Company of angels

Diversity is the watchword of a fizzing new sound. Phil Meadley reports
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Where do seminal electronic pioneers go when their guiding star recedes into the annals of popular music mythology? The ex-Magazine and Visage keyboard player Dave Formula ran the Strongroom Studios in London before a dalliance with the Human League and a move to Lincolnshire. Setting up a studio in his back garden, he started working with local bands and began teaching the history of pop music.

Where do seminal electronic pioneers go when their guiding star recedes into the annals of popular music mythology? The ex-Magazine and Visage keyboard player Dave Formula ran the Strongroom Studios in London before a dalliance with the Human League and a move to Lincolnshire. Setting up a studio in his back garden, he started working with local bands and began teaching the history of pop music.

Then one day he bumped into Keith Angel, who recalls: "I was teaching people how to record drums and Dave was teaching people the history of popular music. But we got bored and set up a little secret studio in the college. We were the only ones that had the key, so we set up an organ, drums and bass and began jamming out Meters tunes. It wasn't long before we started getting into writing original stuff and thinking 'this is living!'"

Keith was sacked for being on a plane to Amsterdam when he should have been teaching, but the seed had been planted for the core trio (including the original bass player Andy Seward) of the Angel Brothers. What began as a retro Seventies funk combo mutated into a far more heady concoction of musicians. Keith had previously cut his folk credentials playing and recording with the likes of Kate Rusby and John Tams, but always intended to collaborate with his brother Dave, a flamenco guitarist.

Joining forces with tabla player Satnam Singh, the group made their first album From Punjab To Pit Top. An instrumental affair, the album was a rather gentle foray into Anglo-Asian fusion, Flamenco, British folk and New Orleans funk. Although not groundbreaking, it caught the attention of radio presenter Andy Kershaw, who was impressed enough to invite them to BBC Maida Vale Studios to do a session for his Radio 3 show.

"We met Kershaw through Ian McMillan [the celebrated Bard from Barnsley who appears on the haunting new track 'Bending and Picking'] who we work with from time to time," explains Angel.

Angel and his brother Dave are originally from post-industrialDoncaster. "Me, and my brother got into different types of music by listening to Kershaw. We found ourselves in a strange position of sitting in an ex-pit house listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and all this bizarre stuff from Africa. It tuned us onto all this wonderful music and inspired us to seek it out and want to travel to all these exciting places."

Their recent album, Forbidden Fruit, turns up the heat on the production and the groove. A far more enticing brew, it marries the band's love of Seventies composers such as Lalo Schiffren, Ennio Morricone and Roy Budd, and gels it with Indian classical tabla, Spanish guitar, English folk fiddle and vocals from Andalucia, India, Jamaica and Barnsley. It's the sound of a band vibing off each other's cultural differences in one fizzingly eccentric package.

One of the best examples of this fusion is a vibrant interpretation of the Budd classic "Get Carter". Keith explains that Budd's influences mirror those of the band. "In the book there are references to Doncaster... We were intrigued by that connection as well as being big fans of the film. It was also one of the first times that I heard tabla used on a film soundtrack. It really kick-started the whole album.

"We're really into getting the feel of a live band jamming in a big room, in the same way that they used to do in Memphis," he says. "I'm not anti-technology but I think there's enough of that around already."

Angel met tabla player Harprit Singh Sahota on a train from Malaga to Seville. "I was sitting opposite, watching him tapping on the table top. We were both out there researching Flamenco music and culture." Not long afterwards, the Dorset-based fiddle player Becki Driscoll got on stage with the band and never left. "The fact that Happy and Becki, and Jim [Lockey] the bass player, and Jim [Adnitt] the percussionist are younger, means that there's a definite age range in this band," Dave Formula says. "If we'd have all been the same age, it would have been a different proposition all together."

Celebrating diversity is the key to the Angel Brothers sound, Formula says. Having graced the stage at Womad, Glastonbury, and Sidmouth Folk Festival, as well as honing their skills on a five-month tour, the Angel Brothers pride themselves on being a tight, live unit. Formula says: "Having to sit with people for seven to eight hours a day in a van, or walking around Swindon with people shouting, 'Oi, you Bin Ladens!' tends to bond you...But the bottom line is that we have fun on stage because we're all friends."

Angel says: "It's like a little cottage industry from my home. Our independence is the most important thing... We all work our arses off to pay for it, and try to break even by selling CDs at the gigs. But I like it that way. It feels right."

'Forbidden Fruit' is out now on Wrecking Ball Records; Angel Brothers are on tour from 9 April to 19 June

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