“All you are is just a bit of crap on the street, you look out the window and there’s fuck all…”. With a sound inspired by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Son House and words inspired by growing up on tough East Manchester estates, Jim Adama is a bluesman for the 21st century. Cath Aubergine talks to him about life, the local blues scene and trying to break even on out-of-town gigs…
Upstairs in Gulliver’s, some Thursday night in 2011 when Thursday night meant Stroke Club, Manchester punk-era zine legend Steve Shy’s then semi-regular get-together where the remit was simple: bands he liked would play, he’d dish out sweets, and there’d be a box for donations for The Stroke Association. Effectively a new bands night but cut from a very different cloth to either the hip brand nights with this week’s heavily blogged stars in waiting or the anyone can play if they can sell tickets pick ‘n’ mix sessions; any scheduling was best described as arbitrary and it’d often be well into Friday morning by the time you got out of there. With the first band finished and gathering up their gear, and the next gathering up members from the bar, something was happening – like ripples spreading from a stone, the people closest fell silent first. More heads turned, conversations petered out until most of the room stood focused on a young lad sitting on a stool, a guitar unplayed at his side, clapping a rhythm and singing in this raw, untutored but stunningly evocative voice like some boxcar-riding Thirties bluesman – only with a Mancunian accent. Who is this man? Jim Hunt, Steve told us, or Jim Adama. “It started as a joke” says Jim – the name, not the music, that is. “The promoter at TV21 was making posters for a gig, and it came from Battlestar Galactica (both generations of the sci-fi saga had an Adama at the helm) – Jim Adama, intergalactic blues…”
I’m sitting with Jim in the downstairs bar of the somewhat cleaned-up but still rather characterful Oldham Street pub we both consider a sort of home territory. Since then, that voice has been captured (though crucially not tamed) on a five track self-released EP and right now he’s busy putting a band together – as well as sorting out the artists for a blues-based festival stage and trying to work out how he can best turn an IKEA voucher he unexpectedly won in a raffle into the hard cash required to furnish him with a beautiful fifties vintage guitar he’s fallen in love with (and his house with a few pots and pans before his flatmate moves out with the existing stock). He’s talented, articulate and skint – so much so he’s actually declared himself bankrupt to clear his debts (“all gone, but my credit’s going to be really low”) – full of enthusiasm for his own music and that which inspired him, and a thoroughly nice bloke.
LTW: So, back to that Thursday night then and that incredible performance of the song we now know as ‘Open The Door’…
JIm: I got invited down by Ste The Punk, he’d seen me play and he was like basically “get up in between and do a couple of songs each time”. With ‘Open The Door’ I’d had the melody in my head, I’d been listening to Son House (Depression-era preacher turned blues artist Eddie James “Son” House Jr, who was recorded by the legendary Alan Lomax and popularised in his later years by the American Folk Music Revival scene) who had a couple of a cappella songs where he just claps and sings, so I wrote it down and that was pretty much the first night where I tried it out, I couldn’t really put a guitar over it, and especially as I have quite a few different tunings with a song like that I could just get up, sing it, get off stage for the next band: quite a few of my songs I’ve done in a way where I didn’t really have to play guitar and later on I’d put guitar on them, I’d have the melodies worked out in my head.
LTW: It’s certainly not an obvious style of music for a twenty something Mancunian to be playing, what’s the background there?
Jim: Back in my teens when I first picked up a guitar it was more punk, I just loved punk, then I was down at the Palace Theatre when I was 16 and my mate’s band were playing, I ended up getting really really drunk and on the way back to calm me down my mate put on B.B.King and that was the moment when it really just… “wow! listen to that voice!” and it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t slow, it wasn’t loud and in-your-face, “The Thrill Is Gone”, it was angry and there’s this whole build up-where there’s no singing and it kicks into this funky bass part and it just completely blew me away. Then through that it was Little Walter, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, I got all these collections. I’d started out playing more kind of Dylan-y stuff live, a bit of La’s-y kind of stuff and I hated it, I was doing all these gigs and I fuckin’ hated it, and Ste used to just hound me, every time I’d see him he’d go “Why are you doing what you do? You’re shit, you’re not doing it, you’re not getting up Jim cos you’re not doing what you should be doing” and I was like “right, fuck you” – so I took six months off from playing, didn’t play a gig, and I thought you know what, I’ve got these songs in my head and I’m just gonna write them, fuck Ste the punk, I’ll show him. I threw every song that I’d written away and got this whole new set and it was like yeah, this is what I want to do. Maybe it’s not cool or what people want or whatever, but fuck it, I’m just gonna do it.
LTW: Thing is it seems to have been remarkably popular, he kept asking you back and then you progressed to putting your own night on…
Jim: That’s it, people really caught on to it, it was a nice surprise, and everyone started wanting recordings and I didn’t have any! And then I thought well I want to hear how others play the blues, I want to hear what they’re doing so I put the likes of Rik Warren on (Manchester folk/blues circuit regular with stints in Ernie’s Rhythm Section and Honeyfeet to his name), Rik Warren’s amazing, and a couple of others – then I got offered some nights here by Leroy (Gulliver’s music promoter, whose ears prick up at the bar) to do Nothin But Blues; each night featured two new blues artists that I found from, well, anywhere, that’d come down and it just went from there. Then I teamed up with the Abattoir Blues lot and did one at the Gaslamp (on Bridge Street) and we put on a little festival. Now I’m just looking to get a massive collection of different blues artists, I’ve been asked to do Strummercamp, to put on a stage there so hopefully I can just get that together…. really soon! I’ve just got to get all the artists together, just need a few more. I prefer original songs, quite a few of them were more just full-on covers so I’ve been talking to them and saying you’re good enough to do your own stuff, write some songs and come back and play, and a couple of them have, and I’m talking to Phil at Strummercamp and collecting them all so hopefully that’ll all come together.
LTW: So you’ve put this EP out and there are a couple of songs on there where it’s nice to hear someone singing actually about something rather than about nothing – like for example ‘Small Council Business’, what’s that all about?
Jim: It was about the estate that I was living on, I’m from Hattersley and ‘small council business’ is like when you live in an area that’s known as a poor area your problems aren’t big, they’re just ignored, and whatever you do it’s just… small, fuck’em, you don’t get any help. You walk down the street and you look at someone and it’s like a red rag and a bull, you can walk around in fear just going to the shop – it’s the ridiculous situation of everyone having nothing to do. They’ll put a new Tesco there just to appease everyone and it’s like fuck the Tesco, all people are doing is walking around having nothing to do and there’s just this harsh atmosphere of aggression, and what happens in these little areas it means nothing to the council, they will not help. They just look at the thriving areas, the Didsburys, and just forget about estates, they’re just left to rot. It was just getting out my frustration with where I was from, all you are is just a bit of crap on the street, you look out the window and there’s fuck all.
LTW: You’d have thought in the current situation in the country right now, this double or triple dip recession with the Coalition government constantly attacking the poorest parts of society, that more people would be writing about it – I mean there’s another song on the EP called ‘No Work To Spare’ – why aren’t there more people writing angry songs?
Jim: It’s a difficult one, I think people just don’t want to voice what they’re actually thinking or feeling, or they just plain ignore it, a lot of the time they’ll just sing about faux-love – and even when it is aggressive it’s not passionate, it’s just something they’ve read in the paper or relaying something someone else has said. There are a lot of bands that just want to regurgitate what’s already been done and lyrically they’re just devoid of any opinion. And it seems to be that that gets the airplay, they go for that because it’s easy on the ears.
LTW: But you look at a lot of the bands making it these days and a lot of them have had help from their parents, they’ve got money and been to certain schools…
Jim: It’s because there’s no funding, all they (poorer kids) can do is try and catch an ear, catch an audience. There are so many bands out there that seem to already have the backing, seem to have the money and the equipment and the means to go out and pay for advertising which not all of us can – we just have to gig our arses off to get the next gig! Attract someone’s attention, get the next gig and see what comes of that. It’s blagging, it’s negotiating, it’s trying to get petrol money to go and play a gig somewhere else. It’s stopped me a couple of times.
LTW: And it seems nobody wants to pay unknown bands to play any more, you see these documentaries about the punk and post-punk era bands from the North and some of them they’d be getting £50 or £100 for a gig in London in the seventies – people don’t even get that now!
Jim: I played a gig (in London) last month and they wanted me to play, I said right can you provide some petrol money – no. Depends on how many people you bring. What? They give you a few free drinks and that’s about it. I still did it, managed to scrape some money together and managed to catch a few people’s attention to get more gigs but it’s like a privilege to the artist to get paid these days. The amount of gigs I play and don’t get paid, might get a free pint… £20 would do, anything that’d at least get you to the next gig. I was working, but one time I’d been playing a gig with Frazer King and I got off stage and I’d been sacked – by text. For “not getting to know the other staff” enough supposedly, that was the excuse. There were about five members of staff and I worked with three of them, the other two I’d worked with a handful of times and it was like “you’re not getting to know them quick enough, why don’t you go out for drinks with them?” and it’s… well I can’t afford drinks, you’ve not paid me yet, what do you want me to do? I’ve got bills to pay, I’ve got council tax to pay, and you’re sacking me because I can’t afford to go out and socialise? It just seemed like the biggest kick in the teeth.
LTW: So what are you doing at the moment then? I’ve heard you’re getting a band together…
Jim: Yeah I’ve got a drummer with me now and hopefully I’ll have a double bassist joining us next week, and I’ve just done some more recordings, I’ve re-recorded ‘Biting Toll’ off the EP and a new one called ‘Half Cut’ but the new recordings are what will be coming out next, I won’t be handing that EP out any more.
LTW: Is it going to a be a bit different, working with a band?
Jim: I’ve played in bands before, my first band was a punk band, we were terrible, I was 16 and I got my first guitar – which I’m still using actually, had it done up – then I was in a rock band, we were trying to go a bit Led Zeppy but I left them cos they were trying to go down the Oasis route and I didn’t want that, it’s boring, it’s been done so much and didn’t interest me. With this new band I don’t want to change it, I don’t want to clean it up or anything, it’s just the songs with drumming and the double bass just fits so nicely, I’ve not had to change anything about the sound or the structures. Matt my drummer he’s a jazz player and it’s complemented it really well, I’m really happy with it!
Jim Adama plays All Frequencies Covered at Manchester’s Ruby Lounge on Friday 22nd March with 8 acts for a fiver, and plans to have the band ready to go by then. In the mean time you can find him on Facebook and Soundcloud. The picture at the top of this article is by Moonshine McGee Photography; the one further down was taken by Cath Aubergine at a well known Northern Quarter clothes shop’s Christmas party. More writing by Cath on Louder Than War can be found here.