Kaleidoscope Launch Concert and Interviews
Kaleidoscope was released on 24th September on Subjangle and the launch concert took place the following week at Pound Arts in Corsham, Wiltshire. It was a lovely evening and I enjoyed performing songs from the album and others from my back catalogue in front of an audience of family, friends and even some people I didn't know! This was the set list:
Here's the performance of 'Over You Tonight', where I explain the difficulties associated with being in an act called 'Blake':
Kaleidoscope has received some nice reviews online (for example) and I was asked to do a couple of interviews which I thought I'd publish here in case you wanted to read 'em:
A Chat with Blake (06.10.2021)
Following on from his album HMS Blake, Blake is unleashing a whirlwind of colours and sounds in Kaleidoscope. Blending vintage tones and recording techniques, he keeps you hooked to a unique sound with a retro vibe. With flairs of colours and sounds, each track brings a new tone to the album while converging into a cohesive story. We had the opportunity to talk to Blake about the album, the use of retro recording techniques, creative processes and much more!
OSR: Was there a moment when you first realised that you wanted to make music?
Blake: Yes. I was fourteen and I was asked to audition as the singer for a band at school. One of the members had heard me singing to myself in art class. I was too nervous to sing in the end, and I also wasn’t familiar with any of the songs, but I watched the band rehearse and I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life! I moved schools shortly afterwards but after teaching myself some chords on a second-hand Spanish guitar, I formed a band at my new school, called ‘Embryo’, and haven’t looked back since.
OSR: As a multi-instrumentalist, do you have a single instrument that you enjoy playing the most?
Blake: My first instrument was a six-string guitar, as I say, but the first electric instrument I owned was a bass. I was initially the singer and bass player in the band and even wrote my first songs on one. I prefer playing the guitar now because it’s easier to sing and play but I still love bass and I look forward to laying down bass tracks when I’m recording.
OSR: You have recently released your second album Kaleidoscope, can you tell us a little more about it?
Blake: It’s my second album for the Subjangle label but it’s actually my 21st album in total! I intended it to sound like a musical kaleidoscope, with songs that were diverse in style and content. The title track was one of the first I wrote so this concept presented itself early on. Mind you, this is something that I tend to naturally do on my albums because I like a lot of different types of music.
OSR: Your music has a heavy fusion of 60s and 70s styles, but which artists have had the greatest influences on your sound?
Blake: I’ve been performing in a Beatles tribute band as John Lennon since 2007 so the Fabs are obviously a huge influence on me. I also do a Bob Dylan tribute because I’m crazy about him, too. My other favourite artists are Donovan, Richard Thompson, Van Morrison and the original Fleetwood Mac.
OSR: The album was recorded on analogue tape at Radar Sounds, what made you choose this medium for the recording?
Blake: I had always wanted to record an album in an analogue studio and I treated myself to ticking off this bucket list item by booking into Radar Sounds in London earlier in the year. The studio boasts an ex-Abbey Road Studer 24 track two-inch tape machine and it was fantastic to use it. It meant going back to ‘old school’ ways of recording, however. We had to perform the basic tracks live and get the performances as perfect as we could. It was a challenge, particularly as I only had nine days to do it all in!
OSR: Each track has its own style and flow, how difficult was it to create this kaleidoscope of sounds while retaining the cohesiveness of an album?
Blake: I guess that the cohesiveness comes through the recording method and equipment, so the sounds you hear are almost entirely analogue, even the keyboard instruments, whatever the style of the song that is being performed. My friend Richard Kilbey contributed Mellotron and other vintage synth sounds on many of the tracks and these are so reminiscent of the late sixties and early seventies that I think this also helped create a unified record.
OSR: What was your creative process for the album? Did you start with a concept or individual tracks?
Blake: I mentioned the writing of the title track before, which helped me develop the concept for the album. I recorded thirty demos for it in total and attempted to select the best fifteen songs to record. I write very quickly when the inspiration hits and after I’ve finished working on an album I try my best not to write songs at all. I’ve already got masses of demos backed up. I will look again at some of these when the time comes to record my next LP.
OSR: While all the tracks have a unique style, which do you feel capture the essence of the album the most?
Blake: I would have thought that this would have to be the title track because it embodies the concept of the album. Then again, I was listening to Spirit’s 12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus a lot when I was writing the songs and felt that ‘Love is the Way’ was the closest I got to achieving that early 70s rock vibe. However, the one that Fuzz, the producer and owner of Radar Sounds, liked best was ‘Let Yourself In’. This was recorded with very few overdubs using acoustic guitars, bass and drums. It felt good to write a song that didn’t require a complicated arrangement. My friend Joe Brown helped with the middle eight. Because I was recording with my friends rather than on my own this time, this song is perhaps most representative of that collaborative effort.
OSR: How do you feel this album compares to your last?
Blake: HMS Blake, my first album for Subjangle, was a behemoth! It not only contained an expanded edition of my previous album, 1971, but also a twenty track introductory compilation selected from all my previous LPs. At fifteen tracks, Kaleidoscope seems more manageable in comparison. I still ended up supplementing the ten tracks I had recorded at Radar Sounds with five others that I recorded at home because I always feel the need to present ‘good value’ with my long players. I try to keep my songwriting standards high and I hope I’ve been able to maintain a similar level to 1971, which was in many ways a breakthrough release for me, not least because it attracted the attention of Subjangle.
OSR: If people could feel only one emotion while listening to the album, what would you like that to be?
Blake: While there are a lot of positive and uplifting tracks on the album, it is a bit of a roller coaster emotionally, which is to do with the Kaleidoscope concept. ‘The Lost Art of Writing Letters’ deals with grief, ‘Blood On Their Hands’ is about the Grenfell disaster, ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Love is the Way’ conjure feelings of nostalgia and ‘Revelation Blues’ is about trying to hold on to faith. The penultimate track, ‘No One Here Gets Out Alive’, is about Elliott Smith’s tragic suicide and I was very conscious that I didn’t want to leave listeners with a feeling of sadness, which is why ‘Whenever You Call My Name’ ends the album in a spirit of hope. That’s the emotion I would like my music to inspire, fundamentally.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the next 12 months?
Blake: The label has kindly asked if I would be happy to produce another album for next year and, of course, I’ve said yes! I played my first live show for eighteen months at the Kaleidoscope launch concert in Corsham, near where I live in Wiltshire, last Friday and I hope to announce some more gigs for 2022. Playing live is where it’s at for me because it’s then that you can really see how well a song you’ve written goes over. I’m blessed to have four of my best friends that I have known for years in my band, the same guys who helped me record the album. In fact, my drummer, Hugh Lyford, is the drummer from Embryo, my first band from all those years ago at school. He’s only recently moved back from London to the West Country, so it feels like everything has come full circle.
BLAKE – Kaleidoscope | Beatles-esque (26.09.21)
Blake, a British singer-songwriter, released his new album Kaleidoscope on 24th September. Bringing back the psychedelic vibe of the 60s and the soft rock sounds of the 70s, this album can best be described as Beatles-esque. In keeping with the vibrant, handsomely coloured sound of the era, Kaleidoscope was recorded on analogue tape at Radar Sounds in London.
Kaleidoscope Track List
The 46-minute-long album begins with an upbeat track called, “So Good” that features energetic drums, groovy guitars and tight two-part harmonies. Blake’s vocals have a distinctive John Lennon influence that makes them quite refreshing in their own way.
“Whatever You Do” opens with a crisp electric guitar riff around which the track revolves. With melodious and raw vocals, rhythmic acoustic guitars and an absorbing bridge section this track is primarily an cheery love song, evident from the line – “Whatever you do, I’m underneath your spell..”.
Track number three, “Andrea Everywhere”, interestingly has only two chords being played throughout most of its 3:08 minute length. A catchy hook line, lively drums and some mellow synth filler leads make up for an engaging track that ends on a high.
Title track, “Kaleidoscope” begins with fresh instruments – a tambourine and a bongo form the underlying groove that’s quite similar to the beat in “Andrea Everywhere”. The song features exciting guitar progressions, a bass-driven interlude section and a solid outro that flows right into track number five.
Blake dials the energy down a bit with “The Lost Art Of Writing Letters” – a track with soft vocals that’s full of nostalgia. A sustained synth plays throughout most of the track accompanying a repetitive verse melody that’s doubled with a backing lead synth. All in all, a mellow song that’s placed aptly in the album tracklist.
“Paisley Patterned Love” is driven by bright chord stabs that have a guitar-like tone, and upbeat drums. I liked the composition of this track in particular because of the harmonic structure and a scale change that’s subtle yet powerful.
Track number six, “Love Is The Way” is very rock and roll in that it features distorted, sometimes wailing electric guitars, a solid bassline and strong vocals. It’s more dynamic than the rest of Kaleidoscope and the lyrics are well written and quite interesting.
“Blood On Their Hands” starts with a guitar riff that’s present throughout all the verses and builds up to a vibrant final chorus that has a lot going on. Blake has shifted to a slightly aggressive and noisier tone halfway through the album.
Track number eight, “I’ve Got A Secret” has got sort of a Beach Boys vibe, but maybe that’s just me. Reminiscent of some of the earlier ABBA records, Blake has written a catchy melody and introduced a melodious harmonica on this track.
A familiar chord progression, somewhat similar to the Godfather soundtrack, makes up the slightly sad and psychedelic structure of the instrumental track, “Snowfall On Nazareth”. It’s driven by a melancholic guitar lead, a tuneful flute and an acoustic guitar.
“Sunshine Celebration” is one of those songs that is perfect to jive to! It has the ability to transport you back to the dance bars of the 60s thanks to its catchy hook and vibrant vibe.
“Revelation Blues” is the first track on the album where Blake’s vocals aren’t completely raw. The somewhat different coloration here makes the song stand out from the others. With its blues progression, the song is quite easy to listen to and has a laid-back feel.
Track number thirteen, “Let Yourself In”, can be best described as soft pop song with mellow vocals and attractive acoustic guitars. The vocals seem to get obscured a bit by the drums at some points, but the fusion of the instruments is very harmonious and cohesive.
“No One Here Gets Out Alive” is a bass-driven song with a chorus I’d never have imagined being sung like it is. Blake has put a modern touch on older Beatles tracks by using melodies that are reminiscent to present day pop. Clocking at 5:27, this is the longest track of the album which features interesting transitions, guitar and bass solos and lush synth strings.
An acoustic guitar and two-part vocals make up the final track Kaleidoscope called, “Whenever You Call My Name”. Blake’s raw songwriting can be appreciated because of the unplugged characteristic of this song –it’s really intimate and feels like he’s singing in the same room as you! A great way to end the engrossing and enjoyable album.
Blake’s versatility as a singer and musician is evident on this attractive 15-track album that evokes memories from the 8-track recordings of the past. He has done a wonderful job in keeping the Beatles-like sound of the 60s alive through his comprehensive songwriting and spectacular vocals. With over 15 album releases since 2006, Blake has been making waves in the UK music scene for a long time and has even had his music on the soundtrack of a few Brit films!
Blake was kind enough to take the time to talk about the album with me. Here’s what he had to say about Kaleidoscope!
1- You’ve released numerous albums and singles for the better part of almost two decades now! What were some milestones in your career that shaped your artistic vision and how did it translate into “Kaleidoscope”?
Interesting question! I think that if you’re a songwriter, stopping writing songs isn’t really an option. I’ve been doing it since I was seventeen years old and I’m always trying to write better songs. I deliberately attempted to write the songs for Kaleidoscope in a variety of musical styles to challenge myself as a songwriter and to try and create a kind of “musical kaleidoscope” in a way that a lot of albums by artists I like in the late sixties and early seventies just naturally seemed to be. For instance, I’m really into Donovan and people might think of him as a folkie but actually he wrote songs in many different genres and his music contains fusions of jazz, folk, blues, pop and rock. In terms of milestones, I think of it in terms of successes in songwriting rather than external things such as gigs or recording contracts. I wrote perhaps my best song, ‘Vinyl Junkie’, in 2010 but it was only about five years later that I realised that it was a good one and duly re-recorded it! I try to reach the same standards of songwriting with each album I make. For Kaleidoscope, I wrote about thirty songs and ended up recording half that number. I attempted to work out which ones were best.
2- You have mentioned in your profile that the album was recorded on an analog tape recorder. How do your songs benefit from that recording process and why do you prefer using it?
Well, it’s always been a dream of mine to record in the way that artists like The Beatles did in the early sixties. The Please Please Me album really was recorded in a day and even up to the end of their career, The Beatles always attempted to cut the basic tracks for their songs live. To use an actual Studer tape machine that used to belong in EMI’s Abbey Road studios was almost unbelievable. I am convinced that recording in analogue produces a warmer and more authentic sound. Of course, recording live takes onto tape is incredibly difficult and it was a real challenge in the studio to sing and play the songs through without making mistakes. I think that it suited my songs though because I’m not aiming for perfection, I just want to try and capture the essence of a song. I’ve recorded my previous albums with this attitude in mind but I’ve never been afforded the opportunity to record in analogue in a studio before.
3- Most of the songs in the album are reminiscent of pop and rock and roll music from the 60s and 70s. What was the inspiration behind writing “Kaleidoscope”?
Exactly that, really – rock and pop music from the 60s and 70s. It’s the music that I listen to and which inspires me to write. I was listening to Spirit’s 12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus a lot before writing the songs on the album and so that was certainly an inspiration. Also, Jethro Tull’s Aqualung and Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man LP. I just think that the music from that era is so good that I want to try and imitate it in some rather pale way. There seems to have been so much creativity in the air in the late sixties and early seventies for some reason.
4- How would you describe “Kaleidoscope” and what would you like new listeners to take away from it?
As I say, it’s meant to represent a musical kaleidoscope and therefore contains songs written in different styles and genres. It’s clearly influenced by sixties and seventies music predominantly, however. Lyrically it’s pretty diverse, too. It ranges from simple love songs to political protests to childhood reminiscences to songs about grief, summer, God and Elliott Smith.
5- There are 15 amazing singles in the album that are mixed excellently! Could you share any tips with up and coming producers and engineers who want to better their craft?
Thank you! I’m very glad you enjoyed it. However, the majority of the songs were produced by the owner of Radar Sound Studios in London, Fuzz. His ears need to get the credit for the mixing rather than mine!
Listen to Kaleidoscope on Spotify!