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Our interview with Alex Clarke from the Vangaurds

My name is Alex Clarke and I play guitar in a band called The Vanguards.

Tell us a bit about your band?

We are a traditional bluegrass band from London, we have been playing together for about five years now. We formed out of the London jam scene, I’m speaking for the rest of the guys. They tend to be weeknight jams in local London pubs for this kind of music and really that’s how we got together and learned to play the music just from going to these jams. We practised with people who were already there, in terms of being able to play and two of the other guys, they only really picked up their instruments to do this music. We formed the band pretty much straight away, so we have been going for them pretty much since day one, really when it comes to influences we harken back to a time, this really early bluegrass music. Music like Billy Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, really the originators of this kind of thing, these guys were all farmhands basically. Farmhands who had their parents and their grandparents music passed down to them and made their own thing out of it. Then they went out on the road as much as they could, all weekend you go out on the road, play come back, work on the farm for a week, go back do it again. It’s kind of the same for us, we don’t work on a farm, we all have office jobs but it is more or less the same thing.

Does London have a big bluegrass scene?

In London its a bit different, there aren’t many pure bluegrass gigs, most of the UK scene mainly centres around the UK festivals, which are more like Black Deer. They are out in the countryside, small village sort of thing. But for London you could play a gig every night of the year and you would always play to someone who had never heard bluegrass before and they would absolutely love it. It’s almost more of a novelty thing in that respect but you are always finding a new audience in London.

What inspired you to start playing guitar?

I came from a kind of really non musical family, there was no music in the whole house at all. So it was really only when I found, as you can I tell i’m a bit of metal guy, so I was this huge Metallica fan, I just wanted to be James Hetfield. It’s been a constant evolution since then, I picked up a guitar when I was 15, about the same time as Jack who plays mandolin in this band. We used to play music together and I think the first time we ever set foot on stage was back in school we did a performance to the whole school, which might still be the biggest thing I have ever played which is a bit sad.

How are you enjoying the festival?

We entered this competition with Orange and we found out a couple of weeks ago we had won a slot. It was incredible, it’s an absolute pleasure to play here, it’s amazing it is such a young festival. It’s only in its second year but it feels like its been going for years, the size of it and how professional it is put together. I don’t think we have ever been treated this well as a band at a festival ever. It’s really been a pleasure to play, the audience were really into it, people coming up to us after and saying they had never heard this sort of thing but they loved it. Which is always nice to hear, some guys who knew all the old stuff as well and loved it, it’s really good to hear that kind of stuff in the same kind of place.