My Pop Life #150 : Love Ain’t Just A Word – Rudimental

Love Ain’t Just A Word   –   Rudimental

And just like the air, you can’t see it there
But we know we need it

In the week that George Martin died it’s right to be talking about love.   As the expert hand that guided The Beatles to express their musical fantasies, memories and experiments over a nine-year period, he was in effect the fifth Beatle.  You only need to listen to Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, Strawberry Fields Forever or Something to hear George’s graceful contributions.  And famously, Paul McCartney, when looking back at his own legacy as a Beatle, said :

“I’m really glad that most of our songs were about love, peace and understanding”

It has been suggested that Lennon’s “Nowhere Man” (1965) was the first Beatles song which wasn’t about love, but some of them were about dancing…and of course George Martin also produced many other great pieces, and was also a giant of the comedy song (see My Pop Life #35).

Since Jenny and I have chosen to live in New York City, any feelings of homesickness are entirely self-imposed.  But I have realised that there is a simple cure for the isolation of living in another continent with new friends.  Go home for a week.   When Charles Randolph-Wright (see My Pop Life #134) announced that Motown The Musical was opening in London on March 8th 2016 I promised that I would be there to support him.  That is for another blog.  But I built a week of love around that date – an Uncle returns, and catches up with all the next generation that he missed because he didn’t spend Christmas in England.  I saw my mum and my sister and her three before Christmas.  So this time it was the turn of the other side of the family.  And on the day I landed at Heathrow on Thursday March 3rd, Rudimental are playing at the O2.

RUDIMENTAL : Piers Aggers, Amir Amor, Leon Rolle, Kesi Dryden

Rudimental are three-quarters Hackney, and one-quarter Camden Town.  Piers Aggett, Kesi Dryden and Leon Rolle all grew up on the same street and went to the same school in Hackney.  Arsenal fans to a man.  Amir Amor came to the UK from Iran as a youngster and after winning a Princes Trust songwriting competition his musical proclivities led him to Tribal Tree, a community-based studio in Chalk Farm Road where he hooked up with Plan B for a beats LP Paint It Blacker : The Bootleg Album.  Next he convinces Nick Worthington to back a studio called Major Toms where Amor produces the likes of Sam Smith, MNEK, Charlie XCX and Angel Haze, and joins forces with Black Butter Records, which includes a band called Rudimental on their roster.  A track called Feel The Love is heard and signed by Asylum Records, produced by Amor and the two forces became Rudimental the band as we know them today.  Four men with a strong London identity who write, produce, run the label, and use guest vocalists and session singers for their records and live tour.  Their first LP Home was released in 2012 and they have gone on to conquer the world.

Rudimental’s 1st album ‘Home’

Feel The Love featured John Newman on lead vocals and gave Asylum their first number one hit single ever.  It was so successful that Newman was signed as a solo artist, as was Ella Eyre, another Rudimental album guest vocalist.  My nephew Thomas Jules, who has been around the grime scene for over a decade and the music scene for 20 years was asked to front the band’s live shows, a job he has been fulfilling for the last two plus years.  As a result I have seen Rudimental live a number of times, at Finsbury Park supporting a reformed Stone Roses, in New York City at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve 2014, and now at the O2.

I got there early at Thomas’ suggestion.  Dear Scarlett, his partner, had a terrific throat and chest lurgy and didn’t accompany me.  I parked outside at 6pm.  The place was already buzzing, but guest list wouldn’t open until 6.30pm I was told.  they eventually opened, on a cold night, at 7pm.  And nothing happened.  Tom was in text contact and after a further 20 minutes of not a single person being sorted he came to get me, accompanied by his brother Jordan, now in dance college in Essex, for many years Jenny and my summer son, now 20 years old.  Tom walked us back to the Rudimental dressing room where Piers and Leon greeted us – I’d met them before.  I’m Uncle Ralph around these parts.   I met old friends and new from the team including trumpet player Mark Crown, drummer Beanie Bhebhe and saxophonist Taurean Antoine-Chagar, and Anne-Marie who until very recently sang back-up with Tom  in the band.  Now she’s on the bill as support and her and Tom have spent 18 months writing songs together for Anne Marie is signed to Black Butter, and an LP is imminent.   The tour manager is notable by his absence and only he can give me a pass, so in effect I am now trapped in the dressing room – I can’t even get into the auditorium to see Anne-Marie’s set.

Jordan, Unx, Tom, Dee, Piers

Tom opens his case – Rudimental are in Nottingham the following night, but driving straight down to Bournemouth after the O2 for a DJ slot in a club down there.  His big case is going to Notts, his small case to the south coast. The rigours of touring.  On the top of the large case is a Tottenham Hotspur shirt.  “I’ll wear this tonight”  Tom announces to the assembly, attracting jeers and threats, bantz and actual instruction from Leon that No, he will not.   It’s the North London derby on Saturday lunchtime, Spurs are 2nd, Arsenal 3rd, behind Leicester City (!)  Then Dee, Jenny’s older sister and Tom’s Mum gets in.  She looks great and we poses for pictures.  Tom is still trying to get me a pass.  Other friends & family are coming and going all the time – I am introduced to Leon’s mum, technicians and DJ Max.  Brother Jamie is outside getting tickets – and now he’s got them.  But not mine.   I’m Uncle Ralph and I’m already in after all…  At this point the tour manager arrives and I’m finally given a triple A pass to come and go as I please, although now I’m just going to go out to find Jamie and the rest, and come back and see the show.  After the show Tom and gang are riding straight to Bournemouth so there’s no after-gig activity.

Jordan, Kimberley, Louisa

Jordan, Dee and I walk out to Chiquitos and find Jamie and Claudette (his long-term partner), Jenny’s sister Mandy and Dipam and our niece Kimberley with her friend Louisa.  The others – Dominique and David and Courtnie are still en route and since Rudimental are due onstage in 15 minutes we abandon the concept of a full gang and go in .

Jamie and I

The O2 is a pretty giant venue.  The last time I was here was to see Stevie Wonder in 2008, we were in the 15th row and I was very very sick with a virus I’d caught in China.  I could scarcely stand up.  It was an amazing night.  Tonight the seats are only around the sides and up – the entire floor area is standing room only.  That means there are at least 16,000 people in here.  The stage is a football pitch away.   We decide to stay at the back rather than elbow through the sweaty mob.  Triple-A passes only get you so far – I could be onstage but I need to be with my family.  So Dee, Jamie, Claudette, Jordan, Kimberley, Louisa, Mandy, Dipam and I stood and watched Thomas, our uncle, son, brother, nephew, our FAM,  sing his heart out for the lads.

Tom, Anne-Marie, Bridgette

He swapped lead vocals with Will Heard and Bridgette Amofah, and they saved Feel The Love for the end, a song Tom has sung live now hundreds of times, a massive crowdpleaser where the call-and-response vocal gets the whole O2 singing along.   The visuals were still excellent even at the back.  The atmosphere was great.  The band are hot, honed from months and years on the road together.   Highlights were largely the first LP songs – Waiting All Night in particular, Spoons, Right Here, but some of the new songs from the new Rudimental LP We The Generation really stand out, in particular the Ed Sheeran collaboration Bloodstream and the songs Rumour MillLove Ain’t Just A Word, when Anne Marie comes onstage to join first Will, then Tom on vocals.

Love Ain’t Just A Word was written by Anne Marie and Tom for her new album, but the band liked it so much they put it on their new LP, and took a share of the publishing too.   I guess it’s ‘Drum & Bass’.   It’s a big step for Tom, and his publishing deal is up for grabs shortly, so it improves his negotiating position, especially if it’s a single.   The song is an admission of vulnerability and an acknowledgement of the power of love to heal, and it features a rap break by grime lord Dizzee Rascal.  The song’s visual component is backed with neon signs on the massive screens behind the band.  The pride that runs through our little gang of fam at the back is palpable.  Everyone is holding up the phone to take a picture of the stage.  And of each other.  Sixteen thousand people bopping to a song that Tom wrote.  Another song about love.  We can’t have too many of those can we ?

Chantelle, David, Unx, Dee, Dom, Courtnie, Dawn, Mandy, Dipam, Louisa, Kim

After the show we decamp back to Chiquitos and sit outside beneath the glowing heaters and umbrellas and the clan gathers.  Dominique and David hadn’t arrived with sister Courtnie until 40 minutes from the end of the show, and they’d sat upstairs.   Mollie’s kids.  Mollie’s friend Dawn was there with her daughter Chantelle and her son Corey in a serious disability chair.  Corey had a car accident about a month after Jenny and I flipped our Jeep outside Arundel but he wasn’t so lucky and had spinal and head injuries which have left him dependent on other people and his chair.  Tom had taken them round the O2 before the show, he was exhausted and was taken home before we’d all fully gathered, so he’s not in the picture.  All of Tom’s people were though – mum Dee, younger brothers Jamie (with Claudette) and Jordan.

some people bombing our picture

There’s a couple of pictures of the gang, swelled with pride at family achievement.  Lucy and Jenny are missing, Mollie and Pete too, but three of their kids are there : Dom, Kim and Courtnie.  Courtnie is next to me – second youngest, now at University studying criminology.  Next to her is Dom with David – they have two beautiful kids Tia and Kian who are bright as buttons and hugely entertaining.  Will they join the BIZ too ??  Stunning sister Kimberley is central in the pic above, but she is front right in the top pic – my god-daughter and an architecture graduate looking for a position.  A few days later I took her to the opening night of Motown The Musical in the West End – for another blog.   Youngest brother Robert (See My Pop Life #122) was working.  So was Jenny’s brother Jon.   Mandy – opposite me at the table – is Jenny’s sister, aka Natasha, Bad, Reggie or Ginelle.  She is my sister, and graduated in Law and now works in Compliance in the City of London.     Not everyone could manage the gig but it was a pretty good turnout.  Just happened to co-incide with my week in England.  Lucky me.  I miss all of these people and hadn’t seen some of them for well over two years.  And you know how kids shoot up.  I remember when they were born – suddenly they’re adults!!  They embody all our dreams.  And I love them all.  It’s unconditional love and it is reciprocated.  The best feeling in the world.

2nd LP ‘We The Generation’

live DJ set in Dubai (ie not live) :

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My Pop Life #123 : Philosophy – Ben Folds Five

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Philosophy   –   Ben Folds Five

..I see that there is evil and I know that there is good

But the in-between I’ve never understood…

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Ben Folds Five

It was on the radio in August 1995 that I first heard Ben Folds Five.  They were amazing.  The music sounded hand-crafted specially for me – pure major-chord bright-eyed sophisticated pop music fronted by a piano; witty songs, arrangements and lyrics and brilliant music with no guitars.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the guitar to be honest – so of course here follows a list of exceptions <sigh>  :  Jimi Hendrix, Joe Walsh, Blue Oyster Cult, QOTSA, Sex Pistols, George Harrison, Elmore James, Django Reinhardt, Paco de Lucia, Guy Clark, Franco & TPOK Jazz, The Ramones etc etc

But the piano.  Come on.  The finest musical instrument.  An orchestra in two hands.  Bach. Chopin.  Erik Satie.  Debussy.  Scott Joplin.   James P. Johnson.   Rachmaninov.  Ellington.  Fats Waller.  Teddy Wilson.  Art Tatum.  Count Basie.  Fats Domino.  Ray Charles.  Randy Newman.  Alan Price.  Ian McLagan.  Gilbert O’Sullivan.  Kate Bush.  Ben Folds.

Hey – whose Pop Life is it anyway ?

Ben Folds was the pianist.  Darren Jessee was the drummer.  Robert Sledge played bass.

Just three of them, and they called the band Ben Folds Five.  Sounded better I suppose.

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The first single was called “Underground” and it sounded amazing on the radio.  Amazing enough for me to go out and find the CD somewhere.  Called “Ben Folds Five“, it had a picture of a piano on the front cover.   It was excellent.   Packed chock-full of ideas, the songs were about college, leaving college, being a young adult, looking back, growing up.   Many styles.   Some were like Elton John, some were rock music, some were like music hall/ragtime, others like prog.   And they could play.   Folds himself is clearly classically trained, returned to pop.  The fuzz bass is a huge part of the sound.  And the backing vocals.  My favourite track on that first LP is called Philosophy and it is a little impenetrable lyrically – theories abound that it is about an architect, the Statue of Liberty, Ben’s cock.  Seriously.  (He made a joke about it once and everyone remembered it).   But I think it’s about having your own self-image, your own take on life and your path through it.  Your own philosophy that “keeps your feet on the ground, keeps you walking when you fall down”.    Without that you’re a cypher.

I immediately set about learning it on the piano.  It is a beautiful thing.   But very soon I was off to Australia on a gig, and by the time I came back we were completing on a house purchase in Brighton.

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Mollie Jules-Crompton

Cut to November 1996, one year later and Jenny and I are babysitting for Mollie’s girls Dominique, Kimberley and Courtnie (who was only one year old!) in Ruislip for a week.   Mollie – Jenny’s older (but not oldest) sister, married to Pete a year before us – was in hospital under observation because she was pregnant again, and she’d already lost two previous pregnancies desperately trying for a boy.   Mollie & Pete had three very beautiful and fabulous girls – still do – but they both wanted a boy, even at some risk to Mollie’s health.  It was a worrying time for us all.  Mollie was also showing signs of auto-immune disease Lupus once again to complicate things.   At this point at the end of November she was six months pregnant and there had been some alarm so Jen and I stepped in and said we could stay overnight there for a few nights.   Pete was working nights at that point.

Anyway, come November 26th we got Jenny’s two younger sisters Mandy and Lucy to stand in for us as babysitters because we had two tickets to see Ben Folds Five at the Astoria in London’s Charing Cross Road.  Over a year after the album was released this was their first tour of the UK.

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The Astoria, Charing Cross Road, London

The Astoria was one of those great London venues which has now been destroyed to make way for Crossrail, the project that allows bankers to whizz into the City from Heathrow in half an hour.   It is responsible for the current destruction of Soho as a unique bohemian corner of London.   I didn’t see that many shows there, but David Bowie in 2001, and this from Ben Folds Five are up there with the best moments.

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Ben Folds Five live

They played the whole album and some interesting covers – Ray Charles You Don’t Know Me and Elton John’s Tiny Dancer – and absolutely smashed Philosophy and Underground with Ben jumping onto the piano and playing it with his fists and feet at one point.  Good show.  We came out and Jenny immediately called her sisters to find out if all was well.  We’d driven in from Ruislip – I think I had a Jag at that point – some gas guzzling blue monster that I loved driving – and Jenny suddenly burst into tears on the street as we walked round to Soho Square.  “Mollie’s had a baby boy” she said through sobs…”he’s in an incubator”.

We drove to the hospital and found Mollie, exhausted but happy, wth Pete, and Jenny’s Mum & Dad, and there was a tiny little precious baby boy in a transparent incubator, tubes going into his nostrils as his tiny hands tried to pull them out – it was a good sign.  He was three months premature.  He weighed less than a bag of sugar – 2lbs.  In those early days there was much worry about brain damage and stunted growth and all kinds of things, but those early struggles to remove his nose tubes were a sign of strength through adversity and slowly but surely he was removed from the incubator and grew into the healthy young nephew that Jenny and her sisters called ‘Boy’ after the youngest, Cookie had named him.

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Robert, Jordan and Cookie in 2006

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Robert – June 17th 2007 when he was 11

Robert is now 18 years old and a more throughly great young man I couldn’t wish to know.  Thoughtful, funny, gentle but nobody’s fool.

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Robert Jules-Crompton and I in 2013

 I’m not sure he even knows this story about his nativity – from our side anyway.  I doubt he’s heard this song.   But I know he has his own philosophy which keeps his feet on the ground.  Jenny and I took him to see Tottenham v Chelsea one day for a birthday present a few years ago.  All Jenny’s family are Tottenham Hotspur fans.  Oh well.

It’s now November 2015, some 20 years after that first Ben Folds Five LP was released, and two days ago Robert’s nan Bet, Pete’s Mum, passed away in Yarmouth.  Cycles of birth and death.  She will live on inside us all, inside all who knew her.  But death is a loss, and it has been a sad week. Rest in Peace Nanny Bet.

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Pete, Kimberley, Bet, Dominique in 2013

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Ben Folds Five did two more LPs : Whatever & Ever Amen and The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner – both outstanding;  an LP of B-sides, and then split.  Ben Folds did some cracking solo LPs himself – notably Rockin’ The Suburbs and Songs For Silverman, and Ben Folds Five reformed for one last LP The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind in 2012.

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Robert with his nephew Kian, Dominique’s son in 2012

Philosophy, the song, has a moment towards the end when everything goes mental and Ben’s pounded piano solo turns into a quotation from Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody In Blue’, that mighty work from 1924 which has come to symbolise New York, via Woody Allen’s Manhattan and various other cultural markers.  Soon I will get the famous cadence – the theme from Rhapsody in Blue – tattooed onto my left arm. Sometime this November.

LP track

Live from Jools in 1996

Reformed band in 2010