Sunday, 19 October 2014

All that Ruby Turner Is

Straighten up and fly right! Ruby's still in the game, and that makes me happy.

 Photo: Caroline Harriott at PurpleOrange
It's a nice afternoon – sunny and bright. King's Heath is managing to look quite pretty, which is no mean feat. I've fixed to have a catchup with Ruby Turner. Normally it would be at her place, but the builders are in. So the excellent Adam Regan has kindly given us the back bar of the Hare and Hounds to chat in. That makes six blog interviews so far at the Hare – Katherine Priddy, Goodnight Lenin, Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls upstairs in the dressing rooms, Brian Travers and Terry and Gerry downstairs – and now, Ruby. There's a new album. Out on her own label again, 'All That I Am' packs a very wide range of punches.

Ruby and I go back a loooong way. When she was a wee slip of a girl, just starting out, she was surrounded by some of Birmingham's best musicians. We did sessions at the old BRMB, she gigged at the 70s Lark in The Park at Cannon Hill. It was grand. Ruby wound up representing commercial radio at the European Broadcasting Union Rock Festival, with me elected as tour manager. It was testing - half the band disappeared into a bar at Frankfurt station the moment we got in from the airport. They eventually showed up in Nuremberg, 140 miles down the road, slightly the worse for wear. Ruby went on to to tear the place up and down and sideways. Gratifyingly, Ruby and band completely blew Radio 1's entry away. We were on a tight budget; the BBC mob was definitely not. Score one for the indies. 

Decades down the line, Ruby is still at the top of her game. Now, when not touring with Jools Holland, she runs her own band. She picks the musicians, rehearses them, and keeps them in line. And with the possible exception of the great Steve Gibbons, she's had the longest recording and gigging career of any Birmingham musician that I've been lucky enough to work with.

These days, it's not a question of begging for pathetic airplay scraps at risk-averse local radio. Ruby takes it to the top, scoring a huge chunk of time on the top show on the UK's biggest station, guesting on Chris Evans' breakfast show on Radio 2

So... the new album. Lots of nice things being said about it. Lots of airplay on BIG shows on the big station – Chris Evans on Radio 2 is a cracking way to tell the world... But it's taken a while since your last. Why?
It took a very long time. There was so much going on. As you know, a lot of tours with Jools... then I had to find a new producer to work with. Cos you know I used to work with Bob Lamb – the last album, Moving On, was amazing. But Bob decided to quit and leave. That left me in limbo. He was a great friend and a wonderful producer. We had a great connection musically. But I understood why he had to call it a day – he just wasn't happy.

But look, Ruby, you now have vast professional experience and a brilliant reputation – you could have your pick of great people.
I guess I can. But I keep to a small circle of friends that I know. The truth is I work well with these people, and I always go back to them, where I always feel comfortable and I can be myself. I'm not saying I wouldn't venture out and work with new exciting producers. But unless you're a huge name and you've got a huge record company behind you, then nobody's really interested. So I work with what I've got,. That's the story of life – work with what you got.

You've got some killer musicians to work with, though
I am blessed, yes.

You're writing a lot more these days.
I guess it's confidence and life experiences. With any album, the process is – you get writing. Obviously you have a producer in mind, but in Bob's absence, I kept writing anyway. I'm learning. Learning to be myself and to trust myself. We all have our stories. I've gathered a few myself. I feel quite liberated and, dare I say it, quite grown up!

You kick off with a gospel track that nails it from the first lick.

I cut that as a prayer. 

Then there's an older track – your duet with Passenger. 

This is a much more ambitious album technically. You've even got show tunes. That's a bit of a mix.
Well, that's me. It's what I am. Way back I did a wonderful night of Gerschwin. It was like a moment of time. Great days. When I was putting the album together, that was my thinking. I was going to put Embraceable You on there. Then Time It Was came up.

Even though your faith pumps thought every bone in your body,you've still got a cheatin' and lyin' song there. Dark End Of The Street: the classic country song of adultery and deception
Humans. Human failing, It's all that we are. There's a track on there called Ask Me. There's a line that goes

I'll Tell You I Ain't No Saint
Got My Faults And I'll Take Some Blame.
I wanted to do our failings, our spirituality, our longings...all those things that makes us human.

So what kind of reaction have you had?
Oh, great. I've had feedback from America, where I don't have a deal at the moment. Everything is happening so quickly. But because I'm working so hard with Jools Holland, I don't have quite enough time to look after all that. But - lots of airplay – Radio 2 have been very good to me. It means an awful lot.

Tell me about being a working muso. You've done this for over thirty years.
It's a battle. You have to be match-fit. I've got some down time before the next tour. So I'm doing badminton, and walking and swimming. Make sure you've got the lung power and the stamina. A fitness level that will take you through the day to day stuff – sitting in cars for hours, lugging your cases into hotel rooms.

Eating right?
Oh yes. You got to start the tour in a good place. You got to hit the stage running, at your peak, every gig. Some people use Jack Daniels. I don't. It's about taking care of yourself. Dairy can present problems. You got to keep yourself hydrated. And plenty of sleep. And walks, plenty of fresh air. I'm hanging in there.

And where's that kid who plays piano with you?
Reuben James? I got a text saying 'I've just landed in DC' ...that's Washington. So he's off and flying. He's had to put college on hold. I can say to Reuben: Well done, and good luck, mate'. Spoke to him mum a couple of days back. Bless her, she's so concerned. He came to me when he was eighteen. So talented. So I said - the first rule is to get a roof over your head. Invest that as soon as you can. Instead of renting and sleeping on other people's bean bags – get yourself a roof.
That's what you do at that age

If I look back on myself, it was the same. No holds barred Yeah, I'm having this. But as we get older, those walls get harder to climb.

Ruby and her band of desperadoes, Nuremberg, 1984. Spot the faces...

Know what? I'm so pleased that we can have talk like this after over thirty years. It's life-affirming.
I'll never forget Nuremberg! Have you seen that photo floating around on Facebook? With you looking terrified in the background, and me looking like Ma Rainey...
Know why I was scared? Stopping the renegades in your band sparking up on the train back to Frankfurt.... with German police walking up and down the corridors...

Ruby Turner website. Ruby would just love it if you bought her album here.

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