Written by Tom Beeston
Atomic Brass are a jazz/funk band based in Lancaster and boast a range of talented musicians from Antony on the Tuba to Matt on the Trumpet.
They’ve played Extravs and conquered Blackpool Tower at Grad Ball. On the eve of their first performance at Lancaster Music Festival, Tom Beeston caught up with Jamie and Anthony from Battle of the Band winners Atomic Brass to see how they’re getting on.
You’ve been busy these last seven months or so! Tell us about the kind of places you’ve performed at.
A: “We started off playing in Lancaster, mainly, at the university doing Pendle Live, and we won Battle of the Bands…”
J: “…and that was at the Sugarhouse. That was quite a nice change, a different environment.”
A: “Then we got a few gigs in pubs around Lancaster, and then we kind of expanded a little bit; we’ve been to Blackburn, Darwen, and we’re potentially going to Leeds and Liverpool soon, too.”
How did you guys meet?
J: “I wanted to start a band, and I knew a few people – a few saxophone players, a few trumpet players – from university bands. So I messaged them, but I didn’t actually know Ant; I messaged a friend, and asked if he knew any tuba players, and he was the only one he knew! …and luckily he was really good!”
So you guys are constantly adding new songs to your sets, trying to keep it fresh. What’s the process of adding another song to your arsenal?
A: “It’s difficult, because – obviously – it’s finding a song that people will A) know, and B) like, in the style of music that we play, because we’re quite funky and jazzy, so we put our own spin on it. So for example, we do Stacy’s Mom; instead of doing the original rock version, we do a 1920s swing version that we found on YouTube, on Postmodern Jukebox. A lot of versions we do are taken from inspirations of bands online that we find. Mainly Lucky Chops.”
A: “Yeah, but we’ve got a few people to write for us. Like our trumpet player, Matt, does some arrangements for us.”
J: “A lot of it comes down to being able to transcribe the lyrics onto an instrument, but we don’t have a singer – so, something like a rap song would be a lot more difficult to do than something like Stacy’s Mom, which has got a really distinct lyric line that you can write out.”
What’s your worst experience so far? Have you had a bad gig?
J: “We tend to really get into it and start dancing loads – so when it’s a brand new piece where we should be religiously reading the music, and sometimes it goes a bit wrong because kinda just forget to read it because we’re dancing too much.”
A: “We always seem to know where to come back in, though.”
What’s your best experience so far? I’d say there’s quite a few to pick from.
J: “My most enjoyable gig to play was probably Sugarhouse.”
A: “The reception we got there was one of the best we’ve got so far.”
J: “We’re party songs, and really upbeat, and everyone was really up for it.”
A: “We played last in Battle of the Bands as well, so everyone was at the right level for the songs that we played, like Adele’s Hello, and Funkytown, and Problem, because people know those songs, and you can sing along to them.”
J: “It’s also something a bit different from what was expected. People generally think “oh, it’s another brass band, that’s a bit boring”, and then it turns out to be completely different, so it went down pretty well.”
A: “The reason it’s gone down so well, and we’ve taken off so quickly, is because for some reason at the moment, jazz/funk brass covers are becoming more and more popular. Also, another thing I can think of rivalling Sugarhouse is our first gig at John O’Gaunt, when we packed it out.”
J: “And now we’ve actually managed to book some regular gigs with them – from next year, we’re going to be playing there twice a month. We love playing there.”
What’s the message that Atomic Brass are trying to send out from their music?
A: “We’ve done a masterclass recently, at a high school – someone who plays with us at different times if one of our players can’t make it; he’s a teacher at a school in Blackpool. They wanted to prove that doing what we do is not a chore. It’s not uncool to play tuba.”
J: “I would say that’s the main message; brass bands and brass instruments are not uncool. As a stereotype, you think of a marching band, and we’re anything but that.”
So, when and where, for Lancaster Music Festival?
A: “Our music festival week starts quite early, actually; on Thursday at 6pm, at John O’Gaunt; then on Saturday, at Williamson Park, 7-9 in the Pavilion Café; Sunday, we’re at Merchant’s Pub, from 2 till 4; and then finally, we’re finishing off at Sphere Cocktail Bar, from 17:30 till 19:30.”
Finally, do you think you’ll be in need of a vocalist any time soon, because I can do a mighty good James Brown impression!
A: “We can look into it.”
J: “Always open to new ideas!”
Check out the band doing their thing below.
Credit: Atomic Brass