You probably think you know what blues music sounds like. You’ve probably seen lots of bands in pubs with a blues-based sound. You know the sort of thing, tribute acts; white men with a love of the blues singing about what it’s like to be a poor black man in 1930’s America. You’re absolutely right. It sounds good but it’s not REAL blues, music of genuine pain, anguish and hardship. Happily, real blues does still exist. And not just with that Detroit genius Jack White. It’s right here in Medway too. And this being Medway, it’s rather unique and somewhat brilliant.
Sounding like a blues singer from the Deep South, Stuart Turner has one of the most distinctive voices in music. Straddling that fine line between Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, Tom Waits and out and out ‘man deranged’, Stuart brings new meaning to 21st Century Blues. And it’s the first time I have ever heard blues sound scary. Seriously, the combination of the man’s voice and the anguished lyrics take you to places you never thought blues could.
It has been said that to sing the blues you need to have suffered. Well in that case Stuart qualifies. That voice is not just an impassioned howl of feeling. Stuart recalls, “I was diagnosed with cancer in my throat and had fairly extensive surgery leaving me with an interesting singing voice and a lot of things to write about.” Many people would have given up. Turner used this misfortune to his advantage.
After finding his voice again and working how he could use it he began gigging and met with Kris Dollimore (ex Godfathers, Dammed, Del Amitri). They became friends and Stuart went on to produce Dollimores first blues solo album (’02/01/1978′) and helped him set up his own Sun Pier label. In return he offered to put out an album of Stuarts ‘A Gallon Of Water Makes A Mile Of Fog’. Stuart now sees the album as “too long, too odd, too sweary, it got some great reviews, but sold badly” A second solo album, (File Under Carnal Knowledge’) sold better, and he was getting known around Medway as well as gigging all around the country. Stuart met Robbie Wilkinson from Medway band Theatre Royal who became his live lead guitarist, then writing collaborator, then half of the ‘Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society’. Robbie and Stuart wrote and arranged a set of songs and produced ‘Gin and Bitters’ the first STFES album. Released by Medway based Brigadier Records, they then recruited Ray Hunt and Dave Sawicki and gigged the album, recording half a follow up as they went. “It sold modestly” said Stuart “but we got some radio and a good live reputation.”
Photo taken by Phil Dillon – www.phildillon.co.uk
Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society are not just a blues band though. Their repertoire covers rock-a-billy, indie and pop. Not to mention the sax on their last album ‘Gin and Bitters’ sounding a little like the soul of Dexys Midnight Runners. Oh, and did I mention he plays ukulele live too? But it’s the bluesy chug that works best for them, especially when mixed with indie-inspired pop dynamics. Listen to ‘Essex’ from ‘Gin and Bitters’, simply the best 3 minutes Stuart has committed to record so far; it’ cocky, it’s raw, it’s bouncy, it’s all you need from a song.
However, as brilliant as that album was, the curse of the blues musician seemed to be hitting the band hard. Stuart recalls how “Mark Lemar quit his radio show just as we were negotiating a session, gigs got cancelled from under us, ill health forced Dave out
of the band and his replacement Jez, while a good player, never gelled as well and there was a personality clash with Ray” Problems over? Stuart wishes. “Then there were a series of Jez-drunk-and-incapable gigs, Ray quit, just after we finished recording the as-yet-unreleased album ‘On the Brink of Misadventure’ and just after we were really getting a strong live following. At the very next band gig Jez had to be carried from the building during the support act and I was forced to fire him.”
Bad luck indeed, but thankfully Stuart and band are raring to go and ready to put their new superb album out. It will be out in April and if this album does not sell by the bucket load then there’s something wrong with the world. The usual combination of urban distress, bouncy blues and indie attitude makes this a great record. Listen to a sneak preview of the track ‘To The Nighthouse’ here:
With gigs lined up, Stuart says “this is a point of flux and anything might happen, it really is worth fighting to get this album heard” Perhaps, and most remarkably of all, Stuart accepts that this is what he HAS to do. It’s that Medway Vision again, that desire to create. There’s no giving up for an artist like Stuart, the music is in his blood and if fame comes then that’s a bonus “if I only ever play the Man of Kent a few times a year, but those gigs continue to be rammed, then in some way I have an ongoing achievement. Hopefully though we can go on to do more than that.”
I’m a big fan of Jack White and when I saw Stuart Turner for the first time I had that similar feeling of wonder, that feeling you get when you know you’re seeing something special, someone who means it, someone who is singing from the soul. Jack White is, famously, a fan of Billy Childish and his raw rock and roll. One suspects that if Jack had the pleasure of hearing Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society he would have another favourite Medway band. This is not karaoke tribute blues as witnessed in so many bars up and down the land. This is as real as it comes. Stuart Turner has lived a life, he’s seen the bottom and because of that he’s breathing new life into the blues. Once again we’re seeing a Medway Vision, an artist who makes the music because he has too. His bad news is good news for the rest of us.
Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society release their new album ‘On the Brink of Misadventure’ on Brigadier Records later this month.