Friday, 15 May 2015

The Riffs

I’m not sure where or how it started but I know it was in the early eighties at some point that I became obsessed with Reggae and SKA. Many things could have been the catalyst; Gregory Isaacs Night nurse album on my cassette player; finding and purchasing a vinyl copy of ‘The harder they come’ at a middle school fete, was it the hand-me-down singles of the fluctuating two tone era, or indeed the release of ‘Legend’ by the late and great Bob Marley? Whatever it was, it gripped me and has since been my genre, my forte when it comes to music ever since.

So it’s very fitting that the first ever interview with a band that I do is with people that do exactly what I love and it wasn’t easy for me because the distractions of the bands sound check were fantastic and I just could not dismiss them.

The Riffs will be our headline act at ‘Music For Muscles’ on 30th August this year and last Friday I caught up with them to find out why they consider it important and the significance. It’s about 21:00 and I’m talking with Greg Tilley; the bands manager. The Riffs first gig was on March 26th 1989 in the new Pegasus public house, 73 Green Lanes, Stoke Newington supporting, The Loafers. The band members have changed a few times but the music remains the same and it’s great. Like me, Greg reminisces about listening to two tone and reggae that was around in the eighties, and with that came the curiosity to go backwards and find out the origins of this great sound. As we’re talking, in the background I can hear ‘red, red wine’ being sung by Tony Tribe, which is exactly the sort of original that we were both referring to.

I was chatting with the entire band whilst a sound check was under way and it was very clear and apparent that these people were listening to the same things as me growing up and influenced in the same way except one big difference, they got up and learnt to play an instrument or stood in front of a microphone and sang.

During the 70’s and 80’s there were changes in this branch of the musical tree. SKA was original, the precursor for Reggae but pioneers like Island record’s; Chris Blackwell began to champion the genre and make records that were more popular with the mainstream British and American market. Some might say Reggae had been diluted to become acceptable but Blackwell had achieved what he had set out to do and that was put more Jamaican records and artist under our coffee tables and onto our 45 players, having mixed it to sound more Pop and Rock and to therefore make it more acceptable to a global audience.

With that, like anything, there will be contingents that go back to originality and strip it back down again; with attitude too. The likes of ‘The clash’ covering Junior Marvin’s ‘Police and Thieves’ and Stiff little fingers covering Marley’s ‘Johnny was’ , more rebel music, two genre’s of music that went hand in hand. So with all this influence and people like Blackwell making this music easily available it is no wonder that we had a big rise in SKA, Reggae and Two Tone.

This is why we have bands like The Riffs, a passion to play what they love and believe. Not forgetting of course how much fun SKA is. You cannot beat that beat, the sort that will make you bounce to the bar rather than walk. These sounds that will make you smile from ear to ear. That’s why I’m here listening to one of my favourite local bands because all that’s gone before is played out on a Friday night in front of me and its ace!  A combination of the melodic sounds of reggae, the hard working, Trojan like punch of SKA with a little touch of punk attitude.

The Riffs are not a covers band; they play some great, original stuff including a ode to Mac the Sax, A former Saxophone player for the band that unfortunately, passed away too soon. The song opens with Spenny (Lead vocals) singing from Mac’s perspective and asks “enough about me, let’s talk about you” which tells you a lot about the ethos of that man and indeed the band as a whole.

It’s that selfless attitude that puts me here in the first place and leads me right back to the start of this, giving me the opportunity to explain why this band will be our headline act at our unique event in August.

On 1st September last year I had just finished my challenge to raise awareness and funds for Muscular Dystrophy UK, this being a condition that I have. I immediately needed a new project because this is what keeps me busy and is my tonic. So I had this idea to have a physical sporting event during the day and then a music event in the evening. Until now I haven’t explained that I have known Joel, the riffs saxophone player for some years now and it was as I’d finished last year’s challenge that Joel told me his son, Finley had been diagnosed with SMA (spinal muscular atrophy), another form of Muscular Dystrophy.

As I mentioned, I spent most of the evening talking to Greg about the band and his words were the same as my thoughts. We must do this; we need to raise funds for research for treatments and another important factor is to make sure our friend knows that we are there for him too. Any diagnosis of any condition can make you feel very lonely and personally I think that’s criminal. I thought the least we can do is help with that and show some loyalty and solidarity through tough times.

As for the distractions and the things that made this hard well they’re back as I try to wrap this up and conclude. The band finishes the sound check with a fantastic version of Johnny Too bad, by the slickers. Like I said, you’ll smile from ear to ear.

Thank you Greg (Management), Spenny (guitar, vocals), Steve (keyboards), Duane (Bass), Clemmy (Drums), and Joel (Saxophone and Friend)

The Riffs


Music For Muscles - Catch The Riffs playing at the Aristocrat, Aylesbury, 30th August 2015.

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Visit The Riffs website here. 

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain" 

- Marley.

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