Fat Tuesdays for Funk / Soul / Jazz / Blues musicians

It’s been a while since I put up a blog.  I’ve had the pleasure of getting married recently so have been pre-occupied :) .  I’ll write a blog about some of the excellent suppliers we found sometime soon, and also one about the nightmare that finding a band can be! Some of the demands bands make, and fees that agents charge left me a little cold. Anyway – another time..  

I have an inkling of an idea. It’s a mere spark in the milkman’s eye at the moment but why not put it on the internet.

Whenever I’m thinking about what to do for an evening out there are 2 things that tend to spring to mind.  First is that I would like to see more local gigs that showcase quality music and clever ideas.  Second is that I’m always on the look out to meet and play with more musicians.

Unfortunately many of the gigs that you stumble across don’t display much in terms of ambition and ability.  For those of us who are in bands there is always the problem of finding deps, and keeping them up to speed with what you do. I also suspect that there are many musicians out there who have not had the chance to sit in with bands either for fun, for extra cash, or even just experience and to cut their teeth.

What if we could start a regular night where we took over a venue, had some equipment set up, and let a variety of bands play a few numbers each / share ideas / jam / collaborate? Let people showcase ideas or meet and play with potential deps.  It would essentially be a free club for local musicians to bring ideas and have fun. Of course you’d need to be invited to play… we wouldn’t want it to border on karaoke!

It’s probably just a dream but wouldn’t it be cool to know you could just show up, hear quality music, meet like minded musicians and have a few drinks. 

Maybe it’s just me…?

A few recent gigs

How is everyone? I thought I’d write a little blog about some recent gigs that we’ve had, and some that are coming up.

We’ve been busy recently and we’ve got bookings every weekend for the next 5 weekends after this one! Times are good in the Fat cat camp, if a little busy :) .

A few weeks ago we took a trip down to Littlesea holiday park in Weymouth.  Oh man did it rain!! It rained all the way there, all evening, and all the way home!  It rained so much that their swimming pool flooded!  I kid you not – there was water gushing in and the water level of the pool rose at least a foot.  They were meant to be hosting an event in a marquee but that had to be moved indoors, which moved us into the onsite pub.  The opening act (a vocalist) got stuck in the rain and couldn’t make it, so we followed a last minute draft in vocalist singing mainly to families eating.  The guy is the manager of the Papa John’s pizza stall there. He did an amazing job stepping in at the last minute and getting everyone in the mood.  We then went on and, after everyone had finished eating, had a busy dancefloor including a 118 man and a “where’s Wally”!  We also had a few ladies dancing, one of which who took a shine to one of our horn section… I won’t say who and embarrass them…. but it’s not the girl, the Indian, or the trombone player… ;) … (sorry Pete.. I mean sorry mystery horn player).

All the people who work there are legends! They really worked hard to make sure that the evening was seemless, despite the torrential rains and flooding.  We got the gig through the lovely guys at Sonic Artists Ltd – God bless ‘em, and hope to get a few more down that way. If you don’t know Sonic Artists then check them out: http://sonicartists.com/

Next we did our usual stint at the Winevaults in Albert Road.  An awesome evening and perhaps one of our busiest there to date. I love it when the whole room is dancing and singing.  We’ve hoping to be back there again soon – watch this space.

We then played for the berth holders party at Haslar Marina.  What a fantastic crowd!  They were brilliant and danced most of the night, even with a stomach full of delicious BBQ food!  Haslar put on a party to remember and everyone who works there were so friendly. We were properly looked after by the good folks there and are really keen to head back again next year.

So coming up we are returning to the Bear at Home’s beer festival in North Moreton, Oxford.  Last year we had a day of sunshine, good beer, BBQ food and music. It was legend….ary.  We’re a lucky band to be so well looked after wherever we go. I’m seriously looking forward to it again and it looks like the weather will have improved in time as well.  Yes!!  http://www.moretonbeerandcricket.co.uk/SAT.html

After that we are then playing a charity gig on Hayling Island – Saturday night live.  Headlined by Superhero we are playing one of the early slots in the evening.  Should be a great night – look it up and come along! http://www.hicca.co.uk/

As always keep an eye on the website for what’s coming up.  Hope to see you at a gig sometime soon!  Come and say hi to us, have a chat and a beer.

All the best :)

Do you offer a smaller band?

Hi all,  hope everyone’s well :) We are often asked if we offer a smaller band… Well It’s not always an easy question to answer.  

The thing is, when we set this band up the dream was to have a full horn section playing both the iconic horn lines in many of the songs, but also doing new and exciting things to songs that dont have a horn part already written. Why? Because they sound soooo fat! I love soul, funk, blues and all sorts of music and those genres really shine when there’s an exciting horn section playing some fat riffs and funky stabs. You just can’t beat it.

Many of the songs we do would sound empty without the various horn parts. No-one would expect us to play without a guitar, so why are the sax, trumpet & trombone so easy to scrap? Think of the intro to Soul man, I bet you can’t imagine it without that fast horn part, or imagine respect without that sax solo – they’re integral parts of the songs. We could play without the horns but many times we just choose not to go without. We want to sound as good as possible and we put in a lot of work to make it all sound tight and full. At full compliment there are 9 of us – that takes some arranging to make sure it doesn’t just sound a mess.  Our guitarist Adrian spends a lot of long late nights charting everything out to perfection just so that we can be the band we want to be. The Blues brothers wouldn’t play without Mr. Fabulous Alan Rubin, who sadly passed away last year, (it’s one of the best scenes in an amazing movie when they try to recruit him in the restaurant – classic) so we choose not to play too often without our guys.

So, if we look torn when you ask if we play as a smaller band it’s simply because there is a great legacy of horn players in classic and modern funk and soul. Check out Marvin playing live, or Aretha, or Sam and Dave – always a full horn section. Beyonce tours with a horn section and uses them to great effect live. I love the sound of the horns riffing away over a groove – it can’t be beat. You can take any 3, 4 or 5 piece, who might be excellent at what they do, but if they’re playing any funk or soul I bet that you notice the gap. So if you’re booking a band for a party go the extra mile and choose one who can recreate those classic tunes the way they should be done :)  

Of course if horn players learned the music instead of sight reading we’d love them even more…. But part of love is accepting the other parties faults :)

If you like horn players then check out trombone shorty, big sams funky nation, kermit ruffins, hot 8, soul rebels, mad caddies for some ska, cherry poppin daddies for some swing… 

We’re at the Winevaults in Thursday 28th June, come and have a drink with us and a boogie.

Ta-ta. 

A controversial defence

** Due to the controversial nature of this blog I should state that this is my opinion alone, and not necessarily that of the whole Fat Cat Soul Band **

A few weeks ago I was doing some sorting and tidying in my flat.  From the next room I heard my lovely girlfriend shout “Simon, we need to talk”.  So, heart in mouth, I head into the other room to see her standing there, holding something that is supposed to elicit shame and embarrassment in me. I know what you’re all assuming, but no you’re wrong.  In her eyes this may be considered worse….

It was my “One night alone… live” Prince boxset.

A small argument ensued around a) whether I should own such an item (and have it out in the open for just anyone to see), and b) whether Prince is in fact any good.

Prince has written some incredible funk songs and I will happily defend that point against anyone.  The arrangements from the structure to the use of horns is always so tasteful, and it always grooves. On nearly every album he’s done there is at least one killer funk tune – there’s a reason that people like Maceo Parker are happy to play with him (besides the cash).  Check out these examples for some slightly lesser known examples:

FUNK – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iPcUFNR2aA
The Work – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYb_Kl-qKcI
Family Name – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXWbNotSawI&feature=related
Get on the boat (sorry for the image used) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zk0_U7siJc
Musicology – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bG301CI1rHs&feature=related
Ol’ skool company – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuGrQPf_ioY

Now I know that you could probably put up a load of links to songs that would make me cringe (and even more photos of his outfits from the past) but these songs are great and the guy really knows how to do funk. Not only that but he (and importantly his band) put on a really exceptional live show.

Now to be balanced and to show that I’m not blindly naive I should share this brilliant story from Kevin Smith http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy_cLJ19HMg&feature=relmfu. Follow the links for the whole story – I apologise for some of the language in this but the guy can really tell a story. I respect Prince and recognise talent, but clearly he can sometimes come across as very very weird.

So whilst I will defend my admiration of some of Prince’s music, I wouldn’t say he’s in my top 10 of people I want to have a beer with!  Mind you, it could be worse… Lionel …. just saying Nat… ;)

Soul and Funk never get dull

We’ve been busy recently with various weddings and parties. The Weddings have all been fantastic and we’ve been lucky enough to have been hired by some genuinely lovely couples. Their guests have all been up for a good time, and been kind enough to dance through our set, and chat to us afterwards.

I think it helps that we all genuinely enjoy, and get a buzz out of playing. That seems to come across and people are more receptive to a band that is having a good time whilst they play. It struck me whilst we were playing “Signed, sealed, delivered” (for the hundredth time), at a brilliant wedding in Bradford-upon-Avon, that I never get bored of playing the songs we play! We have not only gigged them countless times, but we’ve also rehearsed them probably just as many times again. There are some songs that we do that are different to the original (“Tainted Love” being a prime example), and I get excited about people hearing it and seeing the penny drop as we mix it up with another popular melody. But I even still get a kick out of playing the songs exactly as per the recording.

Soul and funk never get dull!

That’s partly down to the vibe, and feel of the songs. They always lift your spirits. It’s also down to how amazingly well written the songs are as well. Stevie Wonder is an absolute genius! The man wrote so many timeless hits that are more musically interesting and catchy than thousands of records that have come since.

A couple of fun Stevie links:
With another legend http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJYUSdX-Rps&feature=related;
covered regularly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCPjeOPjH5Y
the bass player on this made me want to sell my bass http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CZtxgl6qNo

Thinking of the guys who play in the background I’m constantly amazed by how many of the songs from our set were originally backed by the same bunch of guys – The Funk Brothers. All you have to do is scroll down on their Wikipedia page for a list of songs they played on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Funk_Brothers

It reads like a list of essential records from that period. Incidentally if you think any are missing then it’s likely that they were recorded by the guys at Stax – Booker T and the MG’s, or the LA group The Wrecking Crew. These guys were all incredible musicians who carved their own personalities into the songs. James Jamerson (bass) alone is idolised by bass players everywhere. Just check out the chorus line to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz-UvQYAmbg for tasteful and just right, or if you want to hear him play all over the fret board then listen to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8YPxkZ6m3s&feature=fvwrel – not a single bar is repeated – the guy was a monster player.

Sadly they never really got the fame that they deserved in their hay-day. They were the ultimate session band and deserve all the respect and admiration that the records they played on have.

For us we’re just happy that they made all the songs so interesting and fun to play. It means that we get a kick out of them when we learn them and when we play them for the hundredth time.

What Makes A Good Cover?

Welcome to the Fat Cat Soul Band blog! If you’re reading this then you clearly have too much time on your hands.. mind you, by extension I’m far worse for actually writing it so let’s agree to go on in embarrassed acknowledgement of both having nothing better to do.

We thought we could use this space to share some favourite albums / artists, chat about what we’re up to and generally shoot the breeze.

I thought we’d start by chatting about covers (seeing as we’re a covers band) and what makes a good cover version. Now I’ve always been bored by a whole set of straight covers, and when we first started FCSB we had a couple of rules in mind:

1. Be faithful to our chosen genre
2. Make it interesting and surprising for people

Genre then… In many respects our name gives it away… we’re a Soul band. We chose soul because it is a beautifully varied and rich genre. It includes soul (classic and modern), funk, motown, RnB (the way it used to be, i.e. good and about the music, rather than dull and about what an artist looks like) and many more. We wanted to specialise and cater for a discerning, intelligent and beautiful audience (flattery might work to secure bookings…) and we all love soul music, so it seemed the only way to go. I’ll harp on about the music itself in a later blog, back to covers for now. We decided that we didn’t want to play the same old predictable rock / pop covers that everyone else does (try and find a covers band who don’t do Sex on Fire – go on, have a look). I’ve nothing against those songs / bands, but it doesn’t do it for me to see yet another covers band play them note for note. We wanted to play stuff that’s exciting – and when you look back at the back catalogue of soul music you can’t help but be stunned by the timeless talent and creativity. The only drawback for us then is how well known, and loved, these songs are. We knew we had to approach these with due respect, but also make sure that people have a reason to come and see us play them, hence point 2.

I’m sure that a lot of people would say that covers bands should do covers, and if you want interesting then you should be in an originals band. Sigh. I’m not going to touch that debate with a 60 ft pole. My point is that while a lot of these songs are classics, and don’t need to be changed for the sake of change, there is still a lot of scope to make things more entertaining for an audience. And that’s the point of a covers band – to entertain. We spend countless hours thinking about how to do a song. We look at the original artist’s live versions, check out other interpretations from different artists and come up with an arrangement that we think works, and is fun. Of course you can’t completely re-work every song in the set, but if you’re not thinking about it then surely it gets boring for the performer as well?

So onto the question – what makes a good cover? Well, the original needs to be well known and liked. You wouldn’t believe the length of some of our discussions around what songs to do. I hold my hands up as a bit… difficult… to talk to about song ideas. It’s not like I punish people for an idea (that only manages to stop one idea, a slow headshake and look of sadness at their lack of moral character is so much more effective) but I do tend to wear my heart on my sleeve. The Wham suggestion over Christmas still saddens me (you know who you are) and I will never cave on my feelings toward Lionel (sorry Nat). These are the types of suggestions that ruin friendships! But the point is that we spend a lot of time thinking about what should go into the set – there’s no room for filler. If you’re not liking the songs you’re playing then how can you expect anyone else to enjoy themselves? So a good cover is one that you want to play, and people want to hear. It’s kind of that simple! The thing that sets bands apart from each other is the treatment that they give to that cover, and whether they’re bold enough to do something that stands them apart from a DJ. I love seeing artists live who make the effort to change up their show from the record. It shows guts and a desire to entertain. A prime example at the moment is Bruno Mars. I was never a big fan of his, but watching his live shows left me blown away.

If you’ve stayed with me then kudos to you. We’re playing a couple of gigs this weekend, and then have a couple next week. On Thursday we will be back with the Winevaults and will have a couple of new songs to play. If you’re local then we would love and appreciate your support. Come and have a drink with us. If you have a suggestion of a good cover then throw it our way and enjoy the spectrum of emotion in the response, everything from admiration to disgust.

Have lovely weekends all.