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Friday, September 4, 2009
Despite their unlikely roots in rural Scotland, the Average White Band have laid down some of the thickest soul funk grooves of the last 40-years. ROB GARRATT got down with founding member Alan Gorrie.
Despite their unlikely roots in rural Scotland, the Average White Band have laid down some of the thickest soul funk grooves of the last 40-years. Ahead of their latest visit to Norwich, ROB GARRATT got down with founding member Alan Gorrie.
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The Scottish borough of Perth in the mid-60s was not exactly what you would call a hotbed of funky soul.
But this was the breeding ground for a group of six Scots who unashamedly burst from their rural environment to become one of the hottest funk bands of the 1970s.
After putting out an acclaimed but unnoticed debut in 1973, the Average White Band signed to legendary soul label Atlantic - home to Aretha Franklin, Otis Reading and more than half of the American black soul establishment.
Throughout the seventies they put out some genre-defining dance floor fillers including Pick Up The Pieces, Let's Go Round Again and Cut The Cake.
Their remarkable CV includes a number of funk and disco classics and work backing Ben E King, of Stand By Me fame, and rock'n'roll legend Chuck Berry.
After a five-year hiatus in 80s they reformed with a revitalised line up, and have been touring the world tirelessly ever since.
t Another tour is about to kick-off?
Yes, it starts today. We've got four dates in Holland before we get to Norwich on September 7. I'm part of the advance party over here already. We've got three Americans in the band - damn talented, disgustingly so. Some nights they give us a good showing.
t Why did you hire musician from that side of the pond?
We were based over there and it was more of a natural progression. You can only keep a band together if everybody lives in the same neck of the woods, it didn't make sense to fly back and forth.
t Soul and funk came from the states - do you notice much difference in the audiences?
When friends go and see us in the states they are surprised at how vocal and up for it they are. Especially the African-American audience. They really sing along and it brings the best out in you when people are really having a good times. It's a big difference from people standing with arm's folded saying 'impress me', which is what it can be like some nights over here. The stiff upper lip means people are can be a bit more restrained - unless they're drunk.
t Does that affect the show?
We just pull out more stops. You are never beaten by an audience - you just try harder and they come round.
t Were you ever intimidated by being white Scots playing black soul in the states?
At the outset we were brimful with confidence in what we could do. That's why we upped stick and went to the States. We realised we had to prove ourselves to the soul audience. Don't give up. Immediately it all fell into place - we had the right record and the right record company at the right time, and when it happened, it happened over there
t Are you still better known there?
We are probably - simply because we tour more intensively. We try and make an annual tour over here, and Japan. We try and mix the tour up and give different audiences songs depending on which records sold well in a place.
t And what are the hits people want to hear here?
The biggest demand is for songs like Walk On By, Let's Go Round Again, Atlantic Avenue, Pick Up The Pieces and the like.
t And what do you enjoy playing most?
We get a kick out of playing the grooves and driving the groove through. The really funky stuff, that's the stuff you can sit on and let the groove carry you along like an elephant.
t What stuff were you listening to when you got together in the 1960s?
James Brown primarily, everyone was. Also The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Aretha [Franklin], and jazz stuff like Herbie [Hancock] and Cannonball Adderly. We've always had a broad taste and our drummer Randy has played a lot of jazz, with people like Herbie and Randy Brecker.
t And you've got to play with some pretty big names yourself over the years - one of your first professional gigs was backing Chuck Berry, what was that like?
Amazing. To be invited to tour with him and his band… and getting to meet and be on stage with Marvin Gaye…he didn't just jam with anybody but he couldn't resists getting up and trying I Heard It Through The Grapevine. And then there's the album we made with Ben E King…
t Did it give you a sense of validation that the black soul greats welcomed you like that?
There's a lot of interaction with other music players that has given is an extra dimension. It's quite amazing, these are my amazing moments you never forget. You don't remember the struggles - you remember the great moments.
t Is there one band line-up you hold particularly dear?
The beginning line-up was fantastic. That six Scotsmen could make that sound! That will always be at the top. The band we have together nowadays - this vision of the band is as close as possible to the capturing the original line-up.
t How long do you think you'll be together?
We've no idea. There's no reason to stop when it's this good. We love working and that keeps us fresh and young. Nobody feels like retiring and there's still stuff to do. BB King is still going and you wouldn't ask him when he's going to retire, he'll probably die on stage.
t As someone who has been playing funk for as long as you have, what is it about the genre that gives it such an appeal?
It's infectious. It's one of these things - that kind of groove just makes you move. When you hear that kind of music you can't keep your feet off the floor - and the rest of your body functions just follows.
t Have you played Norwich much before?
Yes we've played the Waterfront several times. It's wonderful. I like it. A good funky venue, a stand up sweaty place. We've also played the UEA. I love Norwich as a town, we get there a day before so we can walk around. There's a great audience too. The first time we played the Waterfront we had a young local funk band opening for us - they were only about 16 but they were brilliant. There's a music thing in Norwich, that's why we have a good audience.
t Average White Band play Norwich Waterfront on September 7.
t Further listening: www.myspace.com/theaveragewhiteband
People in Norwich were left looking to the skies outside The Forum this lunchtime as music was blasted out across the city.