July 5, 2008

It’s the Blues That Fire Our Ash

I f ROOTS music is the essence of Australian troubadour Ash Grunwald's special brand of heart-warming, festival-friendly fare, it is the blues that lie at its heart and electronica that provides the frills. Word about the affable young Australian's unique talents is spreading like wildfire as he tours the UK, after securing his position as one of the most innovative and exciting performers on the circuit back home.

He makes a welcome return to the Westcountry this month with a show at the Walkabout in Newquay, and a spot at this summer's Surf Relief Festival.

The dreadlocked Ash, inspired by an early diet of Howlin' Wolf, makes music to stomp and clap and holler to - something he manages to do all on his own with the help of a guitar, a drum and a few foot pedals, while rousing audiences to join in.

It's been an unhurried career path for 31-year- old Ash, who didn't start performing publicly until he was 22, gaining confidence at blues jams in his native Melbourne before venturing further into Victoria and then towns and cities across Australia.

"I think performing was just in me," he admits. "I was always an attention seeker - I think you have to be in order to be a performer. And then you spend your career pretending you are not.

"Songwriting is also really important to me too. Reflecting back on things, I don't recall daring to aspire to be a musician, but I was always writing and recording little songs."

His debut album, Introducing... Ash Grunwald, was released in 2002, exposing his trademark fusion on blues, pulsing beats, percussive groove and astoundingly pure and soulful vocals - more gospel than gruff - for the first time. His fourth long player, Give Signs, just released in the UK, was nominated for Best Blues and Roots Album in the Australian Record Industry Awards.

Ash's reluctance to slot entirely into a purist genre is fuelled by his attraction to electronic dance and its natural place in the modern music world.

"It is pretty exciting that as technology progresses we can reach back into things from the past and do those as well," he says.

"Technology is a fun thing because it engages the side of my personality that is the mad doctor playing with strange gadgets.

"I don't listen to electronic music in the same way I would listen to song-based music but it is around all of us. When I got into the stomp box kind of thing I tried all sorts of percussion live at gigs to get that sort of driving direct dance feel.

"I am almost instructed by the audience in a sense - what to play and how to play it. On my first tour I played a lot of regions of Australia where they just wanted to party and I learned my strumming style by just playing to people. By consensus my music evolved into a style that is driven by the audience.

"I can react to what the audience are doing and that really excites me. I really like that element of the whole solo artist thing - it would be hard to do with a whole band."

Keen surfer Ash loves the Westcountry, staying with friends in North Cornwall when he comes to England.

"It's a great part of the world and I do feel comfortable here. I've got nothing against other Aussies, but I don't like to lock myself away with them when I come to England - I like to mix with the people who live here," he says.

Ash Grunwald plays at The Walkabout, Newquay (01637 853000) on July 16 and White Stuff Surf Relief at Watergate Bay on July 26. We have four copies of Ash's album Give Signs to give away. For your chance to win one, send your name, address and daytime telephone number to Ash Grunwald CD competition, WMN Features Desk, 17 Brest Road, Plymouth PL6 5AA to arrive no later than Monday, July 14. Usual WMN competition rules apply.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.