Interviews

ON THE RISE - MOBO-winning chanteuse ZARA McFARLANE gets back to her roots

Monday, 18 September 2017 18:09 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                      alt"He's interesting to be around because knows so many records -  he's like an encyclopaedia." So says Zara McFarlane, who is talking about her boss at Brownswood Records,  world-renowned DJ, broadcaster,  and tastemaker, Gilles Peterson. The Dagenham-raised singer - who won a MOBO award three years ago in the category of 'Best Jazz Act' - has been with Brownswood since 2011 and is just about to release 'Arise,' her third album for the label. She describes Peterson as an inspirational presence at the record company. "He's an ideas man 100%," she declares.  "He's been helpful for me with all of my albums. He likes to sit down and ask you what's going on with your life and when's the record coming out.  But musically, he offers inspiration through records and will say, 'I think this record will be perfect for you to listen to for inspiration,' and it's been really helpful. He won't automatically reference something obvious but he can hear something that might influence me in a different way, which always works and I find inspiring. So that's pretty cool."

 Zara says it was Peterson's idea for her to meld jazz with reggae, which is a musical fusion that defines the singular sound and style of 'Arise,' a 12-track album that finds the singer-songwriter delving into her Jamaican ancestry. "Exploring jazz and my heritage in Jamaican music is something that I've always been very interested," says the singer who studied at the London College of Music. "With the last album, I had a cover of (Junior Murvin's) 'Police And Thieves' and on the new record I wanted to explore Jamaican music even more. I've always been interested in my Caribbean heritage, though Jamaican history is not something that I've known a huge amount about, especially as I grew up in Dagenham."

The singer had a chance to visit Jamaica recently, which further fuelled her interest in the island's history and culture. "I went there in June for a week to do some research for a musical I'm writing based on a Caribbean folk story," she reveals. "It's the folk music of the 1830s-era just before the emancipation period in Jamaica that really interested me, though I was also listening to 'kumina,' an early folk music of Jamaica from the late 1800s, after the emancipation of slavery, and the influence of Liberian drumming, and also the Rastafarian element."

Last Updated on Saturday, 23 September 2017 13:52

 

MAGIC'S IN THE AIR - Soul troubadour SON LITTLE talks about his new album

Monday, 11 September 2017 16:18 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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"I was very nervous at first," reveals softly-spoken, Aaron Livingston, who's better known by his stage name, SON LITTLE. A rising singer/songwriter and award-winning producer originally from Philadelphia, he's recalling his first encounter with the First Lady of Memphis soul, the legendary Mavis Staples, with whom he worked on a 4-track EP, 'Your Good Fortune,' in 2015, which later won a Grammy. "You may be nervous but it's hard to stay that way, because one of her great gifts is being able to put other people at ease," he says. "She absolutely just bubbles positive energy. I was just ecstatic about working with her. The rasp and power of her voice is just so incredible.  The Grammy was just really the cherry on top because one of the greatest honours I could have had was working with her."

Now, in 2017, Little is focused on his own music and promoting his second album, 'New Magic,' which follows in the wake of his self-titled 2015 debut. Explaining the album's title and attempting to describe the creative process, Little says: "People often ask, where does the inspiration come from? Where do your songs come from? I feel like the closest thing that we have or description that we have to what comes out is magic, as a sort of conjuring where something materialises from nothing. This is not exactly a trick but it has illusory parts to it - and yet it's something that is very real that you can't deny. At the end there is a song there and something tangible that people can touch and be touched by."

In terms of its style, 'New Magic' is soulful in an old school way but also combines different stylistic elements - hints of blues, gospel, singer-songwriter pop, and rock - which means that it's elusive and hard to pin down or categorise. "I think I was kind of lucky to be exposed to a lot of different things pretty early on and that sort of set me on a path to continue that," says Little, musing on the eclectic nature of his own music. "It became like a hunger for me to find the source of new sounds and semi-absorb them. It's a little bit of a tightrope act being able to synthesise all these different sounds. I found myself to be very open to the differences in people, language and custom as well as genres and styles of music. I find a lot of joy in those differences. And I like to find and discover the common ground between things, which is something that really pleases me and that's carried over into my work."

Last Updated on Monday, 11 September 2017 18:42

 

SUGARAY SPEAKS; The Sugaray Rayford Interview

Friday, 08 September 2017 19:07 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSugaray Rayford is a Texas-born blues and soul man who, after paying considerable dues, may just be about to win the recognition that his considerable talent deserves via his latest solo album 'The Wolrd That We Live In'. Released on Italian label, Blind Faith, the long player is winning plenty of friends in the soul copmmunty ... people who repect old school values of passion, committment and gospel-reared vocals. These proper soul buffs asked to know more about Mr Rayford. So, we obliged ... and having caught up with the big man we started by asking about some personal details....

I was born in Tyler, Texas. My mother was an incredible singer and this was my musical imprinting. Sadly she was fighting against a bad cancer when me and my brothers where just kids. She suffered and we suffered mightly, litteraly starving. It was an hard life, but taught me perseverance. Then our grandmother stepped in and literally saved our lives . We ate every day and we were in church every day too, which I loved. I grew up in gospel church and became a choir director. At 16 I was with the Inspirational Youth Choir, 300 plus members and I had the chance to work with some legendary gospel bands like "The Jackson Southernaries", "Mighty Clouds Of Joy" and many others. I learned so much from them. Those people can sing without a mic in front of packed churches and give you the chills. Beautiful memories.

What about secular music ... did you ignore that?

Gospel of course was not the only music that I liked at the time. When I was young, R'n'B and Soul music played a big role. Let me say also that I have always loved to dance. For a while I was a pretty good break dancer! I think that dancing makes your soul feel free. But then I relocated my life in California and used to be a bouncer, and a fulltime avocado farmer! One night, my wife heard me singing and out of the blue suggested me to join some band or musicians in my local area. It was 1999 and I never hit the stage in twenty years. My soul was missing something and when she pulled the trigger I realized that it was the music. At the beginning it was just for fun and on the weekends, but soon thanks to the power of word of mouth I became a professional performer with 4 solo albums on my shoulders, with thousands of gig performances all around the world and many awards as a blues singer and entertainer.

Last Updated on Friday, 08 September 2017 19:21

 

THE RISE OF STAX RECORDS - A CELEBRATION OF SOULSVILLE 60 YEARS ON

Friday, 08 September 2017 06:27 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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Back in the 1960s and '70s, Memphis was the undisputed Mecca of southern soul. The so-called 'Bluff City,' which overlooked the snaking Mississippi river, was a thriving metropolis for African-American music and though there were several notable record labels based there - including Willie Mitchell's Hi stable, which gave the world Al Green and Ann Peebles, and Quinton Claunch's smaller Goldwax company -  there was one that was considerably mightier and more influential than the rest. Its name? Stax Records.

Stax was a curious paradox among record labels. It was set up by two white Southerners in the heart of Jim Crow country  and yet came to represent the sound of black America during the Civil Rights era. Also, it offered a progressive  vision of equality and diversity - white and black, young and old, men and women, rural and urban - in an area of America where any kind of integration was anathema.

The seeds for what became Stax were sown in 1957, when Jim Stewart, a former bank clerk who also an aspiring musician (he played with a band called The Canyon Cowboys) , decided to set up his own independent record label in Memphis. He called it Satellite, and based out of his garage, its first releases were country and rockabilly singles. "Jim came from Middleton, Tennessee, to the Memphis area to get going in the music business," remembers Booker T. Jones, a multi-instrumentalist who became indispensable to Stax in the 1960s. "He was a fiddle player and the younger brother of Estelle Axton, who was a teacher. She mortgaged her house to get the money to build a studio."

Last Updated on Monday, 11 September 2017 16:14

 

COMING GO ROUND AGAIN - The 360band's Hamish Stewart talks to SJF

Friday, 04 August 2017 15:44 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

          altHamish Stuart's name is a familiar one to seasoned connoisseurs of funk and soul. He rose to fame, of course, as a singer, guitarist and occasional bass player with arguably Scotland's finest musical export, the Average White Band. That was during the 1970s when they became one of the world's biggest R&B acts on the back of numerous hit singles (including the perennially popular and much-sampled 'Pick Up The Pieces') and several notable LPs. He stayed with the band until 1983 and then embarked on a solo career. He was also in demand as a sideman and in 1989 began a four-year period touring and recording with Paul McCartney (he appeared on five of the ex-Beatles' albums, including the acclaimed studio opus, 'Flowers In The Dirt') and later, in 2006, he found himself working with the other surviving member of the 'Fab Four,' when he toured with Ringo Starr.

Today, at the age of 67, this affable Glaswegian could comfortably rest on his laurels and take it easy like The Eagles but playing in a band is a bug that he finds hard to shake off. As a result, Stuart is back in the groove with the 360band, whose nucleus comprises himself along with fellow former AWB members Molly Duncan (saxophone), and Steve Ferrone (drums). The trio's debut album, 'Three Sixty,' is due for release later this month and is distinguished by the same kind of classy, soulful R&B vibe that infused the Average White Band's best recordings back in the day. 

"The idea of coming full circle was the initial thought," says softly-spoken Stuart referring to the significance of the band's name. "Or it could be just three guys over 60," he quips, which he follows with a hearty, self-deprecating chuckle. He reveals that the 360band came about principally because of Steve Ferrone, who became a sought-after session drummer after he left the AWB. "He was being honoured in the drummer's Hall of Fame in LA a couple of years ago," explains Stuart, "and asked everybody who was in the Average White Band to play with him but only Molly and I could make it because the other guys had other commitments. We had such a good time that we said we've got to do this again."

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 August 2017 09:46

 

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