History is something to draw strength from, not to be daunted by, and the Husky Tones are a band keen to find their own way in the rich and varied blues world. The Husky Tones were formed by Chris Harper and Victoria Bourne. Chris, the guitarist, grew up in a blues-loving household: Peter Green for breakfast, Freddie King for lunch and Stevie Ray Vaughan for dinner. No surprise then that he took up guitar. Blues was his first love but he’s had many since. He studied classical music and electronic composition at Goldsmiths College London, he’s performed in experimental and angst-ridden indie/rock bands, written and performed original flamenco music and he has composed for film and theatre. But now he’s come full circle and returned to the blues.
Ten years ago in London, while tirelessly looking for a singer for a band influenced by Radiohead and Jeff Buckley, Chris met Victoria Bourne. He was immediately impressed with Victoria’s voice, her openness, expressiveness, range and versatility. They became at first musically entwined and soon after romantically too and together have been on quite a journey. Victoria shares his voracious appetite for any music that is both cathartic and individual, which contributed to many evenings of booze-fuelled getting to know each other to a soundtrack of SRV, Arvo Pärt, This Mortal Coil, Howlin’ Wolf, Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley, György Ligeti, and many, many others.
Victoria grew up in Handsworth, Birmingham; her early musical experiences were guided by singing in a local Baptist church and by being the only white girl in her year at school, resulting in experiences of music from a variety of cultures including Indian ragas and flamenco songs. At the same time she was also listening to her first blues records by greats such as John Lee Hooker and Buddy Guy.
They wrote and performed together for many years in a variety of styles and ensembles but throughout those years they never stopped listening to the blues and, with hindsight, it was inevitable that they would end up playing and writing blues music together.
Two years ago Victoria and Chris wrote a piece of music theatre about the chainmakers' strike of 1910 (the strike that resulted in the introduction of the minimum wage in the UK) and took it to the Edinburgh Festival. The cast, of which Victoria was principal performer, consisted of six female singing percussionists, and the seeds were sown for Victoria’s interest in various forms of percussion, leading to her love of a full drum kit. Her ‘can do’ attitude meant that when they decided to put together a blues band she wasn’t in the least bit daunted by the prospect of having to combine this with being the lead vocalist. Doing both has obviously affected the way she sings and the way she drums. Victoria’s voice fits with the pantheon of big blues voices but crucially because of her broad vocal experience she doesn’t sound as if she’s imitating any of them. Inspired by the raw expressiveness of such fellow singer drummers as Cedric Burnside and Cara Robinson, Victoria’s multi-tasking has wowed audiences and critics alike.
One of the few central areas in which musicians can afford to rent studio space in Bristol (the Husky Tones’ home since 2011) is in a historic Georgian square in the red-light district. In 2013 they started to use a room in the upstairs of a Unitarian Church as their studio. Soon the other room was rented by Matthew Richards, a multi-instrumentalist, composer and music educator, who joined them for a jam and a few gigs as a bass player and now is a permanent member of the band.
So the Husky Tones were born and over the last twelve months they have written and recorded their debut album, entitled Time for a Change. It is a collection of ten original blues songs, and throughout the process of writing and recording they have tried to be themselves and to discover what writing blues means to them. Their approach to the blues mirrors what they love as audience members: inventive, individual and fully aware of tradition without being a slave to it. They self-financed the project through private music teaching, choir leading and Husky Tones performances.
They decided to record as live as possible and with the fewest overdubs possible in order to capture the energy of their live shows. This of course meant that Victoria’s main vocal and drum parts had to be recorded simultaneously on all tracks, but they never do things the easy way!
To aid Victoria in her percussive bluesical development she sought out legendary Groundhogs drummer Ken Pustelnik, who they are happy to announce appears (courtesy of EMI) on one song of their album.
Described as ‘Seriously on their way up’ (Blues and Soul Show) they have been thrilling audiences live with prestigious gigs including headlining at London’s 100 Club, the Ain’t Nothin’ But.. and The Blues Kitchen, future gigs include for Solid Entertainments at Harpenden and Ilfracombe Blues Festivals, Darlington and Tenby blues festivals as well as a variety of venues around the UK.