Not content with starting arguably one of the most influential drum & bass imprints and wide reaching club nights in Hospital Records and Hospitality, London Elektricity is still as forward facing as ever, unassumingly dreaming up new possibilities for a genre that has already enjoyed over 25 years at the forefront of UK club culture. One new endeavour is the London Elektricity Big Band; an ambitious live reimagining of London Elektricty’s back catalogue, complete with Tony Colman, a.k.a London Elek, front and centre on the four string. Wanting to learn more about the makeup of the embryonic project ahead of its second appearance this summer, we caught up with Tony to talk London Elektricity Big Band.
Hi Tony, how’re things? Busy making plans for the summer ahead?
Things are nicely busy right now. I’m prepping a new London Elek Big Band show with arranger Steve Pycroft, and Hospital is on fire - we’ve earned record royalties for our artists over the last 9 months, and it’s great to be saying that after 21 years in the game!
One date which I’m sure is circled in the calendar is Hospitality In The Dock, where you’ll be playing a ‘21 Years Of Hospital Records’ set. Given that there is a particular theme to the set, have you been giving some thought to what records will feature? If so, which particular milestones will you be looking to commemorate through your selections?
I’m working on that this week as it happens! It’s essential to include highlights from each year of our 21-year history - I don’t want to spoil the surprise though, and I think your readers will be able to come up with their own versions - hopefully we’ll match somewhere!
June will see the return of The London Elektricity Big Band at Hospitality Bristol BBQ. Did you ever expect the project to have quite as big an impact as it did at Hospitality In The Park last summer?
I had no idea whatsoever – to be honest I was just glad I didn’t play too many bum notes on the bass. But we did smash it, even though we only had 2 rehearsals and it was our first ever gig. The response has been mental, and it’s wicked to be playing live again.
For those who are unaware, could you tell us a little bit about The London Elektricity Big Band, and the idea behind the project.
I put it together with Riot Jazz drummer Steve Pycroft who has a history of arranging DnB for brass band. I wanted to do something special for Hospitality in the Park, so this seemed fun - the idea of a 22-piece big band playing my music. Liane Carroll jumped on the idea, as did Dynamite and Emer Dineen. So we had the best vocalists, the best horn section, the best drummer, and my debut on bass - and I just about pulled it off! It’s totally different from any other live DnB show out there or in history - and that makes it exciting too. No one else has done it like this.
Up until the point you were on stage and in the groove at HITP, were you more apprehensive or excited about the performance?
I was very nervous indeed. In that situation you can’t afford to get excited about it, although I was manically excited deep inside. I got excited once we had started the set and I could see that it worked, and that we didn’t lose the crowd. The fact many people have said it was their highlight is amazing in retrospect.
London Elektricity Big Band vocalist Liane Carroll is an artist you have been collaborating with as far back your debut LP in 1999. How much does the band rely on its tight knit relationships to create a soulful atmosphere when on stage together?
Any live band that is truly good has to have unique chemistry between the players, and we certainly have that. Liane and I know each other so well, and the best thing of all with Liane is that you know she’ll perform differently every time - she is peerless in the Jazz world but also in the DnB world. I’m so ridiculously lucky that she wants to work with me.
Does playing through your back catalogue of tracks with the backing of the big band allow you to connect with, and hear, the music on a different level to when it was originally recorded?
It does make the music very different – luckily in a good way. It’s brilliant hearing full live horn parts playing parts that I’ve written ‘in the box’ in the studio. It brings the music and my obsession with chords to life in a totally different way.
As a lot of your records are steeped in jazz influences, did you find the transition of reimagining them with the band a relatively smooth process?
Steve P is a total don at arranging and he has the knack of voicing harmonies and melodies for horns. Things I wouldn’t have thought of doing come naturally to him, so the first rehearsal was amazing for me - almost everyone grasped it first time. It was a lot smoother than I imagined it would be!
With such a positive reaction to the band’s debut performance, will you be looking to fuse any new elements into the live show?
We are going deeper into the LE back catalogue to expand the set this year, and we’ll be having some intriguing rehearsals in May. I can’t wait to play some of the tracks with unusual time signatures, rather than straight up DnB.
Finally, if you were to choose one track from Hospital Records’ discography (excluding your own), which one do you think would make for a good cover by The London Elektricity big band, and why?
Probably ‘Treat Me Mean I Need the Reputation’ by the Xploding Plastics. A totally unique track, this would be amazing played by the big band!