Award-winning guitarist Robin Bibi has experienced both the embarrassing and the thrilling in this interview tells more about a career that has seen him share the stage with some of music’s greats.
As any aspiring guitarist would acknowledge, a thumbs up from Jimmy Page is no bad thing.
“That has to have been the most thrilling experience of my life so far, “said Robin. “Before I had my own band I was a session musician which I really enjoyed. I worked with several singers, working the S E London circuit of clubs. Unfortunately some of those singers, including two Kings, BB King and Ben E King, are no longer with us.
“It was during my time as a deputy with The Pretty Things when I worked with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. We were all in Ibiza, as was Ben E King. Robert and Jimmy did their set and Ben did his I but I was invited on stage and accompanied them all. Standing next to Jimmy and trading licks with him was amazing and after my first solo he looked across at me and indicated it was good. One night he broke a string on his guitar so I loaned him mine then watched the show from the side of the stage.
“It was sad when BB passed away, he was very professional but also a very charming man. I was lucky to open up for him at the Albert Hall in 1999 When I was working with Detroit rock artist Marcus Malone we opened up for BB at his concert at the Albert Hall in 1999 and got to meet him in his dressing room after the show. I handed him a copy of my cd Blue Thrash Therapy and he asked me to autograph it for him – the king of the blues asked me for my autograph – it was a wonderful moment.”
An advocate that hard work and practice make many things possible, Robin, was as they say, ‘proof of the pudding’. In 2014 he won the WRC Best Solo Guitar Award in a competition which saw him performing live on the same stage as Joe Bonamassa and Richie Sambora. (That same year the WRC [Wrinkly Rockers Club] the Australian Pink Floyd won best Tribute Act Award and Aerosmith picked up the Best Rock Performance Award in this prestigious event.
“I felt very honoured to have won.” said Robin. “I was very chuffed when you consider the opposition. However, I was aware that I was the only British guitar player nominated in that category in a British organised competition so may have only won because I was considered to be the ‘local hero’, but I was still happy to win the award.”
There are guitarists and there are guitarists as there are guitars and guitars. Manitas de Plata and John Williams spring to mind on the Spanish and acoustic guitar to Hendrix, Page and Clapton whose skilled dexterity on the electric guitar dazzled and still continues to amaze a new generation. What is it though that makes a good guitarist? As different people have different ideas I asked Robin to proffer his opinion.
He said: “It’s about self-expression and musicality. It is not all about technical ability although that can help and it’s not about how fast you can play, which looks flashy but does not always translate into being a good guitarist.
“If you love what you do and work hard and practice you do improve – but it’s like everything, you have to work at it.
“I play a lot of blues and blues is simplicity in music. It’s about the spaces you leave between the notes that are just as important as the notes you play. The great blues artists like BB King and John Lee Hooker had a simple playing style but they felt what they were playing and were able to convey that emotion to others.”
Robin started ‘fiddling about’ with a guitar when he was around ten years old. It was he said a three-quarter sized guitar but he didn’t get very far with it. The top three strings broke within a short period of time and the instrument was cast aside for a few years.
“I must have been around 14 when I picked it up again,” said Robin, “and amazingly, two of those three strings were still in tune. Like many youngsters I thought about being in a band and with mates got together and by the time I was 15/16 had formed a school band. That was the time of the blues/rock explosion when a lot of British acts were playing their version of the traditional American blues.
“It was from this that, I suppose as I got a bit more mature, I started to drift away from rock music and appreciate other musical styles like the soul music of James Brown and Curtis Mayfield to the reggae of Bob Marley, who almost single-handedly introduced the world to Jamaican music. He took it out of its traditional domain and made it accessible to a wider audience.”
Robin’s music envelops many of these styles but at its core is the blues. It is, as Robin said, a timeless genre which will take on different guises and present itself in a dressing of rock, soul even ballads.
Robin said: “What goes around, comes around and music will always have a future. The Rolling Stones took their name from the Muddy Waters song, Rolling Stone, and while they were recording in Chess Studios, Chicago, Chuck Berry also happened to be in the building. He overheard the group recording cover versions of many well-known American blues standards and included riffs from Chuck’s own songs.
“At the end of the day, music is something that people will always relate to and will continue to evolve with technology.”
It was technology that accounted for one embarrassing moment in Robin’s illustrious career.
He said: “Like many musicians I have had loads of embarrassing moments but what comes to mind is a gig I was doing with my band. We were the opening act and had gone along early for the sound check and everything went really well.
“Come the night of the concert, with 400 to 500 people were in the audience, I struck my first chord and there was nothing. I had forgotten to turn off the battery in my guitar at the end of the sound check and it was completely dead. I had to apologise to the crowd and say ‘Sorry folks, I’ve got to change my battery’ but made it into a joke to cover my embarrassment.”
As a musician Robin spends many hours on the road, which is quite fortunate for the man who enjoys travelling, a hobby he shares with a love of art, reading and eating. The latter three should not be attempted whilst driving but it does allow him to reach the destinations where he is able to enjoy them to the full. Another passion he has is listening to music, but said the only chance he gets to hear anything is when he is driving
He said: “I have a very eclectic taste from acoustic and soul to Celtic and classical and I also love jazz. In my van at the moment I have cds by Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and Hendrix plus some early van Morrison.”
Robin’s van is heading to Kettering Arts Centre where he will be performing a solo set containing material off his new album, Live at the Ram Jam, plus cover versions of well-known blues tunes.
The Midsummer Acoustic Blues Night, on Saturday, July 16, also features the 2014 European Blues Awards runner-up Kris Dolimore and the area’s best known acoustic blues trio, Jacksoboro Highway. An exceptional line-up and all for just £7 in advance (£9 on the door). Tickets are available by clicking HERE
Tickets for this and other events are available from Waterstones, High Street, Kettering. By post including an SAE to Jaime Ferreira at 4 Litchfield Close, Kettering NN16 9BS (cheques made payable to “PCC of St Andrew’s Kettering”).
You may also buy tickets by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or online at We Got Tickets (subject to a booking fee) or call 07759765824 if you prefer to pay by card. All major credit cards accepted (subject to a booking fee).