Blair Dunlop - Passing the torch of family tradition
Blair Dunlop always imagined he might follow in his father’s footsteps and become a musician. He never dreamed, however, that he might be given the responsibility of continuing the family business by leading the reincarnated Albion Band, the first edition of this English folk-rock institution not to feature his dad, bass guitarist and founder also of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span, Ashley Hutchings.
After forty productive years, in 2002 Hutchings decided to retire the Albions, the band he had formed to accompany his then wife, English folk singing legend Shirley Collins on her classic No Roses album. Dunlop was only twelve when his father called time on the band, although he remembers well being taken to gigs and having various band members call in at the house Hutchings shared with Blair’s mother, singer Judy Dunlop.
“I was always around musicians and there were always instruments around the house, so it was natural for me to be drawn to playing music,” he says. He began playing guitar at the age of six, when his mother arranged for classical guitar lessons. But he didn’t take much interest in traditional music – he might even have become a film star after playing Johnny Depp’s younger Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - until he encountered Jim Moray, whose 21st century take on the tradition has reinvigorated English folk music, at Sidmouth Folk Festival in 2007.
“It took an outside influence to get me into my parents’ music,” he says. “I didn’t even want to be at Sidmouth. I was just there because my mum and dad were playing. But Jim Moray heard me playing some instrumentals and asked me to play with him. He became my idol and I loved the new edge he was bringing to folk music. I’ve since gone back and listened to the old stuff and I love that too. But I felt, if young people were going to get into English traditional music, it needed a fresh perspective and that’s what we’re doing now with the Albion Band.”
Two years ago, on their way to see a gig, his dad told him that he’d been asked to consider putting the Albion Band back on the road. Hutchings had already formed his Lark Rise band and didn’t fancy reconvening the old guard, so he asked Dunlop how he felt about forming a completely new, young generation Albion Band.
“I was a bit surprised but I loved the idea,” says Dunlop. “Dad was keen to see a version of the band that would find a new audience as well as appealing to older fans, which is a tricky balance, and our agent knew that Tom [Wright, drums and vocals] and Gav [Davenport, vocals, guitar and concertina] were looking to do something similar musically. So the line-up fell into place quite easily. We added Katriona Gilmore on fiddle, Tim Yates, who has the unenviable job of replacing my dad on bass, and Ben Trott on lead guitar and we’re just really enjoying it. Dad gives us lots of advice and has final say on songs and direction but he trusts us not to mess up his legacy.”
As for older fans who might not have been ready for indie/garage-infused readings of traditional songs or Albion Band standards such as the sea shanty One More Day, Dunlop says they’re winning them over.
“There’s been a few who’ve said they’re not going to bother coming to see us because they don’t fancy what we’re doing,” he says. “But how do you know if you don’t try? Our first album, The Vice of the People, has just come out, so that’ll let people dip their toes in the water, if they need to, but the response at gigs, from new fans and old, has been overwhelmingly positive.”
From The Herald, March 22, 2012.