25th May, 2012
Interview by Imran Mirza
Brand new home, and brand new album. It's definitely exciting times for The Impellers in 2012.
Having moved on from their first record label, the revered independent label, Freestyle Records, to pastures new with the equally esteemed home whose ever-growing discography garners increasing attention as the years progress, Legere Records. What is an unfortunate loss for Freestyle Records is certainly Legere’s gain, as, from their previous releases by The Mighty Mocambos, The New Mastersounds, Pitch & Scratch and JetTricks, the fit is a perfect one and should propel The Impellers to the next plateau in establishing themselves amongst one of the UK's finest funk and soul bands.
This 10-piece funk orchestra are based in Brighton but have honed their craft touring all over Europe, including Spain, France and The Netherlands, and have even shared the bill and played alongside contemporary funk luminaries, namely Breakestra, Marva Whitney, The Bamboos and James Taylor Quartet, among many more.
The Impellers are headed up by Glenn Fallows, who expertly takes on the role of chief writer and producer, as well as guitars and keyboards, but the band display a skill and proficiency that extends beyond one man – a tight horn section, incredible grooves, thunderous drums… and all brought together by Lady Clair (Witcher) as lead vocalist, who is as fiery as they come and boasts the talents of the leading and original female funkstresses like Marva Whitney, Lyn Collins and Vicki Anderson with her powerhouse vocal.
‘This Is Not A Drill’ – the title of the brand new album – hits all the notes we’d expect from The Impellers, with highlights including ‘Hear What I Say’, ‘Pon Lo Afuera’ and ‘Close To Me’, and, even though it’s a song that’s been a part of the group’s live performances for some time, their version of The Ting Tings’ ‘That’s Not My Name’ amongst the tracklist is an incredibly welcome addition, and perhaps ranks up with the Robert Glasper Experiment’s cover of Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ as one of this year’s most unusual ‘on paper’ cover versions, but that turns out to be a genuine gem of the album.
With much to discuss, we caught up with Clair Witcher to discuss the new release and all things Impellers!
LIBERATION FREQUENCY: How did the members of the band come together to form The Impellers?
CLAIR WITCHER: The band was formed by Glenn Fallows and two others in late 2006 and started out as Ed Meme & The Forms. I joined in January 2007 and over the next year we set about recruiting a brass section. By late 2008, we had a committed line-up and we were starting to get ready to record the debut album ‘Robot Legs’. We've had a few line-up changes since then but we've always had the core members of the band to fall back on, Glenn, Barry, Chris, Mark and myself, and the line-up we have now is one of the best we've had to date. We are a proper little family and we all get along so well; gigging with these guys (and girl - sorry Emma!) is just the best thing and I can't imagine not having them around on a regular basis.
LF: How does the process of writing and recording new music work within the band?
CW: Glenn has always been the main songwriter in the band. His understanding of the scene is fantastic and he connects so well through the lyrics and the music. But after the first album, a few more people were really inspired and so we have more writers on ‘This Is Not A Drill’; Barry has written a few, and Chris and myself have contributed too, but Glenn's influence is on all the tracks. For the next album there potentially could be a lot more contributors as newer members of the band are expressing their interest in being involved!
LF: The Impellers are now on their second album, how do you think the two albums compare?
CW: We were, and still are, immensely proud of ‘Robot Legs’ and what we achieved with it. It was the first foray, for some of us, into the studio and was a completely new experience. Plus we produced the album ourselves, basically creating the whole thing on our own, so it was a huge learning curve for everybody in the band. But it gave us all the experience we needed to make ‘This Is Not A Drill’ something bigger and much better, from studio techniques to the production side, and I think it shows. We also recorded the second album at Big Noise Studios in Essex where Speedometer record so we were blessed to have an engineer (Sting Ray Davies from Speedometer) who knew what he was doing and how to achieve the sound we wanted. The end result is definitely what we were aiming for and again, we're massively proud of it!
LF: Can you talk a little about the first single from 'This Is Not A Drill'?
CW: It’s a double A side; ‘The Knock Knock’ and our version of the Kaiser Chief's ‘I Predict A Riot’. The Knock Knock is a proper stomper of a track; written by Glenn but I definitely related to the lyrics and found it easy to make my own. It's about a person who always makes selfish mistakes, not caring about the impact on others, and just hangs around moaning about how bad life is but not bothering to ask how you're getting on, we all know someone like that! The song is saying ‘I'll be there for you if you need me but you got to ask for my help’, stop whining and sort your life out!
LF: How was the transition from releasing your first album on Freestyle Records to now being associated with Mocambo and Legere Records?
CW: It was a fairly easy transition, to be honest. It was a massive thing for us to be signed by Freestyle for our first album and we'll always be grateful to Adrian Gibson for giving us that opportunity to be released on a highly-respected independent label. But we had decided that this next album wasn't really fitting in with the direction Freestyle was going and had started to look at other labels for the new album. When Mocambo and Legere got in touch with us, to say we were excited was an understatement! These guys had released stuff by Afrika Bambaataa, The James Taylor Quartet, Speedometer, The Sound Stylistics, The New Mastersounds... need I go on? Mocambo is a label that doesn't release a great deal of records but when they do, it's always of top quality; to be included in their roster was an enormous honour. The amount of support and promotion they've done for us has been shown in the response we've received through social media and, more importantly of course, record sales.
LF: How did you decide on the cover versions for the album?
CW: We all suggest songs for ‘versioning’ but it has to be right and work with us and how we play. Glenn has come up with all the version ideas so far! Although I have to say that I suggested doing a version of Kylie's ‘Can't Get You Out Of My Head’ a year or so ago and it was declined....I think The Third Degree have just done it?! If they do to that song what they did to Duffy's ‘Mercy’ then it will be incredible. I don't want to say ‘I told you so’, but.....
LF: If you had to pick one song to introduce someone new to the Impellers' sound, which would it be?
CW: Wow... that's a hard question, I might have to pick two songs! I would say ‘Be Ready’ off the first album because it's just a great song and melody, and I'll go for ‘Politiks Kills People’ off the second as it’s just an all-out tune!!
LF: What's been a particular career highlight for the band?
CW: There's been quite a few, some mentioned above, others like playing great venues such as Koko, Band on the Wall, The Yardbird. Also playing the Saint Paul Soul Jazz festival in the south of France was amazing. For me personally, meeting and supporting Marva Whitney was just phenomenal; I've grown up listening to her and trying to emulate her amazing talent so to share a stage with her... unbelievable.