INTERVIEW: Soweto Kinch

Soweto Kinch at the Flyover Show 2008, photo by Karl Dixon

The New Emancipation is the latest body of work from Jazz/Hip Hop saxophonist and lyricist, Soweto Kinch. Released on September 27th The New Emancipation explores just what its moniker describes, with Kinch focused on what he sees as the shackles of modernity.

“It (The New Emancipation) takes its inspiration from the history of emancipation and slavery, looking at it in a very modern way. Things like banking, finance, the legacy of race relations. Some of the things that might seem anachronistic are really relevant and pertinent at this time. Especially in the world of finance.”

The first album released under Soweto Kinch Productions, The New Emancipation also marks an age of professional autonomy for the Birmingham based musician. Previous confrontations with retailers, after the release of his ‘tongue in cheek’ single Jazz Planet in November 2004, left open sores and discussions about the positioning of ‘Urban’ music on the High Street shelves. Kinch’s last EP, A War In A Rack, was titled to directly confront the “monolithic controlling influences” of the mainstream retail outlets.

“We’re using the distributors but whether we’ll be placed in the Hip Hop racks is at the discretion of the independent retailers,” Kinch’s notoriety as a Jazz musician has arguably pigeon holed previous releases, “but to be honest the debate has moved on since three years ago. Now it’s about getting the message out there, getting the word out there, and letting people make their own minds up about what they think the music is and where then can access it.” With online sales challenging more traditional transactions, the music industry continues to adapt to new media and routes to market.

Online or offine, the biggest publicity platform in Autumn are the Mercury Music Prize and MOBO award ceremonies. Kinch’s rise to prominence was spurred by nominations and wins across both for his debut album in 2003. How relevant does he feel these institutions are today? “I still think they have a role to play in terms of making people aware of music which would otherwise be obscure,” a message reiterated by the organisers and challenged by their critics, “but when they just become an event for the industry to pat itself on the back I think they’re missing a trick. Audiences are increasingly suspicious of very manufactured music, they want something with more integrity from the award ceremonies.”

The New Emancipation is a thoughtful combination of “Jazz and Hip Hop influences” that represents “themes of release and freedom” more than any particular musical style or genre. Successfully mixing Jazz harmonies, Hip Hop beats, intelligent lyrics, word play and melody, Kinch’s latest release is a poignant satire over world class musicianship. Songs including ‘Love of money’ and ‘Trying to be a star’ tackle fiscal and fame obsessions, whilst ‘Paris Heights’ confronts the cruelty of debt culture in a bold display reminiscent of The Goat’s seminal Tricks Of The Shade album. An accomplished 13 track collage from a man who clearly has something to say.

The New Emancipation is available from September 27th. For more information visit www.soweto-kinch.com or www.myspace.com/sowetokinch

INTERVIEW: Lissie

Lissie, from Catching A Tiger, courtesy of Sony Music

Many things happen at the back of a bus. Today it’s where the Birmingham Observer caught up with Lissie, Sony’s new US import, bang in the middle of promoting her debut album, Catching A Tiger.

“I usually know what’s going on a bit more,” jokes Lissie, “but we just flew into England from America.” Lissie is one hour off a long haul flight from New York and 30mins away from a “radio related event” in Bridlington. “I just got into Manchester and now we’re going on this radio show. Otherwise I’d just be sitting in the car, you know, sleeping.”

It’s been a hectic year for the Illinois born singer songwriter. Making heads turn in March at Texas’ SxSW music festival, the breeding ground for many a music executive’s Christmas bonus, Lissie played ten live showcases over four days.

“I went there (SxSW) a few years ago and didn’t really have much of a presence, but this year we brought a lot of energy.” Lissie downplays what the media called ‘a triumphant win’ over the festival. “I think we did play good shows, so those people that might of heard stuff about me were able to walk away knowing what the fuss was about, hopefully”

If they didn’t then it’s now the job of Lissie’s new label. And with three UK single releases, festival dates across the summer and a headline tour set for October, there’s a lot of ink in the diary. “People always say that majors are going to make you compromise, to tell you what to do, but I really like the people I work with,” some of which are no doubt sitting pillion to this conversation, “they saw something worth investing in me and I feel we’re on the same page. Plus they have the resources to launch a pretty good campaign, just me performing a good live show isn’t enough. It’s a team effort.”

Catching A Tiger is out on general release. Lissie’s new single, Cuckoo, is out at the end of August. For more information on Lissie, including her international tour dates, visit www.lissie.com

INTERVIEW: Fyfe Dangerfield

Fyfe Dangerfield, from Fly Yellow River, courtesy of Sony Music

Synonymous with ‘avant guarde’ Indie Rock ensemble Guillemots, lead singer Fyfe Dangerfield “had a bit of free time” after the band’s second album, Red. Two years later and his debut solo album Fly Yellow River got released into the musical wild alongside a smattering of ‘intimate’ UK gigs. Subsequent interest spawned more dates this September, including the Moseley Folk Festival and the HMV relaunch of the Birmingham Institute. The Birmingham Observer caught up with the man from Moseley before his imminent homecoming solos.

“I wasn’t really trying to make a record,” says Dangerfield, “I just was having a bit of a break from the band (Guillemots). I’d written a bunch of songs so I booked a few days in the studio with a friend of mine Adam (Noble – producer) and we thought we’d just see what happens. I hate having stuff lying around, you know, just clogging up the cupboards.”

Released in January 2010 the bulk of Fly Yellow River was recorded at the end of 2008 in Urchin Studios, the same East London birthplace of Guillemots’ EP I Saw Such Things In My Sleep. Receiving positive reviews from the national and music press, Dangerfield’s solo debut is a juxtaposition of melodic folk and energetic pop rock. Tracks like When You Walk In The Room and Faster Than The Setting Sun are obviously radio friendly, whilst on the other side of the seesaw Barricades and Livewire steady the balance.

“Originally the whole album was going to be in a more folk vein but certain tracks just developed. I suppose I could’ve done something more consistent, either all in a downbeat or an upbeat lane, but I wanted to put the styles together.” A volatile contiguity, one that has historically both embellished and eroded a musical showcase. Was it hard combining the genres? “Everything just felt like it sort of belonged together, although sometimes I have to push myself to write the more upbeat tracks. I could quite happily just write ballads everyday.”

Fly Yellow River served Dangerfield as an interim project between Guillemots’ studio albums, the third of which is currently under production. He also received widespread attention as a solo artist after his cover of Billy Joel’s She’s Always A Woman was used in a prominent department store advert earlier this year. Has Fyfe Dangerfield’s labour of love become a burden, or even a tempting distraction?

“Most of it was recorded so long ago I’m in such a different place now,” says Dangerfield, “but I still enjoy playing the songs live and finding new ways to perform them.” And the distraction? “All the time I’ve been working with Guillemots, writing and recording, so its like I’ve had two things going on at once really. There’s not been an awful lot of work on this one (Fly Yellow River). I’ve done gigs here and there, I’ve got the tour in September but it’s not been an exhaustive promotional trail.” Sounds like Fly Yellow River was the most stress free album in music history? “Yeah, it was pretty stress free really, it all came about very naturally. It’s exactly what I wanted to do at the time and I’m really proud of the record.”

Fyfe Dangerfield performs at the Moseley Folk Festival on Friday 3rd Sept and the HMV Institute on Saturday 25th Sept. Fly Yellow Moon is out now on general release, more details at www.fyfedangerfield.com

INTERVIEW: Jah Wobble & The Nippon Dub Ensemble

Japanese Dub Tour, 02 Academy, Friday July 30th

Punk wars survivor Jah Wobble is “too hot to handle” for the “world music cartel”. But the man who earned his moniker from a drunken Sid Vicious is back on the road, promoting his new Japanese Dub album with a tour of 02 Academy venues and independent European festivals.

Following his acclaimed 2008 Chinese Dub album, Japanese Dub brings Wobble’s love for Eastern culture back in front of a Western audience. Married to Chinese-born guzheng player and harpist Zi Lan Liao, Wobble has been influenced by Eastern culture throughout both personal and professional lives.

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of the culture and I know a few Japanese players,” says Wobble, “For some time I’ve fancied having a crack at merging Japanese music with dub. There’s something unique and unmistakable about it.”

Stealing the show at WOMAD in 2008, Wobble is swapping the fire breathing and mask changing of Chinese Dub for a “high octane” stage show of Ikebana, or Japanese Flower arranging. Accompanying Jah Wobble on stage will be Takashi Sawano, the UK’s foremost designer of Japanese gardens and Ikebana master.

“He (Sawano) is the rock and roll of flower arrangers, he does these big displays whilst we play. He’s bit nutty,“ says Wobble. “It’s all done with a flourish, I believe he’s a martial artist as well. They’re massively complicated flower arrangements all over the stage.”

Recorded in five days, Japanese Dub combines traditional Shinto and Kabuki musical styles with Taiko drumming and “poinant, rather polite Japanese chamber music”. Featuring Joji Hirota (vocals, taiko drums), Keiko Kitamura (vocals, shamisen, koto), Clive Bell (shakahatchi) and Robin Thompson (hikaritchi, sho, shamisen) as The Nippon Dub Ensemble, special guests will also join Jah Wobble on stage at specific performances.

Fighting visa obstructions and a funding retreat from Anglo/Japanese organisations, Wobble’s own label, 30 Hertz Recordings, has been the sole financier of the tour.

“When you’re bringing artists over from a country who’s economy air fare is around £2000, you have to draw the line somewhere. We’ll have between six to eight or nine players on stage at each venue, but not each line up will be the same. Every performance will be clean but unique.”

Japanese Dub was released on April 6th. Jah Wobble & The Nippon Dub Ensemble will be touring the UK from mid July, playing at the 02 Academy in Birmingham on Friday 30th July.

For tickets and information on the show visit the 02 Academy Birmingham website at www.o2academybirmingham.co.uk

For more information on Jah Wobble and The Nippon Dub Ensemble visit 30 Hertz Recordings’ website on www.30hertzrecords.com

INTERVIEW: Ozzy Osborne

Ozzy Osborne interview - 26.06.10 / Paul Ward
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Words by Ed King / Pics by Paul Ward

Everybody’s waiting. The media in a corridor upstairs, the fans against the railings downstairs. Gargantuan pillars of security standing stoic in the middle. We were all told to ‘be here by 1pm sharp’ but there’s been queues on the street for over 36 hours. Why? Ozzy Osbourne of course. Birmingham’s infamous bat Ozzy Osborne signing - 26.06.10 / Paul Wardbiter is in back town and it seems half the city has turned out to meet him.

“I was here a few months ago,” says Ozzy,“promoting my new book (I Am Ozzy). Lots of things have changed, new buildings and that. I mean, what’s with that big golf ball in the centre? It’s changed amazingly,” a strong accent blows all stardust from the room, “I mean, I used to get lost when I lived here. But it’s always good to be back in Birmingham. I’d consider moving back here but Sharon likes it over in America.”

Modern Birmingham’s constantly under construction, but how does Ozzy feel about the city he grew up in? “Coming into Birmingham just now I was reflecting back on what it used to be like when I lived at No14 Rose Road (The Birmingham Observer cannot confirm this address),” I think I’ve just worked out why there’s been a delay, “I was sitting there thinking, such a lot has happened in my life. I just could not have planned this. It’s unbelievable.” A fair description of over 18 albums selling millions worldwide. Ozzy grins, “42 years later and I’m still playing the Town Hall.”Ozzy Osborne signing - 26.06.10 / Paul Ward

Ozzy is back on the road promoting his 10th solo studio album, Scream, released in April this year. 18 months long and internationally wide, Scream tours across Europe, America and Japan. During a year and half of globetrotting performances how does Ozzy plan to stay sane?

“Not by drinking that’s for sure,” Ozzy is very candid about his alcoholism and recovery, “I haven’t drunk for a long time now, about 7-8 years. If I was drinking I don’t think I’d make it a week.” Judging by the hype surrounding today I’m not sure Ozzy’s management team will make it 18 months without. “I’m quite a straight laced guy nowadays.”

So with no bats on stage what can we expect from the Scream album and tour? “Heavy. Very heavy. You know, real Rock. It reminds me of my Sabbath days,” many reviews echo the same, “and some of my early solo stuff. But it was unintentional, you know, not a conscious decision.”

Conscious or not it’s been three years since his last album, Black Rain. Is Ozzy happy with his latest release? “I’m never happy. About a week after Scream got released I’m thinking why did I put that there? Why didn’t I change Ozzy Osborne interview - 26.06.10 / Paul Wardthat track?” So the artist still struggles even four decades on, doesn’t Ozzy feel good enough yet? ”That’s for the fans to tell me. What I’m good at is making an album and then demolishing it, you know. If I get a good review I kind of raise one eyebrow. What I have to do now is let go.”

Scream is the first Ozzy solo release since the mid eighties without longstanding guitarist Zack Wylde, cited as the most ‘endearing’ replacement since Ozzy’s original guitarist Randy Rhoades was killed in a plane accident in 1982. How does Ozzy find working with the new line up?

“Great. Gus is really, really good,” Gus G, aka Kostas Karamitroudis from Greek power metal band Firewind, “I’ve got high hopes for him. I mean, guitarists can be great but then you’ve got to find out if you can live with them.” A final grin as Ozzy’s publicist points to his watch, “we’re on the road for 18 months… I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

Scream, Ozzy Osbourne’s 10th studio solo album, was released in April 2010. For more information about the album and worldwide tour visit www.ozzy.com