Interviews

THE LAST TEMPTATION! Otis Williams talks about The Temptations' upcoming UK tour with the Four Tops and the group's new album

Monday, 09 April 2018 21:29 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

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The Temptations are a veritable soul music institution. In a storied recording career that stretches back to 1961 and the dawn of Motown Records,  the legendary vocal quintet have witnessed myriad changes in personnel and had many fine singers come through their ranks - including David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Dennis Edwards,  to name but three - but their one constant and ever-present figure has been co-founder, Otis Williams. He's been the solid rock behind the group that has given them stability and continuity during fifty-seven years of blood, sweat, toil and tears that has yielded a plethora of hit records and heaps of awards and prestigious accolades.

At 76, Otis Williams has no inclination to hang up his microphone just yet. "As long as I can keep doing the dance steps, I'll keep going," he laughs, though, sadly, you feel that the time when the curtain comes down on his career is drawing ever closer. But for the moment, though, The Temptations are still a viable and going concern and are set to bring their unique vocal magic and stupendous back catalogue to the UK this coming November when they co-headline a joint eight-concert tour with fellow Motown legends, the Four Tops. The two groups, who have enjoyed a long but friendly rivalry, have been touring together for many years now and enjoy the camaraderie of being together on the road. "We've been doing this for about four decades so it's like old hat to us," laughs softly-spoken Otis. "They travel on their own bus and we travel on our bus and then we get to the gig," he says, describing the two groups' on-the-road routine. "We laugh and talk and enjoy one another's company, and then we go and do the show and then go to the hotel and rest up and then go on the bus to the next gig. So we're like pedestrians - we just work and take care of what we do." 

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 April 2018 15:35

 

Never judge an album by its covers - ace ventriloquist Meshell Ndegeocello unmasked

Friday, 06 April 2018 14:21 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

   alt"People have a lot of preconceived notions about me. Most people think I'm tall... and angry," laughs Meshell Ndegeocello, "but I'm like a lamb." A fiercely individualistic bass-playing singer-songwriter and deep thinker,  whose work, with its themes that focus on racial identity, sexual politics, and the transfiguring power of love, among many other things, has sometimes caused provocation, Meshell knows what it's like to be misunderstood. She agrees that there is a disconnect between the person her fans think they know from listening intently to her music and who she truly is. She admits to falling into that trap herself when she was younger in relation to Prince. "I love his music. Seeing him as a child inspired me to play music," she says, though confesses when she actually got to meet her idol, there was a feeling of profound disappointment on her part. She doesn't elaborate on what passed between them but sums up her experience by saying diplomatically, "I agree wholeheartedly with people who tell you never meet your heroes."

Coincidentally, Prince just happens to be one of the songwriters whose work is featured on Meshell's twelfth and latest album,  'Ventriloquism.' It's a wonderful tribute to vintage 1980s R&B that finds Meshell putting her own distinctive stamp on songs by artists that range from Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam ('Take Me Home') and Janet Jackson ('Funny How Time Flies') to TLC ('Waterfalls'), George Clinton ('Atomic Dog'), and The System ('Don't Disturb This Groove'). Explaining the thinking behind the record, Meshell says: "We made the record about a year ago and it was a very tumultuous period. I had a parent who passed away and another band member lost two parents. There was just a lot going on."

Last Updated on Friday, 06 April 2018 18:59

 

BASS IS THE PLACE - CHRISTIAN McBRIDE brings his big band to the UK in May

Monday, 02 April 2018 12:25 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

     altThe ubiquitous Christian McBride is still relatively young - he'll be 46 in May - but in terms of the amount of recording sessions he's contributed to, he's a true veteran, having played on several hundred  albums during a career that stretches back to 1991. That might be a drop in the ocean compared with fellow jazz bassist, Ron Carter - who has made the Guinness Book Of Records for appearing on over two thousand recordings - but McBride's achievement is impressive none-the-less. But he is the first to admit that Carter's amazing feat is unassailable. "I don't know if that's even possible anymore (to do that) just because the recording world doesn't exist the way it used to," he laughs when I ask him, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, if his ultimate aim is to overtake Carter. "I caught the tail end of the recording scene. At one point, throughout the '90s, I was probably averaging about 20 albums per year, which was not that many compared to what most people were doing in the '50s and '60s. I think for my generation it was a lot, but I'm not nearly doing that kind of studio work anymore."

The reason for that situation, he explains, is the way that music industry has changed due to technology, which has resulted in the closure of many of New York's big, professional studios. "Just about 5 or 6 months ago, Avatar, one of the largest studios in New York closed," he reveals. "Who can imagine New York City without a major recording studio? There's a lot of small studios still active but a lot of people are recording at home doing projects on the fly."

But while some things change - and for the worse, perhaps - other things that are declared dead and gone in the music industry have a knack of being resurrected. Take vinyl LPs, for example. Who'd have thought they would have made such a big comeback?  Another - but smaller - case in point is the jazz big band, which first dominated popular music in the swing age of the 1930s but has been in terminal decline ever since. But it hasn't shuffled off its mortal coil just yet. Christian McBride is one of just a handful of musicians keeping big band jazz off death row. In 2010, he put together a large ensemble and released the album, 'The Good Feeling,' a year later. Last year, in 2017, he followed it up with a second big band, album,  'Bringin' It.' Needless to say, both albums grabbed a Grammy award. Those living in the UK who have yet to witness McBride's seventeen-piece ensemble up-close will get the opportunity this May when the bassist brings his band to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.

Last Updated on Monday, 02 April 2018 15:30

 

Retirement? It's just hearsay, says ALEXANDER O'NEAL, on the eve of his British 'Resurrected' tour

Saturday, 31 March 2018 13:23 Charles Waring E-mailPrintPDF

                altWhile a small percentage of the British public (those, no doubt, unfamiliar with R&B music)  will undoubtedly recognise Alexander O'Neal from his appearances on primetime UK TV shows like Weakest Link, Celebrity Wife Swap and Big Brother, the majority will know him for what he does best: singing. Boasting a powerful yet expressive voice  - imagine the silkiness of Nat 'King' Cole crossed with  Otis Redding's soulful rasp - Alex was conquering the charts around the world thirty years ago with big hits that ranged from smooth ballads like  'If You Were Here Tonight' to tough dance floor smashes such as 'Fake' and 'Criticise.' 

Now in his 65th year, the man originally from Natchez, Mississippi, is still going strong. The hits may have dried up but his enthusiasm and commitment to making music hasn't left him. Though, given his age,  he's now eligible for retirement,  Alex isn't contemplating a sedentary life defined by a pipe, slippers, and a stair-lift just yet. "I'm just trying to keep busy," he tells me, "because I'm still enjoying doing my thing and still getting a buzz out of it."

Following in the wake of his recent 'Hearsay 30' album released at the end of last year, the softly-spoken singer is due to undertake an eight date tour of the UK, beginning on the 6th of April in Glasgow and culminating with a show on 25th of that month at London's prestigious Palladium venue. O'Neal, as many American performers have discovered over the years visiting the UK, that British fans offer unwavering support and fealty.  "I think they're more loyal and they love their R&B music. In America, you're only as big as your last hit record and they treat you that way. So it doesn't matter if you're a legend or if you had a bunch of hit records, they forget, but over here, on this side of the water, it seems they remember you. They grew up with you and get older with you and they still come out and buy your music and come to the shows. I've been coming over there 30 years and what I love about my fans over here so much is that they've endeared me into their hearts and lives over the years, so there's a lot of memories, and it's just great to be seeing them."

In fact, Alexander O'Neal is so smitten with the UK that he's decidedly to live here - in Manchester. "My new management and production team is up here in Manchester now and I also use a great band out of Manchester called Mamma Freedom. It's a lot like Minneapolis/St Paul in Minnesota in the States. The pace is about the same and the weather is kind of the same. I'm living in Manchester these days and it's really nice."

Last Updated on Saturday, 31 March 2018 13:57

 

WE ALL NEED A HERO... the GIZELLE SMITH interview

Monday, 26 March 2018 15:10 Bill B E-mailPrintPDF

altSince the start of the year an insidious little tune called 'Hero' has been all over the place.... club plays and radio rotation has caused a buzz about the artist, GIZELLE SMITH. Seasoned sleeve note readers will recognize Ms Smith's name from her time with the Mighty Mocambos. Now, though, she's well and truly out there on her own and with an album. 'Ruthless Day' set to drop at the end of this month, we thought the time was right to find out more about Gizelle..... First some background....

Well, my name is Gizelle Smith and after studying forensic science, hairdressing and god knows some other iffy career options, I decided to do an MA in composing for film. I'm originally from Manchester but moved to London where I landed a job as co-composer and vocal coach for a youth theatre company based in Camden, in-between touring with The Mighty Mocambos. I always wanted to be a performer but my mother did that ill-informed thing and insisted I had a 'fall-back option', hence the above initial career choices. I was super confused growing up because nothing I chose to do felt right and there was always this nagging at the back of my mind that I should be doing music but I was very shy and it wasn't till I met the right people who pointed me in the right direction, did I make that step towards my true path.

I believe your father was in the music biz – tell us about that and did he influence you in any way.... indeed did he encourage you or even discourage you!

My father Joe Smith was a guitarist for the Four Tops after they moved from Motown Records to ABC. He has always been a big part of my life spiritually. I didn't grow up with him unfortunately but I've had a very strong connection with him since I was a baby and being around him at a very young age has been enough influence to cause me to pursue a career in music. Or then again, has it? I guess it's a play on the whole nature/nurture debate. Maybe I'd always have gone into music regardless of who he was... who knows! He was always wary of the idea of his children getting into the industry but it turns out, I'm the only who did and he's super pleased and proud. I need to call him actually.

Tell us about your early days in the business.... and your time with the Mocambos.

Hooking up with the Mighty Mocambos was my first step into the business as an artist. I was performing before that, on a low key level, with a couple of residencies in restaurants, singing with a pop choir and playing trumpet and singing in a jazz big band. I met my producer Steffen 'Def Stef' Wagner on my course at University and he introduced me to his brother Bjoern who owns Mocambo Records and runs The Mighty Mocambos. I lived with him in Hamburg for a few months whilst I finished my dissertation and we both toured with Indra Afia – a German soul artist, where Bjoern on guitar and I was on bv duty. Soon after, I was gigging with the Mocambos, playing mostly covers and we were approached by a booker who suggested we put an album together. So we did, with no expectations whatsoever and it seemed to hit the spot in the funk scene. Our first single 'Working Woman' was picked up by Kenny Dope and we spent a couple of years touring UK, France and Germany.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 18:38

 

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