Sam Brothers – Folk? Blues? Whatever – He’s Really Something Else!

 

Sam Brothers… the first time I heard the name, I thought it was describing a group, like the Isley Brothers, Walker Brothers, Righteous Brothers, whether related or not.  It turned out Brothers is Sam’s surname, like the Smith in Sam Smith.

Sam Brothers isn’t as radical as Sam Smith (who, in my opinion, tries too hard), but he shares a couple of qualities.  First, he has a very appealing androgynous quality – think Mick Jagger in Performance (but without the make-up) and he oozes charisma.  When Mr Brothers is in da house, you know about it.

So who is this enigmatic Sam Brothers?  A visitor from the coffee shops of 1960s Soho where he nodded, in passing, to The Rolling Stones as they honed their skills.  Walking a parallel line with Dylan, across the pond, and rubbing metaphorical shoulders with the great Pete Seeger.

The afore-mentioned androgyny extends to Sam’s vocals.  His voice is quite different to anything else I’ve heard from a live performer.  He weaves through vocal registers effortlessly, peaking and falling as if driving a long and winding road peppered with crests and troughs, taking the audience on that journey with him.  His melodies frequently take us to places we don’t see coming over the next blind summits, soaring over the highest notes like Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  This is one of the things that makes Sam such an exciting performer.

I’ve seen Sam playing before, pre-Covid, and was keen to see him play again so when I received notification that he’d be playing at the Uckfield Civic Centre, I was there (with bells on, of course).

Naturally, at the gig, I bought a copy of Sam’s latest EP entitled ‘The Folksinger.’ Newly released on Sunroot Records, it contains six tracks, all but one written by Sam, the exception being ‘She Moved Through The Fair’ which is a traditional song.

The gig kicked off with ‘Port of Salvation,’ written when Sam was living in Margate (a place you already know I love).  The instrumental break builds to portray crashing waves and I could picture Sam at the end of the harbour wall, looking out to sea, dirty blond hair slapping against his full lips.  This dramatic song features the perfect mix of harmonica, guitar and stomp box.

At times, Sam sounds like the accomplished busker who used to ply his trade in busy Sussex and Kent towns, honing his skills out on the streets where you’d better be good or you may as well go home.  He multi-tasks his instruments so his music sounds full, even when he’s alone on the stage.

To promote his EP, the first half of tonight’s gig features all the songs from the EP and they are, without exception, beautiful numbers.  Written during lockdown, Sam explains that he was quite productive during that period, having got fully stocked in toilet rolls, he then decided to build a caravan out of pallets.  When it was finished and with nobody breaking down his door to commission further caravan projects, he thought he’d better write some songs.

My favourite track on the CD is ‘Through The Dark,’ described by Sam as a song written for a friend who wasn’t lucky enough to live in a pallet caravan.   This song has the blues feel of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Ramble On’ and is the third track the EP.  I couldn’t wait to hear it again following the gig.  It’s the ideal track to showcase Sam’s falsetto and I feel a shiver down my spine when I listen to the EP, just as I did when hearing it live.  It’s a really touching number.

Despite the title of the EP being ‘The Folksinger,’ Sam doesn’t play the kind of folk you might associate with patterned, woolly jumpers, grisly beards and interminably long songs with singalong choruses.  I guess he’s a folksinger in the tales he tells, but there are other influences, most notably the blues.  This could have infiltrated his sensibilities through his Father who played semi-professionally in a blues band called ‘Bare Wires.’   The 14-year-old Sam thought they were great: “I joined them to play harmonica on occasion. They played pubs and local festivals in Hampshire, UK.”

The fact that Sam adds “UK” when talking about a location that’s not far away is rather telling. Sam is an international being.  As I write, he’s playing in Germany and Switzerland with a tour of Japan kicking off in October.  Before that, he has festivals lined up for the summer.

Born in Portsmouth, Sam has a somewhat Celtic family background.  He’s been playing guitar since the age of seven but his interest in music was piqued even earlier:  “We went on a family holiday to The Gambia in West Africa when I was around 6 years old,” Sam tells me “and there was a balofon band playing at the hotel a few nights a week. I loved the music and the guys in the band invited me up to play as part of the band one night on what I think was the bass balofon.”   At this point, if you’re thinking “What the (bleep) is a balofon?” Don’t worry, you’re in good company.  I looked it up and it’s an ancient African instrument similar to a xylophone.

Another of his earliest memories is listening to his Dad playing ‘Little Wing’ in the practice room (garage) below Sam’s bedroom.  That had a major impact on the young Sam and he began to learn guitar, initially with lessons from his Dad, before spending 6 years under the tutelage of another blues guitarist, Nigel Gordon.

As to other areas of inspiration, when I caught up with Sam in Stuttgart he told me: “I got proficient by learning to play by ear.  I learnt from French Gypsy jazz players in Paris, Moroccan Street musicians, jazz recordings and pretty much anything I could get my hands on.”  When you listen to Sam’s music knowing this, it’s possible to pick out many of these influences.  The only instrument on ‘The Folksinger’ that’s not played by Sam is a bodhran, in what I take to be a nod to those Celtic family ties.  The instrument is played by Stewart Hughes.

Back to the gig, and we enjoyed ‘Canterbury Street Song’ a Greensleeves-esque instrumental that closes the EP, before Sam got the audience involved in a gospel-style clap-along followed by some call and response to Nina Simone’s ‘Power’ (our table won). Sam tells us he was turned onto the song when he’d hear it playing in his parents’ car.

After a short interval, Sam was joined onstage by Dick Taylor, a founding member of The Pretty Things and The Rolling Stones.  This is Dick’s sixth time joining Sam in a gig.  The collaboration came about when Dick’s manager spotted Sam busking.  Now aged 81 and living on the Isle of Wight, Dick still plays a mean guitar taking us in yet more directions.  We find ourselves in a Souk, smoking a hookah as we swing into ‘Paint It Black.’  Tonight’s audience lap it up and I shouldn’t imagine they’re any different to Sam and Dick’s previous audiences.  By this point, I’m too enthralled with the music to be making many notes.  Suffice to say, the pairing is pretty magical.  We all felt it that night, sharing our delight when the two composite entertainers launched into Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone.’  One had the impression they’d both been playing this song for years and years.  It was an utter delight to watch two performers who had total mastery over their instruments.

Tonight’s gig was brought to us by dedicated local music promoter, Graham Pope.  Graham launched and ran the Uckfield Blues & Roots Festival for many years in addition to promoting stand-alone gigs.  Graham carefully picks & chooses the events he puts on and his reputation very much hangs on the quality of the acts he books.  If Graham promotes an artist, you can be sure they are top quality.  He was one of the first to book Rag’n’Bone Man live and he’s been a big supporter of Sam for a few years now.  To be added to Graham’s email list and hear about his future events, email him at:  gpevents@hotmail.com.
Alternatively, visit his Facebook page here.

Believe me, if you can catch Sam playing live, don’t walk, RUN.  In the meantime, you can visit Sam’s comprehensive website to listen to the music, find gig dates and get a copy of his EP.

Sam’s website:

www.sambrothers.co.uk

Here’s a link to the Pretty Things featuring Dick Taylor on guitar:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Igt14t_bHYE&t=93s

Author

  • Maria Bligh

    Maria Bligh is a journalist, published author, professional speaker, singer and artist now settled in Sussex, UK, having previously travelled extensively throughout the UK and overseas, including a period living in Geneva. Married to a successful musician and with a background that encompasses working in the music industry, finance, sales and presentations training, she maintains a diverse existence. Her interests encompass travel, nature, animals and the arts: music, theatre, painting, writing and philosophy. Maria now writes for online and print magazines. Having once maintained a regular full page in “A Place In The Sun” magazine, travel is an obvious interest, but her articles also cover a wide variety of subjects. She bills herself as “an observer of the human condition and all that sail in her.” Maria has frequently appeared on radio & TV as well as in print. Her humorous style has seen her travel the world addressing audiences throughout Europe, Asia and Australasia and as a cruise-ship speaker with P&O and Fred Olsen.

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