Sean McGhee interviews Charlie Wood
Memphis-born but UK-based, Charlie Wood is a pianist, singer and songwriter equally at home in blues, jazz, soul, or r’n’b.
His latest album, New Souvenirs, has just been released on the Perdido Records label. My initial impression on hearing it was that Wood reminded me of a less theatrical blend of Van Morrison and Georgie Fame. “Both those guys are musical heroes of mine, so I’d be honoured to be mentioned in the same breath. Stylistically I’d say what I do is very similar, so maybe I’m following in their footsteps.”
New Souvenirs blends elements of jazz, blues, r’n’b, soul and pop-rock songwriting effectively – all topped up with a classy delivery. A seemingly difficult album to file in the record shop racks. “Are there still any record racks left to be filed within? I heard Irving Berlin used to go into New York music shops and move his sheet music to the front of the stacks. File me under Irving.”
With so many musical bases ticked on the album, who is Wood aiming at or hoping will listen and pick up on New Souvenirs? “I reckon people who dug my Southbound record from the mid-90s might be particularly likely to find things they also like on New Souvenirs, but I’m grateful to have listeners and fans of all descriptions.”
Charlie toured as part of Albert King‘s band back in the late 80s when still a young man. What does he think he learned from King?
“Musically I learned a great deal about tension and release, pacing a solo or a song or a set so the energy builds. i learned a lot about the mechanics of electric blues, what the bass should be doing, how that works with the drums, where the other instruments and parts fit in, et cetera. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle – the pieces need to fit right, or it won’t stay together. I also learned how to survive on the road under tough conditions, which is a valuable lesson.”
Growing up in Memphis he was very aware of the city’s musical status and that has had a lot to do with his passion for playing, as described in “Music Is My Monkey” on the new album.
“So many great musicians have come out of Memphis, and so many great recordings made there, it’s impossible not to be aware of that legacy and influenced by all that beautiful music, past and present. Memphis is and has historically been a place where there are lots of bands playing in lots of different venues every night, typically for three or four hours per engagement, so the sheer frequency and variety of gigs keeps you playing constantly. I think if you didn’t love to play, you wouldn’t last long in that environment.”
Now based in the UK and married to renowned jazz vocalist Jacqui Dankworth, Charlie Wood is a busy and versatile musician. “I’m doing a lot of songwriting these days and liking what I come up with, so I reckon there’ll be another originals album coming along pretty soon. I’d love to do a duet record with Jacqui and we’ve been talking over ideas, so that’s high on the list for sure.
“I’m excited about the composing and arranging work I’ve been doing for Jacqui with some incredible classical musicians like The Brodsky Quartet, Roxanna Panufnik, the Liverpool Philharmonic and others, so I’m really interested in pursuing that further. I’m just grateful to have so much interesting and rewarding musical work to sink my teeth into.”