ForgottenBee talks with Black Sabbath Legend Jo Burt about his new album “Indestructible”, Psycho-Country music, his support for “Help for Heroes”, the modern music industry and his collection of leather trousers!
FB 1/ Jo, what does this new album “Indestructible” mean to you?
The Album means everything to me. The clue is in its title. Both my health issues and the subsequent financial difficulties have been overcome thanks to the support of my friends and family. I have survived, and the writing continues with a deeper sense of responsibility.
It represents a long overdue return to writing and consequently performing my own songs. I have worked for others for too long.
FB 2/ At what age did you learn to play the guitar? Do you play any other instruments?
My father was a terrific piano player. He worked on arrangements with George Martin and played with the Bill Cotton / Ted Heath swing bands so I had piano lessons from the age of 5.
I also played a mean tennis racket until I had a guitar for my 12th Birthday. I played Guitar and Bass from that time on but playing the bass got me more gigs!
FB 3/ Where do you record your music?
The first album, ‘Seven Seeds’ basic tracking was recorded in studio ‘Dead’ time all over South London. The vocals, acoustic guitar and piano parts were added in the small studio on my boat which was moored at the bottom of the garden of my house on the River Thames at Sunbury.
‘Indestructible’ was recorded entirely at Kore Studios in West London, except for the choir on Sab Kuch Milega which you already know about!
FB 4/ You’ve had a fantastic musical career working with the likes of Freddie Mercury and the Troggs. But the one band you’re most associated with is Black Sabbath. There’s still a lot of love for the band and for yourself as can be clearly seen in the likes of @sabbathfans. Do you think your new album “Indestructible” will cross over with these fans? As I see you have your own version of Paranoid on it.
I am not sure about a cross-over as such. Its not a Metal album and my version of Paranoid is more ‘psycho-country’ (my term!). The ‘metal heads’ still show up at the gigs and stay behind to say hi. The live gigs are a bit more heavy I guess, than the album production!
FB 5/ Is song writing something that comes easy to you?
I wish! Melodies come easy but the lyrics are more problematic. I want to be able to stand by what I write as something which resonates with other people but without it having to be a nursery rhyme as so much ‘pop’ is these days.
FB 6/ What would be your one “desert island disc”, album or single?
Tricky! . . . . Pink Floyd.- Dark Side Of The Moon.
FB 7/ What are your views on the modern music industry?
Best to stay away from it. I have recently discovered that a major label that I was signed to way back, has sold 1/4million of my discs in the USA. I have never seen any royalties. They have always been gangsters and I see no sign of that changing. Certainly the new breed that work in it have no sense of any music history, and more about who is voted for by TV audiences. TV audiences don’t buy music of course, they watch TV.
FB 8/ Are you a collector of guitars and do you have any favourites?
Guitars are beautiful things to have around and of course over the years you get to know about their values as antiques. I have found out that my old ’79 Fender fretless precision bass was one of the early models. It is very battered but still plays great. Freddie Mercury gave me a 1962 Guild Starfire which now means a great deal to me.
FB 9/ What do you like most about being a musician?
FB 10/ Having had the privilege to have seen you perform live, I have to say you have a great voice! Have you always wanted to be a singer?
Thanks. Everybody sang and performed around the house when I was young. We even had a stage complete with curtains and dressing rooms so it was compulsory. David Burt has been a constant on the West End stage. Les Mis. Cats, Starlight, etc etc and has a great voice. I wish mine was that good.
FB 11/ What advice would you give to up and coming bands?
Record and perform your own music. At the end of the day it is what will make you sound different to all the others. Play for the people, not just for yourselves!
FB 12/ Are you a CD or vinyls man?
I would love to print ‘Indestructible’ on Vinyl just for the vibe. The costs don’t add up unless you are an Eric Clapton and sell them for £100 a disc. Analogue is still a great medium to record on sonically and with real instruments is the only real route to a vinyl end product. Very expensive!
At least the cd’s retain the quality that download just cannot match. I despair at the quality of mp3.
FB 13/ How involved do you get with the artwork for the cover of your albums?
I generally know what I want to express, but Antonia is a great interpreter with pictures.
My preference is to stick to the music.
FB 14/ Behind every great man there is usually a great woman. Tell us about your wife and backing singer Antonia and who wears the leather trousers?
Ha ha! Well firstly Antonia has that rare ability of being to sing ‘Harmony’. In fact she sings in harmony with everything! This is a great talent to have on tap for me as I can test melodies with her when I am writing and she can layer vocal tracks down in an instant. I still have my collection of leather trousers, but I have to say I don’t wear them any more. She has some fabulous leather kit (!) but we do have an agreement that I am in charge when we are gigging, she pretty much has the whip hand everywhere else!
FB 15/ Speaking of great women, you occasionally have a female drummer, who are few and far between. Your drummer Emily Dolan Davies @Emilydrums, has worked with the likes of Bryan Ferry, Cher Lloyd, Tricky, Becky Hill, amongst others, how did you come to collaborate with her?
At one point I had two drummers in the band. This was always a bit of a dream. The ‘sweet’ spot standing between Andy (Treacey) and Emily was almost too wonderful to put into words when they both hit the same groove. Unsustainable for the moment in terms of the economics but still in the plans for the future. Emily has been gigging and recording for me throughout this year and has a great weight to her playing that belies her small frame. She tips the boy/girl balance in the band of course and everybody loves her.
FB 16/ You have produced a wonderful and moving track “The Salute” to raise awareness for help for heroes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybtKzhYFP7Y @HelpforHeroes. How close to your heart is this and why?
I guess the the idea originated from the Falklands war and remembering the pictures of HMS Sheffield and the Sir Gallahad being screened on TV, burning with so much loss of life. Over the years I have built up varying themes in my head with lyrics that I wanted to use in a kind of Elgar meets Rock with drums and pipes piece of music which was different to anything else that I had written. I was galvanised into some kind of a action when playing at a gig where I was introduced to Robert Lawrence ex of the Scots Guards who had been fighting hand to hand (bayonets!) with the Argentinians. Fighting through Bluff Cove on the Falklands in the most atrocious conditions imaginable. He became the subject on the anti-war film ‘Tumbledown’. Robert had half his brains blown out by a sniper – it was the last shot of the war – and he survived only due to the diligence of his comrades who kept his helmet strapped on. He, along with Simon Weston were kept out of sight and hidden from the BBC cameras at the Victory ceremony at Westminster Abbey. These were not the days where our soldiers were thought of as heroes so I wrote The Salute for them. Robert is a remarkable and resiliant man despite his awful injuries and we remain good friends to this day.
The salute has taken me over 30 years and I guess will not feel completed until performed complete with orchestra to an audience at the Albert Hall!
FB 17/ How do you see where social media fits in with modern music?
The Internet is allowing artists to be heard like they never were before. Social media is now a massive marketing tool. The downside is that there is no quality control. Singing over backtracks can draw millions of hits and subsequent big advertising budgets. As yet there are no proper regulations as to how the royalties are paid to those who have worked so hard to make the music.
FB 18/ So the new album “Indestructible” is due out 1st October 2014, and will be
widely available on iTunes and amazon, where can we find details of your other records and gig dates?
My brand new website is now live at http://www.joburt.co.uk – you can find everything there.
FB 19/ My final question. When do my royalties from being part of the backing choir
on your track “Sab Kuch Milega” start rolling in? 😉 Honestly Jo, it was an absolute privilege to be part of the choir used, and can I take this opportunity to thank you for taking part in this interview.
If you ever see me driving a car that is less than 10 years old, that would be a good time to ask!
It was quite special to have you on the recording.
Sound Cloud : https://soundcloud.com/therealjoburt
Photographs Courtesy of Adrian Mitchell, Richie Brown, Brian Butcher, Kevin Kienlein, Martyn, Antonia Burt and Jason Bryant with Many Thanks.