If a youthful education informs your future as a music maker, then singer, guitarist and band leader Sam Green has a very rich seam to mine at the grand old age of 28.
Raised in Exmouth by music-loving parents, he has fond memories of long drives with them and his little sister to the surfing beaches of North Devon and Cornwall, with his father’s favourite artists – the Beatles, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Simon and Garfunkel – on the car stereo.
“My dad took me to a lot of gigs when I was growing up, too,” says Sam. “I went to see Brian Wilson on the Pet Sounds tour and lots of stuff at the Exeter Phoenix.”
At ten he started to learn folky guitar chords from a chap next door who was in a ceilidh band; at 14 he moved on to a teacher who taught him blues classics, Chuck Berry and Rolling Stones tunes.
By 15 he was hooked and formed his first band with a bunch of contemporaries, and it was around this time that he also witnessed a performance that has proved pivotal in his musical direction.
“I was taken to see Michael Chapman at the Bridge Inn at Topsham, and there was this old man playing the blues guitar, using his wedding ring as a slide, ” says Sam.
These days Sam’s own big, joyful folk rock sound revolves around his own accomplished acoustic and slide guitar playing and his repertoire of self-penned songs, which proudly dance in the footsteps of his Australian heroes the John Butler Trio.
Sam performs both solo and, preferably, with his band, the Midnight Heist. This week, they are all setting off on the road – Sam, double bass player Joe James, electric guitar and harmonica player James Cameron and drummer Matt Cooke. With four dates in the Westcountry – one on Sam’s old stomping ground in Exmouth – ahead of a busy summer festival season.
They travel armed with latest EP Wide Awake, a record that Sam is rightly proud of, demonstrating, as it does, not only his extraordinary dexterity and natural groove, but the maturation of a diverse apprenticeship and magpie-like absorption of influences. He started playing rock guitar in pubs around Exmouth and Exeter when he was a teenager, and was quickly spotted and recruited for his precocious skills by the Chris Stuckey Band.
“I was under age so my parents had to give their consent for them to take me around playing all over South and North Devon,” explains Sam, whose father runs a fruit machine and arcade games business.
“Every weekend I was out playing covers of old school blues, a lot of Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix, with guys who were 20 years older than me,” he says. “And at the same time I was in bands with people my own age, more grungey, influenced by Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Post-rock and emo were really popular too, and we were into Hundred Reasons and Incubus.”
At 18, encouraged by his mother, Irena, to go to university and study something, he rocked up at the London College of Music’s guitar course.
“I loved it there,” says Sam, who spent four happy years concentrating on his craft, absorbing urban hip hop and soul, and gigging the pub “toilet” circuit with his international funky punk band; it boasted a singer from South Korea, a drummer from the Canary Islands and bassist Joe, who he met on his first day at uni and has been Sam’s best mate and musical sidekick ever since. Together they explored great guitar and bass partnerships, like John Martyn and Danny Thompson.
So at 21 Sam decided to tread his own path and be a singer songwriter.
“I realised I didn’t want to play in these bands any more; I wanted to do something that represented me a bit more,” explains Sam.
So he did what any self-respecting Devonian would and went home to Exmouth to play his guitar and write songs, via a spell travelling in South America, which spiced up his musical experience with some authentic Latino flavours. He played as many solo gigs as he could, stealthily slipping his own tunes into sets of covers and building up a following.
Then fate stepped in at Sam’s father’s 60th birthday party, bringing the four band members together, gelling over their love for Neil Young, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Simon and Garfunkel.
Last year they fulfilled Sam’s ambition to play at Glastonbury before he was 30. His journey – and his education – go on.
Sam Green and the Midnight Heist play Bar 35, Bude, on Saturday, April 12; Treyarnon Bay Youth Hostel, Padstow, April 16; Studio Bar, Penzance, April 17; The Grapevine, Exmouth, April 18.