I have to declare my prejudices. One of the best nights of my life was spent in the company of the Hackney Colliery Band (HCB). We turned up disgracefully early, and watched as the room went from empty to crushingly full, and then the boys blasted through own material and their legendary covers of Toto’s ‘Africa’ and Prodigy medley. I went home deaf but happy, with one of their t-shirts.
I say this, because those of us who came to the HCB through their covers might splutter a bit at the thought of a series of jazz collaborations. Not all of this album passes the ‘sing in the shower test.’ But there’s something for everyone here: ‘Mmmm Mmmm’ sounds like Ladysmith Black Mambazo met the Grimethorpe Colliery Band for a party, whereas ‘Ricochet’ sounds like they went on to a carnival afterwards.
‘Why Yellow’ sounds like the hangover and existential crisis they had after that (with comedian Rob Auton providing the lyrics). “Sometimes it feels like the world is a pub quiz, and I am sat at a table on my own, and I don’t know any of the answers…” “But yellow is hope.” Like Parklife before it, Yellow blends melody and comic story telling to capture how everyone feels in these unprecedented times.
The single is ‘Netsanet.’ It starts slowly with a rainstick and a driving brass rythym, before building to the main melody: a masterclass of funk, softened by Astatke’s trademark vibraphone. With overtones of Starsky and Hutch, it has an upbeat funky section for when Huggy Bear is on screen, and a sneaky about section for when Starsky is checking out the crime scene. And like Starsky and Hutch it dips into the dark occasionally, but is essentially a very happy thing.
‘Without You’ is blissful. Glorious vocal soars above the brass to create a curiously compelling pop song. I’ve never heard a female voice on a HCB track, but it just works. I listened to it three times on the trot, because I liked it so much.
I’d always thought that brass bands were for blaring film soundtracks and acid brass. Not so. With this album, the Hackney Colliery Band showcase the versatility and beauty of the brass. But the collaborations also showcase how talented the Hackneys themselves are. I don’t like all of it, and some tracks need more attention from the listener than is usual. But there is something inherently joyful and hopeful about this album which is welcome in these troubled times. Roll on Collaborations Volume 2.