In 2015, with the alignment of three musical constellations that are Steve White (The Style Council, Paul Weller, The Who) Matt Deighton (Mother Earth, Brian Auger, Chris Difford, Paul Weller, Bill Fay) and Damon Minchella (Ocean Colour Scene, Richard Ashcroft), heads turned and ears pricked, of peers and punters alike. After four collective decades of plying their trade in the white rapids of the music business, they still had something to say because talent like theirs can’t be kept quiet for long.
The Family Silver had arrived, and in the same year came the debut album, Electric Blend, recorded over the span of a month at Blueprint Studios in Salford, Greater Manchester. Locked away, the trio brewed a musical blend that saw them hit creative pay dirt having ploughed love and fire into a 12-track tract of sound that contains memorably gilt-edged songs like ‘Overshadowed’, ‘For Free’, ‘Let It Be Gone’, ‘Give Up Your Tears’, ‘Peace & Love’ and ‘Yeah No’.
And now they’re back to show everyone how it’s done, with a six-track EP entitled Blaze Of Light in support of their winter UK tour. Recorded with precision and power back where it all began in Blueprint Studios, it’s a masterclass in live playing, successfully capturing that rarest of things, the live spark. The songs speak for themselves with Deighton’s voice leading the charge.
Says Matt: “I guess we were just playing our new songs live in the studio and, hearing them back, they were knocking us down. We’re really satisfied with our performances.” I suggest a track like ‘It Comes In Waves’ hits like Free crossed with a young Tyson, to which he responds “I couldn’t disagree…”
The EP finds the players paying tribute to the classic soul-rock of yesteryear. The uptempo ‘If Only For Tomorrow’ is the sort of song their peers would give their eye teeth for, while ‘Small Town Man’ is a bluesy rock broadside right up Townshend’s street, followed by the infectious ‘Blaze Of Light’, the raw psychedelia of ‘It Comes In Waves’ and the muscle of ‘Searching For The Next Night’. There’s even a mood changing, delicately rendered cover of Chris Difford’s ‘Tracks In The Frost’ that shows that this band can change gears with the best of them.
“I wrote the lyrics to ‘Small Town Man’,” says Steve. “It’s my ode to Nigel Farage and everything that’s wrong with sneery career politicians. And look at the lot of them now, frightened rabbits in the headlights and Farage has pissed off to LBC…”
There is much to protest against today, with the considerable discontent of UK citizenry requiring the affirmation that comes in the form of the pop protest song which, when done perfectly, has always encapsulated the feelings of the voiceless. But critics of the zeitgeist are hard to come by these days, and those spokesmen of their generation who once were quick to highlight social inequities are today content to sit back and stifle yawns.
Not so The Family Silver, who with this EP are able as a band to summon up the blood and stiffen the sinew. This is not a band that is content to trade with lyrical glibness. Today’s political moment is rare and nerve-wracking, so those who can speak up, should, and those who once did, should still.
But what is The Family Silver doing differently which makes it stand out from the crowd? “I think that, with all due respect to our contemporaries, we choose deliberately to stand by new music,” says Steve, “and we do not see any creative relevance in trying to shoe horn our past into the band. There’re just a lot of combined skills as players and a lot of respect for what we do within the band.”
Where it has become acceptable for diminishing ‘heritage’ talents to take shelter in meaningless soundbites, The Family Silver instead has returned to the studio with shirt sleeves rolled up, ears pitch perfect, and with new music, and nothing else, on their minds.
When asked how he feels The Family Silver sound fits into his entire body of work, Steve replies: “That’s a massive question. For many, it’s about my long and wonderful association with Paul Weller, but in amongst that legacy, there were stints with people like Jon Lord and some amazing orchestras, and other great singers such as John Martyn and Ian Dury, a bit of old school hip hop with Galliano and various projects as leader or co-leader. There was even a stint supporting Art Blakey so, without a doubt, it’s been a varied journey. I think the band sees me sitting very happily at the top my game as a drummer, but more importantly as a musician. Matt and Damon are both keen to create and to do new things and make new music, so it’s a really easy process working with such musicians.”
Is he pleased to realise that after all these years he’s still capable of musical innovation? “I am more grateful than pleased. My priories are my family and staying healthy, if I’m lucky, for my family. I do what I can and, as a consequence, I remain dedicated to my art and music. Buddy Rich hit his stride and probably did his best playing in his 50s, and drummers like Steve Smith are constantly seeking to improve and many players like Steve Gadd have never been busier in their 70s. It’s something that inspires me.
“I try to listen out for new talent, but the concept of the group very often falls into what’s kind of referred to as indie, and I don’t hear much in that world. I really admire Anderson Paak and I love Kendrick Lamar and the band The Graveltones, and I really liked the last Chilli Peppers album. I got to play with Stone Foundation recently and I admire their commitment and enthusiasm. And I listen to a lot of jazz including Coltrane and Miles. I have been listening to a lot of Buddy in this, his centenary year, and then the old favourites like Sinatra never leave me, especially some of his contemplative work like ‘Watertown’.”
But what does he think his old musical ally, Mr Weller, makes of the music being made by three of his finest ex-sidemen? “I really wouldn’t know. I loved and am very proud of what I did with Paul, but he is consistent in his desire for change. Once we stopped making music together, we stayed in touch out of respect for 25 years of working together, but I’m not one, for example, for hanging around and turning up at gigs.”
It’s still that British sound that compels, however, that curious blend of blues and Blighty that helped remake the popular soundscape after the war. “I feel that the UK is a place of creative genius,” says Steve, “though that has never been recognised by the Philistines that run the show. If you cast your net wide, yes, then right across the creative arts there are some great writers, directors, cinematographers, designers and individual musicians out there. But genius is a much overused word in the British media.”
Ergo, listen without prejudice, because this is a band that has a lot say. “We hope to carry on where we left off and finish more songs in the new year,” he says. “I’ve written the lyrics to five or six and we have an instrumental in the offing that is in the spirit of ‘Toad’ and ‘Moby Dick’, so yes, there’s a big fuck off drum solo and I’m sure the intelligentsia of the music industry will have something to say about that, but they have played no part in our building success so their drivel will be drowned out, and by a cacophony of toms and heavenly crashes.”