Interview with Johnny Hunter – Skamel – English jazz and French reggae, dub and ska -.
I would like to ask you a quick question…
If you went to France on a trip and you wanted to buy a gift for a friend, what would that be?
OK, cheese is fine, but it is not what I was thinking of… Let me ask you again…
Think of a souvenir for a good friend who loves music…, what kind of album would you get them?
A friend of Johnny Hunter came from France with an album by (of course!) a French band; and that tiny gesture suddenly changed the course of history — of Johnny’s history, I mean. The band was called Raspigaous and it opened Johnny’s eyes (and ears) to a type of reggae and ska he had not heard before.
After that, Johnny started to listen to more French music and realised that the country across the English Channel could offer something which was difficult to find in the UK. And that interest grew and grew, and it turned into the idea of arranging some of those initial tunes by Raspigaous for a jazz band. He only needed the musicians, really. And he finally found them. And in 2006 this drummer, and James Adolpho (upright bass), Tim Cox (trombone), Anton Hunter (guitar), Nick Walters (trumpet) and Ian White (tenor sax) became Skamel.
Now, at the age of 6, this band that produces a fresh and electric mixture of English jazz and French reggae, dub and ska, is touring the UK to launch its first album. This week Skamel will be in Bristol, Hedben Bridge, Birmingham and Manchester, and as a quick warm-up for its show at Matt and Phreds, Johnny has agreed to answer a few questions about them. Here are his answers…
There’s a Raspigaous’ song called “Skamel” so, as we set the group up to pay homage to them, we nicked one of their titles… I have since found out that one of Raspigaous’ sax players was called Kamel, so it was probably a reference to him!
In a few words, how would you define Skamel’s personality?
Fun, lively, GSOH, and we like long walks on the beach.
Skamel mixes jazz, reggae, ska and dub; what does Skamel take from each of these styles?
Put simply, we take the grooves and bass lines from Reggae/Ska/Dub, but harmonies and structures more akin to Jazz. There is of course the improvisational aspects from Jazz too.
And what happens when you put them all together then?
Crazy-fun-time-music! A reviewer once said “you can dance like a loon or you can sit and stroke your beard.”
You were mentioning improvisation but it is said that English people plan everything in advance… What does Skamel prefer: planning or improvisation?
I’m useless at planning! Maybe I’m not English…? In terms of the compositions, if you’re judging us as a Jazz group, then you may think we do a lot of planning. We still basically use the “head-solos-head” format you usually come across in Jazz which allows development during the solos and tunes will end up being different from one night to the next. Having said that, the more recent tunes I’ve written for Skamel have been more through-composed and, as a result, more structured. Solo sections are still usually open for expansion and exploration, though.
With this tour Skamel is showing its work and launching its album… What does it mean to Skamel?
This is our first album, entirely our own original tunes, and we’re really proud of it. We worked with some great people over the course of making it and it sounds and looks fantastic. I think we made it more for ourselves than for any grand plan but now we’ve got it, we just want to show it off to people!
But I guess this is not all. Skamel is only 6 years old. What does Skamel want to be when it grows up?
I don’t really know. We just take things one step at a time. We’ll keep doing what we do and it’s a bonus if people keep booking us!
And has Skamel got a dream?
Members from Raspigaous got in touch with us a few years ago to say they like what we did with their songs (phew! We didn’t murder their music), so I would love to show them what we’re doing now.
How has the tour been so far? Exhausted?
Well, as I do this interview we’ve just had a couple of nights off so I’m quite refreshed! It’s been fun so far and we’ve gone down well everywhere we’ve played. The Jazz Bar in Edinburgh was a particularly good one. The crowd were very similar to what we’d usually get in Matt and Phred’s and they absolutely loved it. It makes us play better too!
And Matt and Phreds is your last stop. How would you like to close your tour?
It’s going to be epic! It’s always absolutely rammed when we play there. We have three sets planned including some new material for those who’ve seen us before. I promise that people will be dancing all night.
If after these interview and listening to one of your clips there was someone who had not been persuaded to come to your gig yet, what message would Skamel send them?
Ahhhh, go on. Go on, go on, go on…
* Image: Skamel Album Artwork – By Angela Guyton
** For more information about this band, you can visit: http://www.myspace.com/skamelmusic