in the U.K. Benji Kirkpatrick keeps the spirit of Jimi Hendrix
alive and well with the aptly titled Hendrix Songs.
Theres no shortage of Hendrix tributes but, with Benji singing
and playing acoustically on bouzouki and other stringed instruments,
the CD gives a rare insight into Jimis generation spanning popularity.
One of the 21st century wave of acoustic guitar virtuosos in the U.K.,
Benji is the multi-instrumentalist in the U.K. band Bellowhead and
he segues brilliantly with his 12 Hendrix covers. An acoustic power-pop
rave up of Foxy Lady is a treat as is just about everything
here. Speaking about recording Hendrix Songs in the following
interview, Benji tells mwe3.com "Id always tried playing
his songs in some form or another in my set but I was very aware that
I was never going to come close to doing what he did. This sparked
off the idea of coming up with a whole albums worth of newly
worked, stripped back Hendrix material, with the focus being his songwriting
rather than his guitar wieldingthe
project gestated for some time but I got there in the end."
Benji treats these Hendrix classics like the holy grail and he tastefully
brings classic rock into the traditional folk and folk-jazz realm.
A unique sounding album, Hendrix Songs makes for an unusual
and inspiring blend of acoustic Hendrix classics. www.BenjiKirkpatrick.com
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Can you tell us where youre from and where you live now and
what you like best about it? What are a few your favorite cities to
visit and have you been to the USA?
Benji Kirkpatrick: Im from a small village in the county
of Shropshire, close to the border with Wales in the west of the UK.
Im very much a country boy, brought up roaming the hills but
I fairly recently moved to the middle of England, a town called Leamington
Spa, not far from Birmingham. Coming from the country, Im loving
the novelty of being in a town and having everything on the doorstep.
There are some great cities and towns in the UK, Brighton is one of
my favorites, a very happening, bustling, artistic place. Bath is
a beautiful town, fantastic architecture
Bristol is pretty cool
as well, got a bit of an edge to it. Im all about the scenery
though, really. One of the joys of traveling for work is being able
to see different landscapes and explore different areas. Ive
never been to the US but would love to see some of the landscapes
there, as well as the cities of course. All of it! I toured Canada
a couple of times with Bellowhead but we never made it to the States.
mwe3: Your new solo album Hendrix Songs is a great tribute
to Jimi Hendrix. When did you first hear Jimis music and is
there story as to how the album came together so to speak? It sounds
like a very unique close-up of the Hendrix legacy.
Benji Kirkpatrick: I first became aware of Hendrix at the age
of 11 or 12 when someone gave me a cassette on which theyd recorded
his Radio One Sessions album, on the other side was ZZ Tops
Exterminator. That was me made! It was ZZ Top that caught me
first, a very accessible album that one, but then I realized that
there was this gold on the other side. The Radio One stuff is the
Experience at its best, I think, and I quickly became quite obsessed
with Hendrix. Band of Gypsys followed soon after, as did the acquisition
of an electric guitar, so I started trying to play the songs.
Id always tried playing his songs in some form or another in
my set but I was very aware that I was never going to come close to
doing what he did. I had a couple of acoustic versions of his songs
going but it was when I was noodling about on the banjo one day that
I stumbled across the "Voodoo Child" riff. I realized that
it worked very well and developed a sort of faux old time, faux frailing
Im not a proponent of either of those styles in reality
method of playing it. This sparked off the idea of coming up with
a whole albums worth of newly worked, stripped back Hendrix
material, with the focus being his songwriting rather than his guitar
wielding. The project gestated for some time but I got there in the
You say you wanted to revisit the more gentle side of Jimis
musical persona which I think you did quite effectively, for example
revisiting Waterfall and The Wind Cries Mary.
Were there certain parameters that you used in choosing the Hendrix
Songs track lineup?
Benji Kirkpatrick: Not really, I just tried things until they
stuck. Some didnt, of course. I wanted the songs to come through,
to stand up on their own whilst finding an interesting way of doing
them that was far enough away from the original versions to avoid
direct comparison. I saw no point in just doing straight covers or
trying to shred like Hendrix could, anybody can have a crack at that,
I tried to come at it all from another direction.
I play a lot of traditional music, mostly learned from books or field
recordings, and I guess I approached Hendrixs songs in much
the same way as I would approach traditional ones; extracting the
raw material and interpreting it in my own way, in my own style, removing
myself from and even trying to ignore the known versions to be able
to get to something that is new and different.
There were certain songs that I thought Id never be able to
get, like Angel, so in the beginning I discounted it but
when I actually hunkered down I found that it fitted really nicely
on the bouzouki. There were a few like that and I pleasantly surprised
myself in working them out! There were some that I couldnt find
a good enough angle for and some that were just too out there
lyrically and musically to be able to carry off on my own.
Ive always felt that there was a very gentle, compassionate
and sensitive side to Hendrix behind all the axe wielding, so it made
a lot sense to me to strip the songs back to the bare essentials.
Some of the recordings on West Coast Seattle Boy of Jimi recording
demos in his hotel rooms, or wherever he was, are very enlightening;
they show him in the writing process, playing quietly, concentrating
on the song structure, building the songs we know today. He took a
tape recorder everywhere, apparently, always making demos.
mwe3: Can you tell us something about the instruments you play
on Hendrix Songs, including the bouzouki, banjo and mandolin?
I was amazed by the sound of your bouzouki. When did you first record
with the bouzouki and did you do much overdubbing on the album or
was it mostly cut live in the studio?
Kirkpatrick: I started playing bouzouki in 1996 and I think it
went down on record pretty much immediately. It records wonderfully.
The bouzouki I play is referred to as the Irish Bouzouki, rather than
the traditional Greek version. A chap called Johnny Moynihan introduced
it into Ireland in the mid 60s having acquired it whilst on
tour in Europe and thats how it entered the Irish traditional
scene, spreading quickly to Scotland and England, and now across the
world. It has a flat back as opposed to a barrel back,
like the original Greek instrument has and is tuned completely differently.
I use it more like a guitar, I suppose, but its double strung,
like a mandolin, so it has a very unique sound. Id been playing
mandolin for a while when I got the bouzouki and the tuning is similar
so I had a starting point! I only really started playing the banjo
to use in Bellowhead but discovered I rather liked it so have been
using it in my solo work. I have a four string, I think Im just
sort of guessing how to play it really
Theres very little overdubbing on the album, the idea was to
keep it minimal. I double tracked instruments on a couple of numbers
and theres an overdubbed instrumental section or two but its
mostly done as live.
mwe3: Reprise Records had him here in the US, I still remember
when the first Experience album came out in 1967. Jimi was like an
overnight sensation. Looking
back on Hendrix, what albums do you feel were among his greatest.
Benji Kirkpatrick: I think they were all his greatest! And
all quite different. If I had to choose I think Id say Electric
Ladyland is my favorite, and possibly the best, but I do love
Band Of Gypsys as well. Many of the hits are on Are You
Experienced, though Foxy Lady, Red House,
Fire, and all the singles as well on the later versions
of the album. Each of the four albums released in his lifetime all
do a slightly different thing, and you really see the progression
in his music and writing. Band of Gypsys is obviously the one that
sounds most different because its a different band and its
live. Heavily funky.
mwe3: How do you contrast Jimi, the pioneering guitarist and
technician and Jimi, the songwriter with that melodic ear? Youre
right that he was breaking so much ground for the guitar that his
melodies are overlooked. I just saw the LSO playing Hey Joe,
Kirkpatrick: Theres an English classical violinist called
Nigel Kennedy who has done an album of versions of Hendrix songs,
all instrumental. I havent actually heard it, to my shame.
The thing with Hendrix is that he wasnt really a technician,
he was never formally taught, just learnt by ear and picked stuff
up as he went, so that means that he had no entrenched forms or training
to tie him down and thats a big part of why his playing was
so free. His playing was truly intuitive, I think, that guitar really
was an extension of his being at times. He was heavily influenced
by Bob Dylan and probably got some of his lyrical ideas from there
as well as having a rampant imagination of his own. He was a great
songwriter and I think it came quite naturally to him, I dont
think he in any way had a cynical approach to what he did.
mwe3: Tell us about Bellowhead and how you came to join the
band. I heard the band recently split up? What are the highlights
of your time in Bellowhead and what other artists do you like to work
with these days?
Benji Kirkpatrick: Bellowhead have their last tour in April
this year (2016). Its been 12 years. I joined at the beginning,
it was really a bit of an experiment that stuck and carried on. I
knew a number of the chaps from playing in sessions in Oxford, where
the band formed, wed done the odd gig, got drunk together, that
sort of thing. Then we became this juggernaut of a thing and started
recording and touring.
There are quite a few highlights, the tours in Canada were fantastic,
I saw an Osprey dive for a fish in the river by Calgary Folk Festival,
which was pretty special for me. On one tour we did this thing called
bus song a day whereby we wrote and recorded a song, with
video, and posted it online each day of the tour, it was hilarious
fun and all very silly but we came up with some great stuff.
Other highlights would have to be recording Hedonism at Abbey
Road Studios, obviously an iconic place and we were very privileged
to be there, and recording in the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales,
a truly great place to be.
Im currently working with a trio called Faustus, playing English
traditional material but in a slightly scaled back way compared with
Bellowhead. Ive recently started working and writing with a
singer called Janie Mitchell as well doing all original material.
Your parents John & Sue Kirkpatrick are each renowned folk musicians.
What was it like growing up in a musical family and there must have
been a lot of musical instruments everywhere! Are your parents
albums out on CD and what albums of theirs do you like best?
Benji Kirkpatrick: I had a great time as a kid, I didnt
really think about my parents being musical, they just were. And that
made for a fun childhood, I got to go to festivals a lot and travel
around with them a bit which I enjoyed.
I started learning piano at a very young age and there were various
instruments lying around so I inevitably picked them up at some stage
for a bash. Their albums are not out CD unfortunately, but some of
what they did is available online, certainly on Spotify. I think my
favorite would be Stolen Ground, the last one they made together,
because its the one I remember most clearly. I was at an age
when I was becoming much more musically aware so some of the material
on there I still find quite moving.
mwe3: Growing up what were some of your favorite bands and
also albums? Its overwhelming for younger kids to comprehend
all the great music from the past 60 years or so!
Benji Kirkpatrick: As I said, ZZ Top were a big one. After
the commercial joys of Eliminator, my Dad brought me back Tres
Hombres after hed toured the US and I loved that. Later
I discovered Deguello which I think remains my favorite of
theirs. Chuck Berry came before them though, just compilations. I
remember when Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits came out, one
of the first big sellers on CD, that was on a lot in the house and
that was fine by me.
after, Peter Gabriels So appeared and that got played
to death, brilliant stuff that had quite an effect. Both my parents
are big Beatles fans so their music was always a default position,
I got to know it rather well. One of the first albums I bought myself
was The Sensual World by Kate Bush, I always found her incredibly
fascinating. I got heavily into the Levellers for a while and their
album Levelling The Land is a key one. Swedish band Filarfolket
made an album called Smuggel which had a real impact on me,
very well crafted tunes. Oh, and the Stock, Aitken and Waterman classic,
Never Gonna Give You Up sung by Rick Astley.
mwe3: I think your Hendrix Songs album has great potential
for radio play here in the US. Who are you targeting so to speak as
an audience for Hendrix Songs? Hendrix fans for sure but theres
millions of young kids hearing Jimi for the first time every year.
What do they make of it then?
Benji Kirkpatrick: I hope that it has a fairly wide appeal.
Obviously Hendrix fans may be intrigued to hear it and hopefully fans
of acoustic music in general. I guess the folk fraternity is a place
to start, because thats where Ive come from in the UK,
but I really hope that it reaches an audience outside of that.
mwe3: What more will 2016 bring musically, compositionally,
and performance wise and are you planning new recordings as a follow
up to Hendrix Songs? What kind of album would you like to make
Kirkpatrick: I am planning more recording, Id like to follow
up Hendrix Songs with an album of originals. Im looking
at putting a small band together to make a slightly rockier sound,
not all distorted guitars but certainly heavier. The Hendrix project
cant last forever, obviously, so I need to get back to my own
material at some point. Ill also be recording with Faustus this
year and spending a week at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford
upon Avon so some good things coming up.