Tim Aves interviewed by Mike Owens
Tim Aves is a well known face on the British blues scene. His many activities include a regular Sunday evening radio show on SaintFM. He MC’s and performs at Boogaloo Promotions events and also promotes blues happenings in the Essex delta area where he lives. This year he launched a new band ‘Wolfpack’. They performed twice at the recent Boogaloo weekend event at Warner’s Cricket St Thomas- first they did a Sunday afternoon slot following on from Tim’s duo set with Son Henry; later the band backed Son Henry for his evening session. In our interview Tim related much about his past musical life and told us about the new band.
BM Tim, what got you into blues in the first instance?
TA: Two words really; Doctor Feelgood. In 1976 aged 17, I was still at school in Cambridge and Feelgood were to change my life when they appeared on a TV show ‘The Geordie Scene’; coincidentally they appeared live at the Corn Exchange two nights later. I simply fell in love with this brutal, powerful band with this amazing front man, it was so different from what we were used to. They then led me to explore further the whole blues music scene.
BM Were you playing any music at this time?
TA No; it was two years later coming off the back of the Dr Feelgood thing. I picked up a guitar and got together with a group of friends to form a punk band. I was probably the world’s worst bass player. I moved through a succession of punk bands and new wave, eventually into a band called ‘Emotion Pictures’ playing Elvis Costello type stuff with some of our own material. We used to throw in a couple of R n’ B numbers as crowd pleasers and found that was where the demand lay. I was still exploring the blues scene and was lent a copy of Howling Wolf’s London Sessions. Although it’s not regarded as his best I could relate to it; it included the likes of Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, Hubert Sumlin, Bill Wyman and all those guys. So those were really the cornerstones of my entry into the blues.
BM Did you see this as a full time occupation?
TA No I have never thought of it like that. I haven’t been lucky enough. It wasn’t possible to earn enough to get as fat as this (Pats belly and laughs). The music has always been a consuming passion so I take work that I often hate that fits in with it.
BM So your first Blues band, did you form it or join it?
TA Well the Band was ‘Automatic Slim’ drawing on the Feelgood, George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ influences; the edgy side of white boy blues. I put an ad in Melody Maker; ‘Lee Brilleaux seeks Gypie Mayo, Figo and Sparko’. The Gypie line up was my favourite because Gypie was a wonderful, wonderful guitar player and someone I was lucky to work with a couple of times. By now I’d moved on to lead guitar and singing. I’d moved to Burnham on Crouch and knew Ian Cundy who could take on the Wilko lead role. I had a good rhythm section but they never turned up to the rehearsal studio. Fortunately the manager put me in touch with bassist Howard J. Brills who brought in Chris on drums.
So in November ‘82 we did our first gig in a Basildon Pub. Apparently people looked at the band and said ‘great sound, shame about the singer, that won’t last!’ We had the last laugh though; that band with some changes in personnel lasted until 1999. We did over three thousand gigs in Europe and the UK and had a lot of fun along the way. The basic problem, by 1999, had been that the generation that had formed our following and had come through that Feelgood thing, had all got families and weren’t coming out to gigs. Things had moved on.
BM But Slim have had revivals since then?
TA Yeah well in 2002 we had a 20th anniversary charity gig having done many fundraisers in the past and had such a good time we decided to do the odd gig as long as the money wasn’t stupid money. Oddly enough this year we have done five gigs, which is the most we have done in a year since we split up.
BM So how did you move on from 1999?
TA Well it was a fairly seamless progression really. From the mid nineties I had taken a lot more interest in the American blues scene with the likes of the Fabulous Thunderbirds and Stevie Ray Vaughan. That was not a terribly cool thing to admit ‘cos every half assed blues white boy was into SRV at that time. But I’m still a great fan of his and admired what he has done. The thing was that the public taste was moving away from the Brit-Blues thing to a much more American model. So I teamed up with an electrician Phil Davis as a sit down acoustic duo – Slim Tim and Lighting Phil. At the turn of the century there were a lot of clubs opening up featuring American acts so there was a demand for a support duo and we did that for a few years. Then our local club in Basildon, The Juke Joint, suggested we put a band together. So my boy Owen Barry who was about twelve and had been playing for two years and was a pretty fair guitar player by then, joined us plus his big brother Rob Barry on bass who was 13 and had been playing for about a year. Then Paul Lester came in as drummer; who I had met at a jam and whom I found I got on with, it was the start of a beautiful friendship. We initially did some gigs as T Bird Rhythm covering a lot of Thunderbird stuff as you can imagine; which was great as Paul is an amazing shuffle drummer. Rob is a very fundamental, straight ahead bass player with an amazing sense of time and always has been. Nothing fancy, but just a great bass player. In the late 90’s The Juke Joint booked Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Brought in as support, we obviously couldn’t play our usual set otherwise it would look like we were taking the p… so we widened it out to the whole Texas thang yo’all, with material from SRV, Bonnie Rait and Joe Eley. We’d also taken on Alex Murkin a very good keyboard player and singer Jane English who has a natural ability to harmonize. So we also had to change the name too. As the Armadillo is the state emblem of Texas we called ourselves The Rocking Armadillos.
BM So the Armadillos began to eclipse Slim?
TA Well yeah; we were gigging as two outfits till ’99 and the ‘dillos became a natural progression when Slim died. We appeared at several major gigs and British festivals like Colne, Burnley, did the Paul Jones Show thing, cut a CD. Phil left us after about six months as I think he felt a bit surplus with three guitarists and Owen had become seriously good. That continued ‘till about 2002 when Alex left us; and we couldn’t find another keyboard player that good. So we drafted in another passionate guitarist, Alex Hall, Owen’s friend, who was also into the SRV/Jesse Davy Texas thing. This allowed Owen to go over to fill the keyboard void creating a lot of textures with a variety of foot pedals. We went along with that line up until 2008, by which time Owen had become a pro session musician and touring with rock bands. Then he had a serious offer, which took him to America. We then had some personal issues with Alex and Paul suggested we draw a line under what had been an excellent band. We’d cut about 95% of a new album and hopefully, when Owen returns to the UK, we shall complete it. Jane had had a couple of kids and we brought in replacements; Chicagoan bassist Joan Baby for a short time, which was an interesting experience! Then there came a local girl from Basildon called Jody who wore some amazing outfits and teetered on stage in 7” heels, which after a few bottles of special brew was a sight to behold. But after that we just continued as a five piece ‘till May 2008. Paul had decided to stop drumming which was tragic; but he was later lured back to another band doing rock covers working out his Led Zeppelin fantasies.
BM Was that it, the band split up?
TA. As the ‘dillos yeah but Rob, Paul and I still did the occasional gig but mainly it was running the jams for these Warner Blues weekends, doing eight one year. It taught me to sharpen up my playing.
BM Was it at this time you connected with Son Henry?
TA Well a little before the ‘dillos split. I used to post on The Blind Man Blues Forum, which a great place to go if you are into blues. I got talking to Son about the weekend long Dundee Blues Bonanza. In January 2006 I had the heart attack, which took me off gigging till June, but it was a full recovery and I was feeling fine. So I flew up to Aberdeen where Son, an Alaskan, now lives. Friday night we spent about two hours rehearsing with Son’s band then drove down to Dundee where we did five gigs in two days in the pubs and clubs. It was the best weekend of my life. We repeated it again the following year. We then talked about Son and his band coming south and I set up a tour of nine gigs in ten days. Tragically Son’s drummer died in a road accident so we brought Paul in and after short rehearsal session hit the road. We had an exhausting but fantastic tour.
BM When did Wolfpack start to come together?
TA By accident in sense; Rob had replaced the injured bassist in the successful Hokie Joint and had befriended their guitarist Joel Fisk and got him to jam with us for few times. Then Club Riga in Southend had booked Matt Schofield and invited us to do a support. So we put together a set with Joel as Tim Aves and Friends and were pleased with result. In January 2010 a tour with Son Henry and his band was arranged but fell to pieces when Son had a heart problem whilst on holiday in Thailand just before which meant he couldn’t fly. So I offered the promoters the alternative of T A & F which we renamed Wolfpack. Disappointingly only two took it up. So last January we had our first gig at Blues on the Farm at Billericay and been gigging about three times month since then. The problem is of course that Hokie are highly successful and have first dibs on Joel; so as back up I have two other fine, experienced guitarists in Dino Cooper and Stuart Dixon. So that’s where we are at the moment.
BM Clearly with a name like Wolfpack there’s going to be Howling Wolf material in your set, but who else do you draw on?
TA Yeah, well…Wolf for me is just the embodiment of the blues so we have nearly half of our set dedicated to Wolf. The rest is a ragbag of a couple of my own songs, ZZ Top, Fab T’s, Doyle Bramall’s ‘Life by the Drop’ which he wrote for SRV and you know; the Texas thing.
BM Have you any plans to put an album together? TA Well we have recorded one live gig but haven’t had much time to play with it yet. I have put a couple of those tracks on My Space;I would love to take the band into the studio but it’s trying to get everyone together at the same time as we are all busy doing other things as well. But yes, it’s coming together.