Q&A: James Brown is Annie

Barry Gordon, JBiA guitarist, answers some quick questions ahead of the gig tomorrow evening at the Biscuit Factory, which promises a fusion of sounds from four nations, as well as tasty food too.

Tell us about your band, James Brown is Annie, and your plans for 2017?

James Brown Is Annie (or, JBiA for short) are an established Scottish funk and soul sextet based in Edinburgh. We’re named after an Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live sketch – in case folks at home are wondering – and we regularly sell out clubs all across the UK. Think Average White Band meets Steely Dan and you’ll get some idea of what we sound like.

We rounded off a successful 2016 by headlining the Mound Stage at the Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Party. And later this year, we’ll be recording our second album with soul-funk legend, Hamish Stuart – who was an integral member of Average White Band for ten years, played in the Paul McCartney band for four years, and has worked with everyone from Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan, to Quincy Jones and George Benson – producing.

Hamish is working with us as the song writing process progresses (do come and see us at The Jazz Bar in Edinburgh on Sat 17 Jun, where he’ll be playing a few select tunes with us), so his involvement has given us an increased level of credibility.

Barry GordonWhich bands or artists from the contemporary Trad music scene, in Scotland or elsewhere, do you rate most?

That’s a tough question. There’s so many to choose from in Scotland. Geographically, my main preferences come from the Manx and Borders traditions.

I admire Manx trio, Barrule, as they’re the most dynamic, personable and professional trio I’ve ever come across. I love traditional Harp music, too, so I often play Rachel Hair or Corrina Hewat’s music when I want to relax. When it comes to folk singers, people like Ruth Keggin and Mary Ann Kennedy are people I often turn to. And I’ve always liked The Shee – they’re a funky bunch with a real groove to their music.

Further afield, I’m a big fan of instrumental Scandinavian music: bands like Troka, Frigg, and Sver being some of my favourites. Oh, and the Tom Oakes Experiment – Tom has put some great stuff together that’s well worth checking out.

What inspires you when making music together?

For me, making music is innate. It’s always there. There’s a healthy wealth of funk, soul, and jazz-funk artists in Scotland, so in some ways they inspire me, too.

But, as a collective group? A nice environment, good coffee, and listening to our favourite bands certainly brings out the best in us.

James Brown is AnnieWhich other performers/musicians have been your main influences?

Believe it or not, even though I play funk/ jazz, a lot of traditional folk music inspires me. Whether it’s the tuning, the time-signatures, the arrangements, the feel – there’s lots to be inspired by. Bands such as the Average White Band, Steely Dan, and Little Feat are my primary influences, but good ideas can often arise from the most unlikely and random things. I could reel off a lengthy list of artists that inspire the band, but we could be here all day! What I’d say is check us out live this Friday at the Biscuit Factory and see for yourself.

Have you played TradFest before? Are there any other acts on the programme you’d recommend seeing?

Neither I nor the band has played TradFest before – and I never, ever thought we would. So it’s testament to the organisers’ vision that they recognise the people involved, and the music we play, as part of the modern Scottish music fabric. We’re an inclusive band that appeals to bairns, pensioners and everyone in between. We’re open to everyone.

On the music front, I’d like to see Brina (Jamaica Sings Robert Burns), and not just because Aki and Davide (JBiA guitarist/vocalist, and drummer) played with her at Celtic Connections in Glasgow. The mere concept alone intrigues me. Rabbie goes Ragga an aw’ that. 

I was born and brought up in Caithness and do a lot of writing and research into its local folklore, so I’m hoping to see Seal Skins, Storms and Treasures Deep. Who doesn’t love a good Selkie story and song, right? I lived in the Borders for a few years too, so by the same token, I hope to check out The Two Truths of Thomas the Rhymer. And having spent most of my adult years in Leith, The People’s Heritage: Leith Shore & Kirkgate is a must-see. So looking forward to that.

What does Tradition mean to you?

Tradition is the things we always do, the things we always celebrate and pass on. Whether it’s first-footing on Hogmanay, meeting up with your family every Sunday for dinner, or performing your own songs at a multi-cultural festival – it means different things to individuals, groups and communities. Scotland has a rich, and widely diverse, tapestry of traditions, so what tradition is to one set of folk, won’t necessarily be a tradition to others. Tradition is whatever you believe it to be.

James Brown is Annie perform as part of Four Nations United – Sundown at The Biscuit Factory, Leith, Friday 28 April, 7.30pm.
Tickets £7 adv. (£10/£8 door)

Listen to James Brown is Annie




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