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North London native Bernard Butler found fame in 1992 as the guitar architect of Suede’s razor-sharp glam-pop sound, before making two albums with singer David McAlmont and a pair of acclaimed solo LPs.
As a producer/ collaborator/writer, he’s since worked with artists as diverse as The Libertines, Duffy, Tricky, Fyfe Dangerfield, Kate Nash, The Cribs, Sharleen Spiteri, the late Bert Jansch and many more. In 2009, Butler won the BRIT award for Producer Of The Year. In 2014, you’ll hear more of his new band, Trans, and his playing is to the fore on the forthcoming solo album by Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt.
At heart, Bernard Butler just loves guitars. His studio may be at Unit 1 of this North London complex, but the door buzzer tellingly reads ‘355’. Inside Butler’s compact yet pro-spec studio, Guitarist finds just a handful of the instruments used throughout a dazzling career.
In his early 20s in Suede, Butler turned heads for his uniquely dramatic playing style: be it crunching riffs, flamboyant Bigsby-waggles or mercurial solos. He says: “I think my style came from when I started
playing. There was pop – Annie Lennox and all that – plus later indie-guitar stuff, but that seemed lacking in personality. There was too much staring at your effects pedals on the floor. All the things Suede did were simple and obvious – it simply had drama.
“Suede had an ethos. If everyone’s having fun down there [points right], we should go there [points far left]. You can join in with everyone else and have a little fun for a bit, but if you go in the opposite corner and face the wall, soon everyone will be going, ‘Oooh, what’s going on over there?’”
Of the numerous projects that have followed, Butler says: “It was always what I wanted to do, I think. Suede was a platform for me to play guitar. I’d write the music, Brett [Anderson] would write the lyrics and vocal melody. I’d be up all day working; he’d be up all night doing his parts.”
Butler and David McAlmont worked face- to-face more, but in recent years Butler has been perceived as a “backroom” producer/ player. “Not really true,” he insists. “On pretty much all the records I’ve produced, I’ve also played guitar and arranged. It’s on the cusp of songwriting.
“But working with other artists is a learning curve, and all situations differ. Duffy, I had heard via [Butler’s management company] Rough Trade. I didn’t hear greatness at first – just a female voice and acoustic guitar – but I thought it could be something. I met her, she was great and had a great voice. We hit it off. We wrote [the track] Rockferry in a couple of hours.”
Butler admits that some of the young bands he’s asked to produce and nurture are pushed his way because of his guitar collection and arrangement skills. “It’s harder for younger bands these days. A lot of players only have a Squier Telecaster and one or two amps; which is fine, but it’s nice to be able to say: ‘play this one, see what you think’. Everything I have is regularly played. This gear isn’t kept in glass cases, I don’t have hundreds more in storage.
“How much do people spend on cars? I don’t really care what I drive. My ES-355 is the most I’ve ever spent on a guitar, but I’ve played it pretty much every day since I bought it. And how much have I done with it? To me, all my gear has been good value.”
Click through out gallery to see Bernard's collection in all its glory...