[ This time our guest blogger is really big, as we promised. More than big, bigger. Glyn "Bigga" Bush, from UK, is a major figure in urban music. An eclectic producer who's always been one step ahead of the trends. As you'll read, he's still struggling to push the sound forward and his next source of inspiration is one we are particularly into: Afro Beat. Enjoy! ]
First up thanks to Marty for inviting me to say a few words about myself and my music on this very fine blog.
My first chance to give up the day job came with Rockers Hi Fi, an outfit from Birmingham, England that ran from 1992-2000, with myself and Richard “DJ Dick” Whittingham at the controls. We started out making house tunes, caught up as we were in first rush of the early 90s acid house scene, but soon graduated onto deeper stuff with influences from dub (Scientist and King Tubby), jungle (DJ Krome & Mr Time, Alex Reese, Flynn & Flora), and other more ephemeral styles that were in vogue back then.
Probably our biggest tune was “Push Push” which tore up dance floors all over the globe in 93/94 and was recently remixed by German electro-peeps M.A.N.D.Y. This was our quintessential dub-house track with a beautiful (and much-sampled) vocal from Johnny Osbourne, “He can surely turn the tide…he can push the tempest by…”
Listen to Rockers Hi Fi – Push Push
But Rockers were always about being very eclectic and we wore our influences proudly, unashamedly borrowing ideas from such diverse sources as Roberta Flack, Silver Apples, Bernard Hermann, Chico Arnez, Lee Scratch Perry, Mikey Dread, Bobby Konders, Plastikman, David Axelrod, old school electro, hip hop, film music, easy listening, spoken word albums, poetry, sound effects records, you name it.
Listen to Rockers Hi Fi The 8th Shade intro
Our first album, “Rockers To Rockers” was originally released on our own Different Drummer label in 1992 before being licensed for worldwide release by Island a year later. This was a great honour for us as it was not only the label introduced Bob Marley to a wider audience, it also had a history of ultra-cool (in my world anyway) releases that I had grown up with, like King Crimson, Roxy Music, Nick Drake, Jethro Tull and many more. Even if these bands were no longer hip in the early 90s, they were part of my musical upbringing.
Our relationship with Island was not destined to last however, as they unceremoniously dropped us after about 18 months. At the time it seemed they thought of Rockers as “the other trip hop act on Island” (Tricky being the pre-eminent one), even though that was only one facet of our overall style.
Undeterred we gathered together a minimal amount of live gear (decks and effects) a maximal MC (Farda P) and a massive digi vs analogue light show and set off around Europe playing to mostly appreciative crowds. In true rock legend fashion we were spotted at a Hamburg gig by the MD of WEA, signing a deal with them that helped cement Rockers’ reputation in Germany, Northern Europe and North America, even if we still struggled to sell records in our home country. You can see a clip of Rockers on tour in about 1996 (watch the Video here) rocking the house with “Uneasy Skanking” and “Copycat” from the Mish Mash album.
We also did a lot of remixes in those days for people such as Sly & Robbie, Dawn Penn, Paul Weller (he didn’t like it, possibly because we didn’t use any of his vocal), St. Etienne (Listen to St. Etienne – On The Shore Rockers Remix), Karma, Banco de Gaia, Nils Petter Molvaer, Yasushe Ide (Listen to Yasushe Ide – Fresh Rockers Version), Earl 16 and Shantel (before his current Balkan boom).
After a few more years of tours in mainland Europe and the US, plus three more albums, ”Music Is Immortal”, “Mish Mash”, “Overproof” and the infamous DJ Kicks Black Album, we eventually called it a day around the end of 1999, after a final remix/remake of Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sunshine of your Love”
Listen to Sunshine Of Your Love Rockets Meets Ella
Meanwhile I’d moved out of Birmingham to the South West of England, to the countryside and a quieter style of life. This didn’t affect my style of music making at all, which continues to sound pretty urban (with a small “u”) to my ears anyway. I began doing remixes for a whole range of artists including Ennio Morricone, Tosca, Suba, Swayzak, Tony Allen, Boozoo Bajou, Pressure Drop, Up Bustle & Out).
Offers came in from various German imprints for remixes and recordings, the first fruit of which was an album for Best Seven/Sonar Kollektiv “Studio Don” under the name Lightning Head. The concept was to fuse Latin music with reggae, as if Cuba and Jamaica had once been physically joined, rather than being just 90 miles apart. I’d already noticed a lot of parallels between the two styles and the album is an exploration of these ideas, with some heavy batucada-style drumming thrown in for good measure. Looking back now I can see that the common thread between all these styles was their African roots, but I wasn’t so conscious of that back then.
I was also aiming to produce music that sounded like it was all played by the same group in the same studio, like the old Studio One house bands who laid down the rhythm tracks for so many reggae classics. Conceptual stuff aside, probably the best known Lightning Head track from those days was “Me & Me Princess”, a slab of raw dancehall funk featuring Singing Bird.
Listen to Lightning Head – Me & Me Princess
Apart from Lightning Head I was also producing tracks as BiggaBush, a more dubby, electronic and eclectic sound that you can hear on BiggaBush Free (Listen to BiggaBush – IOTK), and the mix album Sound Sensation on Stereo Deluxe.
By the mid noughties I’d decided to go it alone and control the means of production for myself. Hence I set up Lion Head Recordings and released my first solo album as BiggBush, called “BiggaBush In Dub”. Unsurprisingly this was a collection of fairly chilled tunes featuring a guitar-based rework of Push Push arranged for the Big Chill festival in 2006.
Listen to BiggaBush – Push Push Guitar Version
To bring things up to date: since late 2004 I was working on a follow up to Studio Don and around the middle of 05 I was at a party where someone played some really funky tunes by the Daktaris (who I later found out were an early version of Antibalas) that fired my imagination and got me exploring the world of Afrobeat.
Then I hit upon the Soundway label from Brighton UK and its Ghana Soundz and Nigerian comps. It hit me that in the mid-70s black music had really come full circle, from the African roots of reggae, funk and soul that came up through the Americas and the Caribbean and eventually back in the form of James Brown on the Rumble in the Jungle tour. This had a profound effect on African musicians, especially Afrobeat originator Orlando Julius and a host of lesser-known bands. The jury is still out on whether JB influenced Fela or Fela influenced JB.
Whatever – this music was raw, it was funky, it had out of tune guitars, wonky organs and blaring brass and it made you want to get up and party. So I spent the next three years going deep into afrobeat, studying the beats and rhythms, learning the basslines and the guitar parts and assimilating it into my own style.
The results of this continuing obsession can be heard on the new album “13 Faces of Lightning Head” which features collaborations with Earl Zinger (aka Rob Gallagher, Gilles Peterson’s live MC, Red Egyptian and 2 Banks of 4), NYC rap attitude from Candice Cannabis, Latino consciousness from Blanquito Man (King Chango, Up Bustle & Out) and Nigerian MC Lariman Ojelade, plus a full brass section.
Listen to BiggaBush – Afro Spot
[Download all the songs in this post in a single zip file HERE: a Biggabush essential selection!]
Most of the Rockers back catalogue plus BiggaBush and Lightning Head tunes are available to download or on CD via my website: