Li’l Chuck of New Zealand chatted with Blue Collar Songwriting as part of our official attempt to make September the official “One Person Band Month.” Enjoy!
Are you exclusively a One Man Band? If not, what other setups/players do you work with?
No, I do other music projects as well as Li’l Chuck The One Man Skiffle Machine. Because of current family commitments, I can’t tour too much so am essentially based in my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand. Christchurch is a small city of about 350,000 people so I have to have a few different strings to my bow and wear different hats in order to maintain my life as a professional musician in one town. For many years I was in an Irish band called The Black Velvet Band, I perform as a ‘solo bar room singer guy’ called Davey Backyard, I teach harmonica as The Harmonica Guy, and last season was the band leader and performer in a 4 piece called The Vanguard – this was ‘house band’ for the regions premier sports (Rugby) team ‘The Crusaders’. In most of the bands or combos that perform with, I play Harmonica, Guitar and Vocals and work alone side some great bass players, drummers and lead instrumentalists.
How long have you been performing? Tell a little bit about your foray into the world of performance, particularly as a One Man Band?
In the mid 1980s in my teens I was a heavy metal nut… I didn’t play guitar but dreamed of being a rock god…. by the late 80’s I started to dabble with Metal Guitar but was also getting interested in Blues. I saw a few blues bands, and most importantly saw and heard great harmonica!…. everything changed from that point. Around that same time I saw a One Man Band (The Little Big Band aka The Original Little Big Band) busking on the streets of Manchester, England…. he was playing a Resonator Guitar, Harmonica, Hi Hat and Kick Drum. From that moment the seed was planted. I bought his cassette for 5 Pounds and tucked into learning harmonica and guitar simultaneously. The first song I nailed was The San Francisco Bay Blues which The OLBB had recorded on his album. About 20 years later I found The OLBB via google and let him know there was a bloke in New Zealand performing an act that he inspired so many years before! Last year I was in England and met up with him. The circle was completed!
For the next 20 years, I developed my singing, writing, harp and guitar playing and performance in a variety of bands and duos. But in 2011 everything changed. By now, I was living in New Zealand and on Feb 22nd my home town of Christchurch was devastated by a massive earthquake. I had just become a father for the first time a few weeks earlier and was about to turn 40. I had been kicking my heels about developing my full OMB show for years but now with so much change in my life, this was the right time to get Li’l Chuck on the road. I was writing a lot of songs over this period to get through the crazy situation that mother nature had put us all in. The city scape had changed forever, all the venues I once played at were gone. As the dust settled opportunities and gigs started to arise that better suited a One Man Band than prior to the quake. Christchurch was a ‘blank canvas’ and the art and music scene in the city flourished. It is really vibrant here right now.
I have thrown so much energy into Li’l Chuck over the last few years. I recorded and released my first album (Blues In Full Swing) and played loads of festivals and events. The past few years have been very productive and rewarding.
If you were in an elevator with a person who was capable of becoming a lifelong, dedicated fan who would NEVER in a million years request “Freebird,” what would you say to both give them an idea of your music and pique their interest?
Firstly I play what I call ‘good time music with old time style’. Mainly original songs with the vibe and feel of Early Jazz and Blues, Western Swing, Ragtime tunes. I also have a party piece… at some of my live shows my finale is to perform a song I wrote called ‘ The One Man Skiffle Machine’…. it goes like this….”I’m the one man skiffle machine, a multi tasking man, every woman’s dream but I always like to keep a few cards up my sleeve. When the sun goes down and the stars shine bright and we’re fooling around in the middle of the night, baby you won’t believe what I can achieve when I’m hands free” Then while I am singing and playing, I make peanut butter on toast for the audience….. There is a video of this on my Youtube Channel. By the way, for a bit of trivia, the New Zealand Equivalent of ‘Freebird’ is ‘Wagon Wheel’.
What are the benefits of playing everything yourself? Limitations? Do you see being a One Man Band as a temporary “do what you gotta do till you get a band” type of thing or is the kind of performance type that you like best?
I reckon I play better when on my own as I am totally in sync with myself or ‘in the zone’ as some may say. I can make the music flow, change arrangements, slow down or speed up all depending on my mood and I don’t have to signal changes to other band members. Li’l Chuck is ‘me in a nutshell’. It is a creative outlet for all the music styles and writing styles I love, a true representation of what I am genuinely about and is the foundation of my musical journey. It is creativity without compromise. If I screw up, then I can only blame myself, on the other side though, I reap all the rewards for my effort when I nail something.
What mother nature taught me was that I don’t need a band around me and as long as I have a guitar, harp and kick drum, I have always got a gig. The Skiffle Machine can adapt to most environments. I can busk or play on a big stage, I can play through a big PA or do it 100 % acoustic and best of all, my band will never break up and my album with never go out of date… I am pretty much self contained and future proof – as long as my health stays good and limbs work ok!
List three to five of your favorite albums?
This is so hard… can I choose 50?
Ok I have narrowed this down but in no particular order…
Hard Again, Muddy Waters
Transformer, Lou Reed
Heart of Saturday Night, Tom Waits
Let It Be – Naked, The Beatles
Train a Comin’, Steve Earle
Rum Sodomy and The Lash, The Pogues
Wait a minute, that’s six 🙂
How can we find out more about you?
Thanks for asking. please join my mailing list on my website….
My website is http://www.backyardmusic.co.nz or skifflemachine.com
and feel free to connect / subscribe to the following…
My Album BLUES IN FULL SWING by Li’l CHUCK THE ONE MAN SKIFFLE MACHINE is available now on CD via my website. I will sign it if you wish. Unlike the digital version you get the extensive inlay cover that I have toiled over for months and am very proud of… (reviews on my website)
Digital download on iTunes, Amazon etc
listen on Spotify