Biography Oli Brown

Oli Brown is a man in motion. The world knows his name. The circuit knows his reputation. His mission to bring blues-rock to the people has seen him cross continents, tear through time zones and break language barriers. And yet, no matter how far the tour bus takes him, Oli has never forgotten his roots, nor the city that put him on his musical path. As such, on December 16, 2012, the bluesman who once stood in a Norwich schoolyard dreaming of a record deal returned as a conquering hero for a hometown gig like no other.
    Of course, Oli has returned to Norwich for triumphant end-of-year shows many times in the past, rewarding his loyal hometown fans for their support through the blood, sweat and slog of the early years. And yet, this time, the stakes were even higher, and the atmosphere still more electric, as the bandleader hit the city’s Waterfront venue with a recording crew, intent on capturing his live set as the latest release in Ruf Records’ legendary Songs From The Road series. “I really wanted to record my live show in Norwich,” explained the bluesman, “as everyone there has been so good to me.”
    Released in June 2013 as a CD/DVD set, Songs From The Road catches Oli at the top of his game, as he draws on an all-killer setlist that mines all three classic albums that fuelled his ascent. From his scorching 2008 debut, Open Road, there’s the irresistible groove of Stone Cold. From 2010’s lauded follow-up, Heads I Win Tails You Lose, there’s the heart-in-mouth Speechless, while from 2012’s game-changing Here I Am, the Waterfront roof is raised by cuts like Thinking About Her, Manic Bloom and Devil In Me. With the set also taking in new songs like Love Is Taking Its Toll, Songs From The Road is both a testament to the heights he’s already hit and a signpost to the thrillride ahead.
    Indeed, Songs From The Road is just one peak in what promises to be another triumphant year for Oli, as the bluesman prepares for a full-throttle summer of support slots with guitar legends Joe Satriani and Johnny Winter, alongside a volley of festival appearances and his own headline shows.
Faced with all these achievements, it’s easy to forget that Oli is still only in his early-twenties, and just a decade down the line from the fateful day when he picked up his first guitar. “I didn’t have any career ambitions until I started playing guitar in 2002,” he once noted. “Blues was always in the background, but what really hit was the first Stevie Ray Vaughan album I bought. When I started playing, Hendrix was my first influence. He was a showman, too, setting his guitar alight. I’ve never done that!”    
With his chops primed, Oli soon went public, playing impromptu Norwich jam nights where “we didn’t even know what we were playing, but it taught me a lot”. The pivotal moment came at 15, when he was invited to the US as the guest of Blinddog Smokin’: a support slot that morphed into a mentoring scheme, with Oli sharing bills with Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal, and being schooled after-hours by his hosts. “Before that, I didn’t care what the music was, I just wanted to solo,” he admits. “But while I was out there, they taught me everything about the blues, about stagecraft, about walking tall and speaking to the audience.”
Oli would return to the US with Blinddog Smokin’ several times, while he also cites the wisdom imparted by legends including Robben Ford, John Mayall and Walter Trout. Fast-forward to 2008, though, and the student had become the master, and when Ruf Records label boss Thomas Ruf witnessed an explosive UK gig, he signed Oli on the spot. Things moved fast. That same year, the young bandleader burst out of the blocks with Open Road: a dazzling opening shot that fused funky cuts like Psycho with heartfelt solo stunners like Missing You. “There aren’t many 12-bars on there,” said Oli. “I try to get across a few different styles, but I haven’t had any purists shout at me yet!”
So it began. With that first release, the press woke up to what live blues fans knew already, and promptly showered Oli with champagne, with Blues Matters! voting Open Road the #2 album of 2008, and Classic Rock declaring the singer had “the blues under his fingernails like few of his peers”. The flattery stepped up a gear when the Oli Brown Band became the only UK act selected for 2008’s International Blues Convention in Memphis, and some measure of his rising profile came when Oli was invited by John Fry of Ardent Studios to record a live session… which scored 1.3 million hits in under a month.
The buzz was building, and by 2010, it had caught the ear of legendary British producer Mike Vernon. Impressed, the veteran of such benchmarks as 1966’s Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton was lured out of semi-retirement to helm Oli’s second album, Heads I Win Tails You Lose, and captured a light-footed tracklisting that mixed up scuttle-buttin’ grooves like Evil Soul and room-shakers like Real Good Time. On release in April 2010, it was clear this kid was more than alright, and the press duly threw star ratings like confetti, with Mojo dubbing Oli “the hottest young pistol in British blues”, Uncut praising “a British bluesman to rival Trucks and Bonamassa”, and Classic Rock voting Heads I Win as its #3 blues album of the year.
With the 2010 British Blues Awards toasting him as ‘Best Male Vocalist’ and ‘Best Young Artist’, some musicians would have rested on their laurels and watched the royalties roll in. Not Oli. He once noted that “blues needs to be heard live”, and it’s true that while he tears it up in the studio, his natural habitat is the darkened stage and his favourite sound the roar of the crowd as he blasts songs skyward with his signature Vanquish guitar. In 2011, he toured the UK, Europe, New Zealand, Canada and America – even charming Uncle Sam with a high-profile breakfast TV appearance – and scored another haul of trophies at the British Blues Awards (‘Best Band’ and ‘Best Album’). That year concluded in schoolboy fantasy-style, playing 25 gigs with John Mayall. Somebody pinch him…
But just when you thought you knew the real Oli Brown, 2012’s Here I Am found him letting down the barriers, showing his cards, turning the spotlight on himself and defying you to turn off your stereo. “The new album is called Here I Am,” Oli explained, “because I’m saying, ‘this is me’. People know when something isn’t believable. I’m just trying to be honest.”
    Here I Am was the sound of an artist on the crest of a wave. When Oli hit the studio in Nottingham after a triumphant 2011, he had the plaudits of fans, press, peers and heroes ringing in his ears, a truck-load of trophies and a huge weight of expectation. Most 22-year-olds would have felt pressure, but with his dream team around him – drummer/producer Wayne Proctor and bassist Scott Barnes – Oli rode the red light and chased down 12 classic songs to hand over to Magic Garden Mastering’s Brian Lacey (fresh from The Black Keys’ El Camino album).    
It was a tracklisting that runs the gauntlet, from Thinking About Her’s grooving ode to a seductress, past the desolate break-up blues of All We Had To Give, to the stinger missile Solid Ground that featured Paul Jones on harmonica and signed off the album with a slam-dunk. “Ain’t tryin’ to be no Jimi or Stevie, I wanna be my goddamn self,” Oli roared on the title track, and even on covers of Donny Hathaway’s I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know and Nikka Costa’s Like A Feather, he had both hands on the wheel. When the album flew to the top of the iTunes, Amazon and HMV blues charts, and secured him a 2012 British Blues Award in the ‘Best Young Artist’ category, it was clear that Oli Brown had stepped it up once – again.

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