Q&A with London-based bassist/composer Andrew John - heavy grooved style coupled with a melodic musical outlook

"I'll probably be showing my age but I miss a great songs and great albums the most. I'm particularly drawn to the 70s in terms of everything driven from a black perspective. The great musicians, movies, fashion and sports stars that came out of that period… whether that's the Afro hairstyle, Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder or Viv Richards."

Andrew John: Music From The Soul

Andrew John is a London-based electric bassist/composer incorporating a heavy grooved style coupled with a melodic musical outlook. His music is generally Funky with touches of Jazz-inspired improvisations taking you on a journey through different musical genres. For the last 10 plus years he’s been a key member of Anthony Joseph’s bands and musical projects, touring, composing and recording. Andrew says: The Past - My earliest musical influences were derived from my older brother, Roger who played clarinet and later sax. I learned clarinet at school, but it was never quite sexy enough for me so next up I tried my hand at guitar, and then around the age of 16/17 I somehow got into playing bass with some school friends. I bought a basic Fender Precision copy and was heavily into Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius at the time... These formative years in the late 80s to early 90s were spent for the most part playing in local bands, gigging and making demos to try and land that elusive record deal. To cut a long story short - it never quite happened. I first met Anthony Joseph in 91’ and we played in a Funk-Rock band called Zedd for a couple of years. Around 2000 I hooked up musically with him again. I was heavily into the ‘New Music’ or Free Jazz as some call it.

That journey has included playing with some of the heavy weight players on the London jazz scene past and present such as Shabaka Hutchings, Denys Baptiste, Byron Wallen and our current MD, Jason Yarde. I’ve also been fortunate to have played on stage with Keziah Jones, Joseph Bowie, Archie Shepp and Othello Molineaux. More recently there’s also been the occasional live appearance from some of the younger cats who are currently tearing up the London scene - Binker Golding, James Mollinson and Ife Ogunjobi. The future - ‘think about the future’. That’s a line from the Batman movie in 1989 - the one that Prince did the soundtrack for. Well my future will involve doing a solo record. I’m really looking forward to self-releasing my debut album in 2020. After all its called ‘Get In Where You Fit In – look out for it!

Interview by Michael Limnios                     Photos © by Mirabelwhite

How has the Jazz & Caribbean music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Well, a life of music is a doorway to many cultures and traditions that’s for sure so the Caribbean has definitely played it's part in my world view. However, my parents were born in the Caribbean and I was born in London, so a lot of what has informed me has also come from the UK and its perspective of me as belonging to a sub-culture, whether that’s black, Caribbean, music or dare I say crime. That being said I tend to form my views of the world independently of music or places. But on my many travels I have seen the disparity between being a ‘black musician’ hired to play a show and being treated quite decently versus having a black or migrant hotel workers carry my bags to my room or them being treated less than decently. There’s a paradox there.

What characterize your music philosophy and sound? What touched (emotionally) you from the Bass?

My philosophy is to create music from the soul that can easily be digested by the average listener and not just musicians (personal music than is personable). So I particularly like catchy melodies to be present at all times.... even if the music is raging! That’s something I mainly picked up on from listening to a lot of Ornette Coleman. And as for my sound... I’m still searching for it.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Sharing a bill with George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic in Paris. Opening for Larry Graham also in Paris. Hanging out with Archie Shepp backstage, listening to stories about the old days on the beautiful island of Porquerolles. Having the legendary steel pan player Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe play on one of my tunes - San Souci (Totem) which is on Anthony Joseph's ‘People of the Sun’ album recorded in Trinidad and playing alongside Othello Molineaux (who had played with Jaco) at Jazz à Vienne.

"Well, a life of music is a doorway to many cultures and traditions that’s for sure so the Caribbean has definitely played it's part in my world view. However, my parents were born in the Caribbean and I was born in London, so a lot of what has informed me has also come from the UK and its perspective of me as belonging to a sub-culture, whether that’s black, Caribbean, music or dare I say crime. That being said I tend to form my views of the world independently of music or places." (Photo © by Mirabelwhite)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I'll probably be showing my age but I miss a great songs and great albums the most. I'm particularly drawn to the 70s in terms of everything driven from a black perspective. The great musicians, movies, fashion and sports stars that came out of that period… whether that's the Afro hairstyle, Muhammad Ali, Stevie Wonder or Viv Richards. Could be the movie Shaft, Pam Grier, Bob Marley and the Wailers or Fela Kuti - amazing artists and individuals who captured the imaginations of millions. My fear for the future is soundbite culture - here today and gone tomorrow culture. Short shelf lives and the dumbing down of artistry along with the concept of 'a body of work'. Moving forward I just hope whoever's considered to be ‘hot right now’ believes in their own artistry rather than their own celebrity.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

The perception of musicians as outcasts of society - more pariah than professional. Struggling to get paid, decent housing. It would be cool to be able to get financial assistance like any other worker. It would be cool to be taken seriously as artists and not relegated to merely entertainers. And finally it would be cool not to be treated with contempt because you have more than one brain cell in your head - branded a trouble maker because you have no desire to conforming to the protocols of vaudeville.

What were the reasons that made the UK to be the “Mecca” of World music researches and experiments?

I'm not sure if I really understand the question and that could be because of my cynical nature? So I'd guess it has something to do with London, the swinging 60s, Mods & Rockers... Carnaby Street. The Beatles... The Rolling Stones... or the mini skirt? Your guess is as good as mine!                              (Andrew John / Photo © by Mirabelwhite)

"My philosophy is to create music from the soul that can easily be digested by the average listener and not just musicians (personal music than is personable). So I particularly like catchy melodies to be present at all times.... even if the music is raging! That’s something I mainly picked up on from listening to a lot of Ornette Coleman. And as for my sound... I’m still searching for it."

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Being humble, being a team player, being professional... common sense shit really. Turning up on time. Delivering the goods when it’s showtime. Trying to get along with the sound engineer also helps too!

What is the impact of music on the literary tradition, and on the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Needless to say there have been many beautiful moments created out of that fertile ground and those defined by their surroundings. But for me it can become rather cliche and slightly voyeuristic in the wrong hands… What I will say is I don’t think it needs to be fetishised - It’s not fashion. So if someone really wanted to know I'd probably point them to the Harlem Renaissance or 60s Civil Rights era in America. James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, The Last Poets, Gil Scott Heron and Linton Kwesi Johnson and Darcus Howe from the UK… it's all there... and there’s probably a lot more continuing to this present day that I have never heard of. However, I’m almost certain that every culture has its own variety of socio-cultural implications derived from music and literature, whether that be theatre, opera or West End musicals.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Let's just say it would be a long, full day... so I'd make a few pit stops along the way as opposed to hitting one watering hole! First stop I'd park my time machine someplace in the 40s to catch up with Bird, Dizzy and Monk. Stop off at the mid 60s to hang with Coltrane and Hendrix. Pass through the 70s of Miles' electric period. Spend some quality time with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and then party all night with Parliament-Funkadelic. Cant forget the 80s though, so I'd regroup and get my head straight with Chuck D coz I'm a Public Enemy or at least at times I feel like one.... LOL

Andrew John / Photos © by Mirabelwhite / All right are reserved

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