Ashton Culture

22 February 2013 | 11:17 am | Greg Phillips

“I always have that Aussie rock thing in the background because that is what I grew up with."

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It's been 17 years since Gwyn Ashton left Australia to seek an international music career. The Welsh-born singer, songwriter and guitar slinger paid his dues downunder, releasing two albums and playing alongside Jim Keays, Swanee, Stevie Wright and Mick Pealing as well as playing bars and festivals with his own bands. Ashton is now based in the UK, where it is much easier to flit across Europe playing to his ever-increasing fan base. Gwyn has just released Radiogram, album number six and when Muso caught up with him, was back at NAMM plugging the album and demoing guitars for uber-hip luthier James Trussart.

While Ashton is no household name and does it as tough as any touring musician searching for the big break, one thing he is not short on is respect from his peers. While hanging out at the Trussart booth, Ashton could be seen catching up with guitar great Earl Slick (Bowie/New York Dolls) and Danny B Harvey (Wanda Jackson). He also counts Robert Plant as a friend. “He has been to five of my gigs and I have only been to one of his,” laughs Ashton. “I think it's cool to be able to say that.”

The new album, Radiogram, features its fair share of guest artists too including Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Don Airey (Deep Purple, Rainbow), Robbie Blunt (Robert Plant), Mark Stanway (Magnum) and Mo Birch (UB40, Culture Club). It was never meant to be such a collaborative project, it was just one of those organic, happy accidents.

“It was going to be another duo album,” Gwyn said of his initial intentions. “We were a duo up until the stage that we did this. I only used one mic on the drums. I was going for a real lo-fi sound, so we had two mics capturing the whole thing and a vocal mic. Then I did the 'oh let's put some bass on it' and then thought, hmm, we could also add this. By the end of the week we had this pretty big-sounding album and thought, 'we can't go out as a duo now.'”

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On Radiogram you'll find some stunning slide playing from Ashton, and like many Australian blues artists, it possesses a heavier edge than his UK contemporaries, born out of treading the boards of clubs and bars from Queensland down to Victoria. “I always have that Aussie rock thing in the background because that is what I grew up with,” Gwyn admits.
Although Ashton was spending time at the Trussart booth at NAMM, he was recently honoured by Italian guitar makers Luitart with a signature model. “They approached me by email and said we'd like to make you a signature guitar, which is strange because I rarely play in italy. They said you design it and we'll put it on the market. So I gave them some specs. I figure I play more slide guitar than anything so I wanted a slide guitar which had different aspects of all my favourite slide players. So I got a bit of Lowell George and Rory Gallagher and various other people in there. It's got a Bigsby on it. So with each pickup selection you get a different player's sound… I have the Firebird pickup in the front, P90. In the bridge I have a Seymour Duncan EG 1400 of which 14 sets were wound for Billy Gibbons and I was given a set by MJ. Last week I was at the Seymour Duncan workshop... I am a Duncan endorsee, great pickups, and again MJ gave me a set of '69-type Strat pickups that were wound for Ben Harper. Same again, she said here have these. So I have been very lucky and looked after with gear.”

Gwyn has gigs in Europe over the coming months but would dearly love to return to Australia for a tour. “I miss Australia so much but you have to travel ten hours between gigs.”