“I’ve seen that Music Transcend Generations – it means it Stands the Test of Time”
Charlie Starr, frontman of the Georgia southern rockers Blackberry Smoke talks about the honour of touring with Lynyrd Skynyrd, turning his friends onto Scotland’s Frankie Walker and whether Brexit will stop them visiting the UK as often
Interview with Andrew Steel
Blackberry Smoke frontman Charlie Starr is enjoying a well-earned rest day in Paris when Riddle comes calling in the solitude. The veteran singer-songwriter and guitarist is enjoying a rare spell of downtime on the band’s European tour, ahead of a Halloween show at the city’s Cabaret Sauvage venue and before they make the jump across the English Channel for their biggest run of shows to date on British and Irish soil, behind this year’s Find a Light.
“I can’t even begin to describe what it feels like to have people from another country relate to these songs,” the 44-year-old admits. “It means everything. Any time that we take our music to these other places, it seems to grow with each trip. The excitement coming from people wanting to hear this music is what keeps us going. I mean, there’s nothing that can take the place of that.”
Indeed, Blackberry Smoke’s connection to global audiences is a feat for them to be proud of. Staunchly influenced by the Southern rock sounds of their youth, they have broken big in the UK in a way few artists of the genre have before them. Starr namechecks influences like the Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band, groups who never cut the mustard in an English musical landscape dominated by glam and disco. The latter’s name likely only carries passing recognition across the general populace because their instrumental hit Jessica is now better known as the theme to the BBC’s Top Gear.
“It would be odd,” he concedes, when addressing whether such groups should have enjoyed success on this side of the Atlantic. “I don’t know. But stranger things have happened!” He points out that it works both ways; he’d never heard of Scottish singer Frankie Miller until five years ago when a British friend living in Atlanta turned him onto the Darlin’ hitmaker. “I have turned so many of my fellow rock-and-roll guys onto him since,” he confesses. “He did Still In Love With You (with Thin Lizzy). I think he was pretty tight with (guitarist) Brian Robertson.”
Starr’s key affinity – and that of his bandmates – is for Southern godfathers Lynyrd Skynyrd though, and he admits that he has been lucky enough to become friends with the band over his time on the road (the pair toured together earlier this year following Skynyrd’s announcement of their farewell tour). “It’s very bittersweet, being out on that last run with them,” he says, a touch of melancholy colouring his warm tones. “Obviously their influence looms large for us; where we come from, that music is gospel. But that music will live forever, I’ve seen that music transcend generations. It was around when I was a small kid, and now I’ve seen it handed down to those who are my kid’s age. It means it stands the test of time and it’s not going to go anywhere; it’s always going to be there.”
The group are looking forward to their return to the UK, following a slot at Ramblin’ Man earlier in the year underneath The Cult – “Glaswegians are nuts!” Charlie Starr declares with a laugh, adding that “they’re loud and rambunctious and fantastic” – but by the time they likely revisit Europe for festival season next summer, they are likely to arrive in a post-Brexit landscape. Does he yet know what impact the exit from the EU will have on their touring schedules, given the lingering uncertainty over free movement? “I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of that whole idea,” he diplomatically states, before chuckling. “I hope that it doesn’t make it as hard as it is for us to get into Canada; I mean, holy shit, that is an adventure every time! I like Canada. But boy, they make it tough. All musicians know it. I’d say that eight out of ten of us have a blemish on their police record and boy, they wanna talk about it. It’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape. I just hope it’s not like that!”
Blackberry Smoke play O2 Academy Newcastle on November 2. Then touring until November 17, including O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on November 15 and 16. Tickets available at https://www.blackberrysmoke.com/tour/