Sunday, 8 December 2013

Brothers Groove

You can play 35 notes if you really want. 3 sounds just fine from over here

Brothers Groove have a lot of miles on the clock. Their music is not, by any definition, cutting edge or new: stylish blues and funk with a little bit of jazz in the mix. Hipster bands half their age might well sniff – until they see how much work the band gets.

Then again, hip or not hip is beside the point.  Lots of people try to get this stuff right in the UK; many miss the mark. Brothers Groove are doing ok: their music breathes. It has space and taste. Think Robben Ford, Crusaders, Little Feat, Steely Dan in their prime. That kind of ballpark. And...` they’re brummies. There’s a second album in the can - samples later in in this post - and a plan.

Unless you already knew, you’d never think there's a thriving UK Blues scene. It’s competitive, of course, and possibly cliquey, like many specialist music scenes. But once you prove yourself on that circuit, you get work.

Deano Bass. Photo courtesy Ken Amsted
Deano Bass is pleased but slightly surprised by my enthusiasm after watching a few Brothers Groove videos and checking out their Bandcamp page. I’m curious about the back story. Never mind the music, how did this bunch of grizzled veterans find each other? 
Deano We've known each other for twenty five years. But this project is only one and a half years old. We were playing a different form of blues; trying to cram in everything. Now we don’t. 
Yes – a lot of space. I’m not hearing that in British blues bands. Lot of space 
We get that a lot. It’s a shared thing. And we get a lot of comments because we use two lead guitarists, rather than a lead and rhythm. There’s not any ego here. 

It turns out that Deano and I moved in neighbouring circles some forty years back. He was growing up in Aston when I worked at the old BRMB, then also in Aston, in the 70s. You walked up from the station to the Aston Cross studios, past the vans unloading pigs into Thompson's slaughterhouse on the Aston Road. All that’s gone, replaced by industrial units and vast car retail parks. Deano's old stomping ground has changed some. 
I’ve know Shaun (Hill) since he was about ten or eleven. Sean was always playing, and I bumped into him years later.. We started jamming. Sean had been taking lessons from Nige, and the three of us started practising. And it fell into place. 
Who drives the band, who writes the material? 
We jam, we find a groove and the songs come from there. But we’re gigging a lot now, and all the money’s going into the album. Graham Brown – he’s Oli Brown’s dad – he’s been booking us into gigs. Wayne Proctor has produced our new album. 
Nige Mellor.
Photo by Ken Amsted
We’re joined by one of the two lead guitarists, Nige Mellor. The conversation switches to British Blues. I’ve always found it ironic that Britain took the blues, sexed it up while missing a lot of the beauty of the form… and sold it back to the USA. I shouldn’t really complain: I started in radio in the US on the back of that British boom. Brit accents were fashionable after a host of Brit R&B bands that led the charge to the USA. It helped get me the gig led on to everything else. And I wound up playing British blues records to US audiences, which always struck me as odd. 

So please explain to me how this all came together – because it is a pretty extraordinary state of affairs? 
Nige Well… a lot of talking, a lot of playing. a lot of seeing other musicians…Most of it comes from seeing bands live. The Ronnie Scotts days of the 90s… before that place closed down (and became a lap-dancing venue). It was amazing. That was a learning place for us, not just hearing people, but seeing their stage presence, their vibe. Their connection with the crowd. So we saw so many people there: Average White Band, George Duke, Robben Ford ...
Deano Remember the Crusaders? I was watching their sax player, Wilton Felton. They had this monster groove going, and he just stood there. Got his sax clip on, just stood there looking cool. Didn’t move. Then he gets ready to grab his sax, cos he knows his bars are coming up. And he’s clipped in…it’s coming to him…and he’s a completely different animal – took us on a journey. And as he finished, he unclipped his sax, put it back down. I was like ‘How have you just composed yourself like that?’

Nige: Soaking up things like that, playing your part, being part of that discipline. Brass players can be busy. It was learning when not to play. Sit in your pocket, and be together, and that’s the starting point. 
If you think about the great rhythm units of the 60s in the States – Booker T and the MGs, the boys in Muscle Shoals, The Funk Brothers at Motown – it was all about space. But this is 2013, and we’re in England. 
Nige I remember putting Sean on one groove and you (Deano) on another and going off to make a cup of tea and laughing – they’d just got it. 
But hasn’t it taken quite a long time for you to fall into this place? 
Nige Yes but that’s a good thing. We know what not to do. 
What about work? 
Nige It’s picking up, we can have three or four gigs crammed round a weekend – other times just one. 
Lots of bands would kill for that. 
Nige Yeah. We’re very lucky. We know the band will go to another level if we can commit to going full time. Right now Sean’s at work, laying bricks. But we should really be doing this 9 to 5. 
No drummer at the moment. Is that a problem? 
Deano We got ten… 
Nige It’s not a problem at all. It’s quite interesting. It keeps us on our toes, because we get something different every gig. We have a couple of regulars: Nick Gibbs, he’s a busy guy, runs the Adam and Eve. Great guy, great groove. We’ve had Jamie Little too. Mates from way back. 
Final question: what happens in three years time, when you’re off to the US to play all the major festivals, and you bump into The Brothers Groove in Detroit? 
Nige: (laughing) They’re a really nice band. 
I love all this. It may have taken decades for these guys to get to this point. But they're there. Many of our early earnest attempts at blues and soul in the UK were worthy, but wide of the target. Go back to the early Stones and run an a/b comparison with Arthur Alexander’s ‘You Better Move On’. Or check out the Animals versus Ray Charles on ‘I Believe To My Soul’. 

But everything’s come a long way since then. Now? Britain’s no longer the centre of the pop universe. Nor, for that matter, is America. Great music is great music, and it travels round the world on the web to those who want to listen. 

And, even if the web is destroying a lot of things, that, at least, is a good thing. 

The new Brothers Groove album Play The Game is officially released on 27 January 2014 - but I suspect you'll be able to get advance copies direct from the band at gigs.

Brothers Groove website

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