Call And Response: Micke Björklöf

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I never thought of music in terms of rock or blues or pop, I just saw it as either good music or bad music,” says singer, harmonicist and guitarist Micke Björklöf. “But it just seemed that everything I was attracted to was broadly speaking the blues, whether it was Ray Charles singing Busted or Led Zeppelin or Cream. Blues became my natural path, once I was bitten I couldn’t get enough.”

His first band Taxi played hard rock a la Whitesnake and Deep Purple. His next, Blue Strip, formed in 1991 with bassist Seppo Nuolikoski, started out playing acoustic covers before going electric in 1997. Since then they’ve looked to Chicago and the Mississippi Delta for inspiration. Central is Björklöf’s growly vocals and wailing blues harp.

New album Ain’t Bad Yet was produced by John Porter over eight days in Monmouth’s Rockfield Studios. “It was a brilliant vibe,” says Björklöff. “We worked really hard but we weren’t too serious. That comes across in the record.”

How did the new album Aint Bad Yet come about? We recorded After The Flood [2013] in New Orleans and got a really good groove going on in the studio there. We wanted to keep the momentum going so decided we needed to make the next album as soon as possible, so we started to write songs immediately after its release. We planned to go along the same path as After The Flood, to still incorporate elements of jump and swing but stay a little bit rougher like some of our earlier recordings. By the end of spring 2014, we had 25 songs so then we made an A and B list, worked out the structure of the album and the best combination of songs.

**Why record in Rockfield Studios in Monmouth? **It was our producer John Porter who chose Rockfield. We’d actually wanted to work with him on After The Flood, but we couldn’t get our schedules to fit around one another, so we worked with Mark Bingham instead. Then with Ain’t Bad Yet, we decided we wanted to use an outside producer again so there was someone who would keep us on a tight schedule and also have the final word on songs. When we asked him to produce, he was living in New Orleans. When it was time to go into the studio, he was living in the UK again. We told him we wanted a big acoustic drum sound and he said Rockfield would be perfect for that.

**So why John Porter? **There’s no ego, he wants what is best for the songs and the album. He’s very easy-going and has a great ear. There was one song, Get You In The Mood, it was already mixed, John called me up, he said he liked the groove but could we write new lyrics and a new melody for it. We did it and it was better for it. He also knows how to keep everyone happy, there’s a positive vibe at all times so we can just go for it.

You find the bigger the star, the more easy-going they are.

You started out in the heavy rock band Taxi didn’t you? When I was 10 there was a band called Hurriganes in Finland. They were huge, played heavy rock and they really inspired me. I also loved Deep Purple, Whitesnake and Led Zeppelin at the same time and I formed Taxi and we had one single out, although we were together for four or five years. Then in 1991 I founded the first version of Blue Strip. We started out acoustically, then we got a drummer and percussionist and then after a series of line-up changes, we got a fifth person in with a vibraphone. We played acoustic blues rock and blues covers until 1995, then I got bitten by the blues, I got completely immersed and we went electric in ’97.

**The blues harp is your instrument of choice. **A friend was sound engineering for Pepe Ahlqvist, the master blues harpist from Finland, they needed a roadie and driver and he asked me. This was in the 90s and I got to see him on stage up close and his sound got to me. He’s a proper legend, the real deal, and after that I started listening to records with harmonica on and studied it.

Who’s been an influence on your vocal style? I’ve tried to nurture my own approach, but I’ve been inspired by so many, from David Coverdale when I was just starting out to Bobby Bland and Solomon Burke on the soul side.

You opened for Solomon Burke in 2002, didn’t you? Yes, at the Rauma Blues Festival. He really was a star. They drove him in a Cadillac a few metres up from the stage, the band was already on, they played for some 30 minutes while he sat in the car and then he got out and got on stage. The moment he started his performance was so impressive.

You supported BB King too. Because Finland is not that big, when my heroes come and play, it’s at small festivals. They park their van next to yours, sit backstage and just talk. BB King was so very warm, he was so unassuming, no ego. Robert Plant was the same. You tend to find the bigger the star, the more easy-going they are. Meeting people like that, it inspires you to make music.

You won Finland’s Best Blues Band Award this year. What does that mean to you? It’s been such a good year for us. We won the National Blues Challenge and represented Finland at the European Blues Challenge, and then we also won Finland’s Best Blues Band Award. The judges were musicians – that my colleagues voted for us means a lot.

What does the future hold? The main goal is to get out on the road, we hope to play the UK for the first time and to go to Europe too.

Ain’t Bad Yet is out now via Hokahey!