Back To Business is a new collection of groovy, hipshakin’, organ-heavy instrumentals by duo Bangs & Talbot – pioneering acid jazz DJ, musician and producer, Chris Bangs, and mod keyboard wizard and founding member of The Style Council, Mick Talbot.
The two of them have made their first album together in 20 years and it’s a scorcher – just the kind of soundtrack for a long, hot summer.
Talbot lays down some great Hammond, Wurlitzer and Rhodes piano, while bassist and drummer Bangs ensures the tracks always have a great groove – from the jazz club vibe of Sumthin’ Else to the Latino-soul-meets-West-Coast-Beach-Beat-sound of Surf ‘n’ Turf, and the explosive Kookie T, which, with its blaring brass and high-octane Hammond, sounds like the theme to a car chase scene from a Swinging Sixties action-thriller.
Marvin Gaye’s soul classic, How Sweet It Is, has been reinvented as a cool shuffle – Brand New Heavies’ guitarist Simon Bartholomew provides some tasty licks – while Stingray pays its respects to gospel and evokes the atmosphere of legendary California club P.J’s.
It’s Alright takes a trip to Detroit, with fuzz guitars, and the jazzy Leela’s Dance has more than a touch of Dave Brubeck’s Take Five about it.
“A lot of our past stuff was influenced by the ‘70s, but Chris wanted to get back to some ‘60s stuff – good grooves that were danceable,” explains Talbot, speaking to Say It With Garage Flowers.
“That’s the great thing about a lot of this album – it’s either head-nodding or dancey. It’s got a lot of different grooves, but most of them are quite immediate.”
He adds: “I’m not always sure what all the influences are because on a lot of the tracks Chris puts an infectious rhythm together – he likes playing bass and he also plays drums, guitar and keyboards.
“Sometimes he suggests stuff and asks me to adapt it – I’m not precious. He might do a slide on a keyboard on one of his demos, I’ll get the gist of what he wants me to do and redo it all, and then he’ll say, ‘I really miss my slide!’ So, I say, ‘Put it back then!’ [laughs].
‘Chris tries to paint a picture with sound – each track is a vignette of a movie’
“Chris does a lot of different things – he’ll give an arrangement to the horn players of him singing what he thinks they should play, so you get a funny demo with him singing, thinking he’s a saxophone.
“He tries to paint a picture with sound – each track is a vignette of a movie. It creates an atmosphere and conjures up an image, but, Chris is so poetic he wants to tell you what that image is.”
Did you make the record during lockdown?
Mick Talbot: Yeah – but there were various times when there was a little bit more freedom. We wanted to try and capture the atmosphere of half a dozen people playing in a room, but that wasn’t possible at the time. Chris and I were only in the same room on two occasions – the rest of it was all done [remotely] with musicians we know.
While we were locked down, I did a few remote sessions, but I always go to my friend Ernie McKone’s studio, in Muswell Hill, where a lot of my vintage gear is, like my old Hammond, Wurlitzer, Clavinet and Rhodes – he maintains them for me.
All those ancient things need care and attention – they get a bit sick if you take them on the road without souping them up – and he’s got the space for them. The colours on my palette are all there – the five or five principal sounds that I gravitate towards.
‘All my ancient gear needs care and attention – it gets a bit sick if you take it on the road without souping it up’
I did a remote session for a fella in New York – having been around for quite a while, it’s amazing to me to think I’ve just done something that’s on an album in New York and I didn’t have to go there…
The shenanigans people used to go through when they were doing an international project in the old days – they were scared of putting analogue tape through X-ray machines because you could wipe it quite easily. You couldn’t leave it in your hand luggage. Now I just do a session and, with a little ‘ping’, it’s gone thousands of miles and it’s on someone’s track.
How did you first get into playing keys? Are you self-taught?
MT: I’m a mixture of things. My nan was a piano player and she played by ear. I was quite enchanted by that and I asked her to try and show me some things, and she did, but she couldn’t really show me much because it was hard for her to explain the instinct – she just did it. It felt a bit mystical to me.
She told me there was a lady round the corner who taught piano, but I had the horrors about that because I wanted it to be like how my nan did it – like magic. She said, ‘If you’re keen, you don’t need to stick at it,’ but I did it for three years and it benefited me more than I thought.
Once I’d got the rudiments, and I got more of a personal taste for music, the fact that my teacher was principally a classical one, I wanted to try and apply that to the playing that was on the records I liked to buy. By the time I was about 12, I started trying to form school bands, so I stopped going to piano lessons and tried to develop what I’d learnt.
When you were growing up, were you listening to soul, jazz and funk? Have you always been into that?
MT: I liked all the English ’60s bands as well, but I guess they were R’n’B or soul-influenced. My mum was quite a fan of Motown, so, when I was really small, that was playing a lot.
My dad was more of a modern jazz fan, which I got to understand more as I grew older. He was good at sussing out records that would bring us together – he got me a Sly & The Family Stone album and said, ‘Some people think this bloke is jazz, some think he’s rock and some think he’s soul – they’re having trouble defining him, but I think he’s good and I think you might like him, but I don’t like all your music…’ We bonded over that.
When you and Paul Weller formed The Style Council, people had trouble labelling you too, didn’t they? You embraced so many influences: soul, pop, funk, rap, jazz, house music, European café culture, classical…
MT: We were only drawn to things that we actually liked – it wasn’t a calculated thing. We didn’t come into the studio one day and go, ‘We haven’t done anything that sounds like Kraftwerk yet.’
To me, it all seemed to make sense – the more you look into music and go a bit deeper… The European influences, for instance – elements of Debussy, Ravel or the Romantic Classicists – a lot of that music, in turn, influenced people like Duke Ellington, Burt Bacharach and Thom Bell of the Philadelphia sound.
‘The Style Council were only drawn to things that we actually liked – it wasn’t calculated. We didn’t come into the studio one day and go, ‘We haven’t done anything that sounds like Kraftwerk yet’.
Prior to forming The Style Council, you were in mod revival band, The Merton Parkas. When you were growing up and listening to soul, was it then a natural step to becoming a mod? What attracted you to that scene?
MT: When I was really little, I can remember that I liked that look, and then, in London, in the mid-’70s, just prior to the punk thing, there was a real explosion of energy with Dr. Feelgood – they influenced a lot of the punk bands with their attitude and their look. I liked that on the sleeve of their first album [Down By The Jetty], it almost looked like they were from another time, like the mid-’60s.
Fast forward a couple of years and I saw The Jam just before they got signed to Polydor. I thought, ‘Hold on, this is a band for my generation’ – no pun intended – who were more of my age than Dr. Feelgood and they had some affinity with that ’60s mod thing and they were playing a few soul covers in their set.
I did see a lot of the early punk bands, but I thought their image was artificial on some levels – I knew a lot of weekend punks who dyed their hair green with food colouring and washed it out before they went to their respectable job. I thought it would be nice to be someone you could be all the time, and there’s no doubting that there’s a generation of bands who were so influenced by The Jam.
‘I saw The Jam just before they got signed to Polydor. I thought, ‘Hold on, this is a band for my generation’ – no pun intended’
Of the first five bands that surfaced with New Wave or punk, I felt The Jam were the most honest. A lot of them were trying to say it was Year Zero and that they weren’t influenced by anything, whereas The Jam weren’t shy about saying they were influenced by The Kinks, The Beatles or Wilson Pickett. It wasn’t like they’d just been dropped there by a spaceship in 1976.
‘I knew a lot of weekend punks who dyed their hair green with food colouring and washed it out before they went to their respectable job’
And I guessed you carried that approach through to The Style Council, as on the front cover of your second album, Our Favourite Shop, you had a store featuring memorabilia, books and records from some of your favourite writers and musical artists. You were literally wearing your influences on your sleeve…
MT: The visuals on that record had far-reaching consequences – people were trying to find copies of books that were out of print… I’ve met people who’ve said, ‘I think I’ve got three-quarters of what’s in that shop!’
The nice thing about that sleeve is that 90 percent of what was on it was mine and Paul’s and the rest of it was stuff that we wanted that we got our designer, Simon Halfon, to source. It wasn’t put together by a stylist – it came off our bookshelves or out of our lofts. It felt part of our makeup.
I always love reading about who or what influences the musical artists I’m into – it often sets me off listening to them and discovering new stuff…
MT: It’s the same with me. As a kid, I’d read about The Beatles and thought that maybe I should check out The Everly Brothers or Little Richard – whatever they were talking about. I liked The Rolling Stones as well and they helped me to find out about Howlin’ Wolf and Solomon Burke. It’s a nice process – I guess some bands are more open about that sort of thing.
Are you a record collector? How do you listen to music?
MT: I listen to it on any format because the moment you rely on streaming – I don’t want to get into the politics of that, but they don’t bloody pay you enough – there’s sometimes a grey area. Things are missing, like you particularly like a B-side of a 7in single, but it’s not on Spotify. Why haven’t they got the one I’m searching for? It’s an anomaly.
‘I’m not a music format snob, but I appreciate there’s something about magnetic, analogue tape and vinyl that is just warm and nice’
Wiggle Wiggle, the B-side of the Bangs & Talbot vinyl single, Sumthin’ Else, is on Spotify… What’s your hi-fi setup at home like? Is it a big system?
MT: No – just normal speakers. My brother-in-law found me an old Dansette – sometimes I like to stack up some singles on that. I don’t do it all the time, but it might be influenced by something, like finding a rare record in a little junk shop, and I think ‘I’ll definitely have to get that red plastic thing out again…’
I’m not a format snob, but I appreciate there’s something about magnetic, analogue tape and vinyl that is just warm and nice.
You’ve played with so many acts, including Dexys Midnight Runners, Galliano, Gene, Candi Staton, The Blow Monkeys, The Young Disciples, Monks Road Social, Wilko Johnson, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend… Any collaborations that stand out?
MT: It’s really hard to pick out one. It’s whatever I’m currently working on.
Different things have enchanted me for different reasons – there are people I’ve not recorded with, but I’ve worked with… I did Jools Holland’s Big Band for a while, when his brother, Chris, who plays Hammond, took a couple of years out. That gave me the opportunity to play with Ronnie Wood, Dr. John, Edwyn Starr – all sorts of people. When you’re working with Jools, you’re never quite sure who you’re going to get. It’s quite spine-tingling when you’re playing with a legend.
It was a real thrill for me to work with Wilko Johnson – it was really mad, because I used to see him at Hammersmith Palais in 1976, and then I ended up working with him. He’s so influential.
Through working with him, I got to work with Roger Daltrey, and out of that I got to play with The Who very briefly. I filled in for a charity event – we did a medley. It was thrilling to be sat behind Pete Townshend while he was swinging around – that was a buzz.
‘I did Jools Holland’s Big Band for a while. That gave me the opportunity to play with Ronnie Wood, Dr. John, Edwyn Starr – all sorts of people’
There was one week in 2018 when the second Wilko Johnson album I’d played on came out, as well albums by Roger Daltrey and Ray Davies that I was on. They were all recorded at different times, but it was like three buses turning up at once.
People say to me, ‘What are you up to? Are you still in the music game?’ ‘Well, this week, I’m up to quite a lot, but next week it will look like nothing’s happening…’
I’m really looking forward to the next Monks Road thing coming out, as it’s been put on hold for a while. We did the third album [Humanism] in Spain, but we ended up doing the new one in London, at RAK Studios, in one week. I love that studio – I’ve been fortunate enough to have been there a few times in the past couple of years and, for me, it’s second only to Abbey Road in terms of an old-school studio that still has every option available.
‘It was a real thrill for me to work with Wilko Johnson – it was mad, because I used to see him at Hammersmith Palais in 1976’
MT: Yeah – that was really nice. He had a few of the old Gene boys [Steve Mason – guitar, Kev Miles – bass) involved. It was great to catch up and play on it.
Matt always had that vocal thing going on – I can remember when I was playing live with Gene, they’d sometimes get Dodgy’s drummer [Mathew Priest] in, so Matt was featured more as a vocalist and a guitarist.
It’s great that it’s always been in him and that he’s got round to doing his own album. There’s one song that’s quite Northern Soul on it and a nice one where I played an accordion sound, with a rural or Cajun influence, or a bit like Ronnie Lane.
So, what’s next for you?
MT: I’m halfway through working on an album with an act called BirdSMITH – they used to be called First Congress. They’re the vehicle for a songwriter called Tom Van Can – he used to be a director of independent films. I first met him about 12 years ago, when I did some stuff for a soundtrack. He’s focused on music now. They had a single out called Kiss It Better – it got played on Radio 2 a bit.
I’ve not seen Candi Staton for a while – she’s coming over for a handful of festivals, so I’m going to play with her – and the next Monks Road Social album should be looming soon.
I’m also working on a second album for what I hope is an ongoing project with Chris Bangs, and there’s a Jam and Style Council exhibition on in Brighton [This Is The Modern World]. They’re showing the Style Council documentary [Long Hot Summers: The Story Of The Style Council] and I’ll be there for a couple of days, doing a Q and A.
Nicky Weller [Paul’s sister] is curating it and she tracked down one of our early video directors who had lots of outtakes – there’s all sorts of things. Her partner, Russell, has been editing stuff – he sent me a film of me playing with The Jam at The Rainbow, in 1979. I had no idea anyone was filming it.
Were you pleased with the documentary? I watched it earlier this year, on Sky Arts, and I thought it was brilliant.
MT: It was good – it was very hard to try and shove everything into one film, but they did a good job. It really reflected the personalities of a lot of people well.
Paul and I did a combined interview – the people who put the film together were hoping there might be a commercial DVD release, because they said they’re sitting on about half an hour of stuff from us that they couldn’t get in that’s really funny. It shone a light on some things, but it didn’t work in the film. I guess it’s all owned by Sky… it’s not my shout.
MT: Having to film it over a couple of days and dredge up seven years of your life was kind of exhausting… it was a bit of a blur.
A lot of it was shot at Paul’s studio – while I was down there, I played on three tracks for his album, On Sunset, which he was just finishing. I thought I played on two, but it turns out I’m on three. There was so much going on.
The Style Council got back together to play one song at the end of the film, It’s A Very Deep Sea. How was that? It’s a lovely performance…,
MT: I was really pleased it came together. I saw Paul play in London a few weeks ago and it’s in his set now – I don’t think he’s played it live for a very long time and it’s nice that’s put a new focus on it.
I had concerns about whether or not we should work up three or four songs, in case it didn’t click, as it had been so long, but Paul went, ‘No – just that one.’ He was very definite about it and he said, ‘If it works – it’s great, and, if it doesn’t, we don’t have to use it.’
I was really hoping it would work, but if hadn’t, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, as nobody knew about it but us.
People might think we sweated over it for a long time – I listened to the song a lot at home – but, when we did it, we started playing it, Paul thought it was really good, his instinct kicked in, and he said, ‘Let’s take it now.’ We only played it through all the way once. It felt good – a real pure performance.
‘Having to film the Style Council documentary over a couple of days and dredge up seven years of your life was kind of exhausting… it was a bit of a blur’
Do you think the film has opened up the Style Council to a new audience? You were so ahead of your time and more groundbreaking than you’ve been given credit for…
MT: It can’t do any harm. I was at a family party the other Saturday and I was quite surprised at some of my wife’s younger cousins who were aware of us. I think a lot of that is down to the documentary.
Some of the political issues you were writing about back in the day are still relevant now, aren’t they?
MT: Some of Paul’s more pointed lyrics seem like they were written about today, but they’re from 35 years ago. It’s astonishing how little things change.
Back To Business by Bangs & Talbot is released on June 17 on Acid Jazz. It’s available on vinyl, CD, digital download and streaming platforms.
For more information on The Jam and Style Council exhibition, This Is The Modern World, click here.