Noel McKoy SoulCuts Interview Pt 1 – Creating a Connection

9 10 2010

Noel McKoy is a legend of the British soul scene. As a pivotal member of the James Taylor Quartet in the early nineties, Noel was responsible for bringing soul music to the masses and, in the shape of the classic album Supernatural Feeling, released possibly the greatest collection of the ‘Acid Jazz’ era. His work with his family, recorded under the family name, McKoy, is revered in the UK and the album they released is viewed by those in the know as a collection every bit as good, if not better, than anything Soul II Soul released. Noel has released a number of solo albums, all jam packed with quality cuts, but failing to hit with a large audience on the back of generally poor distribution and promotion – I’m telling you it can’t be due to the quality of the cuts! On the back of a re-release of his retro-flavoured Brighter Day album, SoulCuts met up with Noel to discuss the album, his upcoming gig, his favourite live performances and artists, his long and varied career, his thoughts on the general state of the UK soul scene and his plans for the future.

We spent such a fascinating couple of hours with Noel that we’re going to split the interview over a number of features. Today’s feature is focused on the Brighter Day album, Noel’s live work and his upcoming gig at London’s Jazz Cafe.

Brighter Day originally came out a year back so I began by asking Noel about the reasons for Brighter Day’s re-release.

It came out last September. The people that handled the promotion did a great job but they didn’t actually inform enough of the soul fraternity. It was reviewed in Record Mirror, Q, magazines of that ilk. Good magazines, don’t get me wrong and great reviews. Lot of play on Radio 2, Claudia Winkleman, that crowd. It was great, but a lot of my soul fanbase was alienated, so I thought, let’s release the single and re-release the album to those around that don’t know of it. And quite a few people didn’t know about it, hence this upcoming gig at the Jazz Cafe. It’s the first time that I’m showcasing the album at the Jazz Cafe.

When I first listened to Brighter Day, I was surprised. I had always viewed Noel as a contemporary artist. The Brighter Day album, however, is grounded in an old soul sound, mainly that of the late 60s and early 70s. I asked Noel what led him to record Brighter Day.

Well, how it came about was that I was writing another album called Cut From the Same Cloth and in between the album I was doing a few projects, as I always do, and one of them was a library album for Universal. This particular album included Brighter Day, Fly Away With Me and Great Big Gap and at the same time I was working with Ian Levine and Clive Scott, stuff for compilations doing his Northern Soul compilations. I put the tracks together, added a few of my own, phoned up Bluey, asked him to write a track on this vibe, and bam, we had an album in no time at all.
It wasn’t a planned record, but I always wanted to make a record with that Stax/Motown vibe, where I was paying homage to the sounds of my time, the stuff I was listening to and inspired me as a singer, so it was a great opportunity.

One of the premier cuts off the album, Jealousy, is being released with a whole host of mixes to cater to all tastes. Noel filled me in.

I did 13 mixes of the single, getting mates on board, doing a favour for a favour, like Cool Million, Phil Asher… I just want the single to get out there, create a buzz for the album. It’s great to be able to have mates work on it…like Rob from Cool Million. You know, we did the track together Let’s Dance, from the Cool Million album. In fact, I’ve got to do a Christmas tune for them…

Man! A Cool Million Christmas album? Could it be? Exciting stuff, indeed. In the interim, how about Rob Hardt’s remix of Jealousy? Have a listen below and then pop over to iTunes and grab a copy of your favourite Jealousy mix.

I asked Noel about what we could expect from his upcoming Jazz Cafe gig.

For this gig, I’m just trying to bring the nostalgia of soul and jazz-funk music. What turns me on. I’m opening up with a Whispers-style version of Love the Life. I won’t say what track it is, but I’ve crossed a Whispers tune with it, and it sets the tone already. And there’s a few other tunes where we’ve given it a flipside. What inspired this take was when I went to see Nile Rodgers and Chic a few weeks ago. They were amazing, that guy’s repertoire…you forget sometimes, Like a Virgin, he did all the hits and the 80s pop stuff and the band were TIGHT…and that gig inspired me, there were couples, older folks, young people, everyone…people just want that nostalgia. At my age, people want to go back to the times when they were going out, and I thought I want to bring this vibe to my set where it’s not just about your new stuff, but the whole repertoire.

I’ve always based my performances on the feeling, trying to create an atmosphere which is natural, soulful and spiritual, from my voice, the way I come over and the subject matter. I find that my voice cuts through emotionally to people and live, I think that comes across more. The great thing about live is that you can see how the audience is responding to you, especially in the midtempos and ballads, it’s about creating a connection. Being honest within your emotions and sharing it.
At the gig next week, I’m definitely going to be mixing it up, bringing some tunes from the JTQ, McKoy, recent stuff, some of the Leroy Hutson styled tracks that I’ve been working on and even a few cuts from my AM:Dusk project
(a new project Noel likens to NuYorican Soul – SoulCuts can hardly wait!). It’s going to be a bit of past, present and future.

Sounds awesome. See you there. Get your tickets HERE.

Be sure to check back with SoulCuts for further instalments of our Noel McKoy feature. Next week we’ll have an Acid Jazz special and Noel’s reflections on the state of the British Soul scene. Lovely stuff!

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2 responses

10 10 2010
Noel

FANTASTIC! Cant wait for the next installment.

Cheers,

NM

11 10 2010
SoulCuts

Nice one!

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