The UK’s CHRIS BANGS – uber DJ, Writer, Producer, Mixer and general man about music – has played no small a part in the evolution of the Brit soul and jazz scene. He was a pioneering figure in the British underground dance scene of the 80s and 90s and helped to light up the black music dance scene of the early eighties. “Bangsy” went on to work on countless other projects but he’s super excited about his latest venture… a Latin flavoured dance album, ‘FIREBIRD’ due for release via Acid Jazz in January. The album’s lead off single, a cover of Cal Tjader’s 1967 ‘Samba Do Sueno’ has just been released and is already winning plenty of plaudits as is the cut’s flip, the hugely percussive samba school romp, ‘Soccer Samba’
Just in case you’re not too familiar with Chris and his music we dispatched our special, roving correspondent, Steve Hoffman, to the Bangsy Bunker to learn more about the man and his music, preparing us sweetly for the release of ‘Firebird’. Steve began by asking where on earth did it all begin… who inspired the man to get mixed up in this crazy business….
I was a music obsessive from my early teens. My dad was always playing Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Sinatra, Basie, my mum was into the Beatles and my older brother was into some pretty far out stuff like Captain Beefheart, Ravi Shankar, Stockhausen, Frank Zappa, Modern Jazz Quartet so I was exposed to all kinds of music through my growing up years. I got my first guitar when I was about 13 and started getting into rock music. I used to go down a local junk shop that had a load of second hand vinyl and buy anything that looked interesting so I ended up being into all kinds of bands but kind of avoided anyone I’d heard of or that all my friends were into.
Even at that age I was always searching out the more obscure stuff and that’s when I discovered Jazz Rock , bands like Isotope, Soft Machine and Steve Hillage’s first band Khan. I got into Gong when the Flying Teapot album came out and I loved his playing especially his use of effects and what he used to call “Glissando” – kinda slide guitar for stoners.
Were you in bands in your youth playing guitar or were you DJing / spinning? And usually where did you spin or play when you started out?
I had a band called the “Mighty Om”. We were pretty bad really, kind of Hawkwind meets Gong and I used to be lead singer and guitarist but I wasn’t very good at either if I’m being honest. When I was about 17 I started going out to Soul Clubs with a friend and that’s when my world changed. I’d just got Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum” album which I bought cos guitarist Tommy Bolin was on it who I rated, I thought it was really funky and that’s when I first discovered some of the jazzier US funk bands like Kool & the Gang and Earth Wind and Fire and bought Stevie’s “Inner Visions” which was and is one of my all-time faves. All of a sudden I was listening to music I could only dream of being able to play so my guitar got dumped in the corner and I started buying records – big time.
I always loved singers, I got that from my dad, so I went the Stevie, Marvin, Curtis route buying albums form the same junk store but also buying new soul 7″s from my local record store. They had no black music except a bit of Motown and stuff that got in the charts so I used to read magazines like Black Music and Blues & Soul and just ordered in records ‘blind’ as there really was nothing to listen to on radio in the UK then that played that kind of stuff. I built up quite a collection of vinyl and got a mixer and a couple of decks for in my bedroom and that soon led to me building my own rig and going out as a mobile DJ , mostly spinning at parties and weddings and sneaking as much Soul and Funk as I could into the playlist.
When you were coming up on the DJ scene what type of music were you playing and how was the DJ scene musically before Rare Groove and Acid Jazz?
I got my first club gig at a place called Bogarts in West London playing Soul, Jazz Funk and Disco – Players Association, The Whispers, Deodata, a bit of Philly Soul stuff and worked there 5 nights a week for a couple of years. I also used to go out clubbing a lot. Most clubs played a lot of chart Disco and Soul but there were a few decent clubs with DJ’s like Chris Hill, George Power, Chris Brown and Sean French playing much better tunes with a lot of Jazz Funk in the mix.
Some friends told me about this DJ Paul Murphy who was playing obscure Jazz Funk. I went along to his night and there were about 11 people in there but the music was amazing – rare Roy Ayers tunes, Ingram’s “Mi Sabrina Tequana”, Barbara Carroll’s “In The Beginning” and the whole night was Jazz Funk or Jazz with one ‘disco’ tune in the whole set, Clyde Alexanders “Got To Get Your Love”. That night changed me forever as a DJ as I figured there was a whole world of Jazz & Jazz Funk music that people weren’t getting to hear and that’s what I wanted to play myself.
I did a few gigs with Paul but really meeting Gilles Peterson (pictured below with Chris) when he was 16 was what gave me to the chance to develop as a Jazz DJ. Gilles had been playing hard Jazz Fusion at Camden’s Electric Ballroom and I came from a more suburban Soulboy scene. I had a much less serious approach to playing Jazz in clubs than some other Jazz DJ’s and the mix of our two styles proved to be a winner. We started running our own gigs together and played Jazz Fusion, Latin Jazz, Blue Note, rare Funk 7″s and what we used to call ‘Dodgy Bossa’ which was pretty much anything with a cheesy Latin beat. Those Gigs were about keeping the whole night as a party without trying to “Educate” everyone and generally playing records that were brilliant to dance to rather than bleating on about John Coltrane or Hard Bop. We had those records but who wants to hear them on a Saturday night out !
How did Rare Groove become Acid Jazz and how much of it was a reaction to Acid House? And there was a famous phrase you coined in reference to Acid House wasn’t there?
There was a big warehouse scene in the UK in the mid 80’s playing what later became called Rare Groove with all kinds of other stuff mixed in from Dinosaur L to Studio One Reggae plus a bit of Northern Soul. It was much more London based and the crowd were much more fashion conscious and really into their music. Gilles and I were playing a lot of Rare Groove in our sets but we were playing slightly different stuff to most of the Rare Groove DJ’s. We used to track down funky stuff on labels like Blue Note, Groove Merchant and Prestige. We both already had hundreds ( probably thousands by then! ) of Jazz records that we used to spin Samba or Latin tunes from and it was just a matter of revisiting those same LP’s and digging out the funk tunes from them , mixing it up with our own Rare Groove ‘discoveries’ and some of the better early Hip Hop stuff. That was the mix of tunes that went on to become Acid Jazz and for me it all started when Gilles got a Monday night residency at the Wag Club in London. They’d had a Jazz night there for a few years with Paul Murphy initially, then later Baz Fe Jazz & Sylvester playing Bop, Latin Jazz & a bit of rare Salsa with some of the best UK Jazz bands playing live. When Gilles took over the night I used to come down every other week and we’d play our funky Jazz mix downstairs and upstairs was more Jazz Fusion for the dancers. Upstairs became more of a playground musically and we started spinning some crazy stuff scratching “Accapella” Jazz stuff like mad Sax intros and Beat Poetry like Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” over Hip Hop drum tracks next to crazy Jazz Fusion like Dewey Redman’s ” Unknown Tongue”. One night Eddie Piller came down to the club. He was managing James Taylor Quartet at the time and I think both Eddie & James Taylor were blown away by what was happening there. The next time I saw JTQ they were playing a set pretty close to what Gilles and I span as DJ’s.
One night Gilles and I were playing at this Gig with Paul Oakenfold & Pete Tong. At that time Acid House was just taking hold in the UK but we were still spinning in the same room as them playing faster stuff that sat better in the mix with what they were playing. Gilles was spinning this old Sabu Martinez track and there was a giant screen behind us showing Psychedelic Photos, Graffitti Art and Text. So there’s this heavy Latin track spinning and the screen keeps flashing up “ACID … ACID” behind us in giant letters and we thought it was well funny. I grabbed the mike and shouted ” Fuck Acid House – This Is Acid Jazz !!! “. We played our craziest tunes, slowing down and speeding up intros to tracks like Mickey & The Soul Generations “Iron Leg”, Gilles spent the whole night repeating the words “Acid Jazz” on the mike between every track, the place went crazy and a new ‘Genre’ was born.
You contributed two songs, Bassic and Hipology , to the Talkin’ Loud compilation under the pseudonym Wild and Peaceful . How important were these two tunes to the up and coming Acid Jazz scene?
As sampling technology developed in the late 80’s and DJ’s started to make tunes I started messing around in the studio myself. That gave me a chance to be able to express myself musically in a way I never could when playing or singing in bands. I’d made a few tunes for Acid Jazz records and when Gilles started Talking Loud he invited me to record a couple of tunes. I don’t think those tracks had any great significance except within the entity of the album which along with Eddie Piller’s “Acid Jazz” compilation for Polydor was the first time this style of music was available to buy in your local record store and with the kind of press and promotional backup that a small label like Acid Jazz Records could never have afforded.
What did you think of some of the other artists that Eddie and Gilles had brought together like Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies and Push ?
I liked all of that stuff not just musically but because it took the sounds we’d been championing for years and took it into the Pop market but particularly because it inspired an almost ‘Punk-Like’ movement of kids forming live bands, but this time playing funky Jazz music. The major label’s involvement also took Acid Jazz into the States where it exploded a couple of years later.
Your album Hippy House and Happy Hop came out in 89. Was this album an outgrowth of what you had been doing in terms of spinning all those years beforehand ?
I literally had no idea what I was doing when I made that album. I was just messing around in the studio trying to learn how it all worked and trying to work out my own musical style. I didn’t know how to sample at first so I used to just spin stuff onto tape from Vinyl and programmed the drums from my drum machine.
You also put out something with Quiet Boys (a Chris Bangs alter ego), an album was also put out in 89. How did you approach this project differently from Hippy House?
I’d already made quite a few records under different names by the time I started the Quiet Boys album which was probably the first thing I put out after producing Galliano. I always looked at the Quiet Boys as my main project as an Artist/Composer taking in all my influences. I’d recorded a few of the tracks for that album “Can’t Hold The Vibe” (Acid Jazz) but I’d learnt the limitations of what I could do on my own. I could play a little keys and live bass but I wanted to take things in a more song based direction so I got musicians and singers including Camelle Hinds & Mick Talbot in to sing & play on the tracks which took it to a whole different place. I made three albums as the Quiet Boys and the second one “Bosh” (Acid Jazz) had the most live playing and was probably my favourite album of my own.
What lead you to form your own production company and studio,Thin Air ?
By 1993 I’d been working in other people’s studios for around five years. I’d been producing and remixing for Major and Indie labels pretty much full time since I gave up DJ’ing in 1990. I’d just finished up producing and writing an album for an act on Virgin and got signed as a writer to BMG, so I’d made some money but wanted to take a bit more control over what I was doing and make some music of my own. The first thing I did was the “Bosh” album and I found that having my own studio setup gave me much more time to write some decent tunes, cut down on the samples, record as much as possible live and make music I was digging myself rather than producing somebody else.
You also produced Galliano. What was so special about them initially and how were things affected when Mick Talbot come on board?
I’d already cut half a dozen demos using samples with Rob Galliano before he got signed and Acid Jazz existed as a name but there wasn’t really any music out there to define the genre at that point so we had the most incredible free rein over what we did making that first album.
We didn’t have much of a budget but we managed to pull a few favours and got some great UK Jazz musicians to come and play including Steve White, Tony Remy, Steve Williamson & Julian Joseph. We had all kinds of styles mixed up on that album from Ragga to Poetry, we sampled anything and everything, threw it together, all stressed out, as none of us had any experience of a project of that size and somehow came out with something pretty good at the end.
Mick Talbot had played Fender Rhodes on quite a few tracks on the album so when the band had to go out and tour he was the ideal choice to lead the live band and he drove them forward getting involved as producer and writer on a couple of albums.
How did you meet Paul Weller?
Paul came down to the studio when I had Roy Ayers come in for a session on the Galliano album. I hadn’t met Paul at that point and he just sat quietly sat the back watching and digging what was going on. That was a pretty amazing day, we ended up with Roy on 5 tracks and hired in a set of original Musser ‘Harp’ Vibes which was what he played all through the Ubiquity years. The vibes weighed an absolute ton but we set them up in this great big stone walled room and they sounded amazing. Roy said ” You guys have really got that “old” sound ! “. I tried to get an old 70’s sound for everything on that album. We hired in vintage amps, valve microphones and compressors and I think that was what Paul was into re my producing and why he invited me to come and work with him on his first solo album.
What was your involvement with the first Paul Weller Album? How was it working at Solid Bond Studios? Was it intimidating to work with such a legend?
I only worked on one track “Above The Clouds”. Most of the album was already recorded by that point and I just turned up at Solid Bond with a bag of records and sat with Paul for a day working up a track for a set of lyrics he had written. Paul’s actually a very humble quiet person when he’s working and It felt very natural just sitting and jamming some ideas together. Solid Bond was a huge place in Central London with the inevitable Cappuccino machine in its spacious kitchen. It also had a beautiful stone live room and an unbelievable array of vintage Pianos, Clavinets, Wurlitzers, Rhodes and Guitars, although Paul put down the guide keys (which we ended up keeping) using a horrible cheap Casio keyboard. When it came to recording vocals Paul used to have a little trick. He would always smoke a cigarette between takes so his voice sounded “nice and rough”. We spent a couple more days working on the guitar parts and vocals with Brendan Lynch and then I came in for the mix. I have to say it was a right laugh most of the time and Paul is so experienced that he is very relaxed in the studio which makes working with him nothing but a pleasure.
You worked with Mick on a variety projects together. How did the collaborative process work on Soundscape UK? And on what Soundscape UK album did everything come together perfectly?
Mick Talbot is a really talented Pianist and Writer who like me is really into vintage sounds. Once I had my own studio set up and had just finished the “Bosh” LP. I gave Mick a call and asked him how he felt about writing and producing an album together. He was immediately responsive and I had a readymade bunch of musicians who I’d been working with to come and play on the tracks as we put them down. Working with Mick was so easy. We share a lot of common influences but I come more from a 70’s Soul and Jazz angle , while Mick is into everything from Motown and Stax to Dr John and the Rolling Stones. The first album we made was called “Subculture” and we couldn’t come up with a meaningful band name which no one had used, we found there was a rock band in the USA called Soundscape so we called ourselves Yada Yada. The album was licensed all over the world and did really well but the American label wanted to use the Soundscape name so we called ourselves Soundscape UK in America and recorded a few additional tracks for the US Jazz market. Our first album was probably the best received but our second one “Piktures” was written recorded and mixed in 21 days and I like that one best myself.
You’ve worked with some great musicians; would you say that Camelle Hinds is the best bass player in the UK?
I worked a lot with Camelle over the years. He’s a super funky bass player but also a really talented singer and songwriter which I feel somehow gets overshadowed by his Bass playing. We wrote a few tracks together some of which ended up on my albums and we also got to write a couple of tunes in the studio with Sharon Redd shortly before she died. She was a beautiful person in every sense of the word and one of the tracks we wrote ” Am I Dreaming?” was a killer, although it never got released and I don’t even have a copy of it any more. Tomorrow’s Rare Groove maybe !!
You were spinning at those Summers of Love in Corfu and Ibiza? Can you tell any crazy stories from those days?
To be honest there’s probably more that I can’t tell you about than I can. ( ha ha!) My personal highlight was DJ’ing in Ibiza spinning Santana’s “Song Of The Wind” and one of my own tunes at Cafe Del Mar but that’s not so wild really.
Of all the artists you’ve produced what is your favourite production job and why? Espiritu? Joelle Ursull? Ce Ce Rogers? Galliano? Workshy?
Well I written and /or produced for all sorts of people from Barrie Sharpe & Diana Brown to Courtney Pine and remixed a whole load of others including Will Downing, Ce Ce Rogers and Blaze but It has to be Galliano. It was a long and painful process producing and writing that album in some ways cos I really didn’t know my job at that point but I’m still proud of a lot that we did on that.
CHRIS BANGS: single ‘Samba Do Sueno’ and ‘Soccer Samba’ are good to go now digitally with vinyl on the menu from November 7th. . ‘Firebird’ album, due January.