This site is about a man who loves playing the Blues, his history, people who have influenced him and musicians he has played with.
It is also about the music itself and the very feeling of the Blues.


Tom Gilbert Violet Gilbert

Tom and Violet Gilbert

Mike Gilbert was born in Liverpool, UK in 1949, the son of Thomas Ernest Gilbert, the First Clarinet in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and a BBC Welsh Orchestra cellist, Violet Gilbert, née Lewis, who was compared very favourably with Catherine du Pré.

His grandfather, Ernest Gilbert, was an oboeist in military bands before and during the First World War, and his uncle, Tom's brother, was Geoffrey Winzer Gilbert, the famous British flautist (OK, flutist, y'all!).

His early life was spent listening to Mum and Dad practising and teaching students in the house. Although he enjoyed classical music, it did not set him on fire. He had to go to Philharmonic concerts wearing a short trouser grey flannel suit with a folded handkerchief in the top pocket and felt a total schmuck.

So, he was born into a musical family but, perhaps naturally, became a photographer in later life. They really were wonderful musicians and it is sad that he felt that way.

Mike was not formally taught music as a child and never learned to read the dots. Tom was a free thinker, who would not force a child down his own route, but attempted to teach him to play the clarinet at the tender age of nine. He showed no real inclination towards that beautiful instrument, learned a few scales and then gave up. The furthest he got with that was not squeaking - a minor achievement.

Tom did attempt to get him to understand pitch by making him sing notes at the piano, though, and that actually had a remarkable knock-on effect many years later when his voice turned out to sound like molten tar.

Dad gave him up as a musical dead loss and he was not able to delve into music at school, when they closed down music tuition and he had to do Physics. He loved that old "boudoir grand" piano in Mum and Dad's music room, though. Unfortunately the music room was beneath his bedroom, so he never had a Sunday lie-in in the whole of his youth. Damn music students.

Mike did get to understand rhythm and public performance skills by becoming the bass drummer in the Boy's Brigade band, though. We used to march round the streets near our church ruining everybody's quiet Sunday mornings! Sundays were actually quite musical in retrospect.


A callow conductor 1967


Paul. Mike's brother

He has had the Blues often
but sometimes the Pinks!
A multi-talented guitarist,
band leader, song-writer, poet
in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK.
Plays a mean blues harp, too.


The really formative years were the 60s when he stopped making plastic aeroplane kits and blossomed into a callow youth amidst the Mersey Beat, the beginnings of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, crazy Liverpool poets, Flower Power, Jimi Hendrix, girls, the Vietnam War and folk music and a new music he had never heard before that came from the USA and was performed by black artists, Rhythm and Blues from Chicago.

It was a very exciting period of exuberance, tinged with anger and disillusion with the legacy of political, military and financial world-wide mismanagement of the Post-War years, fear of nuclear oblivion and the continuous horror of the Vietnam War. We thought we were all going to die in the Cuban missile crisis.

These trends, family problems of mental illness, ostracisation at school and new female relationships all made The Blues very relevant. First love, Olga, drove him to distraction! Disrupted his train of thought at school! And then earning a living started to beckon, so he went for work as a busman on Liverpool's public transport system in the summers as a student.

So the illustrious musical background at least led him into conducting! "Hold tight, move along the bus now. Aye thank you! Just press the bell once! Does this bus go the ternimus?" Are these Fats Waller lyrics? No, and not a baton in sight. Somebody had to do it. "Fares, please."

The first Blues he heard was early 60s Chicago band music and British blues and he bought his first Blues record at the age of 12, a Jimmy Reed EP. As his interest burgeoned, he realised that the Blues all started a long time before the early 60s and he soon found himself listening to the old players of the 20s and 30s.

Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell came into his world and he persuaded his bemused father to buy him a compilation of their greatest recordings for Christmas. He also found Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry and recordings of Woodie Guthrie and started to get the urge to play the guitar, strumming his brother's while the lad was out. Thank goodness Paul had friends.

Playing 3 chord folk tunes came relatively easily but picking up Blues style was difficult. But the fire had been lit. The piano attracted him and he spent hours trying to play Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis numbers until he realised they were playing duets!!

He even did a lecture on the Blues for his fellow pupils at school with his collection of vinyl as examples; the Sleepy John Estes record went down very well. Slide guitarists fascinated him and he wondered how they did that. "Dark is the night" actually sent shivers down his spine.

But the big revelation was that British Blues did not sound the same as American Blues. However brilliant they were, they were not B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Jimmy Reed (sober), Skip James or Robert Johnson.


Mike on 5 string banjo in Sweden 1971.
Same tuning as an Open G tuned guitar!
Look out Gus Cannon!

MikeDohaDoha Class

Mike and his English students in Doha, Qatar, 1970. Nasser Awaidah was a whizz on "oud".


Craig, Mike, Andrew and Chris, Bahrain 1970.

Mike did not truly excel at the end of high school, could not get into Uni and went to Liverpool College of Commerce for a year before finally getting fed up and deciding to move away from Liverpool and see the world.

He left in September, 1968 intending to get work in Germany as an English teaching assistant. The naivety was painful. He did not know about residence and work permits then! He left with £100 stashed in his shoe and the legal £50 limit then in force.

Music disappeared as a priority and pure survival took over. But the hit of the season was Canned Heat's "On the Road again", so the Blues stayed with him for months while he made his way to Tehran, Iran with eleven Americans in a VW bus.

They drove all across Europe, through the Balkans and Turkey and finally got to Tehran at New Year, 1968 after staying on Corfu and in Athens for two months. They fed him and looked after his hostel bills, but it had to end in Iran.

The farewell was sad as they left the VW with Tom Kline, a great saxophonist, and went on by train to India, but it was time to go to the Embassy and get a flight home. The next day an Australian called Craig Cattell walked into the hotel lobby and asked if anybody wanted a job teaching Iranian Air Force cadets English.

Craig changed Mike's life forever, because he got the job! He slept in Tom's VW for a month in back alleys but got a room in the "hippy" hotel, the Amir Kabir, with his first pay cheque and stayed in Tehran for two years and in August, 1970 took another teaching job in Qatar in the Gulf working for Shell.

Mike bought his first guitar in Tehran, a Japanese, nylon-string Spanish style thing that cost £12 (a lot then). In the summer of 1969, the Iranian Air Force Language School offered him a three month sabbatical to go home.

He took it, going back home by train via the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Germany and Holland, stopping off in Amsterdam for a week on the way. That week changed his guitar playing for the rest of his life.

In Amsterdam he met a young American Army lieutenant, Gary, from West Point doing a tour of Europe, and he heard Mike playing blues and came and joined him. Gary just played like a dream and changed the tuning of the guitar and played slide (bottleneck) in front of Mike's incredulous eyes and ears.

Open D tuning became Mike's main slide and general tuning to the consternation of future fellow musicians ever since.
So many Blues numbers suddenly became possible.
It was a revelation.

He took the guitar to the Gulf. There he lived in his own room in the language school and had a fellow companion in Chris Ross, who was an excellent folk guitarist. Mike bought a Sony reel-to-reel tape deck with a stereo mike duty-free and they did a lot of experimental stuff, while drinking copious quantities of spirits and beer imported duty-free from Bahrain.

The recordings aren't perfect, but Mike enjoyed messing with the stereo panning effects, sound-on-sound recording and learned about microphones that way. They did pretty psychedelic stuff, too, with Arab music from the radio.

This was an important period in his musical development as Chris was a great musician and they spent nearly nine months messing with ideas and teaching each other things. Chris wanted to play blues and Mike wanted to learn finger-picking, more complex techniques and chords.

There was little else to do in Doha, so they filled their time with playing. The reel-to-reels still play and it was "very" experimental. All part of a very long learning curve. Chris and Mike saved each other's lives during that period, which was very depressing and lonely.

Open D

Open D Tuning (DADFAD)


Chris Ross, Doha, Qatar 1970


More in the pipeline - under development