Fionnula Hainey interview with Mick Pini at The Iron Horse Pub Eversham . He has worked alongside some of the greatest blues musicians of all time. Amongst his fans are the likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Luther Allison. He supported B.B. King on tour and recorded three studio albums with leading blues producer Mike Vernon. But despite guitarist and singer Mick Pini’s long and impressive career, he is far from a celebrity. Except, maybe, in the eyes of his greatest fans. Not one to be aggressive in business, Mick, now 67 with unruly grey hair, admits that he doesn’t like to put himself out there. Engaging the audience with a bit of stage banter is usually left up to the other members of his band. The attention, he says, tends to embarrass him more than anything. At the Iron Road pub in Evesham, the Mick Pini Band are waiting to perform to a small crowd of some of his lifelong fans and some regular Saturday night drinkers. I ask Mick if he has any regrets about not pushing for a bigger record deal during his 40 years of writing, recording and performing. His answer is firm, and humble as ever. “No. I did exactly what I wanted to do. I paid my dues, and that’s what the blues is all about,” he said. Before Mick can finish his trail of thought, a man with a thick Birmingham accent interrupts us: “Do you remember me, Mick? It’s been 22 years since I’ve seen you.” Mick studies the man – he is in his 40s, with a thin face and his hair pushed back into a ponytail. Slight confusion soon turns to glee as a smile spreads across Mick’s face: “Gibbo!” Gibbo is one of the many fans who has eagerly anticipated Mick’s return to the UK. Having escaped to Germany 10 years ago, Mick’s rare appearances back on his home turf are not only a chance for him to play with old friends, but for him to reconnect with some of those fans he’s made a lasting impression on. Apparently, this happens in every town he visits. “My kids used to do the housework listening to your CD. I’ve still got it! You signed a copy for me and my ex-partner Jo, you spelt her name with an E,” Gibbo laughs. As Mick and Gibbo reminisce, as old friends do, it becomes clear that Mick Pini makes music that really matters to people. And those people have the same admiration for him now as they did 20 years ago. A timeless genre, for Mick, the blues comes from deep inside. “When this guy plays, I either smile or cry,” Gibbo says. “He’s something else. To me, he’s my little secret.” As he walks away, he turns back around to Mick: “You ain’t changed a scrap, not one little bit”. Mick first picked up a guitar as a nine-year-old boy living in Leicester: “I saw this strange instrument in the music shop, it was a guitar but I didn’t know that at the time, I just said to my mother ‘can I have that?’” “Eventually I managed to save up some money from doing a paper round. “She didn’t like it at all! But I got it and I just kept on playing.” On the rare occasion that Mick and his friends picked up a radio service, they would listen to Uncle Mac’s request show. It was here, during the late 50s, that Mick had his first introduction to the blues. “Some guy came on called John Lee Hooker and I didn’t like him at first. “But as I listened to it, really listened to it, it grew on me – It had a message. And I decided that that was what I liked. Music with a message.” Mick’s views on music have remained constant throughout his career. He believes that even some of the most fantastic guitarists can be missing one crucial element – the mistakes. To Mick, blues is as much about those notes you don’t play as the ones you do. He keeps things simple. Rock and roll rebellion was never part of the appeal for Mick. “People will do anything to be famous, but that’s not what music is about to me. “You work really hard, you don’t upset anybody, if someone upsets you, you sort it out calmly – and you play your music.” Mick recalls an exchange with Clapton’s manager that led to him being offered the role of Eric’s chauffeur - but he was put off the idea quickly enough. “He said I wouldn’t like it. He said all they talk about is Porsches, women and what rings they’ve got. I said, I’ll stay where I am!” After leaving home, Mick played as much as possible. He spent his time travelling around the country in search of work and music. By 1973, he was ready to pack it in. After missing the chance to attend art school in London and deciding he wasn’t very good after all, an encounter with Texan guitarist Freddie King changed Mick’s outlook entirely. “He just knocked my socks off. I had a chat with him after his show and that’s what encouraged me to carry on. “Seeing Freddie changed my life.” In 1989, Mick was spotted by producer Mike Vernon, known for working with Bowie, Clapton and Fleetwood Mac amongst others, someone he’d always wanted to be recorded by. It’s his “analogue thinking” that appeals to Mick, who admits he’s not a digital man himself. His big break got him gigs across Europe and like a “domino effect”, things started to take off. Mick released three albums under the Blue Horizon label before Vernon retired. But, back home in Leicester, things weren’t looking so bright for Mick. Finding himself the victim of robberies and vandalism at his own front door, he decided to relocate to Germany with his wife. Disillusioned with UK politics, he’s in no rush to move back: “Europe’s not perfect, but its where I’ve got peace of mind. I’m 67, that’s what I need right now.” To friends and fans, both Mick’s music and integrity has granted him legendary status. But, in his own head, he makes a considered effort not to bolster his ego: “I like to say, you keep your light down low. That’s what I’ve always believed”. Mick Pini may not have had his name in lights, but to those fans like Gibbo, who have been following his movements for the last couple of decades, that makes him all the more special. A secret kept, Mick Pini has not only stayed true to his morals, but he’s created a timeless and poignant catalogue of blues that has made an impression on his hometown fans and musical greats alike.
UK bluesman Mick Pini talks about Mojo Buford, Peter Green, Mike Vernon, Luther Allison, BB King and his artwork "Great blues songs inspire great interpretations (the blues ‘tradition’ again)" Mick Pini: Painting The Truth of Blues If you’re lucky enough to catch veteran British bluesman Mick Pini live you are guaranteed the real deal; no pedals, no effects, just a (rare) 54 Strat (stroked) played by a bluesmeister. Oh - and how he makes it plead, bleed, sing, scream, cry – and smoke! With a life time in music you’ll hear echoes and influences from the whole tradition of the blues in Mick’s playing. His uncompromising adherence to a genuine belief in his music has never been deflected. Those distinctive raw, attacking riffs and phrases, often reminiscent of such legendary names as Freddie King, Albert Collins or T-Bone Walker hit you with aggression not unlike a ton of bricks, then in a moment, he’ll melt your heart with a sweeping phrase of pure beauty. These are the hallmarks of Mick Pini: to encounter him live is a joy not to be missed - it’s a blues master class! Mick started playing guitar as a young boy back in 1960. Since then he’s paid his dues in pubs, clubs, festivals, concert halls - hell, even busking on the streets. Over a lifetime he’s worked with all sorts: Doctor Ross, Professor Longhair, Rich Grech, Mojo Buford, Louisana Red, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Chris Farlowe, Mike Vernon, BB King, Luther Allison – and more than a few others. Currently based in Germany, Mick has worked with Roy Estrada (Little Feat) and Jimmy Carl Black (Frank Zappa). Mick's most recent album called 'Happy With The Blues' (2015).
Recorded April 2017 in the UK
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