It had been a while since we last heard anything from Hollie Cook. The recent single Angel Fire, recorded with her live band and produced by Martin “Youth” Glover, then broke the deadlock and reminded us of what we’d been missing. Her new music’s a similar mix of laidback cool, dreamy songs and bass-heavy rhythms laced with dub, although there have been changes since she was making regular trips to Brighton for sessions with Prince Fatty.
Her latest album, Vessel Of Love, will mark her debut for Merge Records and the first produced by Youth, who made his name with Killing Joke but has since worked with U2, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones and many others. Hollie’s in good company, but then she was due a comeback after the success of early hits like Milk And Honey, Shadow Kissing and Looking For Real Love, which enabled her to connect with [mainly young] audiences worldwide. She and Fatty made two albums together before they finally drifted apart. He went to Thailand and is now producing The Last Poets, whilst Hollie headed for the road.
“After the second album I toured quite solidly for two-and-a half-years, and quite happily as well,” she says. “I can’t really put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t ready to record anything… ”
“Bernie? I think about all the good times we had, man. I try to push those over the sad part, keep that in the forefront. It was more special than I could even think about. I couldn’t imagine not having him.
“He made me a whole musician because he knew music theory, he knew chords and what worked with what: he knew right from wrong. I didn’t know none of that. I couldn’t read or write music – I just played whatever came in my head, whatever I felt. We embraced each other, though, from day one. He made my ‘wrong’ stuff sound right. He corrected it by the way he accompanied what I did.
“He was a beautiful guy too. I loved him… anybody would love him. Him being that close to me, on stage and off, it was just incredible. I had to do something on this album that he would approve.”
Bootsy Collins, funk-founder, bass master, prankster, wit and all-round legend of the groove, is talking to me in wistful tones about his friend and former partner-in-the-funk Bernie Worrell, who died back in June 2016, not long before Bootsy began work on his latest album, the just released World Wide Funk.
One of the most enjoyable things about Ntjam Rosie is that she is always looking to move her art forward. The album to make her name amongst soul fans was, of course, her 2010 release, Elle, a superb soul- and jazz-centred project. Three years later, At The Back Of Beyond found her experimenting with guitar-based indie pop-soul. On 2015’s The One, her first self-production, she sought more space in her sound. Now, on her brand new set Breaking Cycles, it’s all about the funk. It could be the Rotterdam-based singer-songwriter’s most productive furrow yet.
“This time around I was examining the concept of rhythm in my music,” she explains over Skype. “I tend to have these odd-measure songs – pretty jazzy stuff – but it’s not rhythm in a funky way. I was looking for something more upbeat, a bit more African maybe, definitely more funk. In my songwriting it was hard for me to write a song from that point of view… ”
Choose one of the Fab Four. This is the subliminal message conveyed by Keyon Harrold as he removes his dark jacket to reveal a plain black tee with white lettering that denotes John, Paul, George and Ringo. In that order. Alternatively, the question could turn back towards the instigator of this cute exercise in opinion forming that gains added resonance in this, Sergeant Pepper’s 50th anniversary year. The trumpeter scratches his head during a playful pause. After a smile he shows his card. A joker.
“I really just wanna say it’s all of ‘em,” he chuckles before changing his tone. “But it’s probably more John. My favourites have all gone early, from Clifford Brown to Booker Little to Bob Marley, Jimi, the whole 27 club, it’s people that have lots to say. It was like I gotta get it out quickly, so they ending up being prolific in their time.”
These past years have not been uneventful for Harrold either.