Exclusive Interview with Paul Gillings

Paul Gillings

How did you discover the bluesharp ?
~ I was actually a chromatic harmonica player for the first two years of my playing career. I was part of the Harp Start harmonica school run by Norman Ives and David Michelsen in the 1980's and played lead chromatic in the all kid's harmonica band 'Random Sound'. The first contact I had of a Blues Harp was when I met Steve Jennings, the then editor of Harmonica World magazine. I don't remember hearing Blues played before that and was fascinated ever since. I asked him to teach me how to bend an note and the rest is history.

If everything would be possible (waking the dead included), which bluesharp player would you invite for a jam session?
~ Jean-Jaques Milteau was my first harmonica hero and although I've met him I've never jammed with him. I'd love to, him or Charlie Musselwhite. I've been very lucky and jammed with most of my heroes: Rory McLeod, Steve Baker, Lee Oskar and Rolan Van Straaten.

What is your favorite blues harp brand / type and tell us why?
~ I'm fickle as hell and have a different make/model for every key. I like to customise my own too. I'm loving the Kongsheng Solists at the moment and the Hohner Rockets. The Kongshengs are loud and responsive, the rockets are the same just mellower.

What are the most important tips you can give to someone who wants to learn to play the bluesharp?
~ Practise, practise, practise.

Tongue blocking or lip pursing, what do you prefer and tell us why.
~ I'm a lip purser predominantly but I switch between embouchures all the while depending on what I need.

Give us the 3 most important albums every (beginning) blues harp player must buy.
~ The Harmonica According to Charlie Musselwhite
Blues Harp - Jean-Jaques Milteau
Smoke & Noise - Steve Baker & Chris Jones

How do you clean your harps?
~ Toothbrush and maybe a bit of soapy water on the comb.

What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and...you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ This is my first interview.

Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ I don't think the equipment matters, I think it's the engineer that makes or breaks a studio.

Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any "rituals" to calm you nerves?
~ All. The. Time. I just pretend I'm someone else, someone good. It feels different when it isn't you that's going on stage.

What was the most memorable day in your musical career?
~ Winning the World Harmonica Championships in the Youth Blues Category in 1993 for obvious reasons. I was 17. I came joint first with my mate Peter Hogg, it was totally surreal. After the awards ceremony (which was filmed and is on YouTube) we had to head straight home from Trossingen, Germany to England. I dived into the back of the tour van and someone handed me a bottle of champagne, which I downed and then passed out, when I next woke up we were in France.

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Answers given on May 20, 2019

Photo by Trevor Fuller