On the road again

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AYNSLEY Lister knows a thing or two about the live circuit. The blues guitarist has been gigging for 22 years, although he’s only 35.

By the age of eight Lister had started playing guitar and by 13 he was playing regular shows in his local Leicester pubs.

“I remember just being happy to be doing what I was doing and that’s what I did when I left school – I’ve never had a real job.”

This winter, Lister’s touring ahead of his next album release, which still has no name. “At the moment I have four or five new songs that the general public have never heard before but I’m interested in doing it this way round – live before studio. When you’re playing live you can tweak songs and see how the audience respond.”

It’s also the improvisational aspect of playing live that excites Lister. “Even the songs I’ve been playing for ten years never sound the same on a different night of the tour. That’s the magic of playing live.”

In 2008 Lister signed to Manhattan Records, a move accompanied by a surge in popularity. But it’s also a phenomenon that Lister attributes to the increasing popularity of blues-based music.

“In recent times there have been a few artists that have broadened the blues audience, such as John Mayer. Four or five years ago you’d get about 150 people at a gig but now you can get more than 250 on a night. Blues-based music has been made cool again to a certain extent.

“John Mayer made his name as a pop singer but has fused that appeal with a blues style. It’s the same with Joe Bonamassa. I hadn’t heard of him six years ago and now he’s selling out at the Royal Albert Hall and playing arenas.”

The blues music that Lister plays also has enduring appeal. It’s not trendy and isn’t likely to be in Radio One’s top five most-played songs. But for this reason it isn’t mere ephemera, Lister’s fans keep coming back.

“With commercial pop everything you do has to look a certain way – it’s all about marketing. But with that sort of set-up the problem is that you are pressured to produce a number of songs in a relatively small time frame. But with the label I’m with it’s a case of, ‘Ideally we should have an album out this time next year’. They’re not pushy.”

Lister signed his first major record deal when he was in his early twenties, to Ruff Records in 1998. While with Ruff he worked with producers such as Jim Gaines (Santana) and Greg Haver (Manic Street Preachers) and released four studio albums. He then moved to Manhattan Records, releasing the critically-acclaimed Equilibrum in 2009.

Lister was also the only British artist to be listed in Classic Rock’s top ten contemporary blues artists, appearing alongside the White Stripes and Black Keys. He’s worked with John Mayall and toured with Lynyrd Skynyrd – both artists who turned him on to music in the first place, via his dad’s record collection.

“When I was a kid I used to listen to all my dad’s music – he’d play R & B all the time. Not the new R & B but the proper rhythm and blues of the 60s and 70s. We’d listen to Fleetwood Mac, Freddie King and John Mayall.”

At that point, Lister was picking away at his dad’s guitar, although his father wasn’t a musician, but never playing full songs or learning chords. “Then my dad said to me that if I learnt to play properly he’d buy me a guitar, so I picked up some chord books and learnt to play from listening to records, but I never played whole songs.

“Then my dad said to me, ‘You really need to learn how to play a song from start to finish’.”

Thankfully, Lister mastered playing a song from start to finish.

The blues star comes to Sheffield’s O2 Academy on Saturday November 26.