The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Paul Poulton. Paul has been playing live across the county for 25+ years and has a wealth of experience to share with other guitarists. Guitar Jar caught up with Paul to quiz him on his guitar equipment, technique and his experiences of being a full time musician…
Tone is in the fingers… it comes from practice and lots of it, there’s no short cut…
- Hi Paul, before we get into the details of your equipment and technique, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing?
My dad sent me to piano lessons when I was four. I didn’t enjoy the strict regime of learning notation. Then one day the radio was on and I heard John Peel playing an old blues player called Lightnin’ Hopkins, he played acoustic guitar and made the notes bend. I was fascinated and loved the sound. So I persuaded my dad to get me guitar, he got me an acoustic, I played it every day.
- In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
One of the first concerts I went to was a Rory Gallagher gig at Birmingham Town Hall; he played a beat up Fender Stratocaster and made it talk using a lot of blues scale. But I also enjoyed Ronnie Wood’s playing too; he used Major tonality so it was the best of both worlds. I learned the blues scale first, looking back I’m impressed with myself because there were no teachers around in those days and I picked the scale up by trial and error listening to bands. I even got the flat 5 in there. I picked up the major scale later and that often shows in my playing. Blues first and melody later.
- Can you tell our readers more about the Paul Poulton Project? When did the band start, who else makes up the band and how often are you gigging? Is it your full time job?
Yes it’s a full time job, I registered myself as self-employed back in 1984 and did sessions in the studio and played with other bands, then in 1988 a record company called Big Feet Music offered me a deal to record my own music, they had their own studio and I took about three months to record it. It was called “I Think I’m Being Followed”. My girlfriend was working for Big Feet’s Management/Agency getting their artists gigs arranged. The first gig I got sent to as a solo artist was a youth club in Liverpool’s inner-city. The youth leader said “I hope these kids like you, the last singer we had had his car turned over on its roof.” I was really nice to the kids there and they liked my set and left my car alone.I did about 110 solo gigs that year. But as I got invited to bigger venues I started to put a band together, and named it the Paul Poulton Project because I write the songs and sing them. These days it’s mostly band gigs that I do, although I still love to do acoustic gigs. My band used to be a 7 piece and I had some excellent players in it, Ken Higgins played bass for a while, he’s with Corinne Bailey Rae now, Mark Walker played keyboards he’s a top session player with a number of chart bands. Musicianship has always been a high priority with the band. One day we played in a pub in Wolverhampton and the stage is a small one, so we played it as a three piece, guitar, drums and bass. I enjoyed it a lot because I had space to play my guitar which I hadn’t had too much of with seven in the band. Ross Lander plays bass now, he is a very hot player from Huddersfield, and he’s been in the band for about three years. Aron Bicskey is a Hungarian who lives in England, he plays drums, and he has a special feel that works well with two English musicians.
- Looking at the amount of gigs you’ve performed over the past year or so, you appear to nearly always be on the road. Do you mange yourself or do you have the help of a management team to organise and market your band?
We toured the US last summer, I think it was about the seventh tour I’ve done over there. I had a radio station in the mid-west play a lot of my music sometime ago. I had one song on the play-list for three months. The station doesn’t even exist now but people still remember those songs and it makes it easier arranging tours. When I left Big Feet, I married my girlfriend who still kept the agency running with a new name of Lewis Management, so she did my marketing, the agency did well and employed another girl. Marketing is important; people won’t buy your music unless they know it’s there.
- Are there any additional genres of music you’d like to explore? Maybe laying down some guitar tracks with some dance music?
When I was doing sessions I used to practice every type of music I could find. I would work out trumpet solos to find what sort of scales and arpeggios they were using, I took eight grades of classical guitar, and I found it an excellent discipline and really started to enjoy classical music. Yeah I also enjoy dance music; some dance tracks do have some nice guitar parts in them.
- Can you tell our readers more about your new album “Too Twitchy”? What can we expect from the album and what influenced the title?
This album is based on The Blues, a number of blues stations have already been playing the pre-release tracks from it. There have been quite a number of blues clubs springing up around the UK and it’s a lot of fun playing in them. Most recent songs I’ve written have a modern blues feel.Too Twitchy covers a number of subjects: boy/girl relationships, friendships, loneliness, anxiety (hence the title of the album) and our need to be humble instead of swaggering around the world as if we own it. The blues is of course divine medicine for the broken and downtrodden, a gift to strengthen and heal. It helps us see life from another perspective. I’ve always shied away from easy lyrics and easy rhymes and try to reach out to people through the songs. I think musicians tend to be spiritual people because being a musician is an important role in the universe, it touches people on a deeper level than anything else, so we who are songwriters and musicians ought to use that power for good.
- What guitars, amps and effects do you use live?
My main live guitar is a Gibson 335, the BBKing edition I play it through a Peavey Classic 2×12 combo, it has a lovely warm valve sound and will overdrive nicely when pushed. In the studio I have been using mainly a Fender Strat with a Mesa Boogie. It’s never easy to capture the sound of an amp in a recording but the Strat and Mesa Boogie, cut through nicely without any unwanted high end overtones.
- Are you a fan of amp/guitar modelling? In the studio, are you averse to using this technology?
It can be fun but nothing ever beats the real thing. My advice is get all the main guitars down using an amp and mic or acoustic guitar and mic, then see what can go on top by using some pods etc… but if you rely on the treated guitar for the centre ground, the track will suffer from being thin. And recordings today are fat, very fat.
- I like your tone; it’s very defined. Is your tone something you have refined over the years, or have you always pretty much sounded same?
I heard some time ago that Paul Kossoff’s guitar, the Gibson Les Paul that he used on Alright Now was up for auction. The price would be very high but if the person who bought it thinks they will get the same sound that Paul got then they may be disappointed. Tone is in the fingers. Jack White (White Stripes) goes around looking for cheapo guitars that most guitarists wouldn’t even play and he gets such a great sound out of them. Cheap guitars help give the White Stripes their distinctive sound. Tone comes from practice and lots of it, there’s no short cut.
- How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I always have a challenge on the go, this week it’s Stevie Ray Vaughan-Scuttle Buttin. The one before that was some Southern Chickin’ Pickin’ based on playing a double stop on the fifth and fourth strings at the fifth fret and pulling the notes down to the second fret and then resolving to the A string. It was very fast and sounds great with the guitar tuned down two tones.The week before that it was Toccata and Fugue by JSBach played with a pick. Plus I run through Diminished arpeggios from the first fret to the 12th and then back again. Then do some sight reading, and then have some fun by jamming to a few tracks. Plus I have to rehearse my own songs. So I try to practice every day and some days for several hours at a time.
- Have you had any nightmare experiences whilst gigging?
Yes I guess so. But the one thing you have to learn being a performer is that when you are on stage humility is one of your biggest requirements. And the good thing about being humble is that you don’t get embarrassed because you are not trying to keep up a perfect image of yourself. We’re all human and all make mistakes. I walked on stage to do a solo set with my acoustic guitar at the Cornwall Coliseum and the PA crew had forgotten to put my mics on stage. So I stood there looking at the audience and they looked at me. It ended up quite funny, the PA crew finally got wise to what was going on and got some mics up for me, but they use a guitar mic-stand that didn’t quite reach my guitar sound hole. So I had to crouch down which made it even funnier. The gig ended up going really well. But when things go wrong I try to remember to stay calm and not pretend to be perfect.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
My box of Herco Picks, they seem so hard to get hold of these days.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Joe Blanks. Joe was on TV about four years ago on that programme where you have to stay on stage for three minutes but if 50% of the studio audience click their remote you have to stop and get off stage. Joe got through all the rounds and made it to the final just playing drums and won a bunch of cash. Joe is such a great player and showman. He did actually play drums for the Paul Poulton Project for about 18 months and recorded the Dumb Dogs album with us. We had some great gigs with Joe. But he is a young 19 year old and me and his dad thought he should be playing in a young man’s band. He’s playing with The Tunics now; they are playing the festival circuit and are getting big in Europe.
- Lager or Cider?
When I play in a pub, pub landlord’s like me a lot, because I drink water at gigs. They say, “I wish all the bands were like you, you can come back.” It gets me lots of gigs!!!!!
- What’s the plan for you the Paul Poulton Project in the near future?
We have a tour planned for December, plus weekend gigs around the country before that. I’m always writing new songs, so the next album is never too far away. I’ve been talking with some people about another US tour. But you know what they say: The quickest way to make God laugh is to tell him all your future plans.
For more information about the Paul Poulton Project please visit: