Funkmasters Galliano have done it again — they’ve confounded critics desperate to pigeonhole them. Jim Byers speaks to one half of the band, Rob Gallagher, as they prepare to play live in Edinburgh.
0 one sounds like Galliano. Why? Because they’re difﬁcult. ‘I think people like Galliano because we never do what’s expected.’ admits singer Rob Gallagher. ‘We’re our own worst enemies in that respect because it’s a crap marketing strategy — sometimes it’s better to be “still” so people can ﬁt you into one particular category. Galliano won’t ever ﬁt into any one niche because we keep changing so much. That’s the dynamic though, that’s what keeps us going, that’s what makes us Galliano.’
Galliano have always deﬁed categorisation. They have carved themselves that most unassailable of niches; the one ﬁled deﬁantly under ‘eclectic’. With the release of their challengingly-titled fourth album 4 they are set to delight fans and confound critics once more.
Tracing the Galliano sound back leads us to the legendary Talkin’ Loud jazz sessions at London’s Dingwalls club in the late 803. The acid jazz sound was beginning to take shape amid the studied Blue Note cool, the goatees and the haze of French cigarettes. Jazz was fusing with funk, rap and modern dance grooves to create a new sound. That Galliano were at the forefront of this movement is in no doubt. The ﬁrst release on Giles Peterson’s seminal Acid Jazz imprint in l988 was called ‘Frederick Lies Still' — the band responsible were Galliano.
Part of Galliano’s mysterious appeal is that they’ve never bowed to commercial pressure and while that may not have netted them the chart success enjoyed by fellow funkateers and acid jazzy-types like the Brand New Heavies and the Young Disciples, it has certainly gained them valuable kudos in the muso stakes. Gallagher scoffs at the mere thought: ‘You either make music because that’s the way you feel, or you make it for commercial reasons, which is something we’ve never done.’
Their ﬁrst album, l99l’s genre-hopping. category-confusing In Pursuit Of The 13th Note was very much a sign of what was to come, a declaration of intent from a grOup whose multi- racial sound was steeped as much in 70s soul and 805 rap as it was in the traditions of jazz and the dynamics of live rock performance. But it was the power of their live shows that really cemented their appeal and established a loyal
"Maw" Putting their feet in it: Balllano's itoh Gallagher and Valerie Etienne
fan base. Their appearance at Glastonbury the same year — the ﬁrst of many —- conﬁrmed their arrival.
The follow-up second album, 1992’s A Joyful Noise Unto The Creator, captured that raw live funk feel and also spawned three Top 40 singles including the memorable ‘Prince Of Peace’ — a track that has recently been given the drum ’n’ bass remix treatment by leading junglist Peshay.
A third album. The Plot Thickens, followed two years later. this time complementing the now established Galliano style with the soulful
‘You either make music because that’s the way you feel or you make It for commerclal reasons, which is
something we’ve never done.’ .
vocals of Valerie Etienne. The record also manifested a new political lyricism to the band’s sound. One of the album’s highlights, a cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s ‘Long Time Gone’, which offered a clarion call for a new society, stormed the charts. Other highlights included ‘Twyford Down’, their anti-bypass ballad, a single whose cover featured a poignant photograph of protesters crying as the diggers moved in. On the downside, detractors were quick to stick a negative eco-friendly, woolly- hatted, woolly-headed tag on their efforts.
Listen to the new album and it’s clear Galliano are still happy doing their own thing. Their style. has always relied on a myriad of sounds and genres being ﬁltered through the band’s own peculiar perspective. Perhaps the most obvious element in a typically challenging record is its sheer energy - there’s a deﬁnite, supercharged funk feel. One of the standout tracks. ‘Freefall’, offers a marked drum ’n’ bass vibe, perhaps prompting accusations of bandwagoneering? Don’t even think it. True to form, Galliano have soaked up the jungle vibes and put their own spin on it. Gallagher, who cites Roni Size, Peshay and 4 Hero as current listening material, explains: ‘We did consider doing a whole drum ‘n’ bass album and ﬁlling it out with loads of beats, but we decided not to. We wanted to use jungle’s energy but give it a different edge and put it into a live context.’ So, instead of copying current trends for sampling and looping the drum and the bass, they opted to play it all live. ‘Yeah, it’s called “livestep”,’ laughs Gallagher, creating his own handy tag.
As for the future, three new musicians, including drummer Tanzai who used to play with Bjork, have been brought into the fold to beef up the live show and Gallagher is threatening to make that full drum ‘n’ bass record any time now.
Galliano play the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, Sun 29 Sept. Their album 4 is out now.
The List 6- l9 Sept 199617