‘What Good Am I To You’ is the sound of the North London blues. 27-year-old Marcus was born and raised in London to an English mother and a “dangerously Italian” father. Inheriting his dad’s work ethic, he shared an appetite for musical discovery with a younger brother who’s also in the business, as a respected bass player. Marcus, self-taught as a guitarist, has already packed plenty in, from LIPA (the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) to top level session work, from school days as a trumpet player to learning licks in his bedroom to the strains of ‘Black Dog.’ Bonfanti exudes a certain laid-back determination, coupled with an obvious passion for music of many kinds, that means you’d be brave to doubt his ability to get where he wants to go. It’s a certain single-mindedness that runs in the family. “My mum showed me a picture of my dad aged 27 and I’ve basically got his style, the beard, the long hair,” says Marcus.
“I had no idea, I got a bit of a shock. I guess I inherited a work ethic, because he’s the most hard-working person I know. He left school at 14 and went straight into work, then studied later on to get a degree, moved to England and worked constantly so that me and my brother could do what we do, basically. I find myself in that mentality a lot of the time.
I don’t like days off.” Bonfanti knows that comparisons are customary at this point, but he sometimes finds them more amusing than accurate. “Someone called me the lovechild of Tom Waits and Van Morrison once,” he laughs. “I quite like that one.” He admits that ‘What Good Am I To You’ does bear some American hallmarks, and after all he did write some of it there. “But there’s something British about it that I can never quite put my finger on.
It’s rooted in blues, that’s my favourite genre of music to play and listen to. But I don’t think the end product sounds like a traditional blues record, in fact I know it doesn’t. I listen to a lot of other music, country, soul, bluegrass, jazz, some quite heavy rock stuff as well, and I think it all feeds in.” Bonfanti grew up chiefly in London’s urban sprawl, but with occasional holidays in the west country and Italy. “We were lucky to have the space and the city,” he says.
“But I think I’ll always crave the city, because most of my songs are about the experiences I’ve had living in it.” Playing trumpet in brass bands and orchestras throughout his school life, Marcus didn’t own a guitar until he was 15 (unless you count the one his mum made him from a Kleenex tissue box and toilet rolls with elastic bands on). “From 15 till now, all I’ve done is sit there with a guitar,” he says, reminiscing about playing Cat Stevens and Beatles tunes, Buddy Holly and Crosby, Stills & Nash. “Then when mum was out, I could play Zeppelin. Soon as she came back in, I would put a Beatles CD back on.” Jimmy Page became a lasting inspiration, right through Bonfanti’s time at LIPA.
He opted not to complete his three years there, but with the resourcefulness of the jobbing musician, was asked back to play in the band at the graduation party he hadn’t qualified for. By then, roads were leading out of Liverpool for Marcus, even if some were interrupted by breakdowns in the Mersey Tunnel on the way to painfully low-pay, low-glamour gigs in Newcastle. “But it was great experience,” he remembers. “I thought I might as well get out, play some bars, get ripped off a few times, meet some musicians and do what all my heroes did, because it seemed to serve them pretty well.” A 2008 debut album, ‘Hard Times,’ set the scene and sent some subtly effective messages about a new British voice demanding to be heard.
‘What Good Am I To You’ makes good on all those promises. The bold British blues growl of ‘Will Not Play Your Game’ and ‘Give Me Your Cash’ blends nicely with the swampland shuffle of ‘Goin’ Down,’ the more acoustically-flavoured ‘Devil Girl’ and the brilliant, breakneck instrumental ‘Tweed Blazer,’ which would give Link Wray a run for his money. “I’d like the record just to sound like me,” he says, “so when I hear it I go ‘Yeah, that’s the sum of all the parts.’ That’s the road that’s led Marcus Bonfanti to where you find him. “Everyone’s got their different blues to sing,” he concludes. “I don’t live in a time of slavery, but I’m still unhappy and angry about things that make me want to sing blues.” Read more on Last.fm.
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