So – this week I did something new. I wrote an application for a band to be considered as an act at a festival. The band was the funk band I joined towards the end of last year, Lostock (named after the roundabout near where we rehearse – no I’m not wild about the name either) and the festival is the well regarded Manchester Jazz Festival. I think our chances are pretty small, but I have a lot of affection for the MJF (check it out, 1st week in August, a really eclectic programme, and not expensive/a lot of gigs are free http://www.manchesterjazz.com/ ) so nothing ventured….
Anyway, for your amusement – the PR blurb I was asked to submit (the brief was no flowery language or clichés – oh well …)
Featuring the songs and vocals of Phil Steele, this is straight up old school funk combined with Northern grit & humour, Lostock is the band Manchester has been waiting for. Lostock were formed last year by 8 experienced Northwest musicians drawn together by a love of funk and great live performance and they look forward to bringing their big band sound to the city and beyond.
Funk, has long been a style of music which I have loved to listen to so it has been a real source of excitement for me that I have finally been given the opportunity to play it with a group of musicians who understand the form and are serious about creating a well rehearsed quality product. What is it about funk that appeals to me so much? If I may – an extremely brief and simplistic potted history of the form. Funk basically originated in the US in the late 60s/early 70s when rock and soul musicians started hiring jazz musicians for their bands. Most famously, the ‘godfather of soul’ James Brown was extremely exacting and restrictive with regards to what he allowed these musicians to do in performance. Artists who followed such as Sly Stone and George Clinton were a lot freer and allowed these instrumentalists the flexibility and freedom to play their strengths. (A small aside – I was given the evil eye- from the stage to the balcony- by George Clinton at a gig in the Bridgewater Hall. Terrifying.)http://www.salon.com/2003/09/18/george_clinton/
The result, is a type of music where the melodies and harmonies are extremely compelling in their simplicity whilst being played and embellished by the most virtuosic of playing. It’s also extremely rhythmic, and because we’re listening to human beings producing these sounds rather than computers and drum machines, the result is something wonderfully organic, dirty and – well – funky! There’s a fantastic documentary about the origin of funk on BBC 4 which I’m sure you can find on iplayer if you want to know more.
Anyway – it’s been a great learning experience for me, in particular, as a classically trained musician to be thrown into a world of no sheet music where everything is worked out and memorized in rehearsal by ear – particularly difficult in the horn section where three of us have to play together sometimes extremely melodically angular and rhythmically exacting phrases. The reader versus non reader approach to music is an interesting one and probably worthy of it’s own blog post. There is often very little crossover between the 2 types of performer and, for what it’s worth I can see the pros and cons of both approaches. Ultimately though, music is an aural artform and it’s never been easier, via the power of the web, to go out and listen to and try to copy the greatest performers in whatever your chosen medium is.
So – Lostock have been playing together for a number of months, we’ve performed in public a couple of times and are now in the process of sitting down and discussing seriously the direction we would like to take.
The first discussion we are having concerns the types of gigs we would like to play. It’s a fine line between putting ourselves forward for lots of gigs and, what should be an enjoyable activity, begins to turn into a bit of a chore; too few, and the incentive to practice becomes less and our cohesiveness as a band is threatened. For me, a musician who usually just ‘turns up and plays’ for gigs on a more or less freelance basis, being in a situation where performing relies on the whole band agreeing is a novel situation. Anyway, the general consensus from the band is that we believe that we have a quality product to offer so we intend to ‘aim high’ – hence the jazz festival application, amongst others. Obviously we’re not in a position to turn down gigs until we’re offered (!) but I look forward to keeping you posted on our progress.
The second discussion concerns the thorny subject of ‘cover versions’. The band, as it stands, is essentially a vehicle for our singer and guitarist, Phil Steele’s own songs. He seems to have an endless capacity for turning up week in, week out with another batch of catchy riffs, melodies and lyrics and we all enjoy the process of turning them into (hopefully) slick performances. However we do understand that audiences do like to hear something they know, so the occasional well known number is always welcomed warmly.
We do a couple already, including a funky take on pop diva and friend of the band, Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’. Check out our live version below:
We have great fun with that one, as we do with our other cover, Starsky & Hutch, but the burning question (you should see the emails going back & forth) is what next? Of course, we would all dearly love to do one of our favourite funk heroes’ numbers- something by Parliament, Tower of Power or Steely Dan – but if no one in our 2015 Manchester audience recognises it, it kind of defeats the purpose as laid out above. (and if you haven’t heard any of the above bands, may I suggest you head over to youtube after you’ve finished reading this to further your musical education and have your mind blown 😉 )
So where does that leave us? I’m inclined to go with something extremely current and ontrend – Ed Sheeran anyone? (yes I know… but I’m always grudgingly truly blown away by his performances!) “All About That Bass” (no treble) has also been mentioned (yes I know…but you’d be all singin’ along wouldn’t you!) Anyway – over to you – all suggestions gratefully received!
If current and on trend is the way forward then it has to be said, funk is where it’s at – yes funk has returned to the top of the charts with a vengeance. (That’s right kids, the hit parade. Cast your minds back to those heady days when you used to listen religiously every Sunday, taping your favourites). If you haven’t heard Uptown Funk (definitely funk- it’s in the title) from Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars check out the Michael Jackson inspired video below. It’s hilarious and brilliant (I’m particularly amused by the appearance of Mark Ronson in the back of every shot looking a bit goofy… look below, there he is grimacing at the back on the left…)
So, perhaps we’ve found our cover – could Uptown Funk become Urmston Funk? Could we really be that funky? Whatever the outcome, you can be sure that we’ll be doing our utmost in helping to fly the flag for the funk revolution up here in our little corner of Manchester. Watch this space!
Okay, if this blog goes to plan I intend to put out a post roughly weekly. I also intend to give you news of any upcoming gigs myself and my friends are involved with which I think may be of interest. Also please feel free to let me know about anything you would me to bring up. If you’d like to write a blog entry, even better. Anyway, first up I’d like to bring to your attention a chamber orchestra gig this Saturday evening (17 January) in Cheadle Hulme. Musica Nova are a great little orchestra, led by my friend Jem Bradley, who are known for their high quality performances and a convivial informal atmosphere at their concerts. This Saturday’s programme features the harp playing of Alex Scott Young in some really interesting pieces. Some such as Vaughan Williams’ Dives and Lazurus and his take on Greensleeves will be familiar, others such as Debussy’s Danses Sacree et Profane, less so. All, in all, an orchestra and programme worth checking out. Details below:
Till next time…