SALUTE caught up with Francisco aka ‘Flash’, the driving force behind the SALUTE class of 2017 Celtic/Bluegrass/Folk raucous posse: The Orange Circus Band.
- SALUTE: Where did you grow up Flash?
I grew up in Richmond in London. My father is from Argentina and my mother is French so I have quite a mixed background. I mainly grew up in London but now I’ve moved out of the city to a sleepy town in Kent.
My dad would listen to a lot of Argentinian folk music at home when I was growing up, which is surprisingly similar to the music I play now. A lot of folk music has similar elements, like three part harmonies, usually a string instrument like a guitar, and a solo instrument. I grew up with a lot of that Argentinian sound as well as Bluegrass and old Country music from the time that I spent with my grandparents who lived in Virginia, USA. Growing up in the UK I was also hearing stuff like Oasis as well.
- SALUTE: How old were you when you started making music?
I liked The Beatles from a young age, so I started to play music and stuff with my cousin when I was a teenager. When I turned 30 I heard a lot more Bluegrass and something just happened: I wrote a couple of songs in that genre and really liked it. After my grandfather passed on I spent time with my grandmother in Virginia. I learned a lot of songs out there. When I came back to the UK, that’s when I formed the band and started playing some of those songs over here.
A lot of it is folk music from England, Ireland, and Scotland that has gone to America and added African elements like the Banjo, and percussion rhythms. Bluegrass and Appalachian music is a big mix of all of those influences.
Coming back to England and playing that stuff here was really interesting. People would relate to them, even though they hadn’t heard them on the radio. A lot of the tunes were originally from England.
- SALUTE: How do you translate the regional myths and folklore of Bluegrass music to UK audiences, or do you write songs in that genre that are actually aimed at USA audiences?
It’s an interesting time for Country music because there is a pretty good Country scene here, but it is very much based on American artists who come over here. There are more UK fans that have been influenced by the older Country style.
Personally I can’t stand a lot of Country music. In the States a lot of Country music is basically pop music.
I play quite a lot of traditional songs that we have made our own. We would intersperse those with Grateful Dead songs as well. From that, we developed a sound and style of playing first, and then we started writing songs, based on a lot of these Appalachian tunes. We wanted to combine different elements and make something that was both classic but also more modern.
- SALUTE: What was it like getting the band together?
It was certainly very chaotic at first because there were a lot of people involved. I was pretty hell-bent on making it happen in the beginning. Friends and family were involved in the beginning too. By that stage my grandmother had moved over to the UK to escape the sadness of living alone after the death of my grandfather. She was pretty rock n roll, she started coming to gigs and having a drink. At 90 years old she was really enjoying getting involved.
Getting the band together has been a joy for me too. Big UP to Raven who is a masterful musician and incredible Fiddle Player, Jessie who is our maestro Banjo player, songwriter and vocalist, and Dusty, another incredible songwriter and musician.
- SALUTE: What gear do you use for production and recording?
Originally we were just a live band and didn’t really record very much at all. We would just turn up to a pub and ask if we could play. A lot of the time people just said yes, and we would set up with our acoustic instruments and just literally start playing. It’s very upbeat music so it would fit in well with parties as well, so we started playing at events too.
We make roots music so it works doing it DIY.
I like that, I like doing it DIY with the sound. I want to hear atmosphere and the energy of a live show. We have tried lots of different ways of recording. Most often now we set up a microphone in the middle of the room and then a couple of close mics on the instruments. We did record to tape on one occasion which was a great sound. For the music that we do it’s really important that there is a good vibe.
We work quite instinctively and there are a couple of really talented and competent musicians. In Bluegrass you usually have a guitar, a fiddle, a mandolin, then the possibility of an upright bass. Usually those instruments sound really good together. We don’t really have drums, which keeps us flexible with the rhythm and tempo.
- SALUTE: With a pretty big band that is gigging every week, how do you balance work life with being so active musically?
We went for it pretty hard early on. I always wanted to be part of a working band. We’re usually gigging once or twice a week. We have done quite a few tours. We’ve done a lot of shows but we all have bills to pay. We do a lot of music teaching and I personally do art teaching because I paint. You have to push and make gigs happen because inevitably you have to be out there. We’re in a genre where there aren’t that many other competitors. It’s niche which makes things a little bit easier. We love it and it’s a great adventure that has lasted almost five years.
- SALUTE: What do you think of the SALUTE initiative and competition?
I have no idea how I found out about it (laughs). I just remember thinking that it looked really good. We’re trying to make another album so I was thinking that we need all the help we can get. The opportunity to meet people and collaboration is interesting to me as much as the cash incentives.
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