Interview by Marijn Ooijman for de Blueskrant [translated from Dutch by DeepL]
He is an accomplished musician and music producer who worked with Big Jim Sullivan and Derek Lawrence at Island Records in the 1990s. She was once the 'fastest woman' on a 650cc bike when she competed in the Isle of Man TT Ramsey Sprint. He is Simon Campbell and she is Suzy Starlite, and it is on that island in the Irish Sea that the two first meet. The forces that are unleashed between the two would be Sir. Isaac Newton would have recorded it as Newton's fourth law. A completely new force field is created when the duo melts their hearts together and sets out into the wide world to capture the love of life, each other and music as the Starlite Campbell Band.
Simon arrives on the island in 2007 and Suzy two years later, both unaware that in the coming years their lives will be completely different. In their studio in Portugal, the happy couple sits between guitars and sound equipment, impatiently waiting for the first question from Dé Blueskrant.
Simon: "Actually, we practically live in our studio, so welcome to our living room." The pair are clearly looking forward to it and Simon likes to tell about his first meeting with Suzy. "In 2010 I released my first album ThirtySix and at the album preview party, Suzy was the host that night. She made a crushing impression on me. I discovered that Suzy also wrote songs herself and I went to see her to listen to some of her material. They turned out to be very good rock & roll songs that needed to be played with a band and we decided to form the band Star-Lite in 2012. Once on stage, everyone saw what happened between us, even before we did. We suddenly fell in love with each other."
Suzy: "I have a folk background, played mandolin and sang in the band Trade at the time and had never played with a drummer before. Suddenly we were on stage improvising as a full band and I felt exactly where Simon wanted to go, he turned out to be an open book to me. I started shouting at Simon to excite him, because I noticed that there was much more in him, we felt the tension between us. That interaction, that entanglement with each other, it's the basis of where we are now. I still yell at Simon, by the way, because that tension is still as strong as ever. We weren't concerned at all with what others thought of us, we were completely absorbed in the music and in each other. That tension was...... wooohooo!"
The exuberant Suzy is an extremely cheerful lady and not only a fearless motorcyclist but also a great singer and songwriter. In earlier years, she studied Media & Performance and joined the folk rockers Megiddo, which released two albums in the mid-1990s and toured extensively on the British folk circuit. After her stint with the band Trade, she started playing groovy bass. Simon has over forty years of experience as a musician and producer and in the early nineties Simon released the album Survival with Tim Wright & Little Brother. After the band split up he became part of The Disciples in 1994. Simon and Suzy talk about their musical past in their packed studio.
Simon: "I come from a different background to Suzy and started playing guitar at 16 in 1974 and in that fantastic musical era I could feast on bands from the late sixties and the new light with Wishbone Ash, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. That is the bi- sis of my guitar playing and you can hear it. That set against Suzi's folk background makes this fantastic combo."
Suzy: "I've always been- I've always loved beautiful melodies and folk and blues are full of them. But for me a genre is not relevant, when I hear something it either touches me or not, I like it or not, that's what genres are about as far as I'm concerned. I still learn and try to listen to music in different ways, maybe music can touch me in a different way. Music should always be danceable by the way, I find that an important aspect, I love dancing."
After Suzy and Simon win each other's hearts, they give each other their vows on 12 May 2014 in Inveraray, Scotland. They then decide to surrender to their vocation and hit the road as touring musicians. They move to France and then to Spain.
Simon: "When we decided to continue together, we literally ran away from our old lives in search of a new one. We sold everything that had nothing to do with music, including our flat, and used the money to buy our own vintage analogue semi-mobile recording studio. At the same time, my second album The Knife was released and Suzy and I recorded our first song written together: Do You Want Me. From that moment on, everything accelerated."
Suzy: "It was clear that we wanted to release an album and gave ourselves two weeks to write one, a huge challenge. We both have fairly similar musical preferences and the differences that exist only complement each other. When we can't work it out, we take a step back from the song and look at what it needs. We are both passionate musicians, but we are completely in the service of the song and the story it has to tell. From the very first moment, we were in it together and worked very hard. We didn't waste a minute and after those two weeks, the album Blueberry Pie was born."
With the cooperation of Steve Gibson on drums, Jonny Henderson on keyboards and Dan- ny Boy Sánchez on harmonica, the brand-new duo has managed to realize an extremely exciting debut album with fresh original British rock from the seventies and British blues, released on their own label: Supertone Records. This immortalisation of energy, tension and synergy between the inseparable couple was received with rave reviews worldwide and Blueberry Pie was nominated for a European Blues Award in 2017.
Simon: "I always want to keep up to date with the technical aspects of sound recording, which is why I've been a member of the Audio Engineering Society since 1988. With our vintage equipment, we've been able to create a great sound. When you do everything yourself, writing, playing, mixing and producing, you can get tunnel vision. It's good to have someone who can listen to the mix with different ears. Sometimes I'm working on a mix for hours and Suzy comes in with the cheerful announcement that she doesn't like it. At that moment I listen technically and Suzy by feeling. Those are the moments that we clash but it also gives space for new insights." Suzy: "You can define music in different stages of emotion, I listen with my eyes closed and try to feel what it does to me. Does the song take me on a journey to the place I see before me and do the words correspond to that, purely by instinct. Between feeling something and not feeling something, there can be a tiny difference, it is suddenly there. But finding that exact moment is sometimes like looking for a needle in a haystack."
Simon: "With all the technical digital gadgets these days, there's often too much fiddling around, you can try all the possibilities but when something is good, it's good. I have a 48-channel mixer here and when I move all the faders down, everything is gone and I just start from scratch, that's how I work. The Beatles only used four tracks and has there ever been better recorded music released than in the sixties and seventies? All those bands did it with what was available and they anticipated that."
Always on the move
The couple who tour with their two labradors Hummock and Bob- by in the 'Van of Rock' have also moved seven times in the past seven years. Simon and Suzy are true nomads. From this side of the canal, Europe lies wide open for the Starlite Campbell band. Simon: "When you move to a new country it always gives a fresh feeling, new people, new worlds and new cultures are inspiring and enriching. Suzy: "It's a real gift that we get to absorb all kinds of new impressions this way. You also learn to appreciate again the things that you were fed up with for a while in your own country. When Simon and I are together, with our two labradors, we feel at home, wherever that may be. Our dogs go everywhere with us, we always take them on tour."
Simon: "Brexit was the deciding factor in moving to Portugal, but of course the climate also appealed to us and the people are very welcoming. We're close to Lisbon airport, so we can easily go into Eu- ropa, we're always on the move."
Suzy: "On this side there is much more for us to get, with our bus we can travel almost all parts of Europe. Simon and I don't need much, we live in our studio and for the rest we are out and about."
The Language of Curiosity
As a result of the couple's wanderlust, the recent album The Language of Curiosity was recorded in various studios. In Valencia, Spain, Thören, Germany, Samora Correia, Portugal and finally in the legendary Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales, where Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody among other things, just 20 miles from Suzy's birthplace Ross-on-Wye.
Suzy: "I felt like I was back in my childhood, it was a great feeling. Sadly, the famous gleaming white Freddy Mercury wing wasn't in the Rockfield studio. But Freddy must have left some of his magic behind on the Bösendorfer piano that was there."
Simon: "This album is different from Blueberry Pie, which was mainly written from a blues base. The Language of Curiosity is more of a sixties, seventies blues-rock thing. More towards Fleetwood Mac, The Faces, Deep Purple and some psychedelic sounds in between. We've taken our music a step forward. It's a collection of stories about different facets of post-modern life in 2021. It's about working people, attitudes to sex, love, the environment, social systems, power, money and pleasure, it's like looking at different sides of a Rubik's Cube."
Suzy: "The album reflects the times we have all gone through but we were determined to make it a joyous album. It has become an album of our time with a dancing lady on the cover, dancing after the lifting of the lockdown."
From vicious rock 'n' roll, tribal drums, thundering bass, piercing guitar riffs, drunken echoes of slide and lap steel, melting melodies and vocal harmonies combined with old school guitar amps and analogue recording equipment, Starlite & Campbell has a very British sound. The album was mastered by Jon Astley who has worked with The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Debbie Harry and many others. "It was the icing on the cake," the couple say in chorus.
Simon: "British guitarists like Jeff Beck, Peter Green and Mike Bloomfield threw their sound right in your face, raw, unpolished and rock hard. But there is so much space in that music, look at a band like Free, you can hear every note, every sigh and still it comes at you hard. In Holland you had Focus with one of the most underrated guitarists of that time, Jan Akkerman. The album Focus II was reproduced by producer Mike Vernon who also worked with Peter Green, a great album. Jan Akkerman is great."
Suzy: "The Language of Curiosity has become a real Starlite Campbell album, this album could only come from us, with our sound. The next album can be different but completely Starlite Campbell."
The couple are visibly proud of the result and are about to perform the new album, which was released on 5 November, live in Europe with the entire band.
Simon: "Our regular drummer is Steve Gibson, who used to play with Jack Bruce and Steve Farlow, we always pick him up from the airport by bus. Often the rhythm section of a band is the most stable factor in the band, not only musically, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, John Bonham and John Paul Jones you name it. Steve and Suzy are in that list for me as well, it's a pleasure to play with them. Keyboardists are more difficult to bind to a band, because it seems like every band is looking for a good keyboardist or hammond player. At least we can use Johnny Henderson, who also plays with Kirk Fletcher and Matt Schofield, but also Gabriel DelVecchio from Valencia and Josh Phillips from Procol Harum if necessary. The last tour we played with Christian Madden, keyboardist of Liam Gallagher. Each of these keyboardists pour their own sauce on our songs and that's a pleasure every time and a surprise for us and the audience.
That way I have a different sparring partner every time when it comes to soloing. Now that everything is going to be unplugged again, it's hard to get back into the rhythm we had before, suddenly we have a lot of shows ahead of us and we have to anticipate that quite quickly. For our shows in England we have to register all our equipment, guitars, cables, even picks, for the crossing. That's all on top of the usual preparations, we have a thick packet of paper with us."
Suzy would love to be on stage every day, dancing with her bass guitar to entertain the audience. She shifts back and forth on her chair with impatience. Suzy: "From the moment we enter the stage we keep a close eye on each other, because before you know it someone turns left when the other wants to go straight on. A fantastic way of making music. Don't forget that the audience has a big part in our shows. The energy that we get back from the audience we put directly into our show. Making music is about sharing, receiving, celebrating life and enjoying each other and the people around you."
Simon: "A Starlite Campbell show is always a surprise, you never know what's going to happen. Led Zep- pelin was a completely different band on stage than on record, we don't go that far but our show is definitely different. Sometimes it gets completely out of hand but we always come back to the original. Suzy: "We hope that we can keep writing music, that we can keep meeting people to let them hear our music, our love, all over the world.
It's a great adventure, it's life!"