Guitarist James Walbourne is no stranger to Say It With Garage Flowers – we’ve interviewed him before about his folk-rock duo, The Rails, which he formed with his wife, Kami Thompson, but we’ve never chatted to him about his rock ‘n’ roll roots… until now.
Walbourne, who plays in The Pretenders – Chrissie Hynde calls him ‘the definitive guitar hero’ – has unleashed his new project, His Lordship, a kick ass, rock ‘n’ roll duo with drummer Kris Sonne. The pair of them share vocal duties and when they play live, they’re joined by bassist, Dave Page.
The band’s debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is a riot – six no-nonsense, down and dirty, blistering covers of some of their favourite rock ‘n’ roll songs.
It was recorded in Copenhagen – after a long day of recording a set of original material for an EP, His Lordship kept the tape rolling and, in one take, laid down some loose, high-octane versions of songs by the likes of Gene Vincent, Jack Scott, Link Wray and The Killer – Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’ Roll Volume One, is a riot – six no-nonsense, down and dirty, blistering covers of some of their favourite rock ‘n’ roll songs’
Available now digitally and on vinyl in the near future, it will be followed by an EP of self-penned songs, including the band’s latest single, All Cranked Up, a raw and ferocious rock ‘n’roll-meets-punk-anthem-in-waiting – ‘I’m all cranked up with nowhere to go’ – that clocks in at just over two and a half minutes, and sounds like it was written about the frustration of lockdown.
Next month, the band head out on a tour of the UK and Ireland – the dates were postponed earlier this year, but they’ve now been rescheduled. His Lordship literally were ‘all cranked up with nowhere to go…’
“We’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do,” says Walbourne, in an exclusive interview with Say It With Garage Flowers. “We’re dying to get out there…”
How did His Lordship come about? Did it emerge from Mother’s Little Helper, your rock ‘n’ roll covers band, which played in North London, in venues like The Boogaloo, in Highgate?
James Walbourne: It came out of the ashes of Mother’s Little Helper – we wanted to do original songs. Mother’s Little Helper was just a thing we did for a bit of fun – we thought, ‘Oh, fuck it – let’s play some rock ‘n’ roll!’ It was playing things we love, with no pressure, and then it kind of morphed into His Lordship.
Mother’s Little Helper were a trio, but His Lordship are a duo. Aren’t you a three-piece when you play live?
JW: Yes – we have a bass player. He’s a guy called Dave Page and he’s fantastic. We’re a live trio, but, as a band, it’s me and Kris.
How did you meet Kris?
JW: We did a Chrissie Hynde solo tour of the States together – she’d made a record called Stockholm in 20014. We’ve been good friends ever since.
When Mother’s Little Helper wound up, Kris and me talked a lot about what we would do – the original [songs] aspect what always the way to go. If you play rock ‘n’ roll covers, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll covers band – there’s only so far you can go.
The aim was to have a bit of fun, but then we went, ‘Oh fuck – we’ve got this great song that we can play, let’s try it.’ Now we’re building up our original songs – we’re on track to release three EPs this year. Doing rock ‘n’ roll covers was a great way to start a band, but, for us, it wasn’t enough.
‘If you play rock ‘n’ roll covers, you’re a rock ‘n’ roll covers band – there’s only so far you can go. We’re building up our original songs – we’re on track to release three EPs this year’
Your debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is out now as a digital release, with a vinyl version to follow. It’s an EP of covers… Did that come about by accident?
JW: Yes – we were in Copenhagen and we did a bunch of original recordings for an EP, but, right at the end of the session, we thought ‘Fuck it – let’s just leave the tape running, film it and do some rock ‘n’ roll songs.’ It’s all live – there were no second takes. They’re songs that we’ve been playing for a long time – they’re some of our favourite tunes. It’s as simple as that – we just love playing them. We have a new EP of original songs coming out in July.
Will your new single, All Cranked Up, be on the EP?
JW: Yes – that’s right.
‘We’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do. We’re dying to get out there’
One of the lyrics in the song is: ‘I’m all cranked up with nowhere to go’, which sounds like it could be a comment on lockdown…
JW: It was written before lockdown – we’re like an oracle. We can see into the future.
You’re a professional musician – how did you cope during lockdown?
JW: Initially, I was fine, because me and Chrissie did a Bob Dylan album [Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan], which was good, and we wrote another Pretenders record. I did a lot of writing for His Lordship too. It was fine up until Christmas time, which was when I wanted to kill myself.
‘Lockdown was fine, up until Christmas, which was when I wanted to kill myself’
Do you write all the songs for His Lordship?
JW: We write together – it’s very much a collaboration. I couldn’t do it without Kris. This is the first time I’ve been in a band where the drummer’s been so important! [laughs]. He brings something different to the table that I would never think of. It’s just great. I’ve never had as much fun – me and Kris just laugh all the time. And cry… We laugh and cry, Sean [laughs].
I think me and Kris doing this was a reaction to everything around us – the number one thing is to have a really good time doing it.
Now you’re back playing live, how have the His Lordship shows been going?
JW: Brilliant: we’re a live beat combo – that’s what we are and that’s what we do. We’re dying to get out there.
Where did the band’s name come from?
JW: We got the name from… [laughs]. I don’t even know how to explain it. We were playing a gig at Goodwood House – where the cars are…
The Festival of Speed?
JW:Yes – the Festival of Speed. The backstage area was in the house. It started as a joke – I started calling Kris ‘his lordship’ and it stuck. It was a nickname, but then we thought, ‘actually – it’s good. Fuck it – let’s use that!’ And there you go…
Is there an album planned?
JW: Initially it will be a series of EPs. You make a record and it takes a year to come out… We haven’t got that sort of time. We just want to get out on the road as soon as possible. We’re going to build it up and keep playing – we’re old school, really. The live shows are the thing – that’s where we thrive – and we make the EPs off the back of those.
‘It’s a misconception that rock ‘n’ roll is easy to play or record – especially old school rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an art’
Every time I’ve interviewed you in the past, it’s always been about your folk-rock duo, The Rails, but this time we’re chatting about rock ‘n’ roll, which is your first love. How did you get into it? Were you a rock ‘n’ roll fan as a kid?
JW: Yeah – my took dad me to see everyone. When I was really young – six or seven – I went to see Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. They were my favourites – rock ‘n’ roll is still sort of my favourite music. It’s taken me until now to figure out a way of doing it – Kris has made it possible. I’m in cahoots with somebody else who has the same outlook – we both like that rock ‘n’ roll weirdness. All the great rock ‘n’ roll tracks have something strange about them – we’ve tried to get that. It’s a misconception that rock ‘n’ roll is easy to play or record – especially old school rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an art.
You played guitar on a Jerry Lee Lewis album, didn’t you? What was it like meeting him?
JW: Indescribable. I’ve never got over it! [laughs]. I can’t top it!
How do His Lordship capture that authentic ’50s or ’60s sound when you’re recording?
JW: We’re not into that at all – we’re not trying to replicate it. It’s not like a Civil War re-enactment! We want to make it modern. Without sounding like a cliché, we want to take it somewhere different. We like what The Black Keys and The White Stripes have done – we’re haven’t got our rockabilly trousers on! It’s our attitude, more than anything – our spirit.
Let’s talk about some of your other projects. My favourite album of last year was Imposter by Soulsavers, which you played on. You recorded it in Rick Rubin’s studio, Shangri-La, in Malibu. How was that?
JW: We did it before lockdown – it was a brilliant experience and I met some brilliant people and made some great friends for life. Everyone on that session was great – it was a great musical experience.
Did you enjoy playing the songs in concert, too? I saw one of the London Soulsavers shows and it looked like you were having a great time…
JW: After not doing anything for so long, it was really cathartic. But then I got Covid… but that’s another story.
‘His Lordship has taken over from everything – it’s basically what I want to do. It’s such great fun’
So, what’s next? Will The Rails be doing anything new?
JW: Not really – we’ve got a live record that I’m putting together. We’re not as busy as we were, but when it’s right, we’ll do something else. His Lordship has taken over from everything – it’s basically what I want to do. It’s such great fun. Me and Kris are so into it.
Do you take turns at who is his lordship?
JW: No – we’re both lords all the time. And other people can be lords… You could be a lord, Sean, but it depends on what you’re wearing.
I won’t wear my rockabilly trousers…
Finally, Chrissie Hynde calls you a ‘guitar hero.’ Who are your guitar heroes?
JW: When people ask me that, I never know what to bloody say. I’m very wary of being boring in interviews, but, this will surprise you… Probably, my guitar hero, who made me want to play, is Stevie Ray Vaughan. He’s the guy who really spoke to me in my formative years. There hasn’t been another one like him.
Could he have been a lord?
JW: He’s the king.
His Lordship’s debut EP, His Lordship Play Rock ‘n’Roll Volume One, is out now as a digital release. There will be a vinyl version out soon on Psychonaut Sounds.
His Lordship are touring the UK and Ireland in July – for tickets and more information, click here.