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Clare Free

I recently had the privilege of chatting with British blues guitarist Clare Free to find our what her plans are now that we are all getting back to something like normal living.

TB: How are you Clare?

CF: Surviving is the best I can say, I’m very much feeling on the up at the moment, everything is looking up and I am just praying that it stays that way!  It has been pretty awful that past few months.

TB: Have you discovered any new skills during lockdown?

CF: Basically no, lockdown damaged my artistic flow badly and I wasn’t able to write. I went into a state if stasis, I was aware of others who were very productive, but partly because I was looking after three children and not working and trying to keep everything together, I just didn’t have any mental capacity left to write.  I’m sure there is plenty to come out now thought!

I got halfway through lockdown and I said I’m not going to do any more music at all. Its really not so much that I’m done with it, I just need a break from it for a bit.  Lockdown in effect generated a natural break and now I’m revved up and ready to go.

But I’m not going back to doing pub gigs at the moment – I was doing 80 to 100 a year.  I’m going to focus very much on the band.

I have wanted to change what I was doing musically and lockdown has revealed something that I though was going to work but actually isn’t.

Way before lockdown ever started I was going to do a lot of live streaming, up close and personal, getting people involved in the song writing process.  Having done a few live streams and seeing how it all works I’m now pretty confident that that is not the way forward.

I believe there are sites that allow you to rehearse online. For me that would save on hiring a studio or hall and save my drummer a drive from Norwich!  But I do like to see people in person so I probably wouldn’t do it all the time.

TB: The album Where Are You Now has had a good reception, released just before lockdown with no chance to tour it or play it live.

CF: Yes, the album has been very well received, I was really lucky with the people I got to work with, it was a bit of a dream come true album for me.  It was a shame that it came out on 6th March 2020 and our first lockdown hit on 26th March but none of us  were particularly concerned, had I known I would have sat on it longer and released it around about now, but there we go, you live and learn.

So the timing wasn’t brilliant, I haven’t had a chance to get out there and play those songs to the fans in the way I would like to and that has still got to be done.

TB: There was a bit of a gap between ‘Where Are You Now’ and the previous album ‘Dust & Bones’ – a gap of about eight years?

CF: It wasn’t actually. Secretly there was another album in between called Butterflies, an acoustic album. But it has been pulled off all the shelves, removed from the world. It has now gone back into the cupboard.  It is acoustic, it is beautiful and I want to sit back and reconsider what I do with it.  I sold about fifty copies before I re-considered and pulled it.

The song ‘Thank You’ on ‘Where Are You Now’ was originally on Butterflies, and that is what the whole of Butterflies is like.

Clare Free | Image © Mike Glasson
Clare Free | Image © Mike Glasson

TB: How did you get involved blues music?

CF :Oh I hated the blues! I liked rock. I used to play lots of different instruments when I was a teenager. I thought I wanted to play jazz saxophone, or improvised piano.  I had piano lessons, I had flute lessons and I had saxophone lessons but I didn’t get on very well with them – oh, I got to grade five, but I didn’t get the satisfaction from it and my teachers didn’t get much satisfaction from me because they were classical teachers who would give me a piece of music to play. I’d play it but I’d want to ‘improve’ on it by adding other bits! They hated that and I didn’t like the restrictions.  Then my brother got a guitar and I decided that was what I wanted to do – I want to play guitar.

My Mum had spent so much money. on what she considered wasted music lessons by that point, that she said if I wanted a guitar I’d have to buy it myself and I’d have to pay for  everything myself.  So I bought a guitar for a fiver off a mate, then gradually worked my way up to putting freebies on the front of magazines, then bought a Les Paul. My teacher, who I’m still in touch with now, suggested that I go to the local blues jam to get some practice playing live.  But I hate blues…. what would I want to do that for?

So I went along and the guys there were really really nice, but I embarrassed myself, I was awful.  But because they were so nice I committed to going to the next one.  I practiced really hard and this became a cycle. I’d go to the jam, embarrass myself, go home and practice really hard, go back to the jam a be a little bit better.  Two years later I’d learned to play blues quite well.  I found artist I liked and was moved by and found I really liked the blues.

TB: What are your experiences as a woman in this notoriously male dominated industry?

CF: To start with, when I was quite young, people would look at me and almost say OK – have a go, see what happens.  The number of times I got told ‘you’re not bad for a girl’ was phenomenal. From when I first started it took me almost two years to meet another woman playing electric guitar.  There were a few bass players, the odd drummer.

There was a presumption that because women didn’t do it, women couldn’t do it.  Then there came a time when there were lots of women playing guitar, people like Joanne Shaw-Taylor, and I stopped being asked about being being a guitarist – though I often got asked about being a Mum and a musician.

Interestingly through the pandemic I have seen it come back again, particularly on social media which has been slightly alarming – comments like ‘which is your sexiest guitarist’ which is invariably followed by a string of chauvinistic comments none of which has anything to do with musical talent.

I want to be judged on my talent. Yes, I am a woman, that is a fact, but when I play music I’d like to be compared to all other musicians, not this ‘quite good for a girl‘ minority group.

TB: I was surprised recently when another songwriter told me that if she doesn’t record a song, it can just disappear.

CF: Yeah.. I relate to that. A lot of time when I write songs I can explain things with words in one way but I can explain it in music much better.  And if it is something I feel emotionally about I might not want to wheel it out again. It might be that that moment in time or that feeling has gone or that the person it was written about – the whole relationship has changed, and that might also make me want to shove it in a cupboard.

TB: Musicians are very special people, they wear their hearts on their sleeves and then stand up in front of a crowd and tell everyone.

CF: Yes, I find that a very interesting process. Somebody missed the whole point of ‘Trade Descriptions‘ – people can interpret songs completely differently. That song was written very carefully, but it is a tongue-in-cheek song, some might say sexist, but in the vein of ‘Man Sized Job‘, songs like that.

TB: And recorded in a secret recording studio in Suffolk.

CF: Yes, I’m not sure how much I can say about the studio other that it is beautiful.

TB: Clare, thank you for taking time to talk Grapevine Magazine today, I look forward to catching you play live, complete with band, sometime soon.

Tony Bell
Tony is a freelance creative with a background in technology. His company SixtyTwoThings has been working alongside the Mansion House Group for many years.

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