Guitarist Ralf DeCambre was born in Birmingham and still lives there. He first picked up his Father’s guitar when he was 10 or 11, while his Father was out at work and has been mainly self-taught. Since Ralf and his Father began learning together Ralf quickly progressed to play across several genres including rock, reggae, jazz and classical. As a young man he went straight from school into an engineering apprenticeship and worked as a machinist for 26 or 27 years. During that time spent a few years in a rock band Man ‘O’ War but since 2006 he has been working as a Senior IT Technician at a Birmingham school. Andy Hamilton’s then guitarist Jived took Ralf to the MAC and from that he was a Blue Note for 13 years including on their first album Silvershine and on foreign tours in Paris (Caveaux De La Huchette), Milan, St Lucia Festival & Jamaica Festival. Since 2012 he has co-led the quartet From Scratch with Andy’s son Mark Hamilton, Ray ‘Pablo’ Brown & Wayne Scott.

Picture: Ralf during From Scratch’s recording session for this project.

“We used to rehearse in Small Heath in a flat there. And I did that for a few years. We never played a gig, but I really enjoyed it. You know… so I used to play bass and sing. And we had a lot of fun. And then I moved on to a reggae band. Again it started off with just jam sessions at this friend’s house flat, it was opposite the Moseley Baths. The band called Solid Vibes took off from there. And we had a great time going around the country playing our reggae music, a version of reggae, which was a mixture of all influences really rock, folk, reggae. And what I learned soon afterwards was jazz.”

BH: I’ve photographed Ralf in performance many times over the last decade or so. I’ve always enjoyed taking performance pictures but it is evident that the results can be clichéd so it’s interesting to explore other options in more of a portrait style and soundchecks/set-ups allow you to get into positions not always possible in performance.

Picture: Ralf outside the former premises of the factory he worked at holding a photograph of him at a lathe.

“I’ve had two paid jobs in my life…the factory for 26 years – Sweeney and Blocksidge, and then in 2006, I got the opportunity of moving out of that sphere and getting into education as an IT technician. Because, it has been a hobby of mine,  I’ve always liked tinkering with stuff.”

BH: Both Covid and in this case the fact that all that remained of Ralf’s former workplace was the doors made it a challenge to represent what was his full-time working life for 26 years. It was Ralf’s idea to bring the photograph of himself working inside and I think in this case the juxtaposition works well.

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