Interview: Connor Selby, Smooth And Solid Purveyor Of Classy Blues

Connor Selby has been quietly making a name for himself over the past couple of years as a smooth and solid purveyor of classy blues. He’s been the opening act for acts as diverse as The Who, Beth Hart and Pearl Jam, and he’s about to embark on a string of dates with Joanne Shaw Taylor. MetalTalk wanted to find out more.

Connor Selby has had quite the start to this career. He was awarded Young Artist of the Year at the UK Blues Awards for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, 2022). He is nominated in four categories in the 2024 awards. Now signed to Provogue/Mascot Label Group, the Deluxe Edition re-release of his self-titled album last year gained a slew of accolades and has reached the milestone of over a million Spotify streams.

It’s in the live arena, though, where Connor is most commonly spotted, racking up a large portfolio of dates which shows no sign of letting up.

As we speak, he is at home in Essex, gearing up to get back out on the road. Our conversation takes place over Zoom, where we have both successfully managed to bargain with cats to stay out of the way so that there are no unexpected appearances or wayward paws cutting us off mid-sentence (although we will probably pay for that later).

Connor Selby - British Blues musician
Connor Selby – “It’s gonna be amazing.”

The tour starts in mid-February, and this isn’t the first time that Connor Selby has played with Joanne Shaw Taylor, as he completed some dates with her in 2022 and was invited back. “She was really, really great and really supportive,” Connor says. “I’m really grateful that she’s given me this opportunity to go on the whole tour with her. It’s gonna be amazing.”

There are some nice venues coming up, some of which will be new to Connor, such as the Leeds City Varieties, a Victorian music hall that is brimming with character and history and retains many original features.

“I love those old theatres,” he says. “I did one in Liverpool with Robert Cray, The Olympia. From the outside, it looked really scruffy – ‘oh, Jesus, this is the place’ – and we went inside, and it was beautiful. It was really old-fashioned. Nothing had really changed. It still had all the old interior from when it was opened in the Edwardian era.

“I was talking to one of the reps there, and they were telling us there used to be circuses there, and they used to have animals underneath the stage. There was a hole in the stage, and they would bring like elephants and things up. It’s great to get a bit of character and that these places are still around because so many amazing theatres are now Wetherspoons and stuff.”

For these dates, with the exception of London, Connor will be solo. I was interested to know what we could expect in the setlist. “I’ll be playing some of my own songs, of course, and some newer things. I don’t really alter the material that much other than just adapting it to, obviously, the fact that I’m on my own. I still play and sing in the same way for the most part. There’ll be less guitar soloing, of course, but I’m not gonna be playing a radically different set.”

Selby’s USP is that he has this unassuming, modest set-up – no racks of guitars by the dozen, pedals or showboating to be had, just straight-up, honest, immaculate blues. It’s quite a feat. Does he really get a sound like that without any pedals?

“I use nothing other than a tuner,” he confirms. “It’s just me and my guitar. That’s how I roll, a matter of really stripping it down to the essence. I think it works, as that’s how the songs were born.

“When it comes to performing, I don’t like distractions at all. I have one guitar that I’ll play throughout the whole show, and then I normally have a spare on the stage in case I break a string or something happens. Then I’ve got my amp, which is very simple as well. It’s only got three knobs. It’s a Lazy J J20 amp, which is sort of a Fender Tweed style, and that’s it, really.

“I’ve got nothing against pedals or anything, but what I do, I don’t necessarily need them. I mean, I’ve started using a tread pedal more recently since Joe [Anderton, on additional guitar] left. There are obviously some gaps that need to be filled, so I’m trying to experiment with that a bit.

“I’m very introverted, and I kind of go inside myself, almost like a kind of meditation. For two hours, you sort of disappear and stop thinking and enter a kind of flow-like state that’s the thrill of it for me.”

The first part of this year will see the less-is-more approach of Connor Selby in two different versions, as once these dates are over, he’s heading off almost immediately on a ten-date UK tour, with his regular touring band Sonny Winslow on bass, Stevie Watts on Keys and Martin Johnson on drums.

So, with the live scene taken care of, it must be time to start thinking of the next album, and Selby confirms that this is indeed in the pipeline, albeit with no definite timeframe. New songs have been written.

“Hopefully, we’ll get working on it this year. I’ll be quite disappointed with myself if, by the end of the year, at least, the process hasn’t been started,” Connor says. “I’ve played hundreds and hundreds of gigs, so I have to say that that’s where I feel most comfortable. But I love being in the studio and being able to focus on and record stuff.

“I also love being in the moment. That’s obviously an experience you can only really get when you play live. So, in the studio, I have a similar approach in the sense that most of the stuff we recorded was done live, and there are very few overdubs.

“The most recent album, I used session musicians who I had never really met before other than the bass player and the drummer. I sent them the demos and told them the sort of vibes I wanted. They’re seasoned pros, so they knew how to get what I wanted very quickly.

“We did three or four takes, and that was it, and then went on to the next one. We did 12 songs in three days. I didn’t have much time to overthink things and spend a lot of time worrying about the details which for me was great because I do have a tendency to be very perfectionist about stuff.”

Connor Selby says his influences are very old school, with Ray Charles as his hero, and he’s been listening to mainly ’40s and ’50s jazz and blues recently. The next album will probably be in a similar vein, which makes sense, not least because he does it so well. It did make me wonder if he’s ever tempted to go off-piste and really rock out, though.

“I mean, I used to do a bit of that when I was slightly younger,” he laughs. “But the older I get, the more I’m more into the old-school stuff, really. I’ll always kind of have that Clapton sound. It’s in my DNA at this point. I’ll never be able to get rid of that. But simplicity is key for me, really.

“You know, the more I listen to guitar music these days and guitar players, I wish people would just slow down a bit and boil down to fundamentals, really.”

Well, blues did birth rock ‘n’ roll and Metal. It’s good to get a reminder of its roots, and the fact that Selby is such a good complement to so many diverse rock and blues acts bears this out.

For the future, Connor Selby is hoping to play in Europe a lot more and build his fan base. On his wish list is a date at the Royal Albert Hall. I’m sure he’ll make it there.

Connor Selby – Deluxe Edition is out now on Mascot Records. He will be joining blues-rocker Joanne Shaw Taylor as special guest on her February 2024 tour running through Amsterdam and the UK.

February

17feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | ManchesterRoyal Northern College of Music

18feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | GlasgowQueen Margaret Union

19feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | LeedsCity Varieties Music Hall

21feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | SunderlandThe Fire Station

22feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | Indigo, LondonIndigo at The O2

23feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | WolverhamptonThe Wulfrun

25feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | NorwichWaterfront

26feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | BexhillDe La Warr Pavilion

28feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | Bury St EdmundsThe Apex

29feb7:00 pmJoanne Shaw Taylor | SouthendPalace Theatre

Join Connor Selby on Joanne Shaw Taylor UK tour.
Join Connor Selby on Joanne Shaw Taylor UK tour.

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