One for the road - Rich Robinson: “I think there’s enough pandering in the world... We’re ‘entertained to’ enough”

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(Image: © Telluride Blues Brews Festival)

The Magpie Salute’s Rich Robinson on keeping it real on stage and remembering your reading glasses…

Tell us about your first gig…

“My first gig was when I was 15 I think. We played in Chattanooga, Tennessee. If I remember correctly it was the day of Live Aid and we drove up and opened for this band from California  I remember they were just called Yo. We’d moved past the punk phase and got into bands like REM and The Cramps, Dream Syndicate bands that were more alternative. We got 50 bucks and I remember the cheque bounced, so that was good. We were still living with my mum and so it was like,‘Mum, we got a cheque, here it is!’ and it bounced and she was like,‘Oh, alright…’”

Describe your current stage rig…

I’m using two amps, a 25-watt Reason [SM25] amp with a single speaker and then I’m using one of those hand-wired Vox AC30s

“Right now I’m using two amps, a 25-watt Reason [SM25] amp with a single speaker and then I’m using one of those hand-wired Vox AC30s. I have this pedalboard called an RJM, it’s nothing too fancy, there are about five or six pedals: basically I have a tremolo, a couple of fuzzes, a Leslie effect and then I have two Echoplexes and a reverb unit. I’ve kind of pared down for this tour, I’m travelling with 10 electrics and five acoustics and the electrics are my White Falcon, Black Falcon, my Les Paul Goldtop, a couple of Teles  one’s a B-Bender, the other’s a regular Tele  a Danelectro 12-string, a Strat, an SG, my Zemaitis and a 335. I have these two acoustics that George Gruhn designed, based on  wanna say  40s Martins that he had and these are custom-ordered, one-of-a-kind and they were basically a parlour guitar and the other was what they call a ‘quad o’, so it’s not a dreadnought, but it’s really wide but kinda narrow, so I guess more along the lines of a jumbo, but not quite that big. I’m travelling with a Zemaitis acoustic and then I have these two guitars from Eastman  one of them is a 12-string and the other a six-string.”

What’s your best tip for getting a good live sound?

“I don’t know… the sound comes from the player, it’s really not even about amps, it’s not about anything else, it’s literally about how the person plays, you know? I plug directly into an amp, minus a couple of pedals, and turn it up to where it sounds good.”

What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?

“Just being sincere and playing music, you know? I mean, I think there’s enough pandering in the world [laughs]. Especially when it comes to music and people being up there and just being fake. I just believe in being natural and playing the music you write  that’s what’s important, that’s why you’re there.

“We’re ‘entertained to’ enough. We are, as people, constantly entertained with our phones, on a plane, in a store, driving down the road. To me, just to be able to be in a room and to focus on some people making organic live music that ebbs and flows. I just think that’s what a human experience is and I think if you can stick with that you will definitely have some people connect with what you’re doing.”

(Image: © Joy Bruce)

What’s the best venue you’ve played in and why?

“There’s a couple of places that come to mind. The Royal Albert Hall was one of my favourite gigs in the United Kingdom. In the States, Red Rocks is a beautiful venue, it’s really cool to play and this place called The Gorge, outside of Seattle  just from a beauty standpoint. But a lot of times it’s what the audience brings and every venue can add to that.”

What non-musical item couldn’t you do without on tour?

In 1991, in Russia we played in Moscow we played in front of 600,000 people and there were 40,000 Russian troops

“My glasses [laughs]! Yeah, I’d say glasses, unfortunately. Also books. I’m reading this book called Sapiens and there’s this other book called Salt: A World History. Sort of a historical novel about the importance of salt  we need it for life, but also as currency  what it meant to civilisations and different societies. The other is the history of Homosapiens and how it melded and what it means, where we came from.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve had either to or from a gig?

“There was a festival outside Boston and we left New York and it was some holiday weekend and we took the wrong damn highway. It should have taken us three and a half hours and it wound up taking us nine, in really slow traffic. We pulled up to the gig  to the stage  five minutes after we were supposed to start playing.”

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen on tour?

“In 1991, in Russia  we played in Moscow  we played in front of 600,000 people and there were 40,000 Russian troops and there were some beatings and crazy shit that was happening. There were women giving birth, some people were covered in blood, the soldiers were getting out of hand, and I remember huge bonfires built in the middle of the field. It was just really nuts!”

What’s your favourite live album?

“Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out by the Stones is probably one of my favourites. Just the versions of those songs when the band’s chugging along… they were firing on all cylinders and I thought it was great. I kinda believe that you go into the studio, you record these songs and that creates a seed and then you plant the seed when you take them on tour. You see where those songs can go and a lot of that is really what’s cool on tour. If you can get into that zone and allow yourself to do that, to see where the songs go, it’s really great.”

The Magpie Salute’s latest album High Water 1 is available now via Provogue.

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