By Ellie Rogers
Jack Broadbent is one of the most charismatic blues musicians to have emerged from the United Kingdom in the last decade. A master of the craft of songwriting and the art of wild, heartfelt improvisation, he takes the tradition of the traveling troubadour up a notch or two with his whiskey-soaked vocals, virtuoso slide playing and rock n’ roll aesthetics.
Broadbent honed his chops busking on city streets and playing at small clubs before finding the recognition he truly deserved years later, when he was hailed as “the new master of the slide guitar” by the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Since then, he’s gone on to tour with the likes of Ronnie Wood, Peter Frampton and Little Feat, and while the size of his audiences may have grown over the years, his authentic, rootsy stylings remain as down to earth as ever. Armed with a couple of battered old Hofner guitars, and the whiskey flask slide that has become something of a calling card, Broadbent’s a true showman – just not the flashy Hollywood kind.
Following the release of his critically acclaimed sixth album Ride earlier this year, and after a long, Covid-necessitated break from touring, the time has finally arrived for Jack to hit the road once more…
Rock & Blues Muse: Let’s begin at the beginning – how did you get into playing blues music?
Jack Broadbent: Well, my Dad’s a musician so it was always around in the house, you know? So really, from the wealth of his catalog of music around the house I got to hear all the cool old blues stuff and all the good old rock n’ roll.
R&BM: You often appear on stage with your Dad, could you tell us a bit more about that relationship?
JB: Yeah sure. It still feels the same as when I was a youngster starting out. He’d take me to folk clubs and acoustic nights and stuff and we’d play together and, you know, now we just do it to larger audiences!
R&BM: Your latest album Ride came out a couple of months ago, but for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to listen yet, what can they expect?
JB: Well, it’s not really a departure from anything I’ve done in the past but we’ve stepped it up a little bit in terms of it’s more of a band orientation. So, it’s a little more rock n’ roll than previous records. It was an album written on the road and recorded in that horrible space of time that we don’t want to talk about.
We recorded it pretty much live – me and the drummer. But given the circumstances, we sent the pieces back to the UK and my Dad played on them and sent them back over so it was kind of an intercontinental record. In today’s age anyway, that’s not uncommon, but we did it as real and as raw as we could, given the circumstances. So it’s a pretty raw record.
R&BM: Who else is on the record?
JB: There’s a drummer from Canada called Mark Gibson. He features on all the tracks. Me and him also basically put the whole thing together, so it was co-produced by me and him.
R&BM: Is Canada home for you now?
JB: I’m here in the UK for this tour. I’m about to go to Europe to do a tour with Richard Thompson, and then I’ll be back in the States. I’m kind of based in Canada when I’ve got time off. I’ve been there for about seven years, so it’s a nice retreat when I’m off the road. I live in the mountains, and sort of out in the countryside, so I’m a country bumpkin from England and now I’m a country bumpkin in Canada.
R&BM: Having just completed the UK leg of your tour, what’s it been like to finally get back out in the wild?
JB: It’s good to be out playing again. You know, I’m the same as everybody really, just reacting to circumstance and hoping things start coming back to normal. The response from the English leg of the tour was just brilliant, and it was nice to be back and feeling the love.
R&BM: You’re known for playing slide in quite an unorthodox way. Tell us about the whiskey flask…
JB: It was a sort of by-product of busking really. I was playing more material when I first started busking, but I realised it was better to have a jam, and play a bit looser. I was always brought up on the blues, so I started playing a bit more in that style, and found that it was more conducive to entertaining and that vibe. The hip flask thing, well, it was the most available object…
It’s a good tool for the job, too! Dexterity-wise it works, it’s the perfect shape and the perfect fit.
R&BM: I caught one of your shows the other day and noticed the one you were using looked pretty battered and probably not so good for actually holding whiskey anymore…
JB: Haha, no! I’ve managed to hang onto that thing for about ten years now so it’s become as important as my guitars themselves.
R&BM: What are the stories of your guitars?
JB: They’re both 1965 vintage Hofners and, in true musician form, neither of them were bought. They both sort of came to me. I picked up one in Australia. A guy gave it to me and the other one followed suit, but yeah, they’re very much instruments that I acquired along the way, rather than ones I sought out.
R&BM: What is it about vintage instruments that you connect with so much?
JB: Good question. Well, I sort of try and keep it all as analogue as possible. I don’t use pedals and we don’t use any effects, and I think that dictates your choice of instrument. I suppose with the era of music we’re talking about, it lends itself to that certain sound.
R&BM: They look like they have some interesting war wounds. For example, the other night I spotted what looked like a wedge of folded up paper slotted between the neck and body of one of them – like when someone stuffs a few beer mats under the leg of a wobbly table…
JB: Exactly, yeah! These guitars get such a battering that, after a while, you just find a way to keep them going. It’s like when you sellotape your glasses or whatever. You bandage it up the night before, and if something goes wrong at the gig, you find a way to keep everything running.
R&BM: Your music, and clearly your instruments, both have a lot of character…
JB: Thank you very much. It’s all part and parcel of it. I think the instruments are a pretty good reflection of myself, you know?
R&BM: What’s next for you and are you working on more new material yet?
JB: Yeah, always writing new stuff. The live shows seem to lead to us thinking about what’s missing from the set, and that sort of dictates where the writing leads sometimes. I’m not sitting down and writing an album, but it always seems to come organically through what we’re doing. I wrote a lot during the pandemic, so I’ve got a lot on the back burner. Now’s the interesting time to see what I’d like to try and say next.
R&BM: Will you use touring as an opportunity to test out some new songs?
JB: If something’s noteworthy, I’ll pop it in the set just because I feel like it’s current and relevant. I don’t really hide anything in terms of wanting it to be exclusive when a record comes out. I will definitely flirt with new ideas on stage, yeah.
R&BM: When and where can people catch you next?
JB: In terms of UK dates, this tour’s wrapped up now, but I’m going to be in Europe and then I’m in the States. I’ve got about 20 dates in the US starting in a couple of weeks.
R&BM: We know you’re a whiskey fan, so if anyone wanted to help quench your thirst after a gig, what’s your tipple of choice?
JB: I’d go for a 12 year old Glenfiddich. That’d be about right!
Tickets for Jack’s European and USA tours are available Here
Jack Broadbent website