It’s a red-hot return for the Californian blues singer, who embarks on seven UK dates on November 11th in Birmingham
How did you enjoy your first ever one-woman show, which you played last December at the Union Chapel in London?
I was absolutely terrified. Before going on I was cursing my manager for booking that show, but after five songs I relaxed and had a wonderful time.
On this upcoming tour, you’re playing at London’s Royal Festival Hall – a pillar of the English establishment, no less.
[Laughs] In terms of playing bigger venues I’m an old dog and I’ve done this a long time. I know a lot of selling out those places is down to luck. Sometimes people like you, sometimes they don’t show up. That has no bearing on who you are morally or artistically.
You sang with Jeff Beck at his recent show at the Hollywood Bowl. Will he be on the guest list for your London show?
I make a point of not knowing whether or not Jeff is coming. His presence makes me so nervous – I’m really not worthy.
With Waddy Wachtel, Michael Landau and Dean Parks, among others, it’s quite a band you have on the new record, Fire On The Floor.
How unbelievably honoured am I? I wanted a badass band that would play the songs live [in the studio]. Oliver Leiber [the album’s producer] put together that line-up, and we made the record in three days, without even a day of rehearsal.
Is it going to be tough for you to sing Picture In A Frame on stage?
When I started writing that song it was about my husband, but I realised… [choked and brimming with tears]… there was a connection to Michael [Stevens], who died of cancer after producing my last record. So I don’t know whether I’ll do that one live.
Last summer you told usthat you were fifteen years drug-free but still prone to bouts of binge drinking.
I have a miracle to tell you about. The binge drinking was an obsession. We had moved into a new house, and I was on my knees in the back yard. I asked God to throw me a bone. His voice told me to go to a church down the street. After every Sunday for a month the spirit of God entered my body. The Pastor taught me how to stop hating myself. I’m now a year and nine months not only without a drink, but also without a desire to drink. Otherwise I would be dead.
Meet the fast-rising Northern Irish singer-songwriter, who kicks off his UK tour in Bristol on the 7th November
Having toured with Bonnie Raitt, and having Ed Sheeran as your label boss and Elton John as the executive producer of your latest album The Wild Swan, it appears you move in elevated circles.
Put that way, it would appear so. But the reality is that it’s taken many years of hard work, meeting people and learning my craft.
Is there a problem with how your music is perceived – whether it’s pop, rock or blues?
I don’t look at music like a commercial commodity. Paul Simon, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan weren’t bothered about categories. I like writing all kinds of songs.
Did any of Bonnie, Ed or Elton give you a particular piece of good advice?
Not that I can think of. But I wrote a song inspired by Bonnie that she sang on You And I [on 2013’s _Joy Of Nothin_g], and I learned from her that you don’t have to be a media darling. She’s not all over the radio, but everywhere she plays, the rooms are packed.
You are obviously doing something right – this tour now has extra nights by public demand, often in upgraded venues.
I guess, but that’s largely due to being plugged into a larger machinery [Vance is signed to Ed Sheeran’s Atlantic-parented label, Gingerbread Man]. I thought I’d be the last person a major label would be interested in because I don’t write songs for the radio.
Your deep, powerful and contemplative music seems to connect with people. For all its fragility, is it demanding to perform?
Absolutely. But it’s a beautiful exhaustion. No matter how tiring, it’s also euphoric.
What would you like to doing in five years’ time?
In five years I’d like to be living somewhere hot. And maybe releasing more albums and touring a little less.
The band continue touring latest album Ellipsis, and head back to the UK on 27th November
This year was your second time headlining the Reading and Leeds festivals. How was it for you?
We’re still coming to terms with it. Just feeling the warmth from the crowd, we were totally on a high for weeks afterwards. In fact we all got ill. Once the adrenaline left our bodies we went into shutdown.
Did you watch your set back on TV afterwards?
Yeah. I had two or three failed attempts because I got nervous, but when I plucked up the courage it felt like I was there. You never forget nights like that.
Have you experienced anything brand new this year?
We went to South Korea for the first time. Having ten thousand people watching you and singing along, that felt really, really special.
Did you experience much of a culture shock there?
We went out for some Korean barbecue and found ourselves in a little place where they spoke not a word of English. So it was all just pointing at pictures and smiling and hand gestures. And we got fed one of the best meals I’ve ever had, by some really, really friendly people.
What’s the production like for this tour?
We’ve got a beautiful set and production. We’re trying to take it to the next level. The last stage show we had was kind of organic, and this one is more architectural and high-tech. With Ellipsis westripped things back musically. And while I wouldn’t describe this new show as stripped back, it does have a kind of simplicity to it.
Has the band’s audience changed much over the years?
We always wanted to bring people into the world of rock that maybe otherwise wouldn’t be interested. It was really sweet to think the band is bringing together people from different walks of life, different countries and different backgrounds. We didn’t want casual fans, we wanted people who want to be part of the Biffy family. They’re a part of the show as much as the band.
Del Bromham plays a reunion show with former members in London on November 18th
Congratulations on a half-century of Stray, on and off. What have been both the high and low points?
Thanks. It seems very strange that when we began nobody was old enough to drive the van. I’ll never forget going on last at the legendary Weeley Festival [in 1971], especially as our pyro caused the lifeboats at Clacton to be scrambled. Being managed by [notorious gangster] Charlie Kray was also a double-edged sword… to say the least.
How did Pete Dyer, who was a member of Stray during the seventies and eighties, come to return to the line-up?
It might sound morbid, but a few years ago Pete developed prostate cancer, and without knowing how much time he had left, wanted to do some gigs for old times’ sake. He’s now been given the all-clear, but enjoyed himself so much he stayed on. It allows us to play some songs we’ve not done in donkey’s years, which really freshens up the set-list.
A special reunion gig at London’s Borderline will feature former members Steve Gadd, Ritchie Cole and Gary Giles, along with the regular Stray. How will that work?
I’ll come on alone first for some acoustic tunes, before being joined by Pete, Stu [Uren, bass] and Karl [Randall, drums]. The other guys will finish off the show. So there will be three sections. It’ll probably be a pretty long show.
You also have a side band, Del Bromham’s Blues Devils. Nobody could accuse you of a quiet, understated retirement.
I love playing. Any time, any place, anywhere, that’s me. And even at my age I can still do three or four hours on stage.
Despite turning sixty-five in November, you seem to be in very good physical shape.
Well I passed a medical check only yesterday. My mum and my dad lived into their nineties, so I’ve no thoughts of stopping. I’m going to be the BB King of Buckinghamshire.
Drummer Bobby Blotzer returns to Hard Rock Hell with his new line-up on November 12th, and plays London on the 13th
Ratt are appearing in London and at Hard Rock Hell in Wales. The band played HRH in 2009, so you know what to expect.
I had flu [at HRH], and my most enduring memory was being freezing cold and unable to get warm. I don’t even recall whether we played well or badly.
How did you come to lead this version of Ratt (completed by former members of MSG, Y&T and others)?
The band’s problems are often blamed on me, but Stephen Pearcy [original vocalist] is delusional. The other guys wouldn’t play, which I cannot comprehend as this band is capable of making two million dollars a year. For me the bottom line is Ratt; I’ve spent thirty-five years of my life in this band. Warren [DeMartini, guitar] and I owned fifty per cent of the Ratt name. As much as I pleaded with him, he wasn’t interested. So I took the name and Warren sued me. [Legalities are still pending.]
Pearcy, DeMartini and bassist Juan Croucier played a set of Ratt songs on the recent Monsters Of Rock Cruise.
On that boat they played the same old, tired set, whereas I have a great, great band that replicates Ratt’s entire catalogue with maximum integrity.
Ratt fans want to see everyone together, but that sounds highly unlikely.
I’m the one that made every past reunion happen and I won’t be controlled by whether or not those guys want to play.
Ratt’s UK fans are a patient bunch. The band cancelled their slot at Download in 2010, and it’s been six years since the most recent album, Infestation.
I’d like to thank our fans for their faith. People still want to hear Ratt music on stage. Live music may not even exist any more in a decade or two, so why not just enjoy it while it lasts?