Monday 13 April 2015

"All Hail...!": The Mighty Sceptres [Interview]

Ubiquity Records have genuinely landed a gem with the debut release from The Mighty Sceptres!  The group, consisting of long-term musical collaborators – Angeline Morrison and Nick Radford – is a real dream come true for fans who have followed the duos previous musical excursions together and have subsequently been gifted with their first full-length release, ‘All Hail The Mighty Sceptres!’.  The album continues to build upon the incredible chemistry and quality of music we’ve now come to expect from Morrison and Radford, be it through their individual efforts or together.

We’ve marveled several times on this site about our adoration for vocalist Angeline Morrison and her remarkable debut solo release, ‘Are You Ready Cat?’: hers is an inimitable and exquisite class, and when paired with the musicianship and awesome talent of Nick Radford – under his usual music-making moniker of Frootful – it proves to be a difficult combination to top.  As with their previous collaborations (‘Fish in the Sea’ from Frootful’s ‘Colours’ album in 2011, and ‘Slowtime’ from the aforementioned ‘Are You Ready Cat?’, amongst others), we’re treated to a refreshing blend of sweet soul music that, as they describe themselves, “showcase[es] their love of 50s and 60s rhythm ’n’ blues, doo-wop, jazz and soul”.

Helping The Mighty Sceptres realize their vision is Chris Pedley of UK funk and soul veterans, The Baker Brothers, on production, and even further assistance behind the boards is brought in courtesy of Benedic Lamdin (aka Nostalgia 77) who takes up the album’s mixing duties.  It’s an undeniable dream team of inspiring talent best showcased amongst tunes like ‘Nothing Seems To Work’, ‘Gentle Refrain’, ‘Land Of Green Ginger’ and the album’s standout track, ‘Shy as a Butterfly’.  (Online purchases of the album from Bandcamp or Amazon treat you to an exclusive Kenny Dope mix of the latter song which is currently the only way to get your hands on it so, do yourselves a favour, and do all you can to get your hands on it.)

It's our distinct pleasure to have Angeline Morrison and Nick Radford take time out to discuss the brand new album, which is genuinely a timeless and exceptional piece of work.  Well, friends, it's now time to show due reverance as we chant - in one voice - "All hail The Mighty Sceptres!"

Where did the name 'The Mighty Sceptres' come from for the group?
We both love the tradition of regal-themed names from the late '50s and early '60s in American soul and doo-wop groups, such as the Five Royales.  So it's partly a reference to the fact that we're here in Shakespeare's 'sceptred isle' making this American-influenced music, and partly tongue-in-cheek too. ‘Mighty' also acknowledges the Jamaican influence, a word that often appears in Jamaican music from the same era, of which we are both fans, and Angeline's family is from Jamaica. We'd like to think of it as the sort of thing Gene Chandler might have come up with as a backing band for the Duke of Earl ;-)

You've been collaborating together for some time now, but how did the two of you initially meet?
We met through soul music, record collecting, and through playing in the same bands and knowing the same musicians in Cornwall.

How did the group come to the attention of Ubiquity Records?
Nick had sent Ubiquity some Frootful (Freestyle Records) vinyl releases, having done some t-shirt designs for them. They were very interested in Angeline who featured on these recordings, and the two of us collaborating on some new material. Following some discussions with Ubiquity, we decided to partner up as a combined artist, The Mighty Sceptres – working comprehensively together from the writing, through to the recording, production and mixing. Previous to this, we had only ever been featured on each other’s projects. We signed an album deal with Ubiquity before the album was even written, never mind recorded! So a noble step from Ubiquity, made in good faith, which did motivate us to produce the best album we possibly could.

What was the creative process of putting the album together like?
It was a really magical time, a highly concentrated period of immense fun and very focused creative energy. We were really lucky to work in an incredible studio (Gareth Young's Cube Studios in Cornwall), with some seriously talented musicians. We were also very lucky to work with our producer Chris Pedley (The Baker Brothers). He came down and pretty much lived with us for the whole time it took to record the album. He really understood where we were coming from and went the extra mile to realise the vision we had for a piece of work that sounded very authentically as though it had been recorded (for the most part) in the late '50s or early '60s.  Then the album was mixed down to tape by Nostalgia 77, who did a very beautiful job with some authentic analogue hardware from the right era (courtesy of Fishmarket Studios in London), so we've been very lucky all round.  Prior to this, we'd go about the writing in all sorts of different ways, we didn't really have a process that you could identify... On 'Shy as a Butterfly' for instance, Nick originally sent Angeline a demo of a basic backing track with a chord sequence. She then recorded her idea for a song on top of these, and the mp3 went back and forth several times as the song took shape... it was quite exciting to see the file turning up in your inbox, and wondering how it would have developed since the last time you heard it!  One or other of us might get an idea for a beat, or a story, or a melody, or a hook, and we'd work the whole song up from there. We've both turned up with songs that were pretty much complete, too, which we'd then hand over for embellishment or adjustment... the creative process has a mind of its own sometimes.

Being artists in your own right, did you find it easy making compromises or were you very much in tune with each other's vision for the album?
Collaborating is a very healthy thing to do if you're used to working on your own, as it does train your mind to stay expanded. It's also a learning process, you learn when to let something go, and when to fight for an idea. On the whole though, our ideas are pleasingly in tune!

Including the two of you, Chris Pedley and Nostalgia 77, there's a real dream-team of collaborators who have worked on this project - how did you go about selecting who you wanted to involve?
Nick had known Chris for some time through mutual friends, so we approached him because of his extensive knowledge and experience working with appropriate analogue recording techniques. He’s also a good man and a pleasure to work with, which helps! Then the hookup with Ben Lamdin (Nostalgia 77) came through Chris, who also enlisted his previous bandmates, Dan and Rich Baker (the original Baker Brothers lineup), for string and percussion sessions respectively. We were also lucky to have engineering assistance in the studio from Kryzysztof Oktalski (who produced the Stonephace album on Tru Thoughts) – mic placements, pre-amps and signal chains, etc. He knows WAY too much about how all our favourite labels and studios did that kind of thing back in the day! Then the session players we had worked with a lot previously, and understand where we are coming from with the music.

The Kenny Dope remix of 'Shy as a Butterfly' is an excellent bonus to digital purchases of the album from Bandcamp - how did you connect with him for the remix?
Ubiquity Records, our label, reached out to Kenny and sowed the seeds for the remix. We are seriously happy about it, and delighted he likes the record.

How does the music from the album translate to the live stage?
Generally, we try our best to get a sound that's as true to the album as possible, which always means some rearranging, but then that's part of the fun of the creative process.

If you had to introduce a prospective new fan to the album, which one song would you pick?
Ah now, that's a tricky question as there's a good bit of variety on the album! Angeline would probably say ‘Sting Like a Bee’ or ‘You're Nothing But a Pack of Cards’, whereas Nick might choose the single, ‘Siren Call’, as it covers most bases – the Jamaican influence combined with the rhythm ’n’ blues element and some swinging soul.

What can fans expect next from each of you?
Well, collectively, we are planning some UK dates, so please watch the Facebook page for updates on this.  Individually, we are both busy writing – hopefully it won't be too long before you'll be able to hear what we've both been working on!

For more on The Mighty Sceptres, follow the group on Facebook and check out the album on Bandcamp.

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