INTERVIEW: Mother Earth Speak!

INTERVIEW: Mother Earth Speak!

Mother Earth were the modern day Small Faces, Headhunters and Santana quartet all wrapped into one Acid Jazz outfit. Mixing funk, jazz, soul and folk the quartet went on to achieve worldwide success when they released their critically acclaimed second album People Tree which featured heavyweight guests Paul Weller, James Taylor (JTQ/The Prisoners) and Dee C Lee.

30 years on from the albums original release Acid Jazz Records are set to reissue the album with a bunch of unreleased and extra tracks. Gigslutz sat down with 3 quarters of the band to discuss Bryn, Chris and Neil’s version of events from the period:

Can you please tell me abit about your upbringing?

Neil Corcoran: I was born in Walthamstow East London, my family moved to Cowes on the Isle of Wight when I was around 8 years old, and moved back to Leytonstone East London when I was 18. So, my teenage years were spent on the Isle of Wight. I went to the same high school as Mark King from Level 42!

Chris White: Born in Harlow 1965 and grew up in Chingford with my Mum, Dad and Sister.

Bryn Barklam: I grew up in the midlands in a place called Swadlincote. The area I lived was called Midway, as it was in between the beautiful South Derbyshire hills and fields on one side and the industrial clay works and coal mining villages like Woodville and Donisthorpe on the other.

What was the first music you can remember hearing?

N: Records that were being played in the house and TV show themes and whatever was played on the radio back then.

C: The Beatles.

B: Some of the first music I remember would have been from black and white children’s TV shows at the time. The themes of Robinson Crusoe and Belle and Sebastien always had an impact on me.

What was the first serious music you can remember hearing?

N: All the stuff my Dad played on his 8-track cassette player in the car or on the turntable early 70s, artists like Steely Dan, The Isley Brothers, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Wings, Neil Young and many others including the soundtrack to the movie Fear is The Key by Roy Budd which was a big influence on me as 6 year old!

C: I was brought up listening to The Byrds, The Beatles and The Beach Boys.

B: I remember hearing David Bowie Space Oddity on the radio when I was playing outside one day, which sounded pretty different to a lot of the classical music I’d been playing

Did you learn to play guitar before playing the bass?

N: I played acoustic guitar for a year or so when I was 14-15, but had 2 friends in high school, one played guitar the other drums, so I moved to bass so that we could jam. We were into punk bands back then and would listen to Generation X and The Stranglers.

Did you learn to play piano before playing the Hammond organ?

B: Yes, I started classical piano lessons when I was 5 years old. The teacher had a piano on one side of the room and an organ on the other, but I wasn’t so interested in the organ as it had lots of colourful buttons and switches that looked like boiled sweets all over it.

Who influenced you to play the bass?

N: As I say I just decided to play bass so I could jam with friends, but by then had been exposed to the music of Stanley Clarke, Marcus Miller, Jaco Pastorius , Level 42 etc. so I realised the full potential of the bass and became very influenced by jazz, funk, fusion, soul and reggae.

Who influenced you to play the drums?

C: Ringo Starr.

Who influenced you to play the Hammond?

B: Trying to learn to dance in my mate’s bedroom to Booker T. & the MG’s Green Onions from the Quadrophenia soundtrack was my first connection to the Hammond organ sound. Years later I saw the early James Taylor Quartet playing live before Blow Up was released and from that day on knew I had to play the Hammond.

Were you in any bands before Mother Earth?

N: I jammed with mates and was in 80s Duran Duran style pop band called Just, we were never signed to a label but did a few pub gigs around North London in the late 80s

C: A band called The Kick.

B: Before Mother Earth I was playing organ in a band called Route 73. I was working in a record shop at the time and saw an advert in Melody Maker saying “We have a Hammond Organ and want you to play it” so I gave them a call. A great band with lots of really strong original tunes. I wrote my first instrumental for the band – I think it was called something like “Short But Sweet”.

How did you join Mother Earth?

N: I had met and jammed with Matt Deighton a few times, he had worked with and knew the drummer Chris White, at the time they were in Debrett Studios working with Stephen Bunn (Bunny). Bunny played congas and percussion and was putting together a studio project that would go on to be Mother Earth.

I was asked to come down to the studio to play some funk bass on some tracks and ended up being in the line up.

C: I went to school with Bunny, who introduced me to rest of the band.

B: Route 73 were rehearsing in the same studios in Tottenham Hale that Mother Earth were recording in and I bumped into them while carrying the Hammond out of the room. They came to see us play at the next gig and asked me to come along to an audition after that, where I met the rest of the band.

What were the initial plans for the band? Just to play some gigs or was there an intention to try and release material?

N: Technically we were already putting the stuff together for Acid Jazz records because of Bunny’s connection with Eddie Piller who was the founder of Acid Jazz records. Bunny would bring records to the studio for us to check out etc., we would then jam and write around drum samples or whatever was the inspiration at the time.

There was no real plan to play gigs at that point, it was more a case of getting an album together.

C: It wasn’t a band to start with, just a collective of different people and then some disappeared and then just us 5 left.

B: Mother Earth was initially a studio project with Bunny, who used to live with Eddie Piller, and Jon deBrett working together building the Stoned Woman album with various musicians joining to record tracks for the album. I was the last to join and we eventually become Mother Earth as a live act when we played our debut gig at the Acid Jazz Christmas Party in 1991. That night was also Jamiroquai’s live debut.

Was the band’s sound always around soul, funk and jazz elements?

C: Yes.

N: Initially yes because we were listening and influenced by 70s rare groove and funk, the rock influences came later. My influences were and still are funk, jazz and soul music.

B: It was always a mixture of our different influences, so soul, funk and jazz were a part of it, along with R&B, rock and punk even. Someone once asked if we were Mods or Rockers and we replied “Mockers”.

Who were your drumming influences at the time of playing in Mother Earth??

C: Ringo and Mitch Mitchell.

You appeared to be dressed in mod attire through the ME years, were mod bands and influence on you?

B: Mod is a big influence on me at the time and now, for clothes and music. I’ve always liked the clean lines of mod style. I was initially drawn to mod because of the Hammond organ, with bands and musicians such as Small Faces, Booker T. & the MG’s and Jimmy Smith all being mod icons. It was also a part of the DNA of Acid Jazz with Brian Auger being known as the “Godfather of Acid Jazz”.

How did the band sign to Acid Jazz?

C: Because Bunny knew Ed Piller.

N: Through Bunny’s connection with Eddie Piller at Acid Jazz records, it meant that once we had the material together for the Stoned Woman album we signed to Acid Jazz to release it.

B: Mother Earth was started as an Acid Jazz band – first as a studio project and then as a live act, so the label and Eddie were always a part of the band in many ways.

Were you influenced by any of the acts signed to Acid Jazz like Corduroy or The Brand New Heavies?

C: No but I loved Corduroy.

N: Not really because we were all writing and releasing material at the same time, obviously we knew of them and would see each other at gigs etc, so they were our peers but not necessarily an influence.  Some of our early gigs were with Jamiroquai, Simon Bartholemew from the Heavies and James Taylor had played on the Stoned Woman album and later we toured extensively with Corduroy and had gigs with other Acid Jazz acts so it was all one big music scene in a lot of ways.

B: There were so many great acts on Acid Jazz and we used to see them all the time, but we were into doing our own thing really. We used to tour with Corduroy for a few years, often double headline gigs where we’d take it in turns to play first or second every other night. There was always a bit of friendly competition, where if we played first we’d try to blow the audience away and make it difficult for them to follow, or if they played first we’d always try to outdo them afterwards to get an even bigger reaction from the audience. They always put on such a great show we’d enjoy going for it.

Stoned Woman, I must ask, was this track a deliberate take on Indian Rope Man?

C: Yes.

B: I wasn’t there in the studio when that was recorded but there may be some similarities.

N: I’d describe it as a reworking, the sample is Brian Auger’s Indian Rope Man, but the vocal and Hammond chords played by James Taylor, taking it somewhere else.

In the build up to the band recording People Tree was there a deliberate change of musicianship from straight funk and jazz to a more folk edge including elements of rock?

C: Yes, because the first album Stone Woman was mainly samples whereas People Tree was us all playing live instruments.

N: Never really deliberate, we were more organic, so things evolved. Matt and Bryn had more input in writing at that point, so it shifted to some of their influences and style. it also moved form a studio project to a gigging live act, so the sound shifted. I also began to write for the band.

We all had different musical influences, so we ended up being a blend of different styles.

B: The change happened naturally from us becoming a live band. When we started playing gigs we didn’t always have enough tunes for a full set so we’d make stuff up on stage and jam it out in front of the audience. We played so many gigs and played really loud so it just became heavier, while keeping that soul, jazz and funk feel.

Do you have recollections of some of the tracks you penned for the album?

C: Saturation 70 was basically a rip off of a Eugene Mac Daniel’s tune and A Trip Down Brian Lane was a stoned drunken jam at about 1am in the Acid Jazz recording studio.

N: We would often jam in the studio or during soundchecks and from those jams’ sections would come together, but we would also individually come in with ideas that we had been inspired to write from listening to records we liked at the time.

Institution Man was an idea that came from the Stoned Woman sessions, we had written the song around a sample my brother had suggested, and we reworked it to be used for People Tree.

From my recollection Stardust Bubble gum really came from us jamming in the studio. The Mister Freedom bass line was inspired by Tower of Power, I was listening to them a lot at the time. Paul Weller came to the studio and sang backing vocals on that track, that was cool.

Time of the Future was another song that was reworked a lot and we ended giving it that acoustic vibe after many takes, I played fretless bass on that to add fresh ideas and Matt played acoustic guitar and it came together.

Saturation 70 and Illusions were very influence by an album by Eugene McDaniel’s called the Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse which we were all listening to a lot.  It’s a great album.

B: Yes, Find It was one I wrote all the music and lyrics to. I wrote it in the bath in my flat in Goldhawk Road. The extended ending is something that really came together. I played a sustained organ chord with Neil’s walking bass, Chris on top form on the drums and Matt cranking out heavy chords – to me that section highlights a special aspect of the band – everyone doing something different but it all working together beautifully.

What are your memories of recording the album? I imagine this was a good time for the band?

C: Took a long time to record.  Drums always went down first so a lot of waiting around.

N: Yes, we had fun and always had good chemistry in the studio, we would spend long hours into the night recoding and overdubbing parts. People would come to the studio to sing BVs or play horns etc, it was one big family.

B: It was a fantastic time – for a few years we were either touring or in the studio. We hardly ever rehearsed as we would try out new tunes in the soundcheck and then play them at gigs often before they were fully finished. When we weren’t on tour we kept our gear at the Acid Jazz recording studio in Denmark Street, so would go down there to record. Eddie was our producer but also like the 5th member of the band – always so enthusiastic and encouraging us to enjoy recording together. There were also often lots of different musicians dropping in and hanging out in the studio so it was a great social time too.

Do you recall any bands Mother Earth were listening to at the time of recording the album that might have influenced the direction of the band?

N: Yes, bands like Traffic, Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, Sly and the Family Stone, Led Zeppelin, Tower of Power and many others.

C: The first 2 Paul Weller albums and Check Your Head by The Beastie Boys.

B: There is such a lot of time travelling when you’re on tour so we all made tapes of our favourite albums or complications of classic tunes, and many of these helped to form the sound of the band. There were some bands some members liked more than others, but we listened to a lot of Small Faces, Brian Auger, Tower of Power, Sly and the Family Stone, Rev Eugene McDaniels, The Byrds, Traffic, The Faces, Beastie Boys, Paul Weller and many others too numerous to mention.

Gered Mankowitz shot the sleeve for the album, the sleeve is iconic of the period isn’t it?

N: Yes definitely. He’s worked with some absolute legends over the years, and those photos are timeless in my opinion.

C: Yes, elements of mod and hippy.

B: It was such an honour to have him take our album cover photo! We went to his studio and of course there were lots of his famous photos all around like the smoking Jimi Hendrix picture. I remember I wore my own clothes for the photo – that was the only coat I had at the time. That photo is a classic.

How was Paul Weller and Dee C Lee drafted in to add vocals to some of the tracks?

N: As far as I understand Paul was friends with Eddie Piller and a fan of what we were doing, so it was suggested he come down to the studio to hang out and he ended up providing BV’s on Mister Freedom, he’s on the choruses.

DC Lee was also approached by Eddie and asked to sing on Jesse. She is currently releasing music on Acid Jazz. I’ve always loved her voice.

How was James Taylor drafted in to add his playing to some of the tracks?

B: James had played all the organ on the Stoned Woman album as it was recorded before I joined, but he played the Fender Rhodes on People tree on Dragster. He’d known Eddie for years from the days of The Prisoners.

How was Steve White drafted in to add his playing to some of the tracks? Were you a big fan?

C: He wasn’t, not sure where you got that information from, I played on all the People Tree album.

There’s quite abit of footage of the band from around this period appearing on shows like The Word and The Beat, was it all an exciting period to be in the band at this time and making these TV appearances?

C: No, I had stage fright

N: Yes, it was definitely exciting, also the days before the internet so every performance was so important. I loved playing live on TV, the nervous energy would always make it interesting too!

B: It was an amazing time – we were interviewed for radio and performed on TV so many times. But the best part was playing the music. When the sound of the band playing together took off, when we were really driving into a groove, it was so powerful – like nothing else!

Did you feel your playing individually and as a band was getting better with each gig?

C: Yes.

N: Yes definitely, we did a lot of gigs. We progressed very quickly and got a very tight sound playing together. Our live performances were always loud and powerful, and we developed a great live following.

B: Definitely! We played so much that it was more natural than the rest of the day. We used to play long European tours with 29 gigs in 30 days. At the end of that the music was so tight we could play on autopilot.

Were you happy with the reception the album got from critics and fans alike?

C: Yes.

N: I don’t think I had any expectations of how well it would be received. But I’m pleased with how well it’s still thought of as a great album, even today it has a huge fanbase. Eddie Piller did a great job with the production.

B: Of course! We always used to get the music press and read the reviews and when we saw how well it was received it was fantastic. But the best reception was always when playing live as that was instant. The audience actually made us play better – like the 12th man in football.

2024 marks the 30th anniversary for the album. Listening back are you particularly proud of any parts of the album?

N: I’m very proud of all of it really, its a very unique album in lots of ways.

C: Apple Green is my favourite track.

B: Listening now, the end result of the whole album, including Eddie’s production, makes the whole album special. Mr Freedom with the Heavies horns and Paul Weller on backing vocals on the chorus stands out for me, and of course Jesse, with beautiful backing vocals by Dee C. Lee. I always like the reverse reverb sound in the background of Time of the Future, and A Trip Down Brian Lane is a great tune we jammed in the studio and never managed to recreate it live with the same feel.

Has some of the extra unreleased tracks come from the bands own archives?

C: No, I think it belongs to the studio.

N: Not as far as I know, I think they have come from the Acid Jazz archives. There were lots of version of different songs recorded over the years.

B: I’m not sure but I think they are probably alternative takes or mixes from the original Acid Jazz tapes from the Denmark Street recording studio

Are you still playing music?

C: No.

N: Yes, I’ve been writing and recording songs with my wife who’s a singer, Zan Abeyratne, she sang some backing vocals on the third Mother Earth album You’ve Been Watching. We released around 10 tracks last year under her name.  Its 80s inspired funk, and soul music. 8 songs are just about to be released on vinyl in the UK by BDQ records, this is a label set up by Bunny and Jon Debrett (who was the studio engineer for the Stoned Woman sessions). Bryn Barklam from Mother Earth has done the artwork for the album! So we’re super excited about the release.

It will be available on the labels Bandcamp and website.

B: More than ever in fact. Since moving to Japan I met lots of new musicians and formed a new band with some Japanese friends called The In Sound. It’s an organ trio with bass and drums. We’re playing Mods Mayday Japan in a couple of weeks.

Do you envisage the original line up of Mother Earth ever getting back together?

N: I’d like to think we will one day, but I live in Melbourne, Australia and Bryn lives in Tokyo so geographically its difficult for us to get together haha! But you never know.

C: Very doubtful as the band are split across the world.

B: We’re all still around, though we are a bit scattered across the world with Neil in Australia and me in Japan. I will always love those tunes, and the chemistry when we all played together was something special. If we did play again I’m sure we’d all remember the tunes like it was yesterday.

Finally, what’s on you turntable at present?

N: Mainly 80’s funk an soul music, artists and bands like The Whispers, Aurra, Shalamar, SOS Band, Change, Steve Arrington etc. its the music I was influenced by as a teenager learning to play bass and obviously an inspiration for what I’m doing know.

C: Jimi Hendrix.

B: To be honest it’s The In Sound debut 45 : The Modernist / Our Man in Tokyo – just released on BDQ Records. It’s come full circle as BDQ is Bunny and Jon deBrett who were behind the first Mother Earth album.  Bunny sent me a few copies from UK and they just arrived so I’ve been giving it a listen on vinyl for the first time. This sounds like a shameless plug but it’s true!


The 30th anniversary edition of People Tree can be ordered via the following link

438115627_804226484507705_1907328292155641038_n 438158962_885979053214410_4974758164667762413_n 438060607_407374572064285_4491819077064364879_n 436826382_788557146558545_3724494048390998743_n 439277892_463443522862871_6703052052503793168_n 440012633_3613266248924750_1215520541948951480_n mehbc mehba ltnb