GRIO is the name of Aidan Connell's outstanding debut album, in reference to the poet-musician griot class of west Africa. Connell may have grown up in small-town Home Counties England, but his music has a certain mythos of its own. Born into an Irish-Jamaican family Connell was given his first guitar at the age of 11 by his Jewish grandmother, who played a great part in raising him.
“It was a Flying V. But I had to spend two years on an acoustic before I was allowed an electric.”
Over the middle years of the new century he and a group of likeminded teenage friends immersed themselves in the sounds of a previous generation of suburban musical titans – The Who, Cream, Led Zeppelin, with dash of Brit-pop added to the mix. But in Aidan's case, as a young black Briton in a very conservative area (“there were no lynch mobs, no direct racism, but I did feel isolated”), Jimi Hendrix was someone he could immediately relate to. His first band, New Rising Sun, tipped a nod to Jimi in their name, and moved up to London to release a couple of EPs.
Connell made ends met by working on Camden Market and various labouring jobs. He did a bit of modelling (with Kate Moss amongst others) after being spotted at a clothes shop where he served. His next musical incarnation was as Melody Nelson – a brash, exciting, poppy power trio who garnered rave live reviews. Connell soaked up musical experiences wherever he could. He did some work with Mazzy Star, and played alongside the likes of The Libertines and Razorlight. He booked for The Rhythm Factory and finally his indefatigable work ethic got him his own EastEnd studio under a Bethnal Green railway arch (Peter Green territory), where he could both make a living and record his own material.
GRIO is the result of this questing apprenticeship. The slow-walking, hard-hitting riffing of the immense I Hate Rock 'n' Roll belies the song's title. The lyrics rail against the clichéd rock 'n' roll lifestyle of the “bigger bands I've rubbed shoulders with. People who have read Johnny Thunders' autobiography and taken it a bit too literally.” Over the urgent, melodic velocity of Everybody Else, Connell sings of breaking free from the “London habit of pigeon-holing. I don't fit into the trad blues mould, and I don't play straight up rock. I'm focused on the song-writing.” While the woozy Requiem For Love – a throwback to his teenage days of imbibing Brit-psych and Arthur Lee – tells of regretfully cutting loose old friends who couldn't understand his commitment to the studio and family, while they disappeared in a haze of alcohol. Throughout, Connell's soulful yet understated voice and his alchemical, ferociously inventive playing announce a powerful new guitar-slinging griot.
His energy, his sense of history and his skill to forge rock traditions anew have garnered accolades from the likes of Gary Clark Jr – another musical magpie – who invited Aidan to support him on several shows. Seasick Steve, who described him as “the only rock 'n' roller in town” and Jeff Beck who enthused that he was a “natural successor to the British blues-rock crown.” High praise from kindred spirits, who have never chosen the well-travelled path. With GRIO, Connell has set off on a similarly exciting, idiosyncratic musical journey.
“Reinventing the heyday of the power trio...” Blues In Britain
“Connell's voice is smooth and soulful, his melodies are as effortless as his guitar solos are face-shredding. He is at his best when taking the best bits of some of rock's best and most disparate eras and pasting them together. It's in finding novel combinations of olde genres that the truly new and unique arises.”
'Excellent songwriting and a must-see live act.'' – Blues Matters
“Connell’s mastery of nuances make him a very impressive blues-rocker.''
The Blues Magazine
Debut Album Grio Available from
and all good record stores
The Official Facebook Page of Aidan Connell.