‘We did a lot of gigs!’ Ian Anderson on Hot Vultures at Priddy

This year, Ian Anderson, editor of fRoots magazine is going back to his own roots, reviving his cult duo with Maggie Holland Hot Vultures for an eagerly-awaited appearance at Priddy Folk Festival. Here, he tells Neville Hadsley about how Hot Vultures came about, his work with fRoots and the joys of Priddy.

NH: Many people, I suspect, will know you for your work with fRoots but you were a folk performer long before you were an editor. Were you solo in the beginning?

IA: Yes, I started out as a teenager playing solo country blues in folk and blues clubs around Bristol, 50 years ago this year! Then I was in a trio, a duo, made some EPs, got signed by a major labeland made my first album as Ian Anderson’s Country Blues Band in 1969. After that I had another spell as a solo songwriter/guitarist making 3 more albums like that. Actually, it’s all at ianaanderson.com/music/

So how did Hot Vultures come about?

Maggie was already driving me to solo gigs in the early ’70s, and doing occasional floor spots with guitar. Somewhere around 1973 we both thought it would be a great idea for her to take up bass guitar so we could both play and make more noise! She took to it like the proverbial duck to water. Over the next few years she also developed into a great singer and took up banjo too, with help from Martin Simpson who we occasionally played with as a trio called the Scrub Jay Orchestra.

Would it be fair to say Hot Vultures had something of a cult following in the 1970s?Hot Vultures

Well, we did a lot of gigs! Probably heading for a thousand over our roughly ten year existence, and we covered several hundred thousand miles around the UK and Europe in our trusty old VW bus, so a lot of people saw us. And we made 3 albums that did alright. As well as the folk clubs and lots of college gigs, we aroused a little bit of curiosity from people on the punk and pub rock scenes – we were acoustic but, on the evidence of old live recordings, we tended to play a lot of things pretty fast and loud! But it was only much later – after he’d died – that I discovered that Joe Strummer used to come to our gigs when he was starting out. Wow!

What happened to make Hot Vultures call it a day?

We never really called it a day. We expanded into a quartet, the English Country Blues Band, with Rod Stradling on melodeon and Chris Coe on hammered dulcimer, and then we expanded again into the electric dance band Tiger Moth with Rod & Chris plus Jon Moore (now in E2) on guitar and John Maxwell on drums. Which was all too much fun, so the duo just sort of fell into disuse.

Have you been performing more or less constantly or did you take a break when the fRoots thing took off?

I pretty much stopped doing gigs around 1988 as the magazine workload had got silly, but I always kept playing. Tiger Moth sprang to life every now and then. Eventually, due to a series of forces beyond my control (actually, it was mainly Shirley Collins’ fault!), around 2008 I ended up recording an album and touring with Lu Edmonds and Ben Mandelson, who’d both been in the 3 Mustaphas 3 and Billy Bragg’s Blokes, as an acoustic trio called Blue Blokes 3. And then John Lydon called Lu back to play in the re-formed Public Image Limited so Ben and I continued as a duo called The False Beards. I have a long tradition of bands with crap names that momentarily seemed like a good idea!

You must have written and published hundreds of gig reviews in your time (including one from me many, many years ago). Has being on that side of the ‘business’ influenced you as a performer?

Actually, I hardly ever write gig reviews myself. But any influence would definitely be the other way round as my performing and recording experience came first.

What made you and Maggie get back playing together?

One of those lightbulb moments! Last autumn we were talking on the phone – Maggie has lived in Edinburgh for around 25 years now – and she mentioned she was giving up her ‘proper job’ this spring and wanted to get back out there doing solo gigs. I’m sure you know she made some very good solo albums after Hot Vultures, and her song A Place Called England won Song Of The Year in the BBC Folk Awards a while back. Meanwhile I’ve been thinking of scaling it back down again, so right now seemed like a good time, and a fun idea too. And it has slowly dawned on us over the years that we were quite good!

And what can we expect at Priddy?

Same sort of thing but much older – though not necessarily wiser – and around a semi-tone lower!

I know fRoots has a special relationship with Priddy but what do you like about the festival?

It’s human size, humanly friendly, and punches above its weight musically. Actually, when I first met Rachael [from Priddy’s organising committee] she said something like “Well, we could book Bellowhead or Show Of Hands but then we’d be just like all the other festivals, and anyway we don’t want to get any bigger,” which immediately endeared it to me. And since I moved back to Bristol 5 years ago, it’s local – local to Bristol and local to some of my ancestral homelands nearby on the north Somerset levels (where that Cecil Sharp once collected some songs from a distant relative, don’t you know?)

And what are you hoping for in the Green Room – a bottle of whisky or a nice cup of tea?

There’s a Green Room? Oh, you mean the artists’ tent! Well, I’d go for a large Jack Daniels with lots of ice but I’m the driver this time so it might just have to be a nice ginger beer and a big slice of cake…