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‘I’m Not Sure The Hammond Was Supposed To Be Played Like This , It Screamed And Snarled With Punk Attitude’
It’s a hot night in Manchester and the streets and bohemian bars and restaurants on the outskirts of the vibrant Northern Quarter are very busy. It’s great that things are back to normal and there’s an anticipatory buzz in the newly refurbished Band on The Wall. Synonymous with World Music, Jazz and Blues the venue is perfect for tonights headline act, British rare-groove/jazz funk four-piece (funnily enough) the James Taylor Quartet (JTQ) one of the most important crossover outfits in British music.
Formed by Hammond organ maestro James Taylor, following the break-up of mod revival/garage legends The Prisoners, The James Taylor Quartet came to prominence as part of the “acid jazz” movement of the late 80’s and early 90’s. I remember “The Theme from Starsky and Hutch” and “Blow-up” being played and loved in Manchester clubs The Hacienda, The Gallery and The Man Alive back in the day, so this should be a great Manchester gig.
The band have been filling venues for 30 years and have gained a loyal following so it’s no surprise the bar and upstairs balcony are gladiatorially packed, the imposing Hammond and Leslie speaker on the dark stage resembling a pulpit ready for a sermon. Tonight, the JTQ are a quintet consisting of Organ, Bass, Lead guitar, drums and Vibraphone and begin their breath-taking set with a series of relentless rhythm driven tunes. Tempo’s build slowly, James seeming to be part of the explosive Hammond. He swaps between the upper and lower manuals and forces down the pedal to demand volume whilst manipulating the organs drawbars playing the highest octave the instrument can muster almost compelling its valves to burn away. When the timing is just right, switching on the vibrato or the howling Leslie speaker to produce that explosive, righteous Hammond sound. There’s certainly a dance element in there too as there’s not many in the crowd who are not moving along with the driving drums and basslines.
The band’s first single, “Blow-Up”, a cover of the main theme from the seminal 1960s film of the same name is welcomed ecstatically, but it’s the classic cover of Booker T and the Memphis Group’s “Green Onions” which really ignites the crowd. The bass, guitar and organ all perfectly playing the unmistakeable 12 bar blues walking bassline of this quintessential 60s classic. James explodes the melody, speeding up the Leslie speaker and alternating the songs lead with a perfect improvised guitar solo. Not for the first time tonight, the crowd are singing the instrumental melody and just as they think the song is finished it begins again demanding they sing and move again, the rhythm going straight to their feet and staying there.
Another Booker T and the Memphis Group’s cover, “Time is Tight” keeps the rhythm in their feet. Its guitar intro giving way to the swelling waves of chords as the Leslie swirls and accelerates to produce that virtuous Hammond sound as the crowd sing the melody once again. Somewhere in the mix tonight there’s “Bring Down the Birds”, another song from the 1960s film “Blow-Up”, whose bassline was famously sampled on Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart” single. It’s another crowd pleaser the melody sung once again.
James Taylor – Organ
Mark Cox – Guitar
Andrew McKinney – Bass
Pat Illingworth – Drums
Pretty much JTQ’s signature tune is “Gotcha” or “The Theme from Starsky and Hutch” from their 1988 album “Wait A Minute”. It strengthened their reputation as master s of jazz-funk and was my first introduction the band. Who doesn’t love Starsky and Hutch? Its theme never sounded as good as this though. It slowly rises, its swelling organ and drums intro giving way to wah guitar and slow rotating organ chords before the Leslie speaker slows down and the infamous melody begins. A melody sung by the crowd once more. The speaker horn continues to spin as Glissandos are played up and down the keyboard and it seems the valves are being compelled to burn in an explosive 70s funk and punk sound as the band keep the rhythm for the crowd. The organ exchanges lead with vibraphone and lead guitar before the audience are asked to put their hands above their heads and to clap. James asking the crowd to follow him this time and sing the songs melody before introducing the band again as they play solos until the songs euphoric ending. A band which tonight includes James’ school friend and original Prisoners bassist Allan Crockford
Initially a church organ, I’m not sure the Hammond was supposed to be played like this. Tonight, it was far more than a religious or soul instrument, it screamed and snarled with punk attitude. James is certainly one of the great British instrumentalists of the last 40 years and by far the best Hammond player I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. Backed by a band who are at the top of their game tonight is a gig I’m not going to forget in a hurry.
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I’ve loved music since forever. Graphic designer, photographer and artist at painted.papillon.smile (www.ppsdesign.co.uk)