Sam Lindo aka Blues Man has been strumming his strings on Nottingham streets for yonks. As one of the first acts to appear at a LeftLion gig, we met him for a chat about his life and music, and to tip our hat…
How did you get into music?
I was born in Jamaica and came to join my parents in Watcombe Circus, Sherwood, at a young age. My siblings were born here and my sister was doing piano lessons at home on the organ, which was a novelty to me because we were from a little, remote place in Jamaica. Forget about musical instruments. I’d only heard music over the radio; blues, ragtime, jazz and all that. I sat through the lesson with my sister, but it was the guitar I wanted to learn. They had two guitarists and a bass player at our local church, and man, that was something. The gentleman who played the guitar saw me doing my air playing, so he asked me if I wanted to learn.
There was also a type of preacher who would visit local churches for a few weeks at a time, and he had a Spanish guitar with him so he showed me a few chords. I was so fascinated by it all that at lunchtime, I would go home and practice. When I was fifteen, my dad bought me my first little guitar, I think it cost £6. I always had it over my shoulder, wore it like my t-shirt, and I practiced until I felt I was ready to play with the band in church.
You’ve been playing on the streets of Nottingham for years…
That’s my passion really, and I don’t take it for granted when I think about where it started. People tell me I sound like Jimi Hendrix and BB King, and that’s a real rich compliment. Where I was born, the opportunities were really slim, and I celebrate my being in England, all I’ve learnt and all I’m doing.
What inspires and drives you?
I don’t want to sound too cheesy, but I am a man of great faith. I deeply believe in God and that’s where my strength comes from, I feel that my talent is a gift. It all began in the church; it’s an Evangelical Church and we have a convention every summer. Our church band were the house musicians so we’d play for a week and that was a great time for us.
One time, a guy at work wanted me to do pub gigs but I thought I would be in trouble with the pastor; you’re not supposed to touch alcohol or cigarettes. The guy says to me “Sam, what’s the point of you living?” I had to laugh. It’s not a problem, they call it the clean life. The kind of Churches I grew up in are quite stiff on the dos and don’ts. I actually wrote a song and the lyrics read: “I won’t be tied down, with a ball and chain, Jesus died on the cross, my life should be lived with freedom and liberty.” I don’t know if I was rebelling when I wrote that song... It’s on one of my albums!
Do you have plans to release any albums in the near future?
Yeah! Some people say “You not famous yet?” but sometimes fate is in a lot of what we do without us realising. I like Nottingham: the environment, the appreciation, the encouragement, and I feel at home here. That’s why I’m hoping to bring out an album called Kind Regards to Nottingham, so I’ve been doing my production, writing songs and producing those songs. It took a long time, but I’m right where I feel I could take off.
Do you have any other interests?
When I left school, I started working at Plessey, a company that built telephone equipment, in the cable phone department. I’d walk through the complex and see what everyone was doing; how they would build a telephone and the exchange equipment, it was fascinating to me. I went to a college exhibition to find a night course and I saw telecommunication engineering, so the stars were really lining up for me.
Eventually I left Plessey, got married and started working at BT in London. My position was circuit provision, so I could go in all the banks – even the Bank of England – to provide telephone lines. It was a prestigious environment. I used to think “Is this really me?” From way back in a little remote place in Jamaica to working in the city of London in British Telecommunication…
Quite a journey…
When I was about twelve or thirteen, I was on my way to the post office in Jamaica, which was about five or six miles away; you had to climb up hills and everything. After walking for some time, I saw a place to rest, and this whistling gentleman asked my name. I explained who I was, and that my parents were in England. He thought it was outrageous that they’d left me with my grandparents, and told me to write to them to send for me. And they did!
They must have been so happy to see you…
It was Wednesday 12 April 1967 when I first came to England, I’ll always remember that. I had brothers and sisters that I was seeing for the first time, so it was quite exciting. I remember my mum making me a big plate of rice and only eating half of it because I didn’t want them to think I was greedy. When my two brothers devoured what I’d left, I wasn’t so worried. The next morning, when everyone else had gone out, my mum took me downstairs and she cooked me some lunch, it was a spud and some baked beans. Man, the thing tasted nice!
What have you enjoyed seeing on Nottingham streets over the years?
All the kids growing up. What’s cheerful about that is they remember me singing them happy birthday. Some people propose to my music, too. One guy came to me after six or seven years and told me that they’re still married. So people fall in love to my music, get married and even have children! Some say I’m the face of Nottingham and I’m really appreciative about that.
What plans do you have for the future?
The only thing left for me now is to put my music out. Years ago I looked for an arranger in the Yellow Pages and found a man called Rowland Lee. I took him eight of my songs on a cassette tape and he arranged them for an orchestra. The guitarists couldn’t step up to the level needed, so we recorded without them. Now I’m able to put the guitar part to it myself when I release the album.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I really do like Nottingham; it’s not too big and it’s not too small, it’s a place where you can interact with people. If you keep integrity, people respect it. I try to be positive and say hi to people. I can tell when a musician passes by because they’re like “Yeah, you’re doing alright.” They seem to have respect for other musicians; there’s no rivalry or jealousy, everybody appreciates what you’re doing.
I am a blues man. I like it and I want to do it, and I have to say thanks to Nottingham as I’m hoping to bring this album out soon. Maybe I should say the name of the album… Kind Regards to Nottingham.
It’s our hundredth issue, this issue…
Yeah that’s good man, congratulations! I remember Jared talking to me years ago and I’m so happy to know it’s still going. He was really encouraging to me as well and I think it’s really good for Nottingham. I’m really happy to do this interview and talk about life, it takes you way back.