It’s nearly twenty years since singer-songwriter David Knowles first picked up a guitar. Back then, grunge was King. Straight away, David Knowles was hooked. Inspired by the musical vortex that was grunge, David began to explore other musical genres.
It made sense to start at what was the genesis of modern music, the blues. One of David’s earliest discoveries was Leadbelly, a giant of the blues who cheated the hangman and survived the notorious Angola prison. While other bluesmen caught David’s attention, so did some of the greatest American lyricists.
This included Woody Guthrie, folk singer, songwriter and back in the thirties, music’s social conscience. David appreciated, and could relate to the music of Woody Guthrie, the “Dust Bowl Troubadour” It spoke to him. So did the music of Bob Dylan, who two generations later, followed in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie.
Just like so many aspiring singer-songwriters, Bob Dylan would go on to influence David Knowles as a singer and songwriter. Just like Woody Guthrie before him, Bob Dylan was the spokesman for a generation. He spoke to, and for them. When David discovered Bob Dylan, his music was just as relevant. Like all good music, it has a timeless quality.
The same can be said of another of David Knowles’ inspirations, Jimi Hendrix. As an aspiring guitarist, David could appreciate Jimi’s effortless talent and stagecraft. A flamboyant, virtuoso performer, Jimi, who had been inspired by T-Bone Walker, seemed to revel in the limelight. As he took to the stage, Jimi came alive. He was totally transformed, and in a tragically short career, released albums that would influence two generations. This included David Knowles whose debut solo album Footsteps will be released on 9th March 2015.
Footsteps comes hot on the heels of David Knowles’ debut E.P. The Alchemist. It was released on 19th January 2015. Hailed as “mesmeric,” The Alchemist found its way onto radio playlists, where it became a firm favourite of DJs and listeners. This bodes well for Footsteps, which is the album David Knowles has dreamt about making for nearly twenty years.
Growing up, with hopes and dreams of making a career out music, David’s musical tastes became eclectic. As well as blues, folk and rock, David discovered proto punk pioneers The Velvet Underground. This was the latest discovery in David’s musical journey. It seemed each discovery lead to another. David was in the midst of a musical and literary awakening.
It wasn’t just music David was soaking up like a sponge. No. Before long, David was discovering literature. This included the poetry of William Blake, the doyen of the Romantic Age. From William Blake, David discovered Oscar Wilde, playwright, poet and cultural commentator. For a future songwriter, this would stand him in good stead. So would David’s love of Hunter S. Thompson, who in his own inimitable way, said: “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” Despite this, David wasn’t put of following his dream of making a career out of music. It would be a music career in two parts, interrupted by a twelve year road trip inspired by Jack Kerouc’s seminal novel On The Road. Before that, however, David would serve his musical apprenticeship.
David’s dreams of becoming a musician became reality when he was a teenager. In the time honoured fashion, David played in a series of bands. That stood David in good stead. He then joined Manchester indie band Solarslide as their guitarist. This was a step up the musical ladder. By then, however, David had caught the travel bug.
Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s seminal road trip novel, On The Road, David Knowles hit the road. This was no gap year though. Far from it. David road trip took him slightly longer. Twelve years to be precise. During that period, David’s travels took him to three continents, Latin America, Asia and Europe. This leisurely stroll round the world, broadened David’s mind.
On his return home to Britain, David who for twelve years, had lived a nomadic lifestyle, settled in Edinburgh, the self-style Athens of the North. There the second part of David’s career took shape. He decided to embark upon a solo career. His travels would inspire his music, including that on his debut solo album Footsteps.
Wanderlust never quite leaves someone. Once they’ve had a tantalising taste of the nomadic lifestyle it never quite leaves them. David has been there. He’s slept on beaches, with the stars as a blanket. So, settling back into to “normal” life wasn’t going to be easy. However, life as a musician is very different from that of a pen pusher or desk jockey. A musician spends much of his time on the road, travelling between concerts and festivals. The rest of the time is spent writing songs and recording them. For David Knowles, this was the perfect career.
Now living in Edinburgh, David started playing live. Soon, he was establishing a reputation as one of the rising stars of Edinburgh’s music scene. Then David discovered musical soul mates in the form of cellist Claire Schiavone and percussionist, keyboardist and producer Matt Varty. They would feature on Footsteps, David’s debut solo album.
Footsteps features nine tracks. This includes seven songs penned by David and two cover versions. The cover versions are Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine and Jimi Hendrix’s classic Hey Joe. These tracks are given a makeover by David, who dawns the role of musical Alchemist. To do this, he relies upon a selection of instruments he discovered on his road trip. This includes a didjeridoo, African djembe drum and far eastern dulcimer. These instruments play a part in David Knowles highly anticipated debut album Footsteps.
Somewhat fittingly, On The Road opens Footsteps. Straight away, ominous drums pound and the unmistakable, droning sound of a didjeridoo plays. Urgently, a strummed guitar accompanies David’s worldweary, rueful vocal. Constantly, he wonders: “where are you now, do you think of me, when you’re alone”? Do they share his hurt and loneliness? Do they “see what see, feel what I feel?” The way David delivers the lyrics, it’s as if he’s loved, lost and survived the hurt and heartbreak.
The arrangement to The Air You Breathe is stripped bare. Just a lone, plucked guitar accompanies David’s melancholy vocal. It’s needy and tinged with longing. As David’s fingers flit up and down the fretboard, he delivers a soul-baring vocal.
Satisfy My Soul sees David pay homage to his blues roots. His detuned guitar accompanies a vocal that’s visceral. It’s an outpouring of emotion and hurt. As the cello adds to the moody backdrop, David’s vocal becomes a hurt-filled howl. You can’t help but empathise and sympathise with his plight, as he sings: “all I need is your precious love, satisfy my soul.”
Ain’t No Sunshine is an oft-covered track. Originally written and recorded by Bill Withers in 1971, it’s been reinvented many times. This time, David, accompanied by a scrabbled guitar transforms Ain’t No Sunshine into an outpouring of emotion, hope and desperation.
Child Soldier shows another side of David Knowles. Ominous drums play in the distance. In front of the drums, sits David’s guitar and vocal. A roll of drums, hissing hi-hats and grungey guitars is the signal for David to kick loose. What follows is wall of sound and social comment. Blistering, driving guitar licks and David’s staccato vocal combine. Desperately, David sings: “I want to leave this behind,” as if the horrors of the Child Soldier are burnt on his retinas.
The Alchemist was the title of David’s debut E.P. No wonder. From the opening bars, it’s apparent something special is unfolding. Swathes of strings accompany David’s crystalline guitar as he delivers a seductive paean. His vocal is reminiscent of Damien Rice, as hopefully he sings: “come on baby take my hand, gonna take me to the promised land.” From their a beautiful, polished, radio friendly ballad unfolds. It’s David Knowles’ finest hour on Footsteps.
Given David’s love of Jimi Hendrix, it’s fitting that he covers Hey Joe. David doesn’t try to copy Jimi’s licks and tricks. Instead, with his trusty acoustic guitar for company, he injects a sense of urgency and emotion into this classic track. So much so, that can sense time ebbing away, as David delivers the closing line: “it’s gonna put a rope around me.”
From the get go, Howlin’ At the Moon is reminiscent of Nick Drake. A contemplative David, delivers the lyrics against a moody, cinematic backdrop. With swathes of cascading strings for company, David’s former nomadic lifestyle comes to life. So much so, you can imagine him travelling from town to town, late at night with only his thoughts for company.
Closing Footsteps is Silence in the Storm. Waves break against a deserted beach. Soon, the eerie, ominous sound of cinematic strings sweep in. They’re the perfect accompaniment for David’s heartbroken, reflective vocal. With longing in his voice, he sings: “I miss you.” As he does so, the arrangement builds, becoming moody and broody. His vocal becomes a cathartic outpouring of hurt and regret. Especially when he sings: “you’ve got to loose yourself, to find out who you are.” These wise words from David Knowles singer, songwriter and philosopher, close Footsteps, his debut album.
Featuring nine songs, lasting twenty-nine minutes, Footsteps is an old school album. It’s the antithesis to the modern album. Mostly, they’re sprawling affairs, featuring upwards of fifteen tracks. It seems most artists are determined to fill the eighty minutes a CD lasts. Not David Knowles. He remembers how an album used to be.
Way before the cassette, mini disc and CD, the length of an album was restricted to around forty minutes. That was all a single vinyl album could hold. So, artists would release songs of eight to ten songs. Often, they lasted no more than thirty minutes. In Nick Drake’s case, he never released an album that lasted thirty minutes. By then, the reclusive genius had said all he had to say. Brevity, could be excused back then, in the vinyl age. Sadly, in the age of the CD brevity is longer fashionable.
This often leads to a sprawling album full of songs of varying quality. Not in the case of David Knowles.
From the opening bars of On the Road, right through to the closing notes of Silence in the Storm, David Knowles ensures the quality never drops. The music is variously understated, cinematic, beautiful, melancholy, poignant and soul-baring. Other times, hurt and heartache is omnipresent, as David draws inspiration from everyone from Damien Rice, Nick Drake, Jimmy Hendrix, Leadbelly, Jose Gonzales and the “Dust Bowl Troubadour,” Woody Guthrie. Then there’s the literary works of William Blake, Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. That’s not forgetting the twelve years David spent travelling. They’ve without doubt influenced his music, which includes tales of love, love lost, road trips and Child Soldiers. All these things have influenced David Knowles’debut solo album Footsteps will be released on 9th March 2015.
Footsteps, which is the perfect introduction to one of music’s rising stars, David combines old, new and blues’ songs. There’s seven new songs from the pen of David Knowles sit side-by-side with covers of Ain’t No Sunshine and Hey Joe. Then there’s Satisfy My Soul, where David pays homage to his blues roots. This combination of old, new and blues on Footsteps, proves a tantalising taste of one of music’s rising stars, David Knowles who hopefully, we’ll be hearing much more of.