By Anna Ridley
While watching them recently at The Acorn, I was amazed by the high level of individual musical craftsmanship of each band member, and also mesmerised by their unity in their energetic performances.
It’s unusual for me to see a band play live and spend an equal amount of time watching each musician but the exceptional skills of every Brother & Bones member draws you in.
With not just one, but two, drummers in the band (Yiannis Sachinis and Robin Howell-Sprent), bass (Si Robinson), electric guitar (James Willard), and acoustic guitar (Rich Thomas), the sound has a strong tribal element, along with the raw husky blues/rock tones of vocalist Rich, who is originally from St Ives, and haunting backing vocals from James and Si.
With their originality, unique style, ever-growing fan base, lack of ego, and good looks, the future looks very bright for this talented quintet.
I caught up with James and Rich to chat about the band as they continue their tour around the UK.
How did Brother & Bones get together and how long have you been playing?
James: The band got together about three years ago now. We all met properly in the London area, and just outside. The music industry is very small so we all knew of each other through other bands, gigs, and reputation. The same still stands now in that we know most of the players you hear on the radio daily either backing an artist or in their own bands!
Rich decided that he wanted to put a band together and gave us all a call. We got in a room and jammed out a few of his songs, and here we are today.
We are very fortunate that the original formula just happened to work so well and that we all got on so quickly. Within a month we were playing a string of dates. The first one being at the Acorn in Penzance, where we returned to play recently.
Where did the name of the band originate from?
James: I wish we had a better story for this, but it’s just an old lyric of Rich’s. He had already decided on the band name when he gave us all the call. It’s easier that way. No one ever questioned it.
Who are your musical influences?
James: Our musical tastes are still somewhere in the past 50 years and we are always listening to old records. That’s where all the good stuff is!! Proper singers, song writers, and artists ruled the world!
There’s common ground amongst all of us with the likes of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Hendrix, John Martyn, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob Marley, The Stones, and ABBA (just kidding).
The list is pretty long, we are just really big music lovers, and we are always showing each other great songs and records, it’s what music is all about.
When and where was your first gig?
James: Mine was in a pub in Gravesend. Kent called the Pier. I was 12 years old and I was playing drums with my first school band. We all had to get our dads to give us a lift. When we unloaded, the landlord said to my dad “I don’t mind your kids helping you load in, but they can’t stay”, to which my dad replied, “They’re your band!”.
We played Guns and Roses, Oasis, and Hendrix covers. After that night we played there once a month! Ha ha!
As Brother & Bones, our first gig was in the Acorn in Penzance in the summer of 2010. It was either sold out, or almost full, but everyone was intrigued to see what their boy ‘Richy Thomas’ had put together. I don’t think anyone was quite expecting him to have turned such a big leaf and pull out the likes of ‘Here comes the Storm’, or ‘Don’t forget to Pray’. We’ve always had a pretty big following in Cornwall, and it probably has a lot to do with that night.
What is your favourite song to perform?
James: It varies from gig to gig, or maybe even from one tour to another. It all depends on how the audience receive a song. Last tour, ‘For all we Know’ had the biggest connection with the crowd, probably because it was the single from the last EP so they were all singing it.
So far this tour, I see ‘Red’ has been a stand out track, as again most of the audience knows it. It’s a lot rockier so they jump about and go for it more, which we just love.
It’s nice to see how quickly ‘To be Alive’ has been accepted too, that’s also really enjoyable to play, mainly because it’s fresh for us.
Who did you listen to growing up and what was your first album?
James: When I was growing up, I was obsessed with the drums. And the first record my dad ever showed me was Sting and The Police (good taste!). From there, I just bought albums that had great drummers, so the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Foo Fighters, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Little did I know but I was getting brainwashed by these amazing guitarists at the same time.
I borrowed a lot of my friends albums most of the time, or stole my dads, but the first albums I remember actually buying were ‘Californication’ by Chilli Peppers) and ‘What’s the story Morning Glory?’ by Oasis. I bought them at the same time. I remember the guy in the shop giving me a lecture because the Chilli’s CD had a parental guidance sticker on it! I obviously managed to convince him to sell it to me!
Where is your favourite venue to play live?
James: I would have normally said the Deaf Institute in Manchester, but we found that with our ever-expanding drum kits it’s a bit of a struggle these days! So far during this tour, it’s been the Haunt in Brighton. It’s a great layout, nice big stage and the sound that night was killer!
What are your aspirations and plans for the next 12 months?
James: Well, we really want to get our teeth stuck into the debut album; we’ve talked about it for ages now. We have a European tour just around the corner in 2014, but I think I speak for everyone when I say that we want to go and tour America, we had a little taste of it this year and we’re all hooked! It would be nice to tour in some non-grey weather for a change!! I think we would like to get on some of the bigger festivals too.
If you could play on stage with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
James: Erm. There are so many people that I’d love to meet or play alongside, but at the same time I think I would just crumble and fully ‘Wayne’s World’ it, with the whole “I’m not worthy”!
Actually, having seen that comeback gig that Zeppelin played a little while ago, I would love to be on stage just busting out some of those amazing riffs, get one of those walls of Marshall amps and play ‘Whole Lotta Love’ for 10 minutes with those absolute legends of Rock! I think I’d have a meltdown.
Describe your music in three words
James: Dynamic. Honest. Original.
What do you think of the Cornish music scene and what improvements would you like to see?
Rich: The music scene always been thriving in Cornwall and because it’s so isolated and disconnected from everywhere so it allows the music to breathe. It’s an organic, natural, and fun-loving scene.
On the negative side, a lot of music never sees the light of day in a commercial sense so it’s good for musicians and bands to check out other cities and other music so they become more progressive.
Musicians generally from the South West have to push themselves more but local promoters like SW1 Productions have always been supportive of local acts while bringing new people to Cornwall at the same time. It’s good to inspire people and put the region on the map.
Are there any current Cornish artists you see going far?
Rich: Ruarri Joseph is doing well. I like Ryan Jones, Kezia, who supported us at our recent gig at The Acorn, and St-Agnes-based Winter Mountain.
Tell us a little about your new EP
Rich: It’s very lyric-heavy with euphoric content and darker connotations. I often write music in the first person even though I have not gone through the experience myself. I find it easier to relate this way.
I could tell you individually about each song but that will be another interview!
We look forward to that Brother & Bones….
The To Be Alive EP is out now and available from iTunes.