Smoove and Turrell talk about their return to Mostly.
Northern soul/funk combo Smoove and Turrell are heading back to Birmingham’s Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival- and they can’t wait!
“Ah! We love Birmingham,” declares John Turrell with genuine gusto. “And Mostly Jazz is just one of those festivals which we absolutely love!”
The band have played Mostly several times since their (and the festival’s) inception a decade ago, but Smoove and Turrell’s stunning 2013 appearance proved to be particularly memorable for the band.
“We played when Chic were on, just before them. That was a highlight, and through that, we became friends with Nile Rodgers and did a few gigs with them,” says Turrell, a big fan of the legendary producer/musicians/writer.
“If you have a favourite artist, a favourite songwriter, a favourite producer, Nile Rodgers has got to be the top, just from his back catalogue, it’s unreal; and his commitment is unreal, his love of music, his love of musicians is unreal. He’s a naturally beautiful guy. You know, even to speak to, you’d think you were talking to your mate from down the road.
“He just loves listening to new stuff, he’s just totally addicted to new music …”
It’s been ten years since producer Smoove stumbled upon vocalist Turrell. The Gateshead duo met when Smoove overheard carpenter Turrell’s band, The Stevies, rehearsing nearby. The two quickly formed a bond, with the distinctively-voiced Turrell soon lending his vocal chords to a track Smoove was working on.
“I was in Smoove’s studio overlaying some vocals, and he was playing me some stuff he’d laid down, and one of the tracks was bangin’,” Turrell recalls. “He had a female singer on it and I said ‘ohhh … that’s not meant for a female voice, that track… give us five minutes and I’ll lay something down and see what you think.’ And that was on I Can’t Give You Up.
“As soon as we’d done that, we looked at each other – right, the flood gates are really open! He had loads and loads of stuff on his computer that he hadn’t really done stuff with, because he hadn’t had the right vocalist. So the first album – Antique Soul – was written off the back of stuff Smoove had already done.”
As a result, Turrell’s own band quickly fell by the wayside.
“Then obviously we had success with the first album, and I’d become really good mates with Smoove, [keyboard player] Mike [Porter], and everyone else, and really it took over from what I was trying to do with my own band, The Stevies.”
With the support of key people like BBC 6Music’s Craig Charles and Brighton label Jalapeno Records, and a reputation for a cracking live show, the north of England funkateers quickly picked up the ‘northern soul and funk’ tag. But their sound, like their influences, is much borader.
“I think people need to put you somewhere and I’m happy with that, my favourite music is from those genres,” says Turrell. “But steadily, over the albums, we’re moving away. I’m not saying it’s maturity, but you can only stay in one field for so long before you start asking questions about why you’re doing this. And we never want to do that. We want to have fun writing the kind of music we want to go out and listen to, you know?
“The new album we’re making now, it has more of a tint of ’90s house. But in a Smoove and Turrell way. Everyone will say, ‘Yep! That’s Smoove and Turrell!’ but obviously we’re using different types of instruments and different sounds to create another great dance record, as we see it.”
This year sees the band celebrating their tenth anniversary with a string of sold out shows and a belting 18-track career-spanning Best of compilation, Solid Brass: Ten Years Of Northern Funk.
“Smoove put a draft down and we went through the tracks and really, he was spot on with everything,” says Turrel of the track-listing, which includes such prime cuts as Beggarman, I Can’t Give Up, Slow Down, and a cover of legendary Birmingham band the Spencer Davis Group’s I’m A Man.
“I didn’t say ‘Oh, I don’t want that track on …’ it sort of spoke for itself, it kind of made itself. When we played all the albums and said, ‘what track would you pick off that?’ you pick your first tracks off it, and then look at the other tracks. It reflects what we’re playing live and what people dance too, and what people dance to. That’s the most important thing with Smoove and Turrell.
“People say, oh, we’re soul, we’re funk, no, we’re primarily a dance act. Our aim is to make people dance. So the album really picked itself. Then we gave it a listen and decided where tracks should be and the album was borne. It was an easy process, to be honest.”
Smoove and Turrell play Birmingham’s Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival on Saturday 13th July with The Brand New Heavies, Craig Charles and Brian Jackson. Other acts appearing over the festival’s three days include The Jacksons, Ibibio Sound Machine, Jurassic 5’s Soup (Friday 12th July); Burt Bacharach, Khruangbin, Oscar Jerome (Sunday 14th July). For tickets and more information, see: mostlyjazz.co.uk