Climb On Board – Labrinth
Something tell me I’m almost there…
When was the day the music died ? Not the Buddy Holly plane crash – For you I mean. Or did it just fade away ? How exactly do you ‘keep up’ with what’s going on ? Maybe it doesn’t really matter to you. Isn’t it strange that we all have a magic year of music which coincides with our 13th-14th birthdays? Mine is 1971 – almost every song from that year makes me go weak at the knees. So perhaps there is a year when we disengage with music, and our own peculiar musical taste is set in stone. I find that my taste is growing all the time and – some people do this – I actually do try to keep up with “what’s going on” – but in a filtered way of course. For example – I was immersed in the punk and post-punk scene in London, but probably ignored the funk music, the metal, the folk music of that time. I was similarly enamoured with hip hop from 1987-1990 and almost literally bought everything, but as a result ignored much of the pop and rock music of the late eighties (did I miss much?). And as the years roll by, how do we stay in touch…? Do we even want to…? Should a 50-year-old man be listening to Radio One ? Why not ?
If you have young people in your life, music becomes current naturally – if they live in your house you will hear the latest thing whether you want to or not. My own musical curiosity has not dimmed at all over the years, and from time to time I do listen to Radio One, especially in the evenings if I’m in England, or even online. I still read reviews of new music : Pitchfork, The Guardian, Quietus, anywhere. I still chase music down, whether on Youtube channels, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp. People send me stuff. I follow up on leads. I keep my ears open, generally. But it is impossible to stay abreast of everything, even if that were desirable. My relationship with music comes partly from repetition – listening to an LP over and over again, becoming obsessed with it, having to hear it at least once a day. I still have those moments, but not so often. Now – songs will still grab me, and I like to listen to them over and over. Everything Everything still do that for me, three albums in. Kanye West still does that for me. And Labrinth certainly does that for me.
I first heard this track Climb On Board by Labrinth inside my own house, played by my nephew Thomas Jules to one of his friends Paul. They both loved it in a way that I immediately understood. I really liked it too. We played it again, then I ordered the LP Electronic Earth and it arrived a few days later. It was summer 2012, I’d just shot Inspector George Gently with the rather wonderful Martin Shaw in Durham, and I’d taken the rather fantastic Diana Quick to dinner and talked shop. I was now embarking on another round of the sitcom Him & Her for BBC3, where I played Her Dad. My wife – or Her Mum – was one of my regular acting partners Marion Bailey – I think this was our fifth or sixth job together – not always married, but people who like her also like me, apparently.
Russell Tovey and Sarah Solemani were Him & Her, while Ricky Champ, Kerry Howard, Joe Wilkinson and Camille Coduri were the other regulars. They became my family for four years, finishing in 2013 with The Wedding. I did eight episodes in all. It was a Great Gig, all directed by Richard Laxton, all written by Stefan Golaszewski, I’m immensely pleased and proud to have been a part of this series.
Climb On Board is electronic music, 21st century British music. It uses a drum and bass beat, auto-tuned vocals, synthesised riffs and chords and dubstep rhythms and breaks. It is massively confident without being lyrically too clever. It’s probably about drugs. The middle eight is thrilling, and my favourite piece of the song (as so often with a Beatles or Motown track). But there is another interesting feature which is the almost continuous conversation going on in the background – I haven’t managed to decode all of it but at one point you hear him saying “one step two step three step…whoah!” which presumably references 2-Step, the original name for the child of UK garage dubstep. The idea being that Labrinth has gone beyond his roots in 2-step, gone beyond even 3-step. The middle eight confirms that this is no idle boast. The LP Electronic Earth has a large number of high points – this is track one, other hits include Earthquake which is tremendously powerful in a live context, Beneath Your Beautiful with Emeli Sandé providing the lead vocal, Express Yourself (taking on the famous song from Charles Wright & The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band) and Sundown which is a take on Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi.
Clearly Labrinth is a major talent. Born Timothy MacKenzie in North London, he and his eight siblings formed a band called Mac9. His big breakthrough came when he hooked up with South Londoner Tinie Tempah and produced, and sang the vocals “Let it rain, let it pour away…” on the huge hit single Pass Out which reached number 1 in 2010 and won best British single at the Brits the following year. Labrinth and Tinie Tempah collaborated again on the single Frisky, shortly after that Simon Cowell signed Labrinth to Syco his record label. Labrinth remains the only non-variety-show winner on Cowell’s label. Tinie Tempah returned the favour and dropped in to spit some lyrics on the single Earthquake in October 2011. Electronic Earth was released in March 2012.
Jenny and I saw him and his band performing live at The Brighton Centre on Feb 13th 2013 when Plan B was headlining and Rudimental was supporting, with nephew Thomas singing all the John Newman parts. It was needless to say a rather splendid night. Rudimental and Thomas smashed it as they always do – not that I take it for granted, ever – Labrinth played keyboards, lead guitar, pushed buttons and sang and was very impressive, and Plan B was doing the whole “She said I love you boy I love you so…” LP (Defamation Of Strickland Banks) with a cracking band and dancers! I saw Labrinth again later in 2013 when Rizzle Kicks (old friends, long story) played Shakedown Festival in Stanmer Park and Labrinth was supporting. He was excellent once again.
So now I look out for his new stuff – the last single Let It Be was very different to anything off the drum and bass style of Electronic Earth – more like new school soul music, or church in space perhaps, and it also featured a brilliant video. Which I appear to have imagined since it has disappeared from the web. But the new album looks like it’s going to be very interesting indeed.
As for what’s new in 2015 – I couldn’t tell you since I’ve spent much of my music allowance time (strictly policed!) on this blog. But early indications suggest that Natalie Prass, Kendrick Lamar and East India Youth might be pushing Mark Ronson, Hudson Mohawke and Everything Everything for that coveted Album of The Year Award. Awarded by me. Of course ! Unless the new LP from Labrinth : Take Me To The Truth knocks them all into a cocked hat ! Whatever that means ! Apparently we’ll find out on October 16th 2015. In the meantime, we have this :