Paul Poulton is a singer/songwriter whose passionate love of music was birthed when he was only four years old through watching his Dad play. Having played thousands of concerts that love hasn't waned and he released his latest album Words earlier this year. His love for God has been the other mainstay of his life, not only providing the focus for his music, but also where he found the answer to a two year mystery illness. Heather Bellamy spoke with him to find out more.
Heather: Paul, you're a singer/songwriter and you learned music at a really young age didn't you? Tell us how music came into your life.
Paul: I was four years old and dad who was a keen pianist sent me to piano lessons. I didn't even know my left hand from my right, because I remember the piano teacher said, put your left hand on this note here middle 'c'; I said, which one's that and she said that one there. I said, no, I mean which is my left hand?
Heather: Did you take to music straight away; did you have an ear for it?
Paul: I loved music; music was great. Dad played the piano in the house. I love those bass notes on the piano; that left hand stuff he used to do. It was so intriguing. It encouraged feelings in me somehow, that when he plays those notes I feel a certain way. I thought that's magical and I think that's what music does. Sometimes you hear a track from a few years ago and suddenly you're transported back to where you first heard that track, or maybe some emotions that you were feeling when you first heard the song. Music has that power. So yeah, I love music.
Heather: So have you played music since then; did you ever have a break?
Paul: I've never had a break from music, although I did change from piano. My piano teacher gave me this book called The Jolly Farmer and I had to do these exercises and it was so uninspiring. Then I heard the radio and bands like the Rolling Stones would be on. I thought that sounds better than the Jolly Farmer went a hiking down the country lane songs, like that Mrs Jevons makes me practise every day. I wanted to be out playing football or something, but when I heard the Rolling Stones and they used an instrument called the guitar, I thought I've got to get one of these guitar things. My friend had one and he said I've got a guitar and you can have it if you want. He gave me this guitar and I've been playing and bending the strings on the guitar, because you can't bend the strings on a piano; it's too difficult unless you lift the lid up and put your hand inside and that's awkward because you can't even get to the strings; there's this whole linkage mechanism. With a guitar both hands are on the notes, so it's really kind of emotional. There's something about guitar playing that really hits you in your heart.
Heather: You mentioned it was your dad that introduced you to music. Was there a close bond between you and your dad growing up?
Paul: Yes. I still have a close bond with my dad. I see him quite often and we're always talking about music. He quite likes classical music these days and I do too. When I became a musician I thought I really ought to study this properly, so I did the grades. I did right up to grade eight with classical music. In grade eight you have to play a concerto; you need a pianist for that, so my dad played the piano parts. I think it was harder for my dad than it was for me. He was really sweating with this concerto piece he had to play.
Heather: And what about your Christian faith; when did that come into your life?
Paul: That was very young as well. Music and Christianity have always been closely linked for me. I would sing songs when I was in trouble. I used to sing this song, if ever a time I need the Lord I surely need him now. I used to sing that when I'd been sent to stand outside the head teacher's office. I'd be singing it like mad. It was always closely linked because my faith in Christ was real and it was kind of enhanced by the music. I mean Christians always sing; wherever Christians meet they sing. It's like music is a blessing from heaven to the earth and we want to use it. So yes being a Christian and being a musician has always been closely linked.
Heather: You mentioned about standing outside the head teachers office; did that happen often for you at school?
Paul: It did. I used to get involved in the wrong crowd and it wasn't me who did the bad things, but somehow I got pulled into the bad things because I was hanging around with these kids who did bad things. They used to cane us and I got caned for doing nothing, but just being around the wrong crowd; but I quite like hanging around with people who've got that kind of edge. I mean Jesus did too; he got into trouble; he hangs around with bad people and so I don't mind that really. But sometimes yes I got caned for doing stuff that I hadn't actually done.
Heather: So what was your school experience like; did you get on with school educationally?
Paul: I loved English; English was good. I was no good at maths. In fact the other day my son said can you help me with this maths problem dad. I said ok; but in the end I said I'm sorry I can't help you. I even looked on the Internet and I couldn't figure it out, so I said sorry but I'll help you with your English.
Heather: Did you leave school with qualifications? Did you skive lessons?
Paul: I didn't skive lessons no, but in those days you didn't even have to stop for GCSEs; you could leave a year early if you wanted to. I wanted to be a musician, but I couldn't get work as a musician; I just didn't know how to. I got an apprenticeship studying engineering, which I did for two years and then found a band that needed a guitar player and I thought this is my opportunity. I left the engineering course that I was on and joined this band that lived down south.
Heather: Through this period of your life were you truly going for your faith, or was it just something in the background and really it was all about music and your friends?
Paul: Faith has always been very real to me. I've never left my faith in Christ. There was a time when I was about 16 that I thought I really ought to start letting people know that I'm a Christian. I went to see a band play called Malcolm and Alwyn and it was a very powerful gig. That day as I was walking home, this was in London, I felt such a presence of God with me; I've never felt that way before. I was thanking God and began to speak in tongues. I'd seen that before, but never had it happen to me. I thought how am I doing this? I didn't realise what was happening to me was what Christians call being baptised in the Holy Spirit. I learnt more about it in subsequent days, but that was a big turning point as well and I started to let people know that I'm a Christian. I talked to people about Bible verses and trying to help people and encourage them, because not everyone reads the Bible. I tried to let them know that God was able to help them through my own experiences; so I started talking to people about God.
Heather: You mentioned when we were talking earlier about a guy called Alwyn, wasn't he part of the Jesus movement?
Paul: Yes. He was an English guy actually, but the Jesus movement started in California in America in about 1971 and we got to hear about it over in England and it did affect us. Some of the Americans came over.
Heather: During that time there was a focus on sex, drugs and rock 'n roll, but was there also more freedom for expressions of faith too?
Paul: In the church there wasn't. The church people didn't like it too much because it looked as if you were going to become worldly, because these Jesus people had longer hair and they played guitars, when really it was piano that you used in the church.
I think God used the Jesus movement to speak to ordinary people, because the music did reach out to people. There were festivals around the country. It was a time when Christians really moved out into the world. I remember once we had this concert at Trafalgar Square with loads of people there. There were different singers that came and sang and then at the end of it they gave us this big loaf of bread and we all had this massive loaf of bread and they said ok now go and share the bread with people around London. We all went off walking around saying would you like some bread to people? They said wow that looks nice bread yes. We shared the bread and talked to them about why we were doing it. It was a time that Christians really started to move out. It wasn't such a church based thing as something that was out there in the streets, in the concerts halls and in the clubs.
Heather: Did people like Alwyn have a big affect on your life?
Paul: It wasn't a big affect I don't think because there's a load of musicians I love and Alwyn is one of them. He's got something special because when he plays guitar he's got this kind of percussive thing as well and he'd hit the guitar, which had this driving effect; he'd hit the guitar with his thumb and I used to love that. There's another guy as well who came over from America, Larry Norman and he had a similar thing. He just played a battered classical guitar and he also had this same kind of style. It was as if the Christians had got their own style of music and God was saying, ok we've got all these bands like T-Rex, David Bowie and Roxy Music, well how about these other guys? I remember Larry Norman got played on Radio One. I first heard Larry on Radio One actually. God was putting people in place in the regular music scene to speak out. I think God's always done that; he's got people around the place that will speak his word even in dark situations.
Heather: As a young guy you had quite a trial in your life with illness didn't you?
Paul: Yes, that was when I was about 21. I was playing football one day and at half time I went off to go to the toilet; it was the bushes actually and I noticed that I was passing red blood in my water. I thought wow that's not right. I told the manager and the manager said you mean you can't play the second half? I thought isn't that just like football managers? I said no, you better take me up the hospital and he said ok ok ok. I missed the second half of the game and he took me up the hospital. They started to do tests because they said, no that's not good. At the same time over the next few weeks I started to feel so week and dizzy and the hospitals did loads of tests and they were most uncomfy as well, because they had to look at my bladder. It was like I'd been abducted by aliens and they were probing me. It was horrible. They said we've got to do it to check out the situation and make sure there's nothing gross wrong; that was the word the surgeon used I remember. They didn't find anything, but I still didn't feel any better. Some mornings I couldn't even get out of bed; I'd just lie there, but I was ill for about two years.
Heather: In those two years when you said you couldn't get out of bed, did that mean you couldn't work; that you couldn't play in your band? What effect did that have on your life?
Paul: Sometimes it did mean I couldn't work, but I still did try to do a few gigs. I remember travelling down south once with my band and I was feeling horrible. We got to the gig and I just wanted to sleep. It was actually Maidstone prison that we were playing in that day and so they left me in the van just outside the prison to sleep. I just fell asleep and there was a knock on the van door and it was the police; they thought it was suspicious. When they opened the back up and there was me in amongst all the equipment sleeping it looked even worse. We had to explain the whole story to them and by the time we had finished doing that it was time to go in and do the gig. I do remember that particular gig because I felt so bad doing it, but I did enjoy music; there's so much in it; there's strength we get when we play music that somehow I felt strong doing the concert; but then when I finished the concert I just wanted to lie down again, so my friends in the band drove me back.
Heather: How did you recover from this mystery illness?
Paul: I asked two ladies to pray for me. They were two pastors in Birmingham called Miss Fisher and Miss Reeve. I remember they came around my house and prayed for me. I started to feel improved after that and it was a very gradual process. It wasn't an instant thing, but I started to feel well and I got my strength back. I think it's really important that we do look after our health. I'm not quite sure what made me bad; I've got a few ideas, but I can't say for definite and they never concluded what was wrong with me. Now I try to look after my health; I try to eat properly; I run and where I live there are lots of trails and I go on a seven mile run and I try and do that most days; or go to the gym if I can't do the run. I've got my strength back, which is great and I thank God that he heard the prayer of Miss Fisher and Miss Reeve.
INTERVIEW WITH THE GUITAR SITE www.guitarjar.co.uk
1.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.
2.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.
3.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.
4.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.
5.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.
6.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.
7.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.
8.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.
9.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.
10.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.
11.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.
12.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.
13.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.
14.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!!!!!
15.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.
Birmingham singer/songwriter PAUL POULTON has paid his dues. He talked to journalist, Tony Cummings.
Paul Poulton isn't your standard songsmith. In March 1990 the very first issue of Cross Rhythms magazine wrote about how Paul's songs sometimes drew on the works of CS Lewis and GK Chesterton. It read, "Mix those diverse (literary) elements together with a shot of rhythm and blues, a laid-back Tom Petty-like vocal style and a large dash of the unique Paul Poulton sense of humour and you get somewhere near the flavour of the man's work."
In his first year on the road he did 100 concerts. In 1989 he recorded his first album 'I Think I'm Being Followed'. Paul remembered, "I did a song on there called 'Strange People' which I still get asked to sing lots of times now."
I asked Paul about how, against all the odds, the Birmingham songsmith secured a radio hit in the USA with "Flaky People" from 1999's 'Flaky' album. "That was one of those songs that every verse just fitted beautifully. It was at the time when there were problems with the President (of the USA) and Monica Lewinski, and stuff - it was around about that time. That got a lot of airplay because there was one verse particularly about flaky leaders who offer us the world when they need us. You know, they fool around in their ivory towers when they've got where they want. It was number two in one chart in the mid-west. It was in the chart for about three months. I mean they must have been really fed up of me after three months."
The album which showcased "Flaky People" was actually credited to The Paul Poulton Project. I asked Paul whether such an aggregation still existed. He replied, "Yes they do, that's my band. I do some solo gigs, but when I'm with my band it's nice energy guitar-based rock and we have a blast. I really enjoy touring with the band. When I go over to America usually what happens is I go solo one year and then with my band the next. I've been doing that since I started going over there, which is nice because when I go solo I can take my little boy and my wife with me as well."
2005 has seen the release of two Paul Poulton albums. He spoke about the inspiration behind 'Affected'. "Just as I'm going around my daily life I get inspired. I was in my car the other day and thinking about a family I met in America, they were such a nice family; beautiful kids, good marriage, beautiful house, good job, nice church. Then the lady emailed me telling me they were going to split up! I thought, 'Oh, no!' I couldn't believe it! This thought suddenly hit me, that trouble affects all of us, every one of us on the planet, it affects us somehow. When I got home I got my guitar out and got this groove going and wrote this song called 'Affects Us All'. As it happens they didn't split up, which I'm really pleased about, they got it together - but I got a great song. God does inspire me and it's no good writing a song without the inspiration; I don't churn songs out. I don't think I ought to write a song because I haven't written one for a while. You know I heard Sting say that, I heard him on TV. They said, 'You entered into this contract for 10 albums with a record company.' He said, 'Yeah, but that's ridiculous because you can't write until you're inspired,' and I totally identified with what he was saying. Without inspiration you haven't got a song."
Another new Paul Poulton release is the Christmas epic 'Grooves 4 Scrooge'. Commented Paul, "As soon as you mention the words Christmas music it sounds like you're 'middle of the road' and I'm not like that at all. I always try to be cutting edge, because that's the way it comes out. Over the years I've worked hard on the carols, getting some mean licks and mean grooves to them, because the carols are important. They've got great words, you know? Charles Wesley - he worked on one particular song for years and years, but he could never get the third verse right and so he left it in his drawer and every now and again he'd get the song out and try and work on this third verse and he just couldn't get it right. And then one day he got inspired - he suddenly got the piece of paper out, wrote the third verse and then shortly after that he died. That song is 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing' and it's a great song, great poetry, but particularly the third verse; 'Born to raise the sons of earth/Born to give us second birth.' Every Christmas people sing that song, it's in the psyche of the western world, because he waited for the inspiration to come. So we give this real mean groove to it and people really join in with it. I like to do that with the old songs; I do it with some hymns as well, I give hymns a bit of a mean rock 'n' roll feel, 'cos that's how we've all grown up - we've all grown up mean and the music has to suit it!"
Paul is now immersed in a Christmas tour. He finds that Christmas is his busiest time on the road. "I've already got the Christmas tour well under way. There are a lot of dates in for that and people have been asking me about December 2006! I've got people booking that up as well, so - yeah, I'm always on tour. Wasn't it Bob Dylan who was on the never ending tour? Well, I've joined him on it!"
INTERVIEW WITH "MAN2MAN" MAGAZINE:
M2M: Have you always been a Singer/Songwriter?
Paul: I left school, went to college and studied engineering. I was offered a position in a band as a guitarist/singer and part songwriter so I left engineering behind for music...but I have always appreciated having a good working knowledge of pneumatics and hydraulics. Especially when it comes to fixing my little boy's toys.
M2M: Did you go to Bible school?
Paul: No, but I have always grown up with books and love studying them. I read a lot of CSLewis, GKChesterton and George MacDonald. I study the Bible not only because I write but because I love studying it. Just having my daily reading opens up avenues of thought I've never considered before. It's the secret of the universe in our own living rooms.
M2M: How did you become a Christian?
Paul: When I was young I didn't like going to church, mainly because it meant I missed the second episode of Batman. The church I went to was next to the Fish & Chip shop where a bunch of boys would hang around. Once half a bag of chips suddenly flew in through the window, but the preacher carried on as if nothing had happened, to me, that was the most interesting part of the service. I would talk to God even though I was only five, but it became a dynamic, interactive, reciprocal relationship at sixteen.
M2M: How do you juggle your time between family responsibilities and work, especially when you are travelling?
Paul: Spending time with my family is a very important priority, so I am strict about taking on extra responsibilities. There is a time for every activity under heaven. Getting the right time for the right activity is important, doing the right thing at the wrong time is not clever!
You always know when you've met someone with no timing, because if you tell them that you are about to fly off to Spain on your holidays, they'll tell you about a plane crash they've just heard about on the News.
Paul: Running, but I'm not very good at it. I entered a 10 mile race on Boxing Day. My Mother said "who is making you do that?" "No one Mum, I just wanted to enter it." "What!" she said.
What was the question again? Oh yeah, Running and Reading, but not at the same time.
M2M: What's your favourite food?
Paul: Mexican Bean Feast, but you can't eat it too often.
M2M: What's it like performing on stage?
Paul: Do you remember listening to a song on the radio and playing a Tennis Racket in front of the bedroom mirror and pretending to be a guitarist? But if anyone came in the bedroom you suddenly stopped. Well it's like that, but when the people walk in you don't stop.
M2M: How do you keep your feet on the ground?
Paul: If I'm not humble how can I help anyone? The good thing about being humble is that you never get embarrassed, because you never pretended to be perfect in the first place. So when things go wrong and you walk into the ladies toilets instead of the men's it's just another opportunity to be humble.
Interview with US papers HEDRICKS COUNTY FLYER and WESTSIDE FLYER of Indianapolis
Q First, tell me something about the CD project, Angel, getting radio play attention. What is the background of the song?
A I've always wanted to meet an Angel, and if one came to visit me I would be very polite. Abraham killed a choice tender calf when Angels visited him, I don't have a calf but I could offer them some toast and make them a cup of tea. But maybe I have met an angel and didn't even realise it. So we need to treat all people as if they were angels unaware, and be respectful, loving and hospitable.
Q Scott Tyring described you as a modern blues sound singer who gets his audience moving. He says your lyrics are intelligent and fun. Can you explain "intelligent" and "fun."?
A The serious business of heaven is Joy. "Does not He who created the eye, see? Does not He who created the ear, hear?" So included in the sense is: doesn't He who created laughter, laugh? Doesn't He who created a sense of humour, have one?
Q What do you do to make your songs moving, intelligent, and fun?
A I get inspired and have to write what's on my heart via my mind. My songs are like springs of water that shoot up out of the ground.
Q What instruments will you be playing in your one man concert?
A Acoustic guitar, but I play it like it's a band. Segovia said "the guitar is like a whole orchestra in one insrtument." There's a lot you can do with a guitar, Psalm 33 tell us to play skillfully, that means practice. So I'm a practicing Christian who plays guitar, I hope to get fully qualified real soon.
Q Can you give me a little about your Christian upbringing in England?
A I didn't understand much in those days, but I knew Jesus was real. I would ask, to try to learn, I asked someone about heaven, they told me it was a land flowing with milk and honey. I thought, "hey, it sounds like a soggy place".
Q Where else in the Midwest will you be touring, and why did you choose the country belt of the Midwest to do a tour?
A Some of my music has received radio play in Ohio and people have e-mailed me, bought CD's and helped promote the concerts. I went to Texas on my first visit and got to play in some fine venues. The American people have always showed me so much kindness there is a particular ethos to the States that you don't find anywhere else in the world. God Bless America.
Tony Cummings catches up with hard rocking trio the PAUL POULTON PROJECT
Paul Poulton ProjectEvery few years the hard pressed hacks at Cross Rhythms Editorial shrug their shoulders and say, "Isn't it about time we did a Paul Poulton feature?" For the truth is, the Brummie singer/songwriter has been a fixture of Britain's Christian music scene as long as there has been a Cross Rhythms. He was featured in the very first issue of the CR magazine in fact and since then has clocked up literally thousands of gigs and a steady flow of independently released albums. In recent times though things have changed for the veteran songsmith in that Paul no longer goes out to gigs clutching an acoustic guitar but tours accompanied by two hard rocking cohorts. The Paul Poulton Project (as they are named) consist of Paul (vocals, guitar), Ross Lander (bass) and Joe Blanks (drums). There was in fact an earlier version of the Paul Poulton Project (with Rob Allen and Paul May) who recorded one album, 'Flaky' (1999). But it's Paul Poulton Project mark two who have been attracting much praise for their high energy stage performances and, in 2007, a fine album, 'Dumb Dogs' (a track from which, "I've Never Met Bob Dylan", was named by Cross Rhythms as one of the Best 20 Tracks Of 2007). Now PPP are hard at work at Raindance Studio, Amblecote, recording a new album, 'Looking For Someone To Blame' with engineer/producer Chris Smith.
Paul spoke about 'Looking For Someone To Blame', which should be released in the autumn. "It differs slightly from 'Dumb Dogs' in that most of the tracks are radio friendly, catchy and melodic, all of them, as usual, are guitar-driven. The songs have a message, which people seem to appreciate where ever we play, whether it's a rock venue or a church organised event. We try not to shout at people with a message, but rather engage them with an interesting perspective. God's love is very broad, it has something for everyone whatever stage in their lives they're at."
What promises to be one of the outstanding tracks on the new album is "Hypocrite's Blues". Paul explained the song's unusual genesis: "One day in the studio I was messing around with an old spiritual hymn called 'Ain't It A Shame'. I added some of my own verses to it, it's a funny song. Chris recorded it while I was playing it on my acoustic guitar. Joe Blanks walked into the studio to put some drums down on another track we were recording, but heard 'Ain't It A Shame' and immediately put the drums down for it. It was all so spontaneous, his playing was great, accentuating the country/blues/gospel feel of the song, it all went down in one take. We ended up with a song for the album in just a few minutes without even trying. Normally it can take a loooong time to get a song right. I put a rough mix version of the song on our MySpace site and people immediately started talking about it and pasting it onto their sites. Radio stations across the world have already got a copy and have been playing it. When my wife heard the song she thought it was a bit risqué so I called the song 'Hypocrite's Blues' to help explain the song to anyone who didn't think we should beat our wives."
Another unusual track on the album is "Don't Blame Me" which, believe it or not, features a famous mainstream song in each verse, namely Billy Paul's "Me And Mrs Jones", the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction", the Beatles' "Lady Madonna" and Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven". Explained Paul, "To engage with people you have to talk about things they will relate to. Christians sometimes struggle to get people into church because some churches have a language all of their own. They don't relate to ordinary people very well, so the song as with most of the songs on the album relates to people about ordinary things. 'Married People' for instance talks about married couples have fun in bed when the kids are asleep, and all the other things married people do, they shout at each other, they get counselling, they stay together but it takes work. That song relates to people and people have let me know. There are ways of talking about the Bible without it being boring. I think God relates to us in ordinary ways but we complicate things and they end up unable to be understood, we don't even understand them ourselves. I've been working on another book that looks at that very theme, it's called An Ordinary Life. But I need to finish the album before I get stuck into writing the book."
Writing books isn't a new activity for Paul. Last year American publisher Resource Publications published his work Fishing For Praise. Explained Paul, "The book looks at the question why do people praise - is it a weird thing or is it a normal aspect of life that we all engage it? The book sets out to show it's a normal thing that we do every day. Like, we praise our wives when they look nice, we praise the guy who cooked the dinner in the restaurant, we praise the filmmakers of a good film, we even praise our dogs when they go to sit by the door and don't leave a little puddle by the sofa. Praise is a normal part of life and so when Christians get together in church, it's what we do. It's a normal thing. If somebody's been to a good football match they say, oh you missed a great match the other day. It was a really great game. And we will talk about the good players. So when Christians get to church, what we kind of do, some of the songs are aimed at Christians. We sing to each other, 'Come, let's praise the Lord,' or something like that. What we're saying to each other is, 'Isn't God great. He's done so many good things that I can't express myself properly I've just got to sing this song. So this will do for me to praise God.' So that's what we do.
"But praise is all around us, everywhere. We hear it a lot. We also hear the opposite of praise as well. People get slagged off and stuff but the Bible teaches us to talk up, be positive and a lot of people in the world are positive. When Christians meet together it's normal to praise God. That's what we do because he does so many good things. And God praises us too - that's the thing. Praise isn't one way. It's not like Jesus has got a big ego that he wants praising all the time, or he's insecure or something. It's not like that. We're recognising who Jesus is. Jesus is the creator of Heaven and earth. He wants to help us, he wants to be our friend and he wants to be our brother. We recognise that fact and so we say he's truly great. He's the most excellent of men, like the psalm says, 'You are the most excellent of men.' When we are worthy of praise God praises us too. It's not like it's all one way. The Scriptures tell us we are to seek the praise that doesn't come from men but comes from God. Seek his praise. So he praises us too. And an insight into praise is that it gives us a lot of information on Heaven and Hell. So the book looks at praise as a doorway through to Heaven or through to Hell.
"As I was writing it I just found myself going through these avenues of really, really interesting stuff and it all started from just the one thing, why do we praise. Deists, Benjamin Franklin was a deist, he believed in God but he didn't praise him. He said we don't have to praise him. Just knowing he's there is enough. He also said God doesn't want our praise. He said why would he want our praise? Do we want praise from a monkey? Or a lesser life form. It doesn't mean anything to us if a monkey praises us - what does that mean? And he said that's what it's like to God. So deists don't praise God and there's quite a lot of deists about, even though they don't realise they're deists. I think, and I try to say this in the book, because praise is a normal part of life it's important that we do praise God because some people can't praise. We all know people who have never got anything good to say about anyone. It's just like beyond them to say anything good. All they want to look at is people's bad points and there's lots of bad points to look at in the world. We're not stupid, we know that's the case but there's also lots of good things to look at and the good things should be highlighted and praised. And so that's what Christians do. We see God who is good; he's totally good, excellent, nothing bad about him. In fact Jesus is the one person on earth there is nothing bad to say about. So we can just say good things about Jesus because he's good. So that's what the book's about. But there are lots of avenues and different chapters that look at different aspects of praise. It was originally called Aspects Of Praise - there's about 10 chapters about different things. Now it's called Fishing For Praise."
The powerhouse drummer in the Paul Poulton Project is Joe Blanks. Joe explained how he contacted Paul, "I went to this website and it said Walsall and it said Paul was a clean living guy and stuff. So I met up with him and it ended up that he lived down the road in Rugely." Paul interjected, "Joe told me, 'I'm on the telly next week so you can watch me play. And he was on Let me Entertain You on the BBC.'" For those not familiar with Let Me Entertain You, the audience have the opportunity to buzz a poor performance and if they got more than 50 per cent buzzes the hapless act would be kicked off the stage. Amazingly, solo drummer Joe won two heats and came third in the final, winning three thousand pounds in the process.
Not surprisingly, in view of his TV talent show success, Joe admitted to being a showman. He said, "That's my thing. I prefer doing live gigs rather than studio work. But the solo was varied. I played with four sticks, I stood on the drums, I did animal impressions, I did stick twirling." Paul added his praise for his virtuoso drummer, "He's a great drummer, solid, but he's got this excellent showmanship too. Some people are born to be on stage and Joe's one of them. He was only 16 when he was on the TV show."
Equally crucial to the Paul Poulton Project sound is bassist Ross Lander. Ross is a veteran of the Christian scene. "I have been playing bass in different churches for 18 years now. That's a lot of meetings! I think my record is four in a day. I have also played at services at three different towns in a single day - London, Huddersfield and Bradford. In Huddersfield, I joined a praise party band called RAW (Ready And Willing). That was a lot of fun. We rarely had a planned set list and solos could be requested at any point by the band leader. I also joined a group called Glass around that time. We were featured in Cross Rhythms in issue 49 in 1999 and the EP had a great review. Sadly, the band folded due to a lack of motivation, which was a real shame as there was real potential there. I have been part of the worship team at the Elim national conference a couple of times, and a few other Bible weeks. I have been playing for a jazz/funk/soul function band for the last two years, which has really stretched my playing. I joined the PPP in Feb 2007. I have a friend who has known Paul for ages and he told me Paul needed a new bassist, and was able to recommend me. I sent some MP3s through and that seemed to be enough to land the gig. I first met Joe a couple of hours before we were due to play in front of 1000 people in Sheffield! I had only met Paul once as well! It was something of a baptism of fire, but it went well. We have still never had a band practice to this day."
Like each band member, Ross has plenty of vivid memories of gigging with the Paul Poulton Project. "One of the craziest was at a pub in Huddersfield. We played in a sort of courtyard out of the back of a van. If the setting itself wasn't surreal enough, things got really weird when the power went off in the middle of a song and Joe began running around the place playing window bars, tables and fire escapes. The crowd went crazy for it! The landlord offered us more money if we could keep on playing."