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MIKE ELRINGTON: MELBOURNE GUITAR SHOW INTERVIEW

Mike Promo Live(New-5)

Pic by Jason Rosewarne

Everything about Mike Elrington’s performance is big, from the guy’s physical frame, voice and guitar sound to the amount of heart and soul he injects into his show. If anyone needs any evidence of this, check out his new live album and accompanying DVD Live At The Flying Saucer. Recorded at the launch of his last studio album Two Lucky Stars, the live album showcases the many shades of Elrington’s persona from gut-wrenching blues ballads to beautiful melodies and good-time rock n roll. Mike is one of the busiest musicians in Australia, chalking up over 130 gigs last year and his 2017 is so far looking even bigger.
On Sunday August 6th Mike Elrington will be appearing once again at the Melbourne Guitar Show, this time in an Up Close & Personal Session, which will be part chat and advice, punctuated by the odd tune or two. AM’s Greg Phillips caught up with Mike to chat about his career, the new live album and the Melbourne Guitar Show.

Mike, do you remember your first professional gig?
That would have been in 1998.  I was 17 in Adelaide at a place called The Governor Hindmarsh Hotel. There’s a South Australian Blues Society and they used to do a Wednesday jam night. About six months into me going there, they said to me … do you want to do a gig opening up for one of the local acts? I was scared shitless at the thought of doing a gig. I said I’d think about it and it took another six months for me to get the confidence to do it. I practiced and practiced. I wasn’t singing much back then either, so that was totally new to me but I just forced myself to do it. Eventually I agreed to do a gig. I had a twenty minute slot, did four songs and was paid twenty bucks. I was nervous as all hell but just got up and did it. It went OK, so they asked me back to do another, then a few more after that and it started the whole thing off.

What about albums that you listened to growing up which had a big affect on you?
The first album which really got me into guitar was The Ultimate Experience, the Jimi Hendrix Greatest Hits. The first time I heard that was when I was 14. Back then I was into Nirvana, Metallica, Guns ‘N Roses but that was the first big guitar album. I remember hearing the song Redhouse, that slow blues and I didn’t even know what it was back then. That got me into Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters and then Stevie Ray Vaughan.

You have just released a new live album, Live At Flying Saucer. What are some of the great live albums that you’re into?
I used to listen to a lot of Hendrix live stuff. I remember Live at Carnegie Hall by Stevie Ray Vaughan, an album he did in 1984 with a big horn section. That was a big influence on me. Live at Cook County Jail by BB King … I played the shit out of that. I loved the vibe, his playing and how it was recorded. There are so many live blues albums that I have drawn on as an influence over the years.

Who are some performers that you have seen live that you borrow from in the way that they conduct themselves on stage?
The first blues guy I ever saw was Buddy Guy. I was 15 and it was a few years before I got heavily into guitar. I had a mate at school whose dad was the tour promoter. He come up to me at lunchtime at school and said do you want to come and see this blues guy, Buddy Guy. I didn’t know who he was at that stage. I went along and I just loved the show and how passionate he was on stage. This was 20 years ago at the Thebarton Theatre in Adelaide. He had a wireless guitar system and he did this song which went for over 20 minutes, where he went all the way out into the crowd, up to the balcony, then out to the road. He went outside while the band was still playing and he was still playing. I don’t know how he managed to stay in time with them. I loved the showmanship of him.

Was it difficult coming up with set list for your live album?
Not really. This show was actually the album launch for my last studio album Two Lucky Stars, so obviously there are some songs from that and some covers we’d been doing. It was a little bit different for me because I normally play solo and there is no set list.  I know what songs I have of course but there is no real order, I just do whatever feels right. Obviously with this gig, with an 8 piece band, string section,  Chris Wilson was there for a few songs, so it was a lot more structured and I had to think about the order.

How did Heroes, an 80s synth pop song end up being your set encore?
To be honest I had never been a Bowie fan. I first found out about him because Stevie Ray Vaughan played guitar with him for a little while. So I wasn’t really into his music that much before he died but then after he passed away I started to listen more and I found that song Heroes and I loved the positivity of it. The melody was great and it was one of those songs which had a profound affect on me. If I really like a song, I can listen to it a 100 times a week. Then I will trawl through iTunes or YouTube and find every version of it … cover versions from other artists. It’s an unusual song for me to play I guess but I like to do that occasionally,  re-work songs my way.

pic by Jason Rosewarne

Pic by Jason Rosewarne

You get a great acoustic sound on the album. What guitar did you use and how was that sound achieved?
That was one of the main differences between the studio album and the live album. For this album I had a Cargill guitar made by Jim Cargill, who makes beautiful custom guitars. For a long time he had been my guitar tech when I was playing other guitars. I’d go around to get my guitar set up and he would show me the latest guitar that he had built and I loved them, beautiful instruments but way out of my price range. He got to know me a bit better and saw how much I was touring and he gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So that is the guitar I used on the live album and I just love the sound. We are actually about to start work on the first signature model which is something I am very excited about.

What have you got happening in your pedalboard?
I run two pick ups on the guitar. The main pick up is the LR Baggs bridge under saddle transducer. The first pedal is the tuner, then an MXR Carbon Copy analogue delay which is always on, then there’s my new Electro Harmonix HOG2 harmonic octave generator, a crazy octave pedal on steroids from outta space which I am still getting my head around. After that it goes to my first overdrive, which is a Friedman Sir-Compre. The second overdrive is a Boss BD2 blues driver, then Boss Super octave and a Boss loop pedal. There’s a second input on that loop pedal where the second pickup  goes into as well and goes out through a Boss DD7 digital delay. I run the two in stereo, The Friedman I use on top of the blues driver for extra gain and a little bit of level, if I want the guitar a bit louder and gainier.

You’re participating at the Melbourne Guitar Show again. What are your memories of last year?
It was great. I love it. I have always wanted to play there and I had a great time. It’s great to see so many really cool players. The thing I loved the most was being able to find out about all these other builders and luthiers, some of which I had never heard of and they are making great stuff. There is gear everywhere, which is great. Not good for the credit card! There are so many great builders around the country who don’t get the recognition that the bigger companies do, so a show like that is great for them to display what they do.

You’re doing a session this time … part chat … part songs..part Q&A, this time as opposed to a straight performance …
Yeah, it’s going to be interesting because last year I just did a straight set of songs whereas this year it’s a bit of talking, a Q&A as well. I’ll talk about my experiences in the music business over the last 17 years and how I do it. Helping out other artists and musicians is something I am pretty passionate about and something I am pretty heavily involved with already.

One of things I notice you’re often commenting on is that the government agencies and in particular, Centrelink don’t take you seriously as a musician.
Yes, it is hard to get them to take it seriously. I guess what a lot of people don’t realise is there is a lot of work you have to put in behind the scenes to be a musician, that you don’t necessarily get paid for but you still have to do anyway. For those people on welfare benefits and I have been on and off them for many years, when they ask how many hours you worked and how much money you got paid … it’s like, well I did 70 hours but a lot of that you don’t get paid for. All the time you spend doing promo, chasing gigs, applying for festivals, endless work that you don’t get paid for but in the hope that it will land you work where you do get paid. So yes they do have an inflexible attitude to what we do. If they had a more appreciative attitude towards the arts in general, as you hear that they do in certain other countries, it would be nice. They do overlook the cultural benefits of the arts in general.

You had a very memorable gig earlier this year when The Doobie Brothers called you on stage to sing on Listen To The Music
People ask me what was the most memorable gig of your career and by far it was that one. Probably one of the most memorable nights of my life. I was lucky enough to land the support for them at the Tivoli in Brisbane in April. I did the gig and it went over well well, the biggest crowd I have ever played to. I watched their set side stage and happened to be right there at the end when their guitarist and singer Pat Simmons thanked me at the mic for supporting them and he saw me and said come on out. I couldn’t believe it, one of those magic moments. I was definitely on a high for a few weeks after that one.

What’s happening for you for the rest of the year?
The next tour is the Northern Territory in July, then Echuca Blues and Roots at the end of July. A New Zealand tour and then off to Nashville for a conference and hopefully some gigs too. September I have a China trip, a festival in Shanghai and I am over there a couple of weeks. Then I am back  touring the rest of Australia. I did 132 gigs last year and more this year. I love the road, meeting new people, playing to new audiences and trying to win them over.

Mike Elrington’s Melbourne Guitar Show session is on Sunday 6th August at midday at Cafe Corner
For other tour dates: www.mikeelrington.com

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