Last Saturday at the Woolston Manor Country Club in Essex attendees of the Street Sounds Indian Summer All-Dayer were treated to an epic night of funk from the pioneering group the Fatback Band.
Regular readers will know that here at The Funk & Soul Revue we adore The Fatback Band, and are friends with the band’s founder and leader Bill Curtis. The group have always had a large following over here in the UK, primarily the result of their 1984 hit ‘I Found Lovin‘’, a song that is a firm favourite amongst most eighties groove fans, and covered infamously by the legendary radio DJ Steve Walsh. Yet the history of the band is much deeper than simply ‘I Found Lovin’’. Bill Curtis, a session drummer in New York City, founded the group in 1970; inspired by the ‘fatback’ drumbeat of New Orleans jazz, as well as the beginnings of the funk sound. This unique ‘street-funk’ sound gave the group some memorable hits, such as ‘Keep On Steppin’’, ‘Got To Learn To Dance’, and ‘Yum Yum (Gimme Some)’.
As Bill Curtis told us in his exclusive interview with us, the band struggled to reach the same level of success of other funk (and funk-disco) outfits of the day, and this has impacted the current incarnation of the group to get both bookings and record deals. Indeed, they had been slated to perform a one-off date at the Clapham Grand this September but was sadly cancelled a few days before; the group instead performed at midnight show in south London as part of a funk and soul all-nighter. Yet the inability of the Fatback Band to draw the big crowds that they deserve is a terrible shame; under Bill Curtis’ management, the Fatback Band remains one of the best live outfits in the world of funk.
We first saw The Fatback Band in 2012 at Newcastle’s Hoochie Coochie, and they provided a master class in how to produce a quality funk set. This past weekend at the Street Sounds Indian Summer All-Dayer, they proved once again that the still have the funk. The group has undergone some personnel changes since 2012: Ledjerick Todd Woods remains on trumpet, as does Darryl McAllister on guitar; joining them are newbies Rob Lock Jr on saxophone, Zachary Guinn on bass, Desmond Humphrey on drums and lead vocals, and Bob James on keys. Despite these changes, particularly the loss of the bassist Pete Everett from the line-up, the group remained as funky as ever, with the new members slotting into Curtis’ classic grooves sublimely.
Sadly, the Woolston Manor Country Club in Essex, which played host to the Street Sounds event, isn’t designed for live-music, and after a sound check lasting over an hour, the Fatback Band finally arrived on stage to perform. As a result, the performance was marred somewhat by mixing difficulties: whilst the group’s instruments could be heard loudly, only Curtis’ and Humphrey’s vocals could be heard, meaning that the rest of the band were singing away futility.
These difficulties aside, the Fatback Band proved they are one of the best live acts on the funk circuit: from start to finish the band remained funky, playing hits as well as extra additions well, getting a great response from the Essex crowd. Opening on two instrumentals, the band impressed from the off, particularly Lock on saxophone, who throughout the set performed superbly, with his frequent solos being a delight to hear. Unlike some acts, Curtis made his guys dig deep into his back catalogue, with the band performing renditions of ‘Wicky Wacky’ and ‘Let’s Do It Again’ brilliantly. They even managed to fit in a great cover of ‘Be Thankful For What You Got‘, with Humphrey impressing on vocals. Strangely they even managed to squeeze in a snippet of Taio Cruz’s ‘Dynamite’ between songs; yet it worked, with the crowd singing loudly back at the group.
One particular highlight for us was the rendition of the classic ‘(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop’. Guinn’s steadily funk bass was at its most tasty here, with the group digging deep to entertain the Essex funk faithful. At one point, Curtis sent Woods and Lock into the crowd with their horns to lead the dancers to do the Bus Stop dance. For those who are unfamiliar with the routine, it’s pretty simple: it’s four to the front, four to the back; two to the front, two the back; front, back left, right – ‘Bus Stop’!
The hits followed in quick succession: an excellent reading of the funky ‘Backstroking’ saw both McAllistair and Guinn impress on guitar and bass respectively; the inclusion of the social commentary rap ‘Is This The Future?’ was a brilliant decision, with the song’s rap remaining scarily relevant in the three decades after it was first released. Equally funky was their 1976 hit ‘Spanish Hustle’, a firm favourite amongst UK fans, with Woods and Lock on the horns doing an outstanding job, as well as dancing throughout the performance. Woods in particular is a real asset to the group, his energy and clear love of performing was a delight to see.
Then it finally happened: the Fatback Band launched into their biggest UK hit ‘I Found Loving’, and it’s safe to say the audience went wild. Once again, Humphreys handled the vocal brilliantly, and the rest of the band were equally good; on the original record there is a lack of horns, but performed live the inclusion of another tight arrangement between Woods and Lock added something the original lacked, and made for a better rendition. After an hour and a half on stage, and an encore of ‘I Like The Girls’, the group departed, off into central London for their midnight show, leaving in their wake a trail of funky goodness, and the knowledge that we had been entertained by a musical icon in Bill Curtis and his group.
Given their brilliance on both record and on stage it’s hard to understand why the Fatback Band doesn’t draw bigger audiences. We’re glad that despite this, Bill Curtis rightly takes deep pride in his musical legacy, continuing to perform wherever he can, and we’re so grateful for his kindness and generosity he has shown towards us here at The Funk & Soul Revue. We cannot recommend a Fatback Band show highly enough.
For more information on Bill Curtis and the Fatback Band check out their website here.