Raphael Callaghan interview: “I do like a challenge…”

Liverpool-born blues singer-songwriter Raphael Callaghan will play his first London show for many years on the 10th April at The Islington pub. Callaghan has been making music since the ’60s but has flown under the radar ever since his first recorded sessions on harmonica in 1969.

His first fully solo LP Said and Done was released last year to critical acclaim, receiving airplay far and wide, including on BBC Merseyside and BBC Radio 2, plus a slew of favourable reviews in the British blues press.

Since then Callaghan has played a number of live dates and his London show is part of a busy Spring touring schedule for his one-man show where he sings and plays harmonica, slide and picked guitar.

Raphael gave his thoughts on the upcoming show and told me what his new London audience can expect…

How much are you looking forward to your first London gig in a while?

I’ve got to say that I look forward to every gig. They’re all different, and present different challenges, although the common denominator of them all is to hope that the audience likes me and my music! But yes, the prestige and kudos of getting a London gig is quite special, so there’s that extra anticipation.

What can people expect when they come to see you in London?

I would guess that a huge percentage of the audience at The Islington won’t have seen me before. Even some friends I know who’ll be there haven’t seen me for years, so pretty much everything I do and say will be ‘new.’ I’ll be doing two fairly long sets so it will give me a chance to cover all aspects of my repertoire. That’ll be necessary to try and keep everyone’s attention!

Basically, there’ll be some acapella blues and gospel, and plenty with guitar, certainly some with slide, and some with just voice and harmonica. Mostly my own songs, with just a few of my favourite blues or gospel ‘covers’ done in my own way. And when I use the word ‘blues’, it’s my own personal brand of blues; as a line in one of my songs says, “they may not be the kind you recognise, for they’re nobody’s blues but mine.” Of course, they come loaded in varying degrees with references to what you might call ‘authentic’ blues (I hope), but I’m just a boy from Liverpool so I think that has to be taken into consideration!

Have you visited The Islington before?

I haven’t been to The Islington before, so that presents an additional pressure. But I do like a challenge…

How do you tend to rehearse for a show like this? Do you have any pre-show superstitions?

I have no pre-show superstitions, although I always say a little prayer. As for rehearsals, I mainly concentrate on learning the words so I don’t have to use the dreaded crib-sheet! And I do like to try and keep people cheerful between songs, with anecdotes, stories, even a joke or two.

What, if push comes to shove, are the best shows you’ve a) given and b) watched?

I’m happy to be able to say that I think one of the best shows I’ve given was this year, a one-hour spot at the Hungry Horse Folk Club in Ellesmere Port. Heck, I’ve seen many great shows, but probably the standout was seeing Son House, Skip James and Bukka White on the American Folk Blues Festival, Birmingham Town Hall, October 1967. Life-changing!

What are you listening to at the moment?

I’m not listening to much nowadays. There seems to be so little time in this day and age so I use any spare to write songs and try and improve my playing and singing. And I don’t want to be influenced by anything. I do keep myself grounded, though, by going back to the music of Charley Patton, Skip James and Mama Yancey.

How did the success of Said and Done boost your solo career? What’s your favourite track on that LP?

I’ve been bowled over by the success of my current CD Said and Done. Paul Jones has played several tracks on his BBC Radio 2 blues show, it was ‘album of the week’ on KCOR (Kansas City Online Radio), it’s had airplay around the world and in Britain on various blues radio shows, and has just been named ‘Blues Album of the Year’ by BBC Radio Merseyside’s ‘Folkscene’ programme (they’re a year late, but I don’t care as it keeps the momentum going). Feedback has been great and it’s definitely led to more gigs. But I could always do with more!

Favourite track is a hard one. My favourite song is probably Living Blues, and I love the fuller production of (I Don’t Take) Sugar No More or Think I Hear The Train.

Why was Skip James such an influence on you? How do you intend to pay tribute to him at your London show?

Don’t start me on Skip James! From first hearing his 1931 recording of Devil Got My Woman in around 1965, I fell under his spell. That high lonesome voice, the eerie guitar in a minor tuning, the soaring melody and strange lyrics, a sound like nothing else in the blues idiom. His initial rediscovery recordings, too, made in 1964 and released on the Melodeon label, they just get me every time. So yes, it’s likely I’ll include my arrangements of one or two of his songs at The Islington.

April looks pretty busy for you in terms of live dates. What are your plans beyond that – another record perhaps?

I’ve got six gigs in April. Heck, it’s a UK tour! I also have gigs in May, June, July, August and September. Yes, I would love to make another record next year, maybe with a band this time. But it’s an expensive business when you are your own management, agent, PR etc, so I need to sell a few more copies of Said and Done first. Then we’ll see…

Raphael Callaghan plays The Islington, Tolpuddle Street, N1, on the 10th April. Doors open at 6pm with his set starting at 7:30pm. Tickets are £8 + 80p booking fee from WeGotTickets here. For information on Raphael’s other UK dates, visit his website here.

Published by

Tony Allen

20-year-old student from Norwich.

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