May 13, 2018
Named after an Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live sketch (in case you were wondering), a good-spirited sense of humour informs James Brown is Annie’s approach. Operating under a premise of inclusion and openness, JBiA’s music appeals to a wide range of audiences from across a spectrum of musical taste. As such, the band has played at diverse venues and occasions; from the Hogmanay street party, to TradFest, to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival.
Dubbed ‘one of Scotland’s top bands of the moment’ by BBC Radio Scotland, the funk-soul jazz sextet (‘JBiA’ for short) are at the top of their game. Already with a debut album under their belt, 2015’s eponymous JBiA, a second album is being primed for release.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Barry Gordon, JBiA’s rhythm guitarist, to hear about the making of the band’s much-anticipated second album and about what Hidden Door means to him.
Your sound has been described in colourful terms such as ‘tartan special kind of funk’. In your own words, how would you describe your music?
It was Alan Gorrie from the Average White Band who called us that after a show we did with them at the ABC in Glasgow. It kinda stuck with us from there on. Thankfully, he didn’t call us the Tennents L.A. Of Funk — after the non-alcoholic beer of the 1980s. That wouldn’t have been much of a selling point. Hamish Stuart, however — another Average White Band alumni — said we sound like modern rhythm ‘n’ blues. Me, though; I’d say we sound like AWB tearing down the A9 in a Ford Torino with Steely Dan blaring from the stereo, The J.B.’s strapped to the roof-rack. Come along to the show and you can judge for yourself.
Who are your main influences?
Musically? All of the above. And we’ve been lucky enough to have shared a stage with lots of our influences — groups like The Headhunters, The Family Stone, The Blockheads, Little Feat, etc. I like to think a little bit of each has rubbed off on us. Spiritually, though, I’d say great coffee, our mothers, and Marty McFly — the guy who gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll in 1955 — are our greatest influences.
In 2015 you released your debut album ‘JBiA’; would you care to talk about that?
That was when we found where the groove was. (It’s in between the notes, dear reader.) Another original Average White Band member — saxophonist Molly Duncan — came onboard to produce it, and Alan Gorrie penned a song exclusively for us to go on it. So we got off to a good start. This was around the time the third wave of JBiA had just come together, so with me writing most of the music, it didn’t have our true identity stamped on it yet. It did well, though, and in the song Get Up To Get Down we landed a Single Of The Week from BBC Radio Scotland.
And we hear you’ve got a second album in the works…
We’ve just finished recording with award-winning songwriter Hamish Stuart, who was in Paul McCartney’s Band for six years, and who has worked with Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross. You couldn’t meet a nicer, more encouraging and down-to-earth guy. He made us a more rounded-sounding band: more vocal-led, and improved our collective songwriting ten-fold. It’s out in September and we’ll be playing songs from it at the show.
How do you think Hidden Door has impacted the Edinburgh cultural scene?
I’ve always liked how Hidden Door manage to open up forgotten, underused or under-appreciated venues for the general public to explore and fall in-love with. And it’s good that the festival takes place when there isn’t other festivals going on. By focusing on Leith, Hidden Door shine a light on an area that’s dying to show-off its charms to the wider world. Also, the festival gives opportunities to some artists who might otherwise have gone undiscovered. Long may that continue.
What does Hidden Door mean to you?
It means JBiA have the opportunity to play a hometown show at one of Scotland’s best festivals. Leith Theatre has captured my imagination ever since I moved here in 1995, and I’m delighted to have the chance to play on its famous stage. Obviously, it’s a great thing for Leith, too. By bringing people to the area, it’s an opportunity to open more eyes and ears to its illustrious history and living, breathing culture.
James Brown is Annie will play on Friday 1st June, in collaboration with Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival. Tickets are now on sale, £16, £13 concessions.