July 24th, 2014 by Boisdale
The Soul Immigrants have been fine-tuning their potent brew of funk, soul and jazz on Londonâ€™s stages for over 20 years, blurring the boundaries between The JBs and Booker T & the MGs with a distinctive British swagger. They will be appearing at Boisdale of Belgravia on Friday 1st August.
Jonathan Wingate talks to bandleader, Emrys Baird.
Which artists would you say have been the biggest influence on your music over the years?
It’s got to be Sly & The Family Stone. Underneath that monstrous ensemble playing are fantastic tunes and spot on arrangements. Itâ€™s staggering to think what power they projected when they did their soul funk and hard funkâ€¦unbeatable stuff! Of course, James Brown and Booker T & the MGs still blow me away every time.
As a guitarist, Iâ€™m nuts about Jimi Hendrix, and I love the fact that underneath all that crazy playing lies a soul-man. His old-school R&B cool approach shines through and he just takes the music somewhere else. I also love Carlos Santana and Prince for their fiery licks. I saw Chic recently, and I was amazed at how softly he strums the guitarâ€¦heâ€™s got a touch thatâ€™s as light as a feather.
If you could go back in time, who would you have liked to have played with?
I think I could have cut the mustard as Georgie Fameâ€™s guitarist. The 60s was a period of real cross-fertilization where musicians from every genre of music jammed together. Georgie Fame made that happen in many waysâ€¦imagine those nights at The Bag Oâ€™ Nails back thenâ€¦everyone from the Beatles and the Stones to all the soul stars of the day were hanging out there. It swung!
The Soul Immigrants have now been together for 20 years. How much has the music changed since you first started?
Essentially we are a funk band with some jazz thrown in for good measure. Weâ€™ve always kept it that way, although we have started incorporating our 70s influences recently. We donâ€™t hop about too much, stylistically speaking. Weâ€™ve become much more raw over the yearsâ€¦I like that roughness. Bland we ainâ€™t.
Our sound is a mix of funk, soul and jazzâ€¦in that order; funk for the beat, soul for expression and some nice jazzy shades to pretty it all upâ€¦if needed.
You are currently putting the finishing touches to your forthcoming album, The Hustle Is On. Have you got any special guests playing with you?
Funny you should askâ€¦yesterday we managed to snare the best trombonist in the world, Fred Wesley. He was James Brownâ€™s right hand man, and his contribution to funk history is incalculable. We had to book a room relatively near his hotel for him to record in, and the taxis were all full and the traffic was terrible, so I shoved Fred in a rickshaw as time was running out before he had to go and do his show. Watching him blow his trombone for us was undoubtedly one of the most memorable experiences of my career.
Weâ€™ve also got Robin Banerjee guesting on one track. He was Amy Winehouseâ€™s guitarist, and he represents British funk at its very best. The album should be finished soon, and I have to say, I am incredibly excited about it.
Who would you say was the greatest funk musician of all time?
Well, Fred is right up there, but my favourite is Maceo Parker. James Brown would always shout his name before a solo, so you knew you were in for something special when that call came. In my book, heâ€™s the funk midfielder general.
If you had to explain what The Soul Immigrants sound like to an alien, what would you say?
If a UFO came calling, Iâ€™d just say this: â€˜Aliens â€“ we are a primitive band, we mean you no harm. Can you feel our happy music? Please give us a ride in your Mothership Connection.â€™
The New Yorkerâ€™s legendary music critic, Whitney Balliett famously described jazz as ‘the sound of surprise.’ How would you define it?
Jazz is liquid Mercuryâ€¦you’ll never catch it.