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Black Star Riders’ Sam Wood - Summer 2023

The Gunslinger

Sam Wood is a British musician and songwriter perhaps best known for being lead guitarist with Wayward Sons and Black Star Riders. Sam’s contribution to the rock music scene is immense, beautifully demonstrated by his work throughout 2023 with Oli Brown and The Dead Collective, Ginger Wildheart & The Sinners and the mighty Saxon, and he is fast becoming one of Britain’s favourite and most discussed guitarists, adored by fans and press alike. We catch up with Sam ahead of his performance with Black Star Riders at this year’s Stonedead festival to celebrate what a wonderful year this has already been.

You are here playing the Stonedead Festival with Black Star Riders. You have of course played many festivals, and you’ve even played Stonedead twice before, but what does it mean to be playing Stonedead with Black Star Riders and what is it about this festival that makes it so special?

The whole vibe of this is just fantastic! We are very lucky here in the UK in that we’ve seen in the last few years independent festivals popping up and providing another arena for people. Obviously it’s great that we’ve got the Downloads and the Bloodstocks but that’s a totally different level to all of this, whereas festivals like Stonedead, Steelhouse and Call Of The Wild the vibe is always great. At Stonedead, everyone is so lovely, it’s so well put together and it’s really making a name for itself! It’s run by people who care about it. I love this festival!

Sam Wood
Sam Wood

Oli Brown & The Dead Collective UK Tour Autumn 2023
Oli Brown & The Dead Collective UK Tour Autumn 2023

2023 has been an amazing year for you personally in that as well as Black Star Riders, you’ve been involved in so many incredible projects and bands. The first one I would like to pick up on is your work with Oli Brown and The Dead Collective. You played some live shows in the spring and I saw firsthand the surprise and the impact this band made. There are only three people on stage but you created this huge, arena-level immersive sound, and it was the most wonderful experience. How do you achieve this amazing, hypnotic sound?

Creatively, in terms of the first batch of songs I can’t claim any responsibility for that at all. Particularly at first I was very much a hired-hand and as things are going forward it looks like we’re going to be writing a bit more together, but is the brainchild of Oli and Wayne Proctor the drummer. They are so talented! Exactly as you say, the scale of what they are doing, they aren’t just thinking about the music. They are thinking about the whole time of being on stage as being a performance. It’s almost more like theatre I suppose: it’s about the light show and it’s about the ambience. There’s no talking in their set. We hit a button on the laptop and we go and that doesn’t stop until the end of the gig. There’s this ongoing atmosphere that runs throughout it, and for me that’s totally different from anything I’ve ever played before or even anything I’ve ever even listened to properly before. It’s a totally left-field thing for me but Oli and Wayne are so talented, so hard-working and the songs are fantastic. And to me that’s what it’s about, the songs are fantastic and they stand up. There are moments in there where it will still make the hairs on my arms stand up. It’s really emotive music and it’s really cool being a part of that and being a part of something which for me is so far out of my comfort zone. I really love it!

It’s interesting that you talk about the show, the lighting and the ambience and I completely get that but one of the really interesting things about Oli Brown and The Dead Collective is simply the songs themselves. The latest acoustic version of the track Haunted which features Jo Quaill (and it was justifiably in the running for Classic Rock’s Track Of The Week) is incredible. What this version shows is that at the very heart of the band is just the strongest of songwriting. We talk about Oli Brown and The Dead Collective having a huge sound but to what extent would you agree that first and foremost the band is all about delivering great songs?

That is it! And really there’s always going to be arguments for other aspects of it but longevity from music comes from the music being good. It’s not about shock and awe tactics, it’s about delivering the songs that resonate with people in whatever way that may be. A good song is always a good song. Johnny Cash had the album of cover songs (American IV: The Man Comes Around – Ed), songs that were completely out of context and they were all picked because they were great songs, and a great song will always work when it stripped back to an acoustic guitar. The same is true with this. The other thing is that obviously with these acoustic tracks that they’ve done, they haven’t just done that. It’s not just Oli sat there strumming through an acoustic guitar. They’ve got Jo Quaill on cello and they are sound-scaping these amazing sounds together. It’s awesome and it’s really cool.

With an eight date tour in September, how much are you looking forward to getting back on stage with Oli Brown and The Dead Collective?

With that band it’s a totally different vibe and a totally different situation on stage for me compared to anything else that I do, with backing tracks playing so much a big part of it, which is a real conscious thing and I have to say that the backing track element is to enhance it and it’s not to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. It’s not like we’ve got vocals because Oli can’t sing them live. Everything that’s on the backing track is there to provide a show. You’re still seeing an organic thing on stage – you’re still seeing three people playing their instruments and it can go right and it can go one way or another. The exciting element of seeing a live band is still there but as a player you’re sort of within the constraints of the backing track that you’re playing with. You can’t go off piste but you can still have fun with it. It’s really great seeing this as a project that is starting from nothing and seeing peoples reaction to it. We had Winters End earlier this year which was a fantastic gig to be offered by the guys at Planet Rock because it is a new band and it is a new venture. Oli and Wayne are both really well known, so it’s not like that as a collection of people we are completely unknown in the world but it is an unknown project so to have that platform was great. It’s great when we’ve been doing these shows, like for example when we went out with The Answer, and seeing how people respond and how they take to the music, and it’s always positive!

Saxon at the Jailbreak Festival In Denmark
Saxon at the Jailbreak Festival In Denmark

You have recently performed with one of the very best British bands ever, Saxon, stepping in for Brian Tatler as he returned to complete some Diamond Head dates. It was heartwarming and inspirational to see your recent social media post about your time with Saxon where you shared the story of when you were 17 years old and you wrote off your friend’s car, not your car!

No, not my car! (laughs!) She’d lent it to me and I was listening to Wheels Of Steel on the cassette and I didn’t even write it off spectacularly. I slipped into a curb but I wrote the car off! But then to find yourself on stage with that band, of all the things I could ever have imagined, including all the things with Black Star Riders - I could never have imagined BSR coming along – let alone something on that level with a band like Saxon who are so much an institution of British music. It was a big honour but a scary gig!

You didn’t even have a chance to rehearse did you?

No! They’d been playing all through the summer because obviously Brian Tatler had stood in for Paul Quinn, the original guitarist has stood down from touring, but Brian had a Diamond Head show on this particular date. The gig that I stood in for was in Denmark and they were in Sweden the night before playing with Brian. So I flew into Denmark and the rest of the guys arrived in Denmark only a few hours before stage time so that was the first time I have had a chance to meet up with all of them and to talk through all the endings.

And that’s a big stage!

It’s a very big stage and it’s a very loud stage! Luckily I’d had the chance to go through the guitar parts beforehand with Doug (Scarratt) and with Paul who happens to be near to where I am up in Yorkshire. I’ve been able to spend an afternoon with him to go through everything and make sure I knew which bit I was meant to be playing. But what a fantastic thing to be asked to do!

How did this opportunity come about?

Wayward Sons played with Saxon on tour in 2018 so there is a link there and we’ve always got on really well with them and we keep bumping into them at festivals. But they are also with Siren Management which Black Star Riders are with. I got the call from our manager, Adam Parsons, who also manages Saxon saying “Brian can’t make a show, we need a guitarist, do you think you could do it?” So I said “Well I’m certainly free, I can do it from an availability point of view but I’d have to sit down and learn the songs!”. But how great it was to sit down and get to grips with those songs. It was real ‘dream-come-true’ stuff!

Another band that you have joined to perform live dates is Ginger Wildheart and The Sinners, stepping in for Ginger at a time when he was particularly unwell. I absolutely love what this band are doing in terms of, quite simply, the hugely uplifting music that they play. It’s very different but it’s very fresh and very moorish – it just makes you feel good. As well of course as having the opportunity to support a friend, what is it about the music that drew you to want to be a part of The Sinners?

This is a great band! In the short term we had these dates to fulfil and it’s been great fun and I think it really works. The four of us playing together seemed to gel really nicely. Ginger as a songwriter is extremely prolific and a very, very talented man, and as a presence and as a personality he has a wonderful reputation and lots of people love him. His involvement in that project was obviously a large part of the draw. I’d like to think that we could take it forward as The Sinners moving forward. Obviously it would need to be made to fit with everything else but I’d really like to be involved because the music is great, and again that’s what it comes down to. It’s about playing music you like with the people you love playing with. That’s all you can ask for isn’t it?

It’s a privilege, isn’t it?

Oh, I’m so lucky! People say to me “I don’t know how you have time!” but you have to make time. When an opportunity comes along you’ve got to say yes. Unless you physically can’t do it you have to say yes. You have to make it happen, and you will always be pleased that you did. Even if it does mean that you don’t get to stay in your own bed very often! (Laughs!) I’m a firm believer in that unless you absolutely can’t do something, say yes when opportunities come your way because you just never know what might happen.

Wayward Sons UK Tour January 2024
Wayward Sons UK Tour January 2024

Finally, the internet‘s been blowing up this week following a post that simply said ‘WS 24’. Wayward Sons does of course have a very special place in the hearts of all UK rock fans and the teasing of potential band activities next year is building a massive sense of anticipation. What can you share with us around what’s going on?

We’re going to be playing five dates in January. We just wanted to do something with no agenda. This year we haven’t played together or even been in the same room together because Toby has been travelling, Phil (Martini) lives in Portugal and I’ve been out with BSR and doing other bits and bobs. We just haven’t had the opportunity to do anything and we just really missed it. It started with a suggestion we do a couple of gigs just to blow off the cobwebs and go and enjoy ourselves. We really enjoy playing together and it feels like there are people out there who want to see us. I get asked quite a lot when Wayward Sons are going out, and so it just seems like the right thing to do. And as it happens it’s turned into five gigs. It’s nice to have this time with no real agenda other than we want to play! 

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