afro-American songs about slavery, despair and hope as well,” explained Alan. “But the thing that characterised the blues was that it was a very simple music form that comprised of only three chords. Many songs that we know come straight out of that form – Rock Around the Clock, Heartbreak Hotel, Rolling Stones songs like Little Red Rooster, even The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Pop classics based on the 12-bar blues are Long Tall Glasses and I Hear You Knocking. There are very familiar songs like Stuck in the Middle With You and Mustang Sally. We have enormous potential for a varied repertoire and I haven’t even spoken about country music,” Alan said.
Alan’s colleagues regularly share ideas for new songs to perform. “Not a week goes by without one of the members of the band sending me a link to YouTube saying, ‘Have you seen this song?’ I would say we have about 35 songs on our list now and it is increasing all the time. We want a degree of variety in terms of feel, instrumentation and mood,” he said.
All of the band members are experienced performers. “Mike, our guitarist and Vicky, our singer, have gigged as a duo. Our bass player has played in various bands. Matthew, our drummer, plays in all sorts of folk groups. So there’s a performing ethos,” said Alan.
The five have already performed a short set in public. “We did Camelot Music night at West Camel a month or so ago and there were quite a lot of people there. We played five or six numbers that seemed to go down very well,” said Alan.
As the days count down to Shaftesbury Fringe, between July 5th and 7th, the group is performing their first ‘proper’ gig, where they are the main attraction, at Shaftesbury’s Angola ’76 on Sunday 14th April.
“We’re nicely nervous about it, which I think is right,” said Alan. “When I made TV programmes, it didn’t matter what programme I was making. There was always a point in the planning where I thought, ‘this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.’ And I would also think, ‘I wish I’d never started this.’ Now I often think that when we’re performing but I think it’s absolutely vital. I think it gives you an edge. Once you start getting complacent and saying ‘yeah, we’re doing a gig on Saturday,’ I think the fun and the edge is gone.”
Alan has made sure that the group will be performing at Angola in front of some friendly faces. “We’ve been careful to invite a lot of friends, which is always a nice thing to do. The word is that Angola ‘76 is building up as a rather good music venue in Shaftesbury. It is great news for the town. So we hope that, apart from our friends, who will be there clapping, there will be new people that come in. We’re doing two 45-minute sets,” said Alan.
For Shaftesbury Fringe, the group will also be playing upstairs at the Grosvenor Arms Hotel in the rather formal setting of the Assembly Room. “The Assembly Room is a lovely room and I hope that what we can do with the music is break through that formality,” said Alan. “I think one of the wonderful things about music is it doesn’t matter where you are, when you play music in a space it changes somehow because of the music. Whether it’s a classical chamber orchestra, a jazz trio or a blues band, I think you can alter the atmosphere of the place. That’s what we will strive to do.”
Alan says that Kind of Blue has some goals. “The dream is to headline Glastonbury next year before our US tour,” he joked. “It’s primarily for fun, but there comes a point where you want to play for people. And it’s very nice if you can get paid for playing to people. The ambition is to operate locally and maybe offer weddings, private parties and that sort of thing. And we will certainly be taking on some pub and club gigs in places like Frome and Blandford. I’m sure we will go for the odd music night.”
Kind of Blue play Angola ’76 on Mustons Lane in Shaftesbury at 4pm on Sunday April 14th. And they perform in The Grosvenor Arms Hotel during Shaftesbury Fringe at 2.45pm on Sunday 7th July.