Tuesday 7 April 2020

Malcolm Strachan: "Better Late..." [Interview]

Malcolm Strachan releases his debut solo album, 'About Time', which sees the trumpeter - despite an incredibly decorated career within the realms of funk and soul - return to what was his initial passion and introduction to music, jazz.

And what an incredibly decorated career it's been. As a founding member of The Haggis Horns, the revered collective have truly cemented their names within the hallowed walls of the UK's premier funk and soul lineage - their reputation as tireless and exuberant live performers has spurned on the release of four albums, numerous collaborations and the formation of their own label, Haggis Records. Haggis Records has been fortunate enough to boast the release of the past two albums from The Haggis Horns ('What Comes To Mind', 2015, and 'One of These Days', 2017), the brilliant classic funk and northern soul styled EP release from long-time collaborator Lucinda Slim as well as the debut album from The Jazz Defenders and now Strachan's 'About Time'.

 'About Time' appears to be a perfectly apt title when considering Strachan's years in the industry - through his years with The Haggis Horns and his innumerable collaborations as trumpeter for artists including Corinne Bailey Rae, Jamiroquai, Abstract Orchestra and Kyla Brox, jazz appeared to become something Strachan grew to love from a far before finally being able to place all of his efforts in to this genuinely thrilling project.

The album kicks off perfectly with the luxurious 'Take Me To The Clouds' which wins you over immediately with its rich vibrant energy which is carried over to subsequent tracks 'Mitchell's Landing' and 'Better Late Than Never'. 'Just The Thought of You' displays the collective's adept skill within the ballad-inspired compositions but it's the more effervescent numbers that really capture your imagination. The core musicians assembled for this album include Haggis Horns members Erroll Rollins on drums and George Cooper on piano, rounded out by double-bassist Courtny Tomas and features fellow Haggis Horn Atholl Ransome (tenor sax), Abstract Orchestra's Rob Mitchell (baritone sax), Karl Vanden Bossche (percussion), Danny Barely (trombone) and Richard Curran (strings) as supporting members.

Blue-in-Green:RADIO is thrilled to have had the chance to secure a Q&A with Malcolm Strachan to delve into the new project...


Congratulations on the release of 'About Time': this must be very exciting to finally step out as a solo artist after all your years making music?
Thank you very much.  Yes, I’m very pleased to release something that’s a bit different to my normal output.

Who were some of your earliest jazz musical influences?
My earliest musical influences came from my dad and his record collection.  I was lucky that he encouraged me to do music.  He regularly took me to concerts as a kid and and we had regular jam sessions with him on piano and me on trumpet.  We made regular home recordings which was always fun. He taught me melodies and I picked it up by ear.  I learnt a lot from my dad's record collection listening to Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis records.

From being a fan of jazz from such a young age, how did funk and soul - and The Haggis Horns - become the prevalent musical avenue you began to explore?
I’ve always been into jazz but I’ve also been aware that jazz isn’t always cool.  Jazz is such a broad term and it’s easy to forget that a lot of jazz is too self indulgent.  For me, it’s all about taste.  Knowing what is hip.  I’ve always been open-minded when it comes to music.  I think that’s the key.  Having a good knowledge of jazz has made my life easier.  If you can understand jazz and have the knowledge then you can do anything.

How did you go about selecting the musicians you worked with on this album?
I’m lucky enough to know some of the finest musicians on the planet.  And that’s because of having worked with so many different bands and artists.  I’ve learned from every band I’ve been in.  Choosing the musicians to play on my album was easy.  All my best mates happen to be the best musicians ever.

How would you describe the creative process in when it came to putting 'About Time' together?
Well, I started getting better on piano by messing about and as I got better I started writing chord structures.  So the chord structures came first.  Then once I had the finished chord sequences set in concrete I started thinking of Melody ideas.  I would sing the melodies into my phone to record them and experiment with different ideas until I found what was best.  You don't need complex chord structures to write catchy melodies.  I would say the opposite, simplicity sounds good to people's ears.  I wrote the bass lines on keyboard too.  I wanted to keep the bass as simple as possible.  Notice there's no walking bass lines on the album (like you get in swing music).  Some of it was more Latin based in style.  I came up with horn backing lines for underneath the solos instantaneously and in some cases they came to me by experimenting in my mind.  I had these chord structures going round my head all the time as I was playing them at home a lot so it was easy to think of simple backing lines.  I wrote and arranged everything except the string arrangements.  They were done by string arranger Phil Steel in London and a guy called Richard Curran who lives in Preston recorded Phil's string arrangements from his home studio.  Once everything was written the actual recording process was done in stages by multi-tracking all the instruments at our studio in Leeds and was engineered and mixed by Ben Barker (guitarist and producer for The Haggis Horns)

It's exciting to see Haggis Records continue to flourish with releases by The Haggis Horns, Lucinda Slim, The Jazz Defenders and now 'About Time': how are you as a collective finding life on that side of the industry?
We’re very pleased to finally have our own label. The process to get there was a long one but we’re finally in a position where we can have complete control of our own music which is a very liberating feeling.

I'd love to ask at least one question about The Haggis Horns if I may: how do you look back at the band's legacy, successes and releases over all the years of making music together?
I try and look back with positive thoughts. There’s been many ups and downs over the years. But we’ve been lucky enough to have had some amazing times, amazing gigs, and we’ve been lucky enough to have met some incredible people. All types of people.

You've recorded and performed with so many artists: is there anyone you'd particularly like to get in the studio with?
Yes, I’ve been very lucky to have met some cool people I’m during my career and I’ve worked with many international names. I’m always up for doing collaborations and I’m always open to suggestions! There’s endless artists out there to work with.

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