The widely anticipated third Dreemtime album, Manhattan, has just been released on digital platforms. This time the group’s mainman, songwriter, instrumentalist and producer Klive D’Farley – an Englishman in New York since 1998 – has recruited Vandross-ish vocalist E.R.I.C. and keys/vibesman 4MuLA to join up with the outfit’s long-time live lead singer Jessi Colasante [aka JeSante’] on a set that sits confidently in territory somewhere between Sade and Incognito – which is to say, it’s beautifully recorded, melodic soul and funk, peppered with great guitar, keyboard and horn fills. The tastefulness of it all is palpable.
Manhattan is also an album with an intriguing history. To begin with, D’Farley managed to secure sufficient funding to leave behind the basement and bedroom studios and cut the whole thing at the very posh Bass Hit Recordings, owned by the aforesaid 4MuLa [aka Simone Giuliani]. Moreover, the finance for that didn’t come from what you might call a usual source, as Klive D himself explains:
“There’s a guy who used to own Molton Brown cosmetics, called Charles Denton: he sold that company and made a lot of money. Now I hadn’t seen Charles for 18 years – I knew him from my business days, before music – but my wife is in the magazine/fashion industry and we went to an event one night a little while back, and I ran into him again. He said that he had this established cosmetic brand, Erno Laszlo, and that he liked my music, so why didn’t we see if we could do something together.”
Soon thereafter the pair struck a deal where Denton paid for the album and, in return, got to license the music for 10 years.
“The deal was tailored to fit,” says D’Farley. “He was releasing various skin creams, so that’s how the titles of the songs White, Black and Gold came about: I wrote the songs to go with his cosmetic releases. He would be able to use the CDs in Vegas at events, or for TV, or whatever. So he pressed around 10,000 CDs and those albums were given away.”
An intriguing tale. It not only explains why a lot of the music emerged in batches throughout 2013, in the form of EPs of the aforesaid titles [White, Black and Gold, but gives a revealing insight into the methods employed by resourceful musicians when attempting to bring their creations to public ears without sacrificing production values.
The Dreemtime story, and the group’s maintenance of high standards, of course revolves around Klive D’Farley himself. Musically speaking, the adventure began back in the late nineties, when Klive snagged himself a small publishing deal and began writing and co-writing. One of his liaisons included a team-up with singer/writer Billie Godfrey, a vocalist from Brighton who made her name as a reliable background performer for American visitors like Maxwell and Chaka Khan, but whose solo career hadn’t taken off in quite the way she’d have liked. [Check out her 2009 album The Eden Tree if you like Riperton-ish folky, jazzy soul; she’s now fronting the reincarnated Heaven 17, amongst other gigs.] Recalls D’Farley:
“I had started Dreemtime then, but… well, to be honest, life seemed to be getting a little wild in London. I had a couple of friends who died of overdoses of different drugs and it seemed… like it was all getting precarious.
“Anyway, I had a distant relative who had a house in the middle of nowhere in South-West France, so I packed up my stuff, put my Yamaha keyboard into the car and went down there. I could barely speak any French, but I ended up befriending the lady who owned the chateau there in this little fortified village. I was just writing music. Then one day she introduced me to her daughter, who was studying in Paris, and she was very pretty… and next thing I knew we were touring America together, driving from coast to coast.”
After months on the road – made possible by his co-driver’s American passport [her dad being a Vietnam war draft dodger] and his own B1 visa – Klive realized two things: first, his travelling companion was his friend rather than romantic future and, secondly, when he hit New York, that he’d like to stay there. Within a year he’d met his wife to be and so that is exactly what he did.
The debut Dreemtime album, Dreemy, is when we first encountered his brand. Recounts Klive:
“A British guy who used to work with Mica Paris, Mark Summers, was signed to Island for a while. He co-produced an album with Billie Godfrey, as a matter of fact. He contacted me to say that he wanted to bring out an album entitled Exotica Volume 1. He needed an instrumental, so I did one and got to work with an amazing trumpet player called Takuya Nakamura, who still plays with us. But when I sent him the track he said, ‘Put some lyrics to it’. It was suggested to me that this great singer, Maya Azucena, might be able to do it – she was doing her first album at the time – and so I met her then and we co-wrote Dreemy. At the time I thought she could be a permanent part of Dreemtime, and she did do the whole album.”
But, as Bluey Maunick has discovered with Incognito, finding and making great music with a like-minded studio partner is one thing; keeping the unit together on a long term basis is a whole different matter – simply put, people have their own plans, ambitions and directions to consider, and Maya’s soon took her on elsewhere.
The Dreemtime sound had been established, however: Dreemy, issued in 2007, was well received by soul connoisseurs both here and in Japan and, two years later, a follow-up, New York Lounge Funk, saw D’Farley link up with another impressive female vocalist in the shape of Anise White. Once more, our man thought he’d found a partner with whom he might build the band’s reputation on a longer term basis but, yet again, it didn’t work out that way, and Ms White also moved on.
New York Lounge Funk did, however, pick up a licensing deal in Japan, with Village Again Records, and via that route, says Klive proudly, “turned up on Camden market for £30 a shot!
These days the Dreemtime founder sees his creation more as a trademark that guarantees a quality and sound around which he can assemble a team that wants to make it work – for however long that might be.
“JeSanté has been with me from the word go,” he says. “She sounds Latin but she’s not. In fact, she has done every live Dreemtime show we’ve ever done, but always as a backing vocalist. She reminds me a bit of Teena Marie, actually. I always intended to give her a try out on the recordings… and so now seemed like a good time to do that.
“And then I thought I could balance it out with E.R.I.C.. He’s enormous… it feels like he’s almost seven feet tall! He sounds like Luther or Marvin, but his ego is just… so tiny, it’s not there.
“I decided to split the album into White, Black and Gold – use Jessie for the White section, E.R.I.C. on the Black section and then both of them on the Gold section. Phil Driver [of Soul Unsigned fame] introduced me to E.R.I.C., as a matter of fact.”
The immediate future for Dreemtime includes a full CD release for Manhattan, a strong possibility of a high quality vinyl version, and then the prospect of a live show that plays not only in America but also in Europe and beyond.
“My idea,” says Klive, “is ‘Dreemtime Live In New York’, a gig to showcase the tracks from this album, plus a couple from the previous albums, and to stage it in a substantial concert place here, and have it filmed professionally. Plus there would be a live album from out of that. I really want to get over to Europe and onto the festival circuit. I really think we’re ready for that now.”
By Chris Wells