"Our memories and experiences are influenced by the soundtrack of our lives from the earliest age (even, they say, from inside the womb). This is my attempt to make sense of the musical influences in my life and how they have come to inform my song writing.
I was born in West Africa, and the music that surrounded me during my first years in Sierra Leone was a mix of African calypso, hi-life, fast tribal rhythms and popular songs of the sixties. I have no doubt that my early exposure to West African music piqued my later interest in the blues, given the direct heritage of the one from the other.
We are all influenced by our parents taste. In my case, my mother's love of show tunes such as Doris Day's soundtrack to Calamity Jane and 20th century Jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, contrasted with my father's passion for Classical composers such as Beethoven and Chopin, as well as late romanticists like Dvorak and Mahler.
When I moved to Scotland aged seven I found myself exposed to the music of the Celts - both traditional (The Corries were a particular family favourite) and contemporary (musicians such as Runrig and Dougie Maclean).
I was first introduced to the guitar by my (piano-playing) grandmother who bought me an LP (the forefront of technology in its day) of Concierto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo. It blew me away, especially the second movement, and I have never stopped listening to it. Guitar lessons soon followed and at the age of eight I was plunged into the world of arpeggios and finger exercises.
I still love classical guitar, but when I hit my teenage years it was Rock music that I wanted to play. I got my first electric guitar at fourteen - a wine-red Ibanez Les Paul copy. It was heavy, out of tune and I couldn't get my classically trained fingers to isolate those tight chords you need to get those sharp Rock 'chops' working.
As my teens progressed, my tastes mellowed slightly and I found myself listening more to bands like Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, ELP, Yes and King Crimson. I was attracted to the more complicated and virtuosic musical arrangements of Prog. Rock, perhaps influenced by my Classical origins. I admired guitarists such as Steve Howe, who clearly had Classical training as well and Robert Fripp, who was wildly experimental.
I went through a whole Bruce Springsteen thing for a while (still a fan), but probably my biggest 'band crush' through my teens was for the enigmatic Canadian Rock trio, Rush. Again Alex Lifeson was not afraid to bring Classical guitar occasionally into the Rock line-up.
As a teen, I spent a lot of time playing guitar in my room. In my fantasies I was going to be a musician all my life. However, family and school influences sent me down a more pragmatic life path. University, then my career took up all my energies and attention. My guitar was always at hand, but relegated to a hobby.
I also became somewhat obsessed with melody and lyrics. Artists like John Lennon, Neil Finn and Paul Simon had great talent at creating a compelling narrative and even poetry out of simple chords and words.
However, it was Eric Clapton who really inspired my love for, and commitment to the Blues. Like so many others I was taken, not only by his amazing ability to make the guitar express itself emotionally, but also through his collaboration with others and curation of archival Blues works, and through him I was introduced to so many legends of the Blues genre.
I was hooked! The Blues just made sense to me on the fingerboard. Whenever I pick up the guitar - even to this day - I always start with a Blues lick out of habit.
Into my thirties, living in Australia, I was fully occupied with trying to make it in the professional world, finding the love of my life and starting a family, so music took a back seat. Still, one year I decided to treat myself to a birthday present - a white American Standard Fender Stratocaster with a rosewood fingerboard - Jimi Hendrix Style.
Having not really touched an electric guitar for a decade or so, I was instantly in love. Forget Les Paul - this was my weapon of choice. I really started to discover the top of the fingerboard and the joys of musical self-expression when bending and raking the strings - with amplification, of course!
During this era, a few new artists found their ways into my ears, and I spent much time listening to the likes of Ben Harper, Jeff Buckley and Lenny Kravitz - all with their own versions of the Blues style. A newcomer for me is John Mayer - a multi-talented artist who represents different things to different audiences. A pop singer to many, for me and many aficionados of the Blues he is just a great Blues guitarist. I particularly love his straight-up Blues work with the John Mayer Trio.
Truth be told, I only started writing songs in August 2013, though I have been pumping them out since then. The process of composing, arranging, recording and playing live has been very illuminating. I have so much more respect for musicians of all types, now. It's much harder than it looks!
My experiences have also changed the way I listen to the music of others. I hear far more detail, can separate the instruments better and hear the imperfections more readily (which I find strangely endearing). Spotify & Soundcloud have done much to change the way I listen to music exposing me to far more variety.
As I write songs and sing now, I find that Soul music is a greater influence than I thought it would be. In particular, I am drawn by the vocal style of singers like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder. Their ability to combine warmth and feeling with vocal dexterity amaze me, and as I start to sing more I hope to bring some of those influences to my own vocals.
Contemporary Blues and Soul singers like Amy Winehouse and Valerie June inspire me because of their ability to reinvent these genres whilst still paying homage to the traditions that came before.
In writing this I've realised just how much music I've been exposed to during my life. I have missed out so many composers, artists and styles - skipping over vast swathes of Celtic, Classical, Jazz, Latin and Caribbean music that I've enjoyed over the years. One has to draw the line somewhere. Even Pop and Country music occasionally send something good my way.
I am sure that most people would have the same experience if they tried to chronicle their own musical influences. Give it a go. I recommend it as a reflective and cathartic exercise ... but put aside a lot of time: it will take longer than you think."