From busker to bluesman — Remi Banklyn is reinventing the sounds of ‘50s Americana

As The Blues Kitchen celebrates its 15th anniversary, HUNGER sits down with Remi Banklyn to chat about what makes his blues performances so singular, and starting out as a busker on Columbia road.

For 15 years, The Blues Kitchen has been a beacon for authentic blues in London, and few artists embody its spirit quite like Remi Banklyn. A fixture at the venue for nearly a decade, Banklyn’s journey to The Blues Kitchen stage reads like a blues song itself. Picture this: a talented musician, guitar in hand, voice carrying over the bustle of Columbia Road. That’s how Banklyn was discovered, his raw talent catching the ear of someone who worked at the venue. Since that fateful day, he’s taken to gracing their stage multiple nights a week.

Banklyn’s repertoire is a time machine, transporting audiences from the gritty streets of 1940s Chicago to the soul-stirring rhythms of the 1960s. His interpretations of classic blues tunes aren’t mere imitations either — they’re reinventions, infused with his unique style and modern sensibility. Whether he’s channelling the deep Delta blues or putting his spin on Curtis Mayfield’s soulful melodies, Banklyn’s performances are a masterclass in keeping the blues alive and evolving. For Banklyn, “it’s all about connection”: “I want to stir up emotion by making things fun and showing them who I am as a person. I want them to remember the performance”.

The Blues Kitchen has blessed Londoners’ with over 100,000 hours of live music and has become something of a staple destination thanks to its Southern-style BBQ food, cocktails and magnetic performances from those ascending the capital’s scene. On Friday the 19th of July, The Blues Kitchen will honour performers like Banklyn – as well as everything the venue has loved and shared over the last 15 years – with an extra special birthday party featuring a line-up of the most iconic bands that have graced their stage. They’re also marking their 15th birthday with a content series featuring Banklyn and a selection of other artists discussing the importance of live music and what it means to them.

Here, HUNGER chats with Remi Banklyn about his unconventional path to success, musical influences that traverse everything from gospel to funk, and how the performer goes about making his mark on London’s vibrant blues scene.

How would you describe your sound?

Like raw, true ‘50s electric blues injected with a Remi Bankyln twist.

What is it about working with The Blues Kitchen that encapsulates who you are as an artist? 

I think it’s all in the name, The Blues Kitchen. I love playing some blues and I love me some barbecue [laughs]. 

What do you think is different about your performances to other blues artists? The Blues Kitchen mentioned you have a real wit and charm about you — how does that manifest when you’re up on stage? 

It’s about connection. We are all the same, but sometimes we find ourselves on opposite sides of the same coin. After all, everybody enjoys and listens to music… It just so happens that I’m the one playing it. It’s about giving people a bit more than that, though — I want to stir up emotion by making things fun and showing them who I am as a person. I want them to remember the performance. 

How was it when you opened for relatives of blues singers like Muddy Waters? Did you feel closer to these people, who I imagine are true icons for you as a blues singer? 

I was lost for words. Those are things that you dream about. I thought, ‘How can this be happening? I must be doing something good!’. 

You were discovered by The Blues Kitchen when you were busking on Columbia road. Tell me a little bit about that.

It’s a cool story — one of those you hear happening to someone else, but you never think will happen to you. Long story short, I’ve always liked to busk. Most of my role models  – Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter among others – did it, too. It’s really fun and you get to sharpen your stuff. For a musician that’s starting out, there’s no better hustle. I used to do it a lot in my early years in London, especially at Columbia Road and Broadway Market. But it was just a regular day. Me and my best friend – and partner in blues – were busking as usual and then we were asked to play outside a restaurant down the road after we’d finished. Little did we know that on that same spot was Liam Hart – from The Blues Kitchen – having lunch with his girlfriend. Afterwards, he approached us and asked us if we wanted to play at the The Blues Kitchen. I couldn’t believe it at first, but here I am. 

How do you reflect on your discovery now? It’s such a chance encounter, and it’s led to you having such a long relationship with The Blues Kitchen, so I imagine it’s still something you look back on in awe. 

Yeah, I can’t believe it’s been almost nine years. That’s the longest relationship in my life! Looking back, it seems so bizarre. The old me would be astounded. I used to ask myself, ‘How did that happen?’. Now I know it was meant to be. 

Blues is a classic sound, and I imagine it’s hard to deviate from the melodies that make it blues. But has your own sound evolved over the years? 

Most definitely. For me, blues is like a journey — it’s such a rich and vast genre with so many different branches to it. Everyone expresses it differently. Every bluesman is playing a reflection of themselves through the genre, and it’s no different for me.

What role did playing at The Blues Kitchen play in that evolution?

I’d say it’s given me the freedom, experience and confidence to be myself and explore what that means. 

When someone watches you perform, what are you hoping they take away from it? 

Damn, I was missing out! I didn’t know blues could be this good.

Growing up, was your family supportive of you making it as a singer? 

Let’s just say I’ve turned them around… I can be really stubborn [laughs]. 

Who are your biggest influences? 

Tough question — I love so much music and so many musicians that it’s hard to choose. The sounds coming from Chicago in the ‘40s had a big impact on me. Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Little Walter and Jimmy Rogers, among others. 

What are your favourite blues song? Is there one that makes you really emotional? One that uplifts you more? 

Again, it’s hard to choose. ‘I Want To Be Loved’ by Muddy Waters, maybe. It’s not blues per se, but ‘The Makings Of You’’ by Curtis Mayfield touches me in a certain way. And there’s nothing better than ‘Popcorn’ or ‘Cold Sweat’ by James Brown to uplift the mood. 

What exciting things should we expect from Remi Banklyn in the coming months? 

It’s not necessarily going to be in the coming months, but there’s definitely something in the works. Keep your eyes and ears open… What’s to come might surprise people, too! 

Are there any other sounds or genres you want to experiment with in the future? 

No doubt. I’m such a big fan of all Black American music — from blues to soul and from gospel to funk. I’m just eager to find out what’s ahead of me and the different ways I can express myself.

WriterAmber Rawlings
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