Hi! Everyone,
This weeks FEATURED ARTIST OF THE WEEK is the multi-talented musician, songwriter & bass player from the blues-rock group CHERRY WHITE: RALPH BEEBY

CREDIT: Sophie Wilson (https://www.istockphoto.com/gb/portfolio/SophieWilson)

1. Please introduce yourself 

How do you do? My name's Ralph; some of you might know me as the bass player with blues-rock group Cherry White. More recently I've taken the time to launch a solo side project, the Elephant Collective, which is a folk-blues outfit with a fluid lineup. Which is to say: most of the time, it's just me.

2. How did you get into music?

I was a relatively late starter, being about 12 when I first started learning the piano. Then a couple of years later, everyone around me at school seemed to be carrying a guitar, as if they'd all learned to play overnight, and I hadn't got the memo. Understandably curious at this development, I tried playing a friend's guitar. I'm still not entirely sure whether my big hands are a blessing or a curse, but at that moment they made his guitar neck seem very small and fiddly, so I wondered whether the larger bass guitar might be more forgiving. It helped, certainly: after a couple of years trying to work out how to play a bass, I gave the guitar another go, and it seemed much less of a squeeze.

I still regard the bass as my main instrument. I played bass in various different groups while I was a student, and eventually started hanging around at various jam nights in London, touting myself as a bassist. That was how I met the other people who would eventually form Cherry White, which has been my main project for the last eight years. But I always had the idea of a solo project at the back of my mind, and at some point that intertwined with my interest in acoustic blues and folk, so after working on my acoustic guitar skills on the side, I decided it was finally time to step out of the shadows with it.

3. What instruments do you play?

The aforementioned bass guitar has been my main interest, but with the Elephant Collective, I've spent more time working on the acoustic guitar, studying various people's fingerpicking and slide guitar styles. Much as I enjoy laying down a well-thought-out bassline on a dedicated instrument, there is also something very satisfying about being able to keep a simple one going with my thumb and the bottom strings of a guitar, while picking out chords and melodies with the top strings!

Aside from that, I've tried to keep fingers in various other pies - I just wish I could make more time to practise on the piano, the blues harmonica, drums and alto saxophone. But then there's always the balance between the time to practise and what I need to practise; the day job and the music; not to mention avoiding annoying the neighbours! 
CREDIT: Sophie Wilson

4. Who are your influences?

With the Elephant Collective, there's been a big focus on the early blues artists - Son House, Bukka White, Mississippi Fred McDowell, for example - and then some of the folk guitar virtuosos who came to prominence in the '60s - Davy Graham, John Fahey and Bert Jansch, plus a few who often get overlooked, such as Ralph McTell. Listening to artists like these really opened up my eyes to what you could do with just a single acoustic guitar. I decided to go against the popular trend for loop pedal trickery and push the limits of what I could do with just two hands, a voice, and the occasional stomping foot. 

I think there are also some more background influences who show through in my songwriting - much as they often have, whichever group or project I've been writing for, I guess. The Who and The Doors have always loomed large, as have Tom Waits and Nick Cave in more recent years. The latter three have certainly helped provide a bit of steer around what to do with a deep, bassy voice - not the most popular commodity in rock and pop music, so it was always hard to find singers to model my own singing on!

5. Tell us about your latest release

"An Imperfect Cadence of Gloom and Ennui" is my second EP - Spotify have insisted on listing it as an album, but as it's only 22 minutes long, I beg to differ! Whereas "First Light" was just an EP of songs, the tracks on "Imperfect Cadence" have a loose thread running through them. It's bookended by two vignettes set in a bar - "Blue Bone" opens the EP, inviting the listener to come and drink away their problems, while "Slip Away" comes to the end of the night, with a sad drunk being ejected and trying to stagger home at closing time. The songs in between offer some clues as to what the patrons might be drinking to forget about.

The lead single from the EP is "Our Man Stan," which is about an ordinary young man, just doing as he's told, doing what society might expect of him...until there's an accident at work. His injury means he can't do his old job, but ultimately the powers-that-be declare him "fit for work" and cut off his support so they can meet their targets. I often find lyrics hard to finish, but sometimes, if a subject makes me angry enough, it's amazing how quickly they can all tumble out. I think what particularly struck me was seeing figures about the numbers of people who are working full-time jobs that don't cover their rent, or how many people are just a couple of delayed payslips away from losing their tenancy, and realising that "Stan" could be any one of us.

Musically, I've had the tune knocking around for a little while, but I was struggling to get it working with just a lone acoustic guitar. Quite recently I was experimenting with some different tunings, and I came across one variously known as "Sailor's Tuning" or "Pirate Tuning." Just as I was getting comfortable with it, I had the idea to try "Our Man Stan" again, and suddenly it all just fell into place.

6. Whats your songwriting process? 

This is a tricky one to answer, as I'm not entirely sure I have a well-defined process! Whatever it is, it's definitely changed over the years: I used to get a lot of ideas from noodling around on an instrument until I bumped to a little snippet of melody, or a sequence of chords which sounded good, and I'd try and build up from there. Nowadays I seem to find less and less time to noodle, but there's still a part of my brain that refuses to switch off, and I find it ticking over and trying to churn up melodies whenever I'm not busy with something else - staring out the window of the train home, usually!

It's definitely a "music first" approach, though. I've always found lyrics hardest to write.

7. Which musician/ artist would you most like to collaborate with & why?

Not easy to choose just one...but I'd probably plump for John Reed, who fronts a group called The Folded Arms. We bumped into one another on Twitter a few years ago, and I've always found his songwriting touches just the right nerve for me. Some of his lyrics perfectly capture a lot of the frustration and outrage that I (and, I'm sure, many others) feel when I look at the news these days, and it's backed up by some really powerful, driving music. Plus, I've never jammed with a cittern player before, so that would definitely be something new!

8. If you were on a desert island what 3 musical gear would you take? 

Only three? Oh dear, that's going to be a tough one to narrow down! At the very least, I'd have to have a guitar and a bass...so perhaps my Epiphone acoustic and my Schecter bass. Perhaps I'm over-thinking this, but I'm going for what's most versatile - hence the choice of the regular acoustic over my resonator guitar. Though it helps that the Schecter is one of my favourite basses. But then there's probably not an amplifier on this island, is there? Can we assume there's mains electricity? I might need to take a bass amplifier. Pack the Ashdown 
9. Where can fans find your music (links etc)?

For free streaming and downloads, I'd recommend heading to https://ralphbeeby.bandcamp.com/
If you prefer Spotify, head to https://open.spotify.com/artist/2H0Qg16Ch6wXajQcHOFf90
Or if you prefer iTunes/Apple Music, try https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/ralph-beeby-the-elephant-collective/1294557575
And the YouTube channel is at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzrr0ca5sp1_g1zfuOG9_3w
It's on most of the other major platforms as well - if you put my name into the search bar, I'm pretty easy to find! But most importantly, if you'd like to be kept fully up to date, I'd recommend joining my mailing list. I send out semi-regular news updates through MailChimp, and if you sign up, you get a free download of a song which you won't be able to get anywhere else! Sign up at http://eepurl.com/c50155

I would like to say a huge thank you to RALPH BEEBY for taking part in FEATURED ARTIST OF THE WEEK 😃😃

Until next time