An interview with Martin Harley

Blues guitarist and songwriter Martin Harley is developing a global reputation for his diverse musical style, which draws from the sounds of traditional North American music, particularly the blues of the Mississippi delta. His roots rhythms are now reinforced by accomplished upright bassist Daniel Kimbro, who joined him for his Live at Southern Ground album last year. The pair are heading out on the road again this month for a string of UK dates that see them stopping at Band on the Wall on 25th March. Ahead of the show we caught up with Martin to talk about guitars, his first meeting with Daniel Kimbro and his highlights of the past 12 months.

How did yourself and Daniel Kimbro meet and decide to play together?

‘We met backstage at Hippie Jacks music festival in Tennessee. After a five minute rehearsal we decided to play a set together. I felt that even without having ever played together we would be able to improvise throughout the show. I like being kept on my toes and looking for happy musical accidents in a live environment. Daniel is a very intuitive player and I’ve always enjoyed the chemistry between players like John Martyn and Danny Thompson. The Weissenborn [lap slide guitar] and the Double Bass are well suited for duo shows. A couple of weeks later we recorded the ‘Live At Southern Ground’ album.’

That album is a back to basics record, concerned with feel and warmth, played live with no overdubs. Do you have any favourite albums that were made in similar circumstances?

‘I believe the ‘Meeting by the River’ was recorded in a similar vain. It features Ry Cooder and U.M. Bhatt. Two fantastic slide guitarists improvising and bringing some great aspects of eastern and western music together.’

You play several guitar styles, utilising the lap slide guitar and resonator acoustic guitars. What are the virtues of the various instruments you use, and do you compose upon each, or assign an instrument to a particular composition?

‘Yes the instruments dictate the flavour of the composition. The Weissenborn is a sonically complete instrument in my opinion. It has a rich bass and long sustaining highs. With alternate picking on the bass string you can conjure up some really interesting sounds and rhythms. The resonator is set up for bottle neck and fingerpicking, making It easier to change keys and play more complicated arrangements.’

You’ve been touring extensively recently, playing a variety of venues and some outdoor shows. What have been the highlights of the past 12 months?

‘Playing on the Cayamo cruise, jamming with Chris Stapleton & Sam Lewis was a highlight. Traveling extensively in America has also been a great experience. So much of the music I grew up listening to was recorded in Mississippi so to finally go there was incredible. I got to meet John Prime briefly and toured the Caribbean all winter. I’m feeling pretty lucky at the moment.’

What are your plans for the rest of 2016, any more collaborative projects or new releases?

‘It’s likely I’ll make a new record in Nashville. Daniel will feature on that for sure. I have tours booked well into 2017 so it’s going to be busy year.’

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Friday | 25.03.16

Martin Harley & Daniel Kimbro

Band on the Wall, Manchester