Schmoov! are (l-r) Andrew Tytherleigh, John Buckby, André Bonsor
With the unquantifiable magnificence of WEYA
here in Nottingham all week, this seems an opportune moment to remind ourselves of an often forgotten philosophical truth, namely that exoticism is a relative thing
. Which is to say: Nottingham can not only do
exotic (in the form of WEYA, or the restaurants on Mansfield Road, say); it is
exotic – provided you’re from somewhere else, somewhere a little further afield than the East Midlands. In other parts of the world, or for the clutch of young visiting artists currently schlepping round Bulwell and Bilborough to see what our fair city has to offer, NG is no doubt as ineffably glamorous as Tahiti, tahini, Tblisi, t’ai chi or Timbuktu is for us.
Exoticism is relative, then, so perhaps we’re better off trumpeting diversity
, which is absolute. Not only the diversity in far-flung lands, either, but also the diversity on our doorsteps. The grass may or may not be greener, but the other side – sometimes the other side of the street – is often as kaleidoscopically colourful as a chameleon at an audition for Joseph…
That was what the Olympics opening ceremony was about, why Danny Boyle’s delirious take on modern, multicultural Britain got under the not-quite-white-but-sort-of-pinkish skin of so many reactionary types
: they (thought they) knew what British culture was (whatever it was, it was in the past) and they wanted it preserved, conserved. No jammin’. Just conformin’.
Exoticism? Once upon a time – perhaps still to this day – you could stagger, skip, moonwalk or pirouette into any nightclub in New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Johannesburg, Paris or Tokyo, mention you were from Nottingham, and the chances are they’d have purred: “Aah, deep house”. They may also have name-checked DiY, the legendary DJ collective-cum-free party people who ran a widely respected record label for much of the nineties and noughties and formed the loose epicentre for perhaps the only musical movement from our fair city that has hitherto had a global impact (within its subculture, that is).
DiY: what it says on the tin
One of the acts that were nurtured by DiY, and which – along with the likes of Charles Webster, Atjazz, Inland Knights, Nail, Crazy P(enis), Rhythm Plate, Neon Heights, To-Ka Project and many others – embodied the exoticism of the Nottingham sound to groovers the world over, were Schmoov!, originally a funk band yet incorporating elements of soul, disco, jazz and house into an all-energy live act that thus had diversity built into its very being. It was while trying to find out a bit about their backstory, our ears tuned into some biographical info fluttering around the cosmic airwaves on a frequency beyond the audible range of some yet perfectly clear to others [I think this means we found a press release – Ed.]:
It was the late 1990s. School chums André Bonsor (keyboardist) and Andrew Tytherleigh (bassist), having escaped from high-security Essex seaside town Southend-on-Sea to begin a new life of fun and frolics in Nottingham, happened to make the acquaintance of a certain Mr John Buckby (saxophonist / guitarist / DJ / liability) who was at the time running a DJ night called Schmoov! at the long-since-closed Jallands Bar in Nottingham city centre. André turned up one night with a keyboard and the night suddenly became a band. The initial vibe in the group was loop-based deep house tracks with a lush layer of bittersweet chord progressions and funked out b-lines, with vocals coming into the project soon after.
"loop-based deep house tracks with a lush layer of bittersweet chord progressions..."
Seizing an opportunity to record a single for local house heroes DiY at the legendary Square Centre, the boys came up with one of their most popular tracks, ‘Destination’. The track paved the way for their album
While You Wait, released in 2001. ‘Destination’ also pricked the ears of Andy Cato from Groove Armada, who invited them to perform at their LoveBox night in Islington and then later as support act on their UK tour. The band thus played to thousands at some dream venues such as Brixton Academy and Shepherds Bush Empire. Back home in Nottingham, Schmoov! started a live residency every Thursday night at Dogma (previously Jallands, the Schmoov! birthplace!) which saw the band in varying states of inebriation performing largely unrehearsed bouts of slamming house music to a vibrant Nottingham party crowd.
For anyone who stumbled unexpectedly across these raucously hedonistic midweek nights, they invariably found themselves facing the classic dilemma: wanting to tell the world about their discovery while simultaneously not wishing to dilute the special vibe and thereby compromise the intimacy. And yes, there was a diverse crowd there: nocturnal professionals in expensive clobber sipping caipirinhas and mojitos; a Forest Fields 24/7 party crowd on the adult confectionary; students smuggling in their own hooch…
Schmoov! go to work on Byard Lane (Buckby, Tytherleigh, Bonsor, Martin, Rowe)
Anyway, this week is an opportune time to remind Nottingham – and the world – about Schmoov! because the diversity – the exoticsm – of their sound also saw them embrace what’s sometimes called “world music” (where else is it going to be from?), the music for which WEYA launch party curator Gilles Peterson is renowned. And they did it with the sort of cheeky humour and oblique civic pride with which the good folk at LeftLion Towers look upon with unreserved approval, ya get meh?
Specifically, Schmoov! followed in the footsteps of Frank Sinatra and Amy Winehouse, Stan Getz and Ella Fitzgerald, and did an NG-style re-working of the bossa nova classic and (after ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles) world’s second most recorded song
, ‘The Girl from Ipanema’. According to the composers, Antônio Carlos Jobim and João Gilberto (at the time, Os Cariocas), and lyricist Vinícius de Moraes, the song was a hymn to ephemeral youth and beauty inspired by a 17-year-old who passed by the bar at which they would typically nurse their hangovers. Helô Pinheiro
was: “the golden girl, mix of flower and mermaid, full of light and grace, but whose sight is also sad because it carries within it, on the way to the sea, the sense of youth that passes, of beauty that doesn’t belong only to us – it is a gift of life in its beautiful and melancholic constant ebb and flow”.
Without any world famous beaches to namecheck, a Nottingham-based take on the quintessential bossa nova ditty would have to reference our own sunkissed esplanades and iconic, elegant boulevards, and would have to put its own spin on this universal theme of transcient youth and beauty. We think they nailed it with 'Aqua Marina', but you can judge for yourselves...
Although the band no longer perform together, its members play on in other guises: Ben Martin (flute, sax) plays in Nottingham soul sensation The Shakes; Andy T plays double bass with Nottingham’s ambient ambassadors Origami Biro; vocalist Owen Rowe moved to Spain to conduct a gospel choir; conga player on ‘Aqua Marina’, Rich Kensington, is percussionist with Más y Más; while André Bonsor teamed up with vocalist André Espeut of Faze Action in 2010 to form live house duo MasterMan
, who have an imminent self-titled release on London’s SoulfulBeats Records, as well as releasing some solo stuff
on the Nottingham-based Adaptation
However, the old (and maybe new) fans of Schmoov! will be keen to see whether rumours of a return to the studio to complete some unfinished tracks have any substance. Who knows, we may then have an NG version of afrobeat, reggae, bhangra or tango...
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