By Robyn Rubinstein

The New Mastersounds
When I told my friend Dave that one of my new favorite things was an English funk band, he blatantly laughed in my face. "An English funk band?!" he scoffed, like I'd said "Mormon gangsta rappers" or something. He didn't even remotely attempt to hide his scorn. It's okay, I know these reactions come from fear of the unknown. After he sees The New Mastersounds, he'll have to sheepishly retract his ignorant assumptions and genuflect for my forgiveness, thus re-setting the correct order of the universe, in which I dispense the scorn and don't receive it.

The New Mastersounds are Eddie Roberts (guitar), Pete Shand (bass), Simon Allen (drums), and Bob Birch (Hammond). All four of them are from Leeds, UK, and as says, "NMS may produce some confusion; how can a collection of (mostly) pasty-faced northerners produce with such authority, the dusty funk grooves of the early 70s? It doesn't matter; they just do." It's even harder for Americans to accept high quality soul-jazz and funk coming from the UK, because first and foremost, we ALWAYS do things best here in the U.S. of A (or, if nothing else, believe we do), but also because the English funk band is an entirely different animal than the funk band of the States.

Pete Shand & Simon Allen by Kristen Richards
The last time I saw the Breakestra, an impressive LA-based funk outfit, it was preceded by a set from Cut Chemist. It got me thinking about how early hip-hop artists like A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, and De La Soul built careers on samples and breaks that had previously been lost in the deepest of funk 45 crates. Miles Tackett, founder of the Breakestra, said that he was drawn to hip-hop because of its roots in funk music and that currently, hip-hop is the only music keeping funk alive. I know those samples were my introduction to funk music. I'm a child of the eighties. Growing up, I didn't know the Gap Band from The Gap, but I loved Brand Nubian's "One For All." It would be years until I put the two together and began to explore the wonders of funk music from the seventies. I wanted to know what the Brits thought about hip-hop's effect on funk. I found out that in the UK, funk is its own thriving entity that doesn't have to cling to hip-hop's underside like a musical remora.

We didn't need hip-hop to bring funk back because in the UK, it never left. And the band's role was really just to keep people dancing. If people stopped dancing, they'd leave and your band would never play that club again.
-Eddie Roberts
Photo by Simon Allen

"I think Brits have an entirely different musical taste," explains Roberts over the phone on a brief respite from their recently completed two-week visit to the States. "Funk really had nothing to do with hip-hop culture. In the mid-eighties in Britain, there was a funk revival, a jazz dance movement. There are all sorts of movements that spawned out of that revival - deep funk, acid house, acid jazz. DJs were spinning old funk records, and then a band would come on and play for an hour set, then the DJ comes back. That scene all revolves around collecting old funk 45's. For the last twenty years, at least, there is always a club packed with say, 400 people, dancing to old funk LP's. We didn't need hip-hop to bring funk back because in the UK, it never left. And the band's role was really just to keep people dancing. If people stopped dancing, they'd leave and your band would never play that club again."

The New Mastersounds by Greg Forbes
It was one of those funk club nights that brought the current incarnation of the New Mastersounds together. In the late 90's, Roberts was running a club night in Leeds called "The Cooker." When The Cooker moved into a new venue with a second floor in 1999, there was space and the opportunity to put a live band together to complement the DJ sets. Roberts and Allen had played together in 1995 as the Mastersounds, though with a different bassist and no organ. Through friends and the intimate nature of the Leeds music scene, Shand and Birch were added on bass and B3 respectively, and The New Mastersounds were born. Though it was raw and more of a boogaloo sound at first, it was powerful from the start. Their first rehearsal was hot enough for Blow it Hard Records to release it as an EP in 2000.

Though funk has had a more prominent heritage in the UK than in the States, the band itself occupies a much different space. "Going out dancing in the UK isn't about listening to a specific band," says Roberts. "The focus is on the evening, not the musicians, and it's completely different in the States. It's part of the reason that we love playing here because there is such appreciation for musicianship. Because the British scene is built around the clubs, there is no loyalty to one band. There is kind of an unfounded snobbery to it. The night has to be one type of genre and one type of music, and that's it - no real space to stretch out. In the U.S., you get fans that appreciate everything you do as a musician; you don't have to be just one thing. We LOVE playing in the States because you get fans who love music and good musicians. In the UK, you would never get people to come see you two nights in a row. It's just unheard of."

Eddie Roberts by Simon Allen
What the New Mastersounds are is an undeniable dance party. Their show at the Boom Boom Room on March 17th stretched from 11:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m., and the dance floor was packed for the majority of the evening. They brought out heavy hitters from their 2005 release This is What We Do, such as "The Minx," a pounding funk cover of a house tune, and some brand new tracks, like soul-jazz triumph "Thirty-Three." There was a wide variety of guests who sat in with NMS that night, ranging from Colin Brown (keys) and Ryan Scott (trumpet) from opening act Monophonics to Robert Walter, who staggered over after his Super Heavy Organ show at The Independent. Guests were graciously welcomed, but none of them really added anything significant to the precision passion that Allen, Roberts, Shand, and Birch generated on their own.

NMS has shared the stage with soul-jazz legend saxophonist Lou Donaldson, a ringing testament to their skill, but they are still fighting for wide-scale recognition and respect. They have merely scratched the surface of their musical potential, and they are poised at the forefront of a soul revolution. The very first time I went into Amoeba Records, I tried to find Standing on the Verge of Getting it On by Funkadelic, and I was lost for 20 minutes because I couldn't find the funk section. Eventually, I had to ask for help and was coolly informed that funk was a sub-section of soul. That classification never really made sense to me until recently, when I witnessed an elite selection of funk acts that bring the true soul out of funk, and The New Mastersounds are at the very top of that elite list. You can mock the British funk band if you must, but you will consequently cheat yourself out of a visceral musical experience. You will also be a snarky smart-ass who will no doubt get your comeuppance.

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 4/26/06]

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phaslam Wed 4/26/2006 05:37PM
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right on! i caught these guys at hsmf last summer as was down right funkdified. i'm stoked that these guys are returning, but am pretty bummed that there is no late night.

Navin R. Johnson Wed 4/26/2006 07:46PM
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Navin R. Johnson

Tell me something I don't already know. I have been spreading the word on these cats for over a year now. Cannot wait for High Sierra. Heavy lobby in progress to get them to tour the NW more.
These brothers are the real deal and I cannot wait to see how they blossom as a band. Lapping it up. New Mastersounds are truly one of the few inspiring bands to emerge in the last five to ten.

shainhouse starstarstarstarstar Thu 4/27/2006 10:26AM
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One of my favourite bands from my old hometown. I remember seeing them once a month at Hifi in downtown Leeds. I'm glad they are starting to get noticed.

boulderlive starstarstarstar Thu 4/27/2006 10:30AM
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I caught these guys opening for Karl Denson's Tiny Universe @ the Mishawaka in Colorado last year... and they blew me away... cannot wait to see them again soon. Come back to COLORADO!!!

NTLS Bassist Thu 4/27/2006 01:15PM
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NTLS Bassist

I caught these guys at Langerado this year and I was completely blown away by the raw, heavy funk these guys brought. Not only are they funky, but very talented jazz musicians as well. GO SEE THESE GUYS! You will not be dissaoppointed.

‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^› {¬¿¬} starstarstarstar Mon 5/1/2006 07:37AM
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‹^› ‹(•¿•)› ‹^›      {¬¿¬}

If you like Greyboy allstars, Robert Walters 20th Congress, Tiny Universe, Fully Loaded, then this band is also for you!! both the cds released in the usa are killer, they have put out FIVE total but only two are available in the USA. to get them. peace yall!!!

gsuarez starstarstarstar Tue 5/2/2006 10:29AM
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Got three cd's and they are all tight in the pocket shake your ass funk. Saw them at Langerado this year and met them. Very gracious people and super talented band.

"Hello we're the NMS from Leeds and we are going to play some funk for you." And they did!