Interview: Champ Paul Lush on Araluen and his own musical journey

Musical omnivore and guitar for hire Champ on his own songwriting and influences.

It may just be a case of the best of three when Danny and the Champions of the World guitarist Paul Lush finally released the third solo album he has recorded under the banner of Araluen. His first two solo albums have not been released as he had been too busy being an in-demand sideman. Titled ‘And There It Is’ it collects Lush’s songs recorded by his musical friends. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up over Zoom with Ozzie ex-pat Paul Lush in his adopted home of London to discuss Araluen, his love of being a sideman, his songwriting, what it was like growing up in rural Australia and his other role of teacher in London hospitals.  Lush also takes time to share details of his own musical journey through the various alleyways of roots music. Interestingly, he also shares his hope that the recent Facebook spat with the right-wing Australian government may lead to a solution to the issue of musicians getting equitable streaming royalties. Finally, for all you Danny and the Champs fans, he also gives a bit of a low down on a new album and confirms the band is champing (pun intended) at the bit to get back on the road.

How are you? I hope you and your family and friends are all OK and coping with the challenges of COVID?

Back in Australia everyone is living their lives with social distancing and they are doing things in an appropriate manner, but for a place with no COVID where my Australian family live, down on the coast and similar places they are going to gigs already and things like that. Over here, I haven’t found it too difficult, to be honest with you. There have been some relationship changes like when I got caught in Australia last year. I was due back on 1st April 2020 but had to spend three extra months over there. You know how relationships shift, and I was coming back to a situation I thought was like it was when I went away, and it took me a while to get my head around that.

It has been strange for everybody. What is your other day job Paul out of curiosity?

I’m a teacher, I teach maths in a hospital school in Westminster and Chelsea Hospital. The essence of the hospital is that we have classrooms in Westminster and Chelsea where it first started 30 years or so ago, and we provide education to children in various hospitals including The Royal Brompton, St Mary’s, Portland Place private hospital and a couple of psychiatric units, one called Lavender Walk which is probably 16 to 18 or 19 year-olds and Collingham Gardens which is 5 to 14 year olds, so they sort of move into each other. We just provide education as all children need access to education even when in hospital. I have been very lucky because the Headteacher agreed when I took the job and I made it a condition that I could go off and play music whenever I needed to. My job means I can make up the time or they can just pay me for what I work so it is pretty flexible. When there has been a major tour there has never been an issue and that has allowed me to play the music I want to play without having to take on jobs that just paid money.

That sounds like an excellent arrangement and relationship. Why is now the time to launch your own band?

It is not really a band. I recorded an album in 2002 or 2003, so long ago I can’t remember, and I think the musicians were Chris Clarke (Danny & the Champs) on bass, B J Cole on pedal-steel, Mary Witt did the singing, Dave Morgan on drums and James Morrison on fiddle and mandolin, and I never did anything with it. I have been writing songs all the way through but I always like being a sideman, I really love being a sideman to people, I like interpreting their songs and for some reason, my creative juices always feel freer when I’m with someone else and I just get these ideas and I don’t care how they sound I just give them to somebody, and normally they sound pretty good. So these have just sat around doing nothing and I was playing with Al Tyler and other people in the 2000s, though Alan was my main job, and I wrote more songs and in 2013 I started to record another album with Hannah Mores as the singer and that wasn’t released, it never got out. I then wrote even more songs after writing with Danny Wilson for a couple of albums which I liked. Araluen the band is just really the way for me to put my music out.

I had never done anything with the other two albums and talking to the man doing the mixing Dave Page, lovely bloke and great musician, and he said music needs to be out there somehow. It is going to move somebody somehow, you can’t qualify the music, it is going to touch somebody’s heart. I don’t think you can say this is good or this is bad, in some ways these songs are more current, the other songs have been sitting around. I have them all mastered in CD form, they are ready to go, but I wanted something a little more current so I was just talking to Chris Clarke about who I could get as Mary and Hannah have moved on with their own things. Araluen was just an idea to get anybody who had the time just to do my songs, Danny, Chris and I were in the studio around the time of touring ‘Brilliant Light’, but I can’t be sure, and Chris mentioned Ange Gannon, I know Ang, and I was intrigued about that because I had only heard her playing through the Magic Numbers. The band was always going to be Steve Brookes drums, Alan Gregg bass and Tom Collison keyboards. Alan Gregg is ex-Mutton Birds and a really good friend of mine and  I really value his understanding of music and I bounce a lot of ideas off him and that was the core of the band and I just needed someone to sing my songs. I approached Ange over a beer one night and she said sure. She probably would have turned up and done it for nothing but there was no way I wasn’t going to pay her and I must say I was blown away by the singing and we didn’t do a lot of rehearsing or practicing. We went through the songs once I think, she kept a copy of the songs and then she just came in and sang them. I have been in London for 25 years and when this happened I think one of the things I needed to do was get something of my own out there that’s all, it wasn’t an overarching missionary type desire it was just something to get whatever it was out there. I don’t mind where it goes, whether it dies the death or keeps ongoing. The material was quite poignant to me and fairly current and suddenly I had this really great sound with Ange singing and the rest of the boys playing. That’s what happened and I thought I’d better get this out there. COVID then happened and there was nothing else to do but to just put it out there without any form of thought on what was going on, or whatever, and that is what I did.

Araluen, is that a deliberate Aussie reference and why? Why not The Paul Lush Band?

Yeah, I don’t know whether I have made the right decision with that. There was a party house just outside my home town and my brother used to go to a lot of parties there and I went a couple of times and it sort of finished its party days as I was growing up. It was a really, really good house about 6 miles out of town. I am in a really rural area and it was called Araluen which is a native Australian term for where the water lilies grow or something. There is a town called Araluen, there are a lot of houses called Araluen and a native cultural centre in Alice Springs called Araluen and I just really liked the name. I didn’t check it out too much because I didn’t know where this was going to go and I needed something quick, and I wanted to get away from the names that were coming up in americana at that particular point in time. I just thought A, top of the list, a word that has an interesting pronunciation might be something that attracts a bit of attention.

A lot of people have called ‘And There It Is’ country soul. Do you agree with the tag?

I don’t know, I wouldn’t have thought of it like that. My main point was thinking about a female singer for these songs, not just Ange. One of my best friends back in Australia is a lady by the name of Carol Elvin who is as powerful and good as Mary J Blige or Aretha, her voice is up at that level. She was the point of reference, and I don’t know why I always had a female singer in mind, and she is a really good friend and she and her husband played in bands with me and are two of my closest friends. I’ve got probably 13 or 14 new songs that I will probably do the singing on these, which will be a departure. At the time, the first three albums just wanted a female, and that was my point of reference, that’s where it all started coming from. That is how I thought about pulling these things together, whether they came out as country soul or rock and roll or straight ahead country was irrelevant, it was how they came out at the time. I think with this album as well, I will say this, for the first two albums we never did any rehearsals and the songs just came out in the studio with an energy and that. We rehearsed part of this one and I think now I would have preferred just to have gone into the studio because when you rehearse some of those great initial ideas just get lost, it is still good though. This was a one-time recording where we just went in and just did them, we didn’t have a lot of money and I called in favours to get everyone paid and it was a snapshot of what was going on. Looking back now, I might have changed a few tempos and done somethings differently but I am quite happy with the thing. I think the rehearsal made it come out in this more country soul way if you listen to the rehearsal tape and when it was completely unrehearsed. Whatever people want to stick on it I am happy for them to do. I would probably call it americana.

 You say your songs are more current on ‘And There It Is’, where did you get them from?

A lot of them are to do with things and people around me, I am not a storyteller like Johnny Cash, or whatever, I don’t think. If something makes an impression on me then that is what I will write about. ‘Into The Arms Of Another’ is actually about a friend of mine who lost his wife because he had these procedures he followed and liked to do. On Saturdays, in the summer he liked to watch cricket or things and he got his best friend to take his wife out when he was doing other things, and you can see what happened in the end, they eventually got together, got married and had kids. I’m not saying it was the right thing for the wife to do, but the idea came from this person being pushed into the arms of someone else. I was also watching ‘High Fidelity’ and John Cusack is making a scene about his partner being with this other guy Ray, and his partner’s friend is saying nothing is going on between them but you are making something going on with them and now there is.

‘Never In The Moment’ we did with Danny and the Champs and I wanted a different slant on it because that was about a relationship that I had with a lady. It is about the lady who was my partner at the time and then she got really insecure and started thinking about the future and what she hoped it would be as well as looking behind at what had happened and what now may not be the case. When I heard it back from Danny I thought that could be about me, I am an ex-pat and I’ve been like that in relationships where I don’t know whether I’m going back or staying put, and even more prophetically I am a lead guitarist and thinking may be the band will go to Oz, like that was ever going to happen. So that song is about looking forward and back, and it includes some biographical content.

You raise an interesting point there Paul about being an ex-Pat. I asked Emily Barker the same question, where are your actual loyalties or does it depend on where you are at the time?

I consider myself a Londoner. I would say I was a country boy and it is like a split personality. Over here, I talk to people about Australia because that is my experience and when I am in Australia I talk about England and London. I had a chat with Emily back in the day when she first came over as I’d been here a while before she first got here. I have got dual citizenship and I am very happy with it but I do consider myself a Londoner and I reckon that would be the best way to describe me. I love London and I would never consider leaving London, and I think the lockdown has been pretty difficult in that regard because it is not the London we know. It will get back to something like it was and it will be pretty great I reckon. That is how I see myself but I have to say this, if England are playing Australia at cricket then I will go for Australia.

That is a most telling point, Paul. Do you keep an eye on the Australian music scene?

Not at all. I’m clearly focused on what is going on here.

What is the status of Danny and the Champions of the World?

We have a new album, the initial ideas and rumblings started in 2018 and at the end of 2019, we went into the studio. I went back to Australia for an extended stay, and I’m really grateful to my boss because when I need to do it she allows me to it, and they did some more recording while I was over there and I finished my parts when I got back. It is quite a bit of a departure from what we have done before, people may hear Roxy Music and Pink Floyd and I wouldn’t like to put any tag on it at the moment. It is almost finished, it is having final mixes and we got the saxophone done by Danny’s uncle Lucky in Australia, it has come back. I don’t really get involved with the production of these things as, as I said, I like being a sideman. The Champs meet by Zoom quite regularly, about every fortnight or something like that, and we have a chat and a virtual beer and we are looking forward to rehearsing and getting back out on the road. We have a tour of Spain in October if it comes off, and we want to release the album but I’m not sure when that will be.

There will be a tour to support the album I assume.

Yeah, I hope so, my word. We are all keen to get out on the road and I’m really looking forward to the tour, and if I can I’d like to tour Araluen as well, but the thing is it may not be the same people as they all have their own thing. Ange is with the Magic Numbers, Alan has his stuff and everyone has their own things outside of this particularly the Champs guys. As soon as there is an opening when we can do this safely I will be out there.

As a musician and songwriter, who are your go-to influences?

I have to answer this in two parts. As a guitarist, I have been influenced by virtually everyone, and I steal everything I can get hold of. I have been doing a lot of fingerpicking of late so it’s Tommy Emmanuel and a young Nashville guy Joe Robinson, Chet Atkins and all those guys, Danny Gatton, Leon Rhodes of the Texas Troubadours is just a fantastic guitarist, everything through Grant Green and Cliff White, who was Sam Cooke’s guitarist, and I loved everything he did on ‘That’s Where It’s At’ when I was young, Albert Lee, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, B B King all those guys, Buddy Emmons’ pedal-steel and those pedal-steel players are my guitar influences. You could go anywhere with that and I just grab what I can.

For my songwriting Willie Nelson is a great one, if I’m stuck for an idea I will go back to Randy Newman, Don Walker from Cold Chisel, it could be so many, Emmylou Harris I really like the way she does things, it is really anywhere I can get an idea with what is going on. I don’t want to stick with men my age or anything like that, I try and get different perspectives so Gillian Welch or Lucinda Williams have been quite a big influence on me. Carole King did this great song called ‘Walk On In’ and the Merry Clayton version is just fantastic, and if you say country soul then maybe Merry Clayton’s version of Carole King’s ’Walk On In’  is it.

Those are pretty broad influences.

Yeah. I was influenced very broadly when I was younger when I was into nearly everything from Zepplin to whatever. I have my snobbery, as all guitarists do, and if I didn’t think someone was wild or fast enough on guitar then whatever, but that has changed over the years and it didn’t matter what sort of music it was, it could have been Freddie Green with Benny Goodman, things from my fathers record collection John Williams Julian Bream, improvisation was great and so many songs. Again, we all had our snobbery and certain things did or didn’t move me and I couldn’t tell you why. My brother and sisters were all into different music, I had friends at school who were into everything from Kiss to whatever, I was never into Kiss but I respected what they were doing. It was more ideas and what they were writing about that could move me. There is an Australian movie called ‘Two Hands’, it is one of my favourite movies and was the first Heath Ledger thing, and there is this thing about a man clawing his way back out of hell to earth, it’s about gangsters and stuff, and he said something I found very interesting as he talks about all these great writers like Byron and he said “Whatever you are going through, where ever you are in your life, then someone somewhere has written about it”. That really struck me and I have been going back to some of the early jazz standards recently such as ‘Don’t Go To Strangers’, I have been listening to Etta James sing those great old songs. It is whatever I can get out of something to help me get my idea across. As I said, I will steal what I can. Oscar Wilde got it right, “Mediocrity borrows, genius steals”, haha.

I say your name is associated with Effra Studios, some form of online service. What is all that about?

Henry Senior was doing some pedal-steel stuff before lockdown and we had a little recording studio in the house where we live so we set up this service where anyone who wanted anything could just send us their digital tracks and we would add our recordings. Henry did quite a bit of pedal-steel and he put my name down as well just to have something else to offer. I think I only did one or two recordings. That’s all it was.it is still fairly family orientated with the Champs and the recording kit was all ‘Free Jazz’ Geoff’s and he has taken it back for his own studio.

You have the luxury with your teaching job of only having to play the music you believe in. There is a big debate at the moment around the impact of the streaming of recorded music is having on the incomes of musicians due to the very low royalties paid. What are your views on streaming?

I am sure there is a way they can put in some type of program into the digital stuff that would allow it to be a bit more like it was with records and cassettes, or even CDs, where any downloads were wrapped up so there was compensation in some way. I have thought about this often and there is no going back, there will be a renaissance with records, and now apparently even the CD is in a renaissance.

Personally, I have never left the CD, haha.

Neither have I, I still have them, haha. You know what I have found really interesting is what was going on with Facebook in Australia. Morrison is a right-wing Prime Minister, and in my view, he sucks up to all similar politicians, he loved Trump and all these people and he is a Fundamental Christian as well which is a real problem, not that I have a problem with Christianity as such. It was interesting that they took on Facebook because from what I heard, and I don’t know how true it is so don’t quote me, Murdoch approached Morrison and wanted compensation for the news. This is interesting because he wanted essentially royalties for his news, it is the same thing as music. Whatever was going on it is interesting that Facebook has been asked to pay for content and we have these very powerful companies like News Corp wanting royalties and these powerful companies own Spotify.

For me, what has been going on in the music industry is now going on in the wider digital world and if they can do that fairly for the news and come to some form of agreement and still make profits then there is no reason why the couldn’t make all the streaming platforms more equitable for musicians. If Facebook and other platforms end up paying royalties for news then I think the music industry needs to latch on to that and stop musicians being ripped off. We can’t go back as it is already out there, but we need equitable royalties out of it. There is no way that what Spotify is paying is equitable, I can’t make a living anymore but I did when I started playing music hence the teaching job, and I was really lucky to fall into a job where the Headteacher is very supportive as are the rest of the staff. I can go off for a month and still be supported so I am in a really good position but there is no way I could support my life over here just by playing music.

That is interesting. I never thought that the digital news question in Australia could possibly provide an equitable streaming solution for the music industry. What are your views on AMAUK?

They have been very good to Danny and the Champs, especially when we won all those awards, haha. I think it is a really small scene and it would be nice to somehow expand it, but I don’t know how to do that. I am very supportive and I am very happy with AMAUK. I don’t know much about it as my influences are far and wide, and I love going down avenues looking at that stuff. I might go and have a look at the lyrics from all of those guys and just see how they are doing things. I think the biggest thing I hear from people around me is that sometimes in the AMAUK the question is asked are they americana, are the people nominated americana, but the good thing about the umbrella of americana is that it allows people who can’t be categorised to be brought into a fold and then have recognition in a certain way. I think it is a good thing and Danny and the Champs have that southern rock type thing, whatever you want to call it, and if you were to look at it purely in terms of a purist we might move in and out of the genre pretty fluidly and with the next album it will be interesting to see how people take it. Henry Senior’s pedal-steel is all through it, so is my guitar playing, but whether you would call that traditional americana is another thing. It is a bit more removed from Ryan Adams and people like that, or Giant Sand and Calexico, whatever people consider the pioneering aspect of americana. I love it that there is something that can gather together these strands and the effort people have put into doing that and that there is recognition for all that.

I have to say that probably my heart is with traditional country, Sam Cooke and maybe the Beatles when I was growing- up, they were all very deep for me. John R Cash and all those outlaw country guys. I am down that road, it might not always sound it in my playing and what I do, but if I don’t know anything else I go back to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, these guys. Kris Kristofferson, some of the lyrics he did wow, ‘Just The Other Side Of Nowhere’ is my favourite Kristofferson song and it just blows me away every time I hear it. In one sense it is a bit like me, I can relate to it because I come from a little country town and I am on the other side of nowhere. That is how I figure americana and I don’t worry about it too much as I’m just glad there is somebody out there doing something.

At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which artists or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?

I have been listening to the Black Pumas, they are not americana but psychedelic soul from Austin, I have been listening to a lot of Ray Lamontagne who is far more commercial than I would normally go down and his voice has changed a lot and it has made me think I should get into singing more of my own stuff myself. I have been listening to singers to see how I can apply that to me because it is not a pretty voice, I haven’t gone down the road of singer-songwriter over here though I did in Australia, so I am looking to improve my voice. I always go back to Norah Jones, more when she is playing with people like Willie Nelson than her own solo music.  Michael Kiwanuka is a North London bloke who did the theme to ‘Big Little Eyes’. Listening to a lot of Chet Atkins and others,  as I am just learning fingerpicking. That is what I’m listening to at the moment.

I haven’t gone down the road of much country or americana at the moment, purely because nobody has said anything to me at the moment. As soon as someone brings something to my attention I will be in, who are you listening to?

At the moment I’ve been in virtual Louisiana listening to Corey Ledet’s new zydeco album, then going back and catching up with zydeco and cajun music. I hadn’t gone there for about 10 years.

I just love that stuff, Stanley Durel Jr, I went down those alleyways 20 or 25 years ago. Back in the old days I was in a little country town 6 hours north of Sydney, when I say small town it was 20,000 people, we would go into the record store and newsagent and I would get Guitar Player magazine and you would get the reviews and then pick up these incredible CDs and records for all around the world, right down to Irma Thomas, obviously the Neville Brothers and then I went really deep down the zydeco alley. I have been listening to a lot of Bobby Charles as well, that song ‘I Must Be In A Good Place Now’, I am really moved by that song.

He was a great singer, a great songwriter and he should have been more well known than he was.

Beautiful, really beautiful. That song has been really important to me lately because of what has been going on, I’ve had a tough time with a relationship, just a friendship really, and I’m just trying to work things through and I have probably made it tougher than I needed to. It wasn’t anything heavy I was just trying to figure out where I stood in all of this, and that song has been pretty powerful.

Bobby Charles was a natural musician rather than an educated one but his words and melodies were sublime. Finally, do you want to say anything to our readers?

I just want to say thanks to everyone who has supported me and Danny and the Champs, and for all the support they give to other musicians, singers and what have you. They are a pretty loyal bunch, aren’t they?

Pretty dedicated as fans, yes. Argumentative, opinionated and dedicated to the music they love haha.

We are all like that, I don’t mind, haha. As far as taking the  music to them when it is safe, I just have to get together with the rest of Araluen, have a beer with Ange and see what she wants to do or I can get someone else to do the singing, it might be me, who knows. I will see what the other musicians want to do and work something around Danny and the Champs and hopefully I will see people on the road later in the year. One final thing, Araluen was never seen as a band it is just a collection of people to play my songs. I also play with Simon Stanley Ward and he has already made some bookings for later in the year. Whatever we do it will be decided over a beer, in a pub with friends.

A beer in a pub with friends is a perfect note to end on.
Araluen’s ‘And There It Is’ is out now on Kaloo Kalay Recordings

About Martin Johnson 105 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.

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