The CC Smugglers get chatty with The Clanger:
As I tentatively walked past the house buried deep in Bedfordshire, as directed by Richie’s slightly bemused mum, down the gorgeously wild garden towards the ‘source of the sound’, it occurred to me that being interviewed is probably not something that this band, CC Smugglers, are used to. As I walked away, still smiling, I couldn’t help feeling that this is all about to change!
These lads were rehearsing the music which has recently been described as Imelda May meets the Mumfords with a dash of Paolo Nutini, in what they call The Cabin in ridiculous temperatures. I was privileged to be able to hear the first complete run through of a new song ‘ Shake Shuffle and Move’ which was such fun, with a catchy hook I can’t get out of my head even now ! Dang ! I had been listening to ‘ Reubens Train’ on the way over, the single they are releasing on Monday July 30th, and which has had significant regional radio play, especially on BBC Three Counties who seem to have adopted the boys and made the song their Introducing Track of the week a couple of months back. It is great to think that there are other follow up tracks that are as good and also, so I am told, they have recorded an album in prestigious Monnow Valley studios which is being released in the Autumn. Things really seem to be hotting up for these guys. Excuse the pun, but it was the hottest day of the year so far !
So, six young half dressed men using a vast array of Folky instruments performed for me then we had a chat. This is what I gleaned ( well the bits that are printable anyway !)
So there’s six of them in the full band. But there were five performing at The River Festival ? ah well apparently Dave had something on that couldn’t be shifted and he plays keys and ‘ most brass instruments’, so that seems to translate as he normally plays Trumpet or Trombone in addition to the keys that I watched him play with a flourish in the Cabin just after I came in. Then next to him there’s Sam, who at 18 is the youngest by a couple of years and is the most recent recruit joining in the spring of this year, who plays mostly guitars, although I hear he has a latent violin skill that the guys are eager to explore ! Then on round to Ryan, one of the original members who, along with Dan, was hoiked back from travelling in Australia by Richie’s s desire to start a band three years ago, after his epiphany at the Cambridge Folk Festival. This resulted in him making a decision to form a band rather than plough the rather lonely furrow of being a solo artist. Ryan plays guitars, banjo, ukulele and dobro among others ( a dobro is a guitar like instrument that you pick while it is lying flat for those that, like me, have never heard the word before !).
Richie says he formed the band to capitalise on his personal challenge of playing real music with melodies and technical musicianship, after his stint as the front man for a punk band. This came as a surprise – although when I think back to the seemingly uninhibited energetic performance that resulted in the guys winning a trophy for their float at the Bedford River Parade at the weekend, I realise that I shouldn’t be surprised. Nothing against punk per se but can’t help thinking that it is nice that his efforts are now channelled into music that has a mass appeal and will reach more people. At which point Sparky chips in, to say that he was also in a punk band and knew Richie from the Stevenage circuit. Which was also a surprise as Sparky’s drumming was so well balanced, subtle and sensitive to the music – you know how some drummers just can’t seem to help themselves ? – that I realised that the skill he possesses is awesome. Then he tells me he plays ukulele too, and sometimes drums and ukulele at the same time ! I saw a picture where the guys are surrounded by people at the River Festival and it seems that they pull this stunt where they get off the stage and go into the audience and perform fully acoustic, dragging the double bass et al to thrill the assembled, delighted crowd ! At this point, Sparky’s ukulele playing comes into it’s own. But we are jumping ahead, Richie says he ‘ hollers’ and plays harmonica, he is also a dab hand at Banjo and a whole raft of other instruments. Double Bass, keyboard, drums and violin. Then he tells me that they can ALL sing but usually the three, himself, Dan and Sparky do the three part harmonies that are present in most of their songs.
Carrying on round, we get to Dan. One of the original members, an old school friend of Richie’s, along with Ryan, who has been given the Double Bass to play. I am told that guitar is actually Dan’s instrument and he has a fondness for double bass, but he also plays the keyboard and surprisingly, but I am almost over being surprised by this talented bunch, the Accordion. And there it is in the corner, looking a little lonely ! I secretly think Dan has been ‘ given ‘ the double because he is the tallest and quite honestly, carting that huge instrument – and the case is about a foot bigger – around when you are busking ( let alone to the gigs ) must be quite a challenge. But softly spoken Dan is modest about it and brushes it off with a smile. You would never know it is not his first instrument judging by his rendition earlier.
So there you have it, six guys brought together by a love of music and musicianship. But the music they create is it not exactly your standard fayre. A point that BBC 3CR’s Introducing presenter, Gareth Lloyd asked them on air on Friday night after they performed live at the Bedford River festival showground. To which Richie simply answered ‘ it’s good music’. But now we have more time for the detail, so how would you describe it guys ?
Here we enter into a rather lengthy debate where they are all chipping in, lively and animated , and we discuss influences ( Johnny Cash, Old Crow Medicine Show, Muddy Waters, The Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons, Tom Waits and Seasick Steve and apparently Dan is really into Hip Hop) . It seems, sifting through the comments that the overriding enjoyment from some of these artists, in addition to their music, is their almost devil may care approach to life, and the determination they have to write the music they love. I wonder if that is something that affects the guys, that desire to be ‘ true to your principles’ ? Richie says that he has in the past been very purist about sticking to the influences but is loosening up now, and is even prepared to do a song with Hip Hop influences, but at present they are a mix of blues/folk/ country and rock and that they are best described as a folky band ( with a small ‘f’, Sparky adds explaining that this is about life and stories and natural music generation ) and their single is under the new genre popfolk on itunes. Now they are writing as much for the listener, making songs that are accessible with lyrics that have universal themes, and trying to build in catchy choruses. This will probably make all the difference for the journey ahead.
They are understandably excited about their forthcoming debut single release of ‘ Reubens Train ‘ on itunes, on Monday 30th, which has er, four tracks on it, rather than what you would expect as the traditional one. But there is not much that is traditional about this band and their approach to the future and getting their name out there would appear to know no bounds.
It is not many people who would have the presence of mind to hear Radio One DJ Fearne Cotton talking about her secret desire to front a blues and country show, stay up most of the night writing and recording a jingle for her fantasy show, bake her a cake ( apparently she likes cake !) drive to London in freezing bleak February and hand it to her as she goes into Radio One ! Driving back, somewhat exhausted and deflated the guys were given the ultimate thumbs up when she not only played the jingle live on air, but talked about how they had tracked her down and given her cake ! Here is a video they posted on youtube : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTpw9C7eyv0&list=UUiYbYn4FQK5AMjlcQaTjmuw&index=3&feature=plcp
This approach has paid dividends for the guys. They once busked to a line of waiting ticket holders at a gig for one of their hero’s, Seasick Steve, telling everyone that they were busking to get enough money for tickets. Word got back and not only did Steve personally come out to see them and put £20 in their case, he asked them to busk outside his birthday show at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge and they were treated like VIP’s. He also made a big deal of saying how much he loved their music ! That is what career highlights are made of for Richie !
For the others, busking in Paris as part of an impromptu tour of France last summer, was a clear winner. Why ? well apparently the French stand round you in crowds, and when you have finished each song they come over and flood you with a ‘fistful of euros’… they earned an astonishing 800 euros in one memorable session and have kept in touch with new fans they met there.
Emboldened they decided to take on busking ‘ guerrilla style ‘ on the tubes themselves and this is the rather amusing video they made : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToUghMrpB98&list=UUiYbYn4FQK5AMjlcQaTjmuw&index=1&feature=plcp
It is beginning to strike me that I am surrounded by a very talented bunch of guys. Who are such FUN ! Modest, cheeky and genuine, they strike me as a group who could go far as they are as entertaining off stage as they undeniably are on stage.
There was so much more discussed and space permits me from giving the full story, but maybe the guys will let me come to another rehearsal and report back to you in more detail, perhaps when they release their album ? But for now, good luck with the single guys and the many gigs and festivals that are lined up for you over the summer. One things for sure, you won’t remain one of Bedfordshire’s best kept secrets for long !
CC Smugglers can be found via the website http://ccsmugglers.co.uk/ which also has the buy links under the music tab for the single release or via their somewhat lively facebook page, which today seems to be sporting CC Smugglers version of Calendar Girls… Ryan for Mr July anyone ? ; http://www.facebook.com/ccsmugglers
Emails can be send to CC Smugglers @hotmail.co.uk and the contact number for bookings is 07969 249286.