On a blustery November evening, Highwire Magazine contributor Bonnie Britain went behind the scenes with “the new master of the slide guitar” Jack Broadbent at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, ahead of his performance supporting The Rolling Stones’ guitarist Ronnie Wood and his Wild Five.
Is tonight your first show opening for Ronnie?
Yeah, but I actually played the album launch party for the Confessin’ The Blues record that [The Rolling Stones] put together, which Ronnie did all the artwork for. It was like, a compiled album of old blues songs so it wasn’t The Stones actually playing on it but it was all the sort of stuff that they said they’d loved growing up and they put this record together of that. They asked me to play that, so today is actually the second time that I’ve met Ronnie.
That’s a nice little hookup! Did you have to ask them to do that, or did he seek you out?
Well, someone asked him what music [Ronnie Wood] was digging as part of an interview and he actually said me.
Oh, that’s the best way to be found out…
Yeah, that was really nice!
This is your fifth album that you’re plugging right now, Moonshine Blue, which came out on November 15. Stylistically, from what I’ve seen and heard, you don’t really like being stuck in one genre. So, how would you describe yourself if someone was like, “well, where am I going to find you in the music store”?
I suppose there’s this new genre that seems to be coming about, “Americana” — people seem to be throwing that around a lot. I think that’s just a shorthand for rock, blues, folk and jazz all rolled into one. So I guess that’s where I place myself in all of this. It really is the million-dollar question though… Also, I suppose you could call me “roots music” if you wanted to!
Have you ever sat down to write with a particular purpose, or does it all come from the heart?
Oh, no, I don’t really tailor any songs to any particular agenda. It always comes out of nowhere and I try and channel it then write it down.
You tour a lot, and you’re on actually your own tour right now as well as this one. Does your location have any impact on your writing?
Yeah, and this record, Moonshine Blue, I actually wrote all over the world while I was on tour. Each song was written in a different timezone; different cities, countries, you know. It’s got a real sense of movement in the record, not just genre-wise but in terms of the influence, I’d say that yeah, it does very much affect it.
Is there anything people could notice or should look out for on the record?
There’s not really a running theme, each track is its own man. I wanted it to be like that, I didn’t want to go and fit in any kind of box. I wanted this record to be a good mixture.
So who are your biggest musical influences?
My dad, who is playing bass tonight during my set. Growing up with that has been a major influence.
What sort of records were playing in your house growing up?
A lot of Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, Little Feet… anything Americana. Also Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac… all that stuff, really.
Have you ever had the chance to meet, play or work with any of your influences or people you grew up listening to?
Well tonight, of course, I’m opening up for Ronnie Wood at Shepherds Bush Empire! That’s still quite a strange one to say out loud. I got to tour with Lynard Skynard in the U.S. also, and Tony Joe White before he died. That was an honour. Johnny Hallyday too, but sadly he’s also died now.
I’ve noticed that you use a bit of a hipflask action on your slide guitar. Have you used anything else weird and wonderful in that respect, whether it’s worked or not?
I could often be found at parties, messing around with various different tools! Knives, lighters, beer bottles, bananas, an orange… One time at a party, someone came down and I was found playing slide guitar with a guitar… with a guitar! I actually managed to do that on stage one night as well. It actually worked; I said I’d do it as a joke but it genuinely worked. I’ve settled for the hipflask though, it’s the perfect tool for me.
How did you come up with the hipflask or was it just trial and error?
It was something that was close at hand at the time.
You like a little drink then?
It’s been known in the past…
Got any rock ‘n’ roll stories because of that?
I cut down an American flag in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and got captured by the police, then Lynard Skynard’s tour manager got me off the hook because they needed me for the rest of the tour. Luckily I didn’t actually get arrested.
Was that rock ‘n’ roll enough? I also got kicked out of the Cambridge Folk Festival two days before I was due to play but then went on to sell the most merch at the whole festival.
Speaking of merch, and touring… the industry has changed so much in terms of record sales and whatnot. When working on an album, do you still work on things like single releases?
Yeah, we did a couple of singles off of this record — we put out the track ‘Wishing Well’. It’s good to still focus on a track because it might not necessarily be on the record in a prime location but if it’s the right song for people to anchor with the record then it’s a good idea.
Have you changed the way that you’ve put things out over the years because of the industry constantly changing?
This new record is the first that I’ve done affiliated with another label. I’ve previously released everything else through my own label, but with this one, I’ve had a little help with distribution and the PR side of things. This one has a bit more firepower behind it that I’ve been used to.
Did they restrict you at all creatively?
Nope, fortunately, I’d already written and recorded the album and I just licensed it to them so it was the perfect solution.
Do you still go out and busk for that first reaction to new material?
No, I don’t, but I think that one day I will. For now, things are a bit too hectic, you’ve seen how busy today has been! I’m also kind of worried that if I didn’t make loads of money busking these days I’d be really pissed off… I used to be really good at it, but where I haven’t done it in a while I’ve sort of tricked out and chopped my performances so if I went out now I’d have to really learn how to do it again. It is a great thing to do, I’m so pleased that it’s part of my story.
If someone was aspiring to be you, to have a career like yours, what would your best piece of advice be?
It just takes perseverance. I haven’t done anything necessarily out of the ordinary: I went busking, someone else filmed me busking and put it online. I didn’t orchestrate that. If you get serious, do your shit and make sure you’re doing it regularly and in the public eye… if it’s meant to happen, it will.
What’s been your biggest highlight, the proudest moment in your career so far?
This show tonight is definitely up there, as it’s the first proper, big venue that I’ve played in the UK. I’ve done some nice venues before, especially in London when I played Union Chapel, but this is definitely special. There have been so many moments though, it’s hard to pinpoint one! We did the Montreux Jazz Festival, that was pretty sweet.
Have you got any targets in your mind, say, “I want to be playing Glastonbury”?
I would just like to find myself back at these venues I’ve been playing opening for other people, but this time with my name on the top of the bill.
With these support slots people are introduced to you, but what do you do differently in these sets from when it’s your own headline show?
I guess with the support slot, it’s almost like a business card: you’re in, you’re out. It wants to be shiny and look nice, and tonight, for example, we’re going to really hit hard and play the bangers. I’m going to do some covers too of songs I really like as well as my own songs, which is nice because Ronnie will be paying homage to Chuck Berry [during his set], and I’m going to pay homage to the stuff that I like.
Have you done any collaborations or are you strictly a solo musician?
Not really, I do all my own writing but on the new record, I’ve got the piano player from Lynard Skynard playing on a couple of the songs. It’s mostly just me and my dad playing together, but in terms of writing, I just like to keep it on a personal level, quite close to me.
Like a lone wolf!
Yeah, exactly! I bought a patch once in America and put that on the back on my leather jacket, but then about a month later I never wore it again because I thought it was a bit cheesy. I ruined a perfectly good leather jacket!
You’re from England, of course, but you seem to have recorded everywhere. Like Nashville, or wherever you happen to be on the road. Where do you see yourself as being based?
I live in a bag on the road. Next to the roads on Tuesday morning, you’ll find me… it’s binbag day! No, but I’m very loosely based in Montreal and have been for the last three and a half years since that is where my partner is from. That’s great because we’re close to the States where my booking agents are, but it’s amazing to be back in England and doing a gig like this. It’s a good homecoming.
Have you got old friends and family coming to see while you’re here?
Yeah, we’ve got some mates coming tonight. I lived in London about ten years ago now and lots of people who have been there along this journey will be coming out to the show tonight. It’s going to be good to feel their presence in the room tonight!
Do you find that the music industry in Canada is vastly different from the one in the UK?
I think it’s the same everywhere, really. There are varying degrees of quality in different locations but the internet has really levelled the playing field. Anyone, anywhere, can do anything. If you can get your shit together and tour, it doesn’t really where you’re from. The music is great in Canada, and being so close to the States means I’ve been down to New Orleans and spent time working on my material there. Places like that really get my juices flowing.
You’re currently stringing your guitar what looks very expertly, not that I would know… but who was the first person to teach you how to play the guitar?
My dad showed me about three or four chords and I wrote a song out of those chords. Then I went back to my dad and said, “I need another chord, I wanna write another song,” so I didn’t strictly have lessons or anything but I learned that way in order to play the guitar.
Jack’s dad, Micky Broadbent, then cut in to add: “He didn’t learn the guitar because he wanted to play the guitar, he learned the guitar because he wanted to write a song.”
How old were you at that point?
I must’ve been about 11 or 12.
So it’s completely in your blood then, there was no other career option for you…
Yeah, I’m pleased I didn’t go to law school or anything!
Jack Broadbent is currently touring in support of his fifth studio album, Moonshine Blues. Check out our review and more photos from the show with Ronnie Wood here.