Photos by Charlotte Wellings
All roads lead to Manchester. Northern Britain’s cultural powerhouse spits out a great band every generation, and as he sparks up 2023 with debut album Just A Name, the smart money is on Ashley Sherlock to plant the city’s flag in a music scene that needs the real deal more than ever.
On the move, on the make, armed with a beat-up Stelfox electric guitar, a hot knife of a voice and a pocketful of hooks, the acclaimed singer-songwriter and his telepathic blues-rock power trio have already packed out iconic venues and pricked up influential ears. “The band started about four years ago,” remembers Sherlock of finding the dynamic rhythm section of Charlie Rachael Kay (bass) and Danny Rigg (drums).
“I’d just come home from a trip to Nashville and was booked to play an event. I was persuaded by the promoter to get a band together for that one show – and they just stuck around! We’re one hundred per cent a family and I love those guys to bits.”
Together, they’ve supported the likes of Kris Barras Band, The Quireboys and Laurence Jones. Released two acclaimed EPs with 2019’s self-titled and 2021’s If You’re Listening. Been nominated for UK Blues Federation’s Young Blues Artist of the Year. Commandeered the airwaves at Planet Rock and beyond, while garnering praise from Louder Than War (“It’ll put a big stupid grin on your face”) and Get Ready To Rock (“Leaves you wanting more”).
Now, with Ruf Records debut Just A Name, Ashley Sherlock will ensure you remember his. “The writing and sense of melody has grown on this record and it’s an honest representation of our live sound,” says the bandleader, who will showcase these twelve instant-classic songs on both Ruf’s 2023 Blues Caravan tour and his own shows through the year. “A lot of these songs are about love gained and lost, personal growth, observations of times in my life.”
Plushy studios aren’t their style. Instead, Sherlock, Kay and Rigg beat a path to Manchester’s Hallam Mill in the dead of winter and rubbed sparks off each other. “The whole recording process has been a real trip,” smiles the bandleader.
“We spent four solid days in December in the attic of this old English mill, recording this album mostly live for ten hours a day. It was freezing and we’d huddle around a small heater for warmth between takes. We had a real blast, though, and it brought us all closer, while helping us gain a mutual understanding of the song’s context and how to deliver it best to the listener.”
Blues might be a centuries-old genre, but it doesn’t have to run on autopilot. As you’d hope from a modern songwriter whose influences include Guns N’ Roses, The Cadillac Three, Dire Straits, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jeff Buckley, Just A Name’s material twists and turns, nodding to soul, pop, hard rock and more. Never taking the easy option of a twelve-bar trudge, every song makes its own distinct mark and demands you pick a favourite.
Opener Trouble is a sweet and sour rocker, announcing both Sherlock’s gravity-defying falsetto and a guitar touch that builds stormcloud riffs towards a fret-flaying solo. The raw jangle of Realise is edgy and urgent, while Goodbye To You’s stabbed chords and sudden silences seep drama.
Sherlock is just as powerful when he slows it down. I Think That She Knows is rueful and reflective. Our Love is delicate as angel hair, worthy of comparison to Buckley’s Grace. Rolling with a rhythm that feels like a Wild West covered wagon, Time isn’t quite like anything else on the radio. Empty Street starts as an intimate moment, the singer-songwriter singing in our ear, before building to a soaring chorus that could puncture the mainstream.
“I wrote that song during lockdown at 5am, in my bathroom, of all places,” laughs Sherlock. “The acoustics were good! Empty Streets talks about a conversation with yourself about the good and bad side of a personality and understanding that sometimes in life, it is what it is.”
Opening with a Jeff Beck-worthy shiver of electric guitar, Dear Elizabeth is a plea to a lost friend, described by Sherlock as “effectively a letter to someone I knew”, and topped with an epic solo. Elsewhere, Last Call aches with the embers of a relationship that can’t be salvaged. “That’s about how sometimes, no matter how hard anyone tries, it’s just not meant to be,” the songwriter explains. “The ‘last call’ is a common phrase in bar and venue slang, meaning time’s up. It’s a metaphor for the failing relationship and it’s time to start anew.”
Just A Name – but Ashley Sherlock will be on everyone’s lips when this modern-classic debut is released on June 16th and these songs are scratched onto setlists throughout 2023. Today, Manchester, tomorrow the world.