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 #96 : Climb On Board – Labrinth

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 :