Mike Silver is certainly no newcomer to the music business, quite the contrary. He is a man who finds the greatest joy in performing to his audience and interacting no matter how big or small. In fact Mike Silver has a passion which has seen him perform for 50 years, and there's no stopping him.
Hailing from Cornwall UK, his talents have finally been noticed abroad with his pure heartfelt songs blended with the impeccable warmth tones of his voice, he certainly knows how to deliver from the soul.
Mike Silver has released eight albums to date with his 9th album appropriately titled, '50 Years Of Song' due for release on 26th March.
It was such a pleasure to interview a man of great experience and knowledge and learn more about his passion and how it all began.
MT/Tracey: Hi Mike, lovely to cyber meet you. Firstly, where are you?
Mike: Camelford, Cornwall, South West UK
MT: Ok, now, I have to admit, when I heard you, it was a wow experience. Can we tell people you age? How old are you?
Mike: It is what it is mate, I’m 73
MT: You’ve been in the music business for 50 years, what have you been doing and why haven’t we heard of you before now?
Mike: How long have you got? Without trying to give you a life story in one paragraph I think its fair to say that promo isn’t my forté. If I can get on a stage in front of people, I feel confident that they will enjoy listening to my songs, the intros to them and they will go home at the end of the night feeling as if they have been on an entertaining, eventful and interesting journey with me. But if you ask me to pick up a phone and convince a stranger that I’m (insert superlatives and flowery adjectives here) they lose the will to live in short order! As to what I have been doing I think that kind of belongs more in the answer to the next question if that’s okay?
MT: Can you remember what it was that first inspired you to pursue a career in music?
Mike: Unfortunately I cannot answer this without taking into account the many different but equally important factors that signposted that journey. When I was about 9 my 3 older brothers (one of them had already begun to infect* me with the ’78’ and ’45’ records that he was spending his weekly wages on, so I had been listening to the likes of; Lonnie Donegan, Chris Barber’s Jazz Band featuring Monty Sunshine on Clarinet, Slim Whitman, The Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group, Guy Mitchell, Phil Harris; the voice of Disney’s Jungle Book Baloo, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, The Everly Brothers to name just a few for quite a while at this time and; singing along to them when I thought nobody else could hear as well!) had a party at home one Saturday night. Next morning I found a guitar which one of their friends had left behind. I ‘borrowed’ it from where it was leaning against the wall by the front door and snuck into the living room with it. I managed about 5 minutes with it before my mum took it away from me but she was already too late! I made deal with myself right there and then that I was going to play guitar. I mean I wasn’t thinking about where that decision would take me but I became very focused on the idea of having one! My folks formed and sustained their own ‘Berlin Wall’ and for a while it looked like it was never going to happen. I was eventually given a ukulele for my 14th Christmas present with a ‘play in a day’ book. My Dad said if I could become ‘proficient’ on it in 6 months he would ‘help’ me to buy a guitar. On that Christmas Day in the afternoon I played my parents Livin’ Doll by Cliff Richard. Nobody was more surprised by that than me! Within about 12 months, I bought a guitar for £3/10s shillings. This purchase was pre-empted by somebody ‘accidentally’ sitting on the uke. About another year later I started playing youth club dances with a guy who could play lead guitar (a la Hank Marvin) while I provided rhythm and sang. It didn’t take me long to discover that I was never going to be a lead guitarist so I started singing to give myself something to play to. I progressed to 60’s beat groups from there and had a short spell in a Rhythm and Blues band. Once you have played The Blues it never leaves you! In 1966 I was pretty much dragged into a folk club in Canterbury, Kent to hear a blues singer and fantastic exponent of Big Bill Broonzy called Gerry Loughran. Gerry, who became a friend until his death in the 80’s, played acoustic guitar but sounded like a band all on his own! This ‘door’ swung open and revealed a strange and extraordinarily beautiful world. Although I had never seen it, I knew I had come home. Though the Blues is still reflected in my music, I quickly became addicted to early Dylan and through him became aware of James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Tom Rush, Paul Simon and many more. I was introduced to the outstanding songwriting and musicianship of Randy Newman in the early 70’s and was inspired and moved in equal measure by many of the songs written by these artists along with too many others to include here.
*Infect is a strange choice of word but I cannot think of a better one to describe what happened to me!
MT: It has been mentioned that you are the UK’s best Kept secrets, something in which I tend to agree, (although I’m in Australia). When you have released records (CD’s) and now that the world has changed somewhat, do you feel that you are being noticed and heard?
Mike: Only occasionally really but as I said that is down to me. Basically I have just sold my CDs when on the road, mentioning them during gigs and saying that I had them for sale etc. I don’t know how to inhabit the world of getting in people’s faces and making my presence felt enough so that people will listen to me just to get rid of me! I know one or two guys who do the same kind of thing that I do that are possessed of the ability to wear a number of different hats. How they flip seamlessly between agent/manager/record company CEO/artist mode beggars belief. I’m not sure if I wish I could do that or not…
MT: It goes without saying that if someone has continued for 50 years in music, that it has to be the love of your life. How do you keep going with new song ideas and playing gigs. Have you ever had times when you’ve felt like throwing it all in?
Mike: Without doubt but I chose this for myself and though the bad times (I refer to being broke with an unfilled date sheet) haven’t been great, the good times have been wonderful. I believe very firmly that success is relative. Playing a good gig for an audience is what I want to do. In terms of the success I have or only very occasionally don’t have, the size of the audience is irrelevant. It is about making contact with them and of course when a large audience (my biggest ever was 8000 in Denmark) really ‘get’ what you do and respond accordingly its brilliant. I once played an unforgettable gig in Scarborough for 12 people, they gave me back everything I gave them double and this benign snowball rolled back and forth between us all the way through. It will be with me always. My smallest ever audience was 7 people. I bought them all a drink in the interval.
MT: I admit, when I was told your age and heard you sing, my jaw dropped. You sound like you’re in your 30’s! You have such a beautiful timber to your voice. Have you done or do you do anything special to keep it sounding so good?
Mike: After smoking from the age of 15 to the age of 52 I gave up. I was so totally addicted to nicotine and can still hardly believe 21 years later that I actually did it!
MT: Love your page on your website called ‘The Music Room’, showing your precious collection of guitars. Do you have a favourite?
Mike: I love and I am in love with them all!
MT: It looks like you play a lot of gigs including some outside of the UK. Would you like to travel further to play for people if you had the opportunity?
MT: I’ve been listening to your latest songs, ‘Not for You’ and ‘Wrong Side of Midnight’. Just beautiful songs with beautiful melodies that took me on a really amazing journey. Can you tell us what ‘Not for You’ is about?
Mike: 'Not for You' is me giving myself some (I think) sound advice about accepting that my youngest daughter was perfectly capable of making her own decisions with regard to the relationships she chose to enter into. It is saying, very politely, “wind your neck in pal!”
MT: You sing so effortlessly. How has your voice changed over the years and your approach to singing? (if any)
Mike: Thank you for this lovely compliment and the one in the previous question. You may not be aware of it but; I believe you would be hard put to find people who do what I do who actually don’t like it when others say nice things about them! I think that my voice is perhaps not as clear or as strong as it was 10 - 15 years ago, especially at the top of my range. There is no doubt that never smoking would have been best but I’m lucky that I stopped when I did. There might be a totally different story to tell today if I had not.
MT: What other passions or hobbies do you like?
Mike: I enjoy working with my hands, a little carpentry, my lovely wife Julie cleverly finds me jobs to build something that she needs for the garden. I do a little amateur joinery; I do most of my own equipment/cable repairs soldering etc. and I like making things from leather and sewing them by hand.
MT: Have you ever worked in a day job?
Mike: I left school at 15 and was apprenticed to the then nationalised South Eastern Gas Board as a gas fitter. I passed my City & Guilds B exam in gas fitting. Having completed that part of the training I left aged 22 to become a professional musician.
MT: With your experience, what would you say to upcoming artists who are keen to venture into the music business?
Mike: Keep your own council. Enjoy a compliment when it comes along but don’t live by anything anyone writes about you good or bad. If anyone offers you a contract find a lawyer or lawyers you can trust (is there such a thing?) and also spend a great deal of time reading it yourself, over and over again before you sign it. If anyone tells you that certain parts of it are not important they are lying. There is a great deal more I could say but I’ll refrain from doing that. Just take care as you go along, you’ll probably make mistakes, just try to learn from them.
MT: Today (9th March) you have just released your AA Side single, ‘Wrong Side Of Midnight’ and ‘Not For You’. (which are just incredible, I’m now a fan). When can we expect your next album?
Mike: Again my thanks. To mark my 50th year of recording, Folkstock Records are launching my album “Alchemy, 50 years in Song” on 26th March. This comprises 16 songs chosen from my back catalogue and I am immensely proud of it.
MT: Is there anything else you would like to mention to us?
Mike: I feel very privileged to be releasing with Folkstock Records. Helen Meissner who runs it has been a joy and an inspiration to work with and although I am 50 years down the line so to speak, I feel as excited about this as if I was just starting out and that is mainly due to her fantastic work ethic and enthusiasm. I have always craved the opportunity to play in Australia and that is most definitely a hint.
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And we would love to see you perform in Australia! Wishing you all the very best and here’s to the world discovery of Mike Silver
LInks to Mike Silver