Michael Blyth has been singing the blues, and living them, for many years. Sometimes in bands, sometimes in jail and sometimes on the street.
Released on 7th December via Aviator, the 69-year old’s album, ‘Indigo Train’, was co-written with long-time friends Pete Wilkinson (Shack, Cast, Echo & the Bunnymen) and Mark Neary (Adele, Sting, Baxter Dury, Noel Gallagher, Van Morrison) and draws on Blyth’s many rich life experiences, showcasing his raw, gravelled vocals across nine heart-rending songs of southern soul, alt-country, blues and folk.
Blyth’s love of music came from his mother playing the radio seven-days-a-week when he was a child. Singing constantly from early childhood, he took up the recorder at five years old and switched to the flute in his teens.
During his twenties, he performed with a series of folk-rock bands in Brighton, which, in truth was actually the same band with different names: BellyButtons, Bare Hands and Poison Girls. “We kept changing our name as we imagined we were maturing as musicians,” says Blyth. All was well until the singer and guitarist, Richard Butler, decided he wanted to go in the direction of his friend’s new band, the Buzzcocks, and play three-cord punk, “at which point I flounced off, due to our ‘musical differences’, and the band’s name changed yet again – to the Psychedelic Furs – and they made gazillions…!”
In 1978, Blyth moved to California, chasing the love of his life. When that relationship failed, he fell in with his other true love, alcohol. Thus began a lost weekend that lasted a couple of decades and took him to the gates of hell and back. He emerged periodically, trying to resurrect his musical passions, but struggled to shake off his demons. “I never stopped writing, motivated along the way by the pain and joy, to turn lead into gold,” he says.
He returned to London in 1994 and took up the study of psychotherapy, working as a counsellor in a rehab. However, his love of music never stopped calling and he found a kindred spirit in Pete Wilkinson, fortuitously introduced by mutual west London friends. After many inspiring afternoons of jamming together, Pete suggested they collaborate on an album.
The resulting ‘Indigo Train’ is nine songs of exquisite songwriting. A poignancy pervades the record and where there is sadness there is also unremitting beauty. Songs like ‘Singing A Prayer’ deal with the ambiguities of love and spirituality, delivered with Blyth’s low, cracked, omnipresent drawl. There is a wounded quality to his tones, sung deep from the heart, where hard times have conquered. This is an album that has been a lifetime in the making for this brave poet.
Blyth’s profound ruminations on life are heartfelt throughout ‘Indigo Train’. There’s an emotional texture to his voice, softened by Sarah Ozelle’s (Nick Cave, Julia Fordham, Jamiroquai) backing vocals; a common feature across the album that highlight the songs beautifully.
Today’s premiere for example, the country-flavoured rock of ‘Cecelia’, finds Blyth reminiscing of a long-lost love with a heroic sentimentalism that Springsteen.
We also get to discuss with Michael about the new single and more!
1. With the reveal of new single ‘Cecelia’, can you tell us what the song means to you?
It’s an interesting song for me as it’s part melancholy, part celebration. I started writing it in Ireland, hence the Irish imagery, and at that time I was reflecting on a deep personal love and the fragility of relationships.
2. What influences would you say contributed the most to ‘Indigo Train’, musical or otherwise?
Overall ‘Indigo Train’ is informed by the suffering of addiction and redeemed by the healing of deep love. Culturally, my biggest early influence was Ronnie Laing, a radical psychotherapist, who I used to study and jam with – me on the flute, him on the piano. Claude Debussy, Joni Mitchell and Joe Cocker opened my musical heart.
3. Having been involved in music for such a long time, what advice would you give to anyone starting out now?
Write and play what you like, not what you think you ought to like. Never give up – my Zen Master used to say: ‘eight times fall down, nine times get up’.
4. What plans do you have following this album? Any lost scribbles that’ll get the chance to resurface?
To keep co-creating with Pete Wilkinson and Mark Neary on new material and enjoying as many gigs as possible. Watch this space!
5. What’s the strangest rock n’ roll anecdote you have from your years travelling (that you can tell us)?