I first became aware of Kenny Robertson’s existence a few years ago at a Funkadelic gig in Manchester where I found myself in awe of his giddy zeal for the band and hot moves. Since then, I have seen him take to the stage with a guitar a few times and tackle well-known tunes with both a cool familiarity and playful elaboration.
You may have seen Kenny yourself; orchestrating parts of Buxton’s exciting music scene and enhancing countless bands with his whippet-like stature and lively fretwork, not to mention performing as an agreeable duo with his songstress wife, Danielle.
I plan to kidnap Kenny later in the year and keep him in a dungeon until he has produced a score for my horror film Skeleton Wood. I suspect that he will produce something unique because he always does.
Despite being a bit of a local legend, Kenny is an enigmatic figure to many people so we decided to shine a light on the mysterious minstrel and ask him our usual daft questions.
1. What’s the line up?
I’m lucky enough to have played in a variety of musical combos over the years but as it’s just me being interviewed the lineup currently consists of me. I did split up over musical differences a few years ago but I made up and got back together for a reunion tour in 2013 (there may have been some financial persuasion involved as well) and it’s been smooth sailing ever since.
2. Who’s the sexiest?
Again I’d have to go with me. Although I’ve not always looked this sexy and in comparison to other other human beings or even animals, I’m not sure how I’d grade my sexiness but in terms of my perception of my own sexiness, I’d say this is definitely the sexiest I’ve ever been.
3. When and how did the band get together?
I don’t really have a musical family background but my mum wanted me to learn an instrument so I started having classical guitar lessons with my first teacher and now good friend Peter Wrieden when I was 11, although secretly all I wanted to do was learn Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica songs. I turned up to my lesson one day with an electric guitar that my dad bought me for my birthday instead of my classical guitar and Peter said, “Ah! Okay, so it’s like that is it”. I had lessons with Peter for about seven years and having a classical guitar teacher gave me a good grounding in music theory and he showed me a lot of finger picking techniques.
When I first got into guitar, I practised a lot, I’d play for 5-6 hours after school and for 8-12 hours on weekends. It became a bit of an obsession, although I enjoyed learning songs, what I was really interested in was improvisation and writing my own songs, by the time I was 14, I was playing gigs and had decided my goal in life was to go to music college and become a professional guitarist, previous to that I’d wanted to be a herpetologist!
I ended up moving to Guildford and studying at The Academy of Contemporary Music for 4 years where I was taught by some great lecturers that included Guthrie Govan, Dave Kilminster, Bill Bruford, Pete Friesen, Giorgio Serci and Eric Roche. I had a lot of fun, made a lot of good friends and learnt a lot in the process.
4. What’s your sound?
I try to be versatile so I can cover as many musical scenarios as possible in case they rear their ugly yet beautiful heads at any point, I play guitars of all shapes and sizes including classical, acoustic, electric, bass, ukulele, cigar box and a little bit of flamenco but I’d say my natural playing style is a heavy-handed blues funk rock guitarist, I use heavy strings, thick plectrums and hit the strings hard!
A lot of my lead playing is based around mixing the pentatonic, blues scale, the Dorian mode and scales I’ve stolen from flamenco guitar such as the exotic sounding harmonic minor and Phrygian dominant modes but more often than not, I’ll forget all that stuff and play whatever feels right which usually involves seeing if I can bend the B-string up off the top of the fretboard and still incorporate it into a tasteful sounding guitar solo; the answer to which has so far been…no, but it won’t stop me from from trying.
Some of my favourite rhythm playing is what Nile Rodgers would call “chucking” – it’s a much copied funk guitar technique of his that involves strumming constant semi-quavers with your picking hand and chopping between chords and muted strings with your fretting hand. It’s a great way to liven up a chord progression and it also seems to make people dance which is usually a good thing.
5. Smallest gig so far?
In terms of surface area I’ve played lots of gigs in intimate settings, in people’s front rooms, kitchens, bathrooms etc but I wouldn’t class them as “small”; they were all enjoyable experiences. I have, however, played gigs in some very large venues to some very small audiences and by small audiences I mean the only people who were there were either being paid to be there or were being held there against their own will.
6. Largest gig so far?
I’d have to go with playing at Y-Not Festival with Octofunk last year, it was the fulfilment of a musical ambition for me, I’d always wanted to do some festival gigs and I’d missed the chance to play at Glastonbury with Ryan (Octofunk band leader) in 2010 because I was too ill! I’d rehearsed with the band and was ready to go but I got a really bad infection and had to stay at home. So when he asked me to play for Octofunk at Y-Not, Tramlines and some other festival gigs last summer I was proper grateful!
We were also provided with a never ending supply of tea, I’ve never had the chance to fill out my own rider before but it probably would just consist of a never ending supply of tea anyway.
The largest gig I did off my own back was “STRUNG OUT: A History Of Rock Guitar” at the Pavilion Arts Centre for the Buxton Fringe Festival in 2014 with Pete Proudlove on bass and Matt Ryan on drums, it was a mixture of spoken word and live music that charted the development of rock guitar playing from the Delta Blues right up to modern day Prog Metal bands. I put a lot of work into it and up until about an hour before the performance started, I’d only sold about 10 tickets! It was a nice surprise when at the last minute they told me I’d actually sold out (oversold in fact!) and they were turning people away at the door, I was very grateful so many folks came and showed their support.
7. Weirdest moment?
There’s a number to choose from here. I’ve played with an Elvis Tribute band in a Chinese Restaurant in Stalybridge, with a death metal band at a hotel in Bridlington where a seagull soiled my fish and chips, supported a Maroon 5 tribute act in Winsford with a band who had a clown on the stage and had a gig interrupted half way through whilst an audience member was stripped naked, covered in whip cream and whipped by a provocative lady dressed as a police officer.
But I think one of the weirdest but coolest moments was being one of the first bands to play on the Pump House Roof, I did it as The Part Baked Collective with Matt Ryan on drums, Ben Squires on bass and Bryn Layton on percussion. It was weird because growing up, all the bands round here used say we should hold a gig up there and I actually got to do it. It was a really sunny day, a lot of people were watching and sunbathing on The Slopes, we ended up playing for nearly 3 hours.
I also played “My Sharona” with Bastille and their producer Mark Crew at Woody the drummer’s wedding, Dan Smith was reading the words off a bit of paper but the font was too small and he couldn’t see them and he kept looking at me for cues for when to come in, it wasn’t the tightest of performances to be honest haha! There is video evidence of this taking place but luckily I’m not allowed to post it on the internet.
8. Are you for hire?
Yes! I’m available for all your guitar playing needs. I’m a full time guitar teacher and performer, I play in a number of bands in a variety of styles that could be suitable for a number of occasions such as weddings, birthdays or the celebration of your car passing its MOT.
I also offer one to one or group guitar lessons to anyone of any ability and can help with advanced guitar techniques, music theory, songwriting, knowledge of the fretboard, many different genres of music or if you just want to be able to knock out “Wonderwall” down at an open mic night, I can show you how to do that as well.
I also do remote sessions from my home studio, send me your songs and I’ll add gnarly guitar tracks to them all via the magic of the internet!
9. Website, CD?
Yes I have a few links to share!
Octofunk: facebook.com/octofunk Octofunk’s Facebook page, go give it a like!
Unfortunately all the CDs I have of bands I’ve played in are currently being used to scare magpies away from garden…..
10. Where can we see you live?
Over the summer I’ll be performing at The Buxton Fringe, Rebuild, Tramlines and Y-Not Festivals (Xanadu Tent 7pm on Sunday!) with Octofunk so if you’re at any of those come watch us, you’ll enjoy yourself!
Many thanks for having me Explore Buxton!