Starting from Scratch...

Baby Fox are a PoMo pop trio with a trippy, skanking, feelgood summer vibe. Phil Johnson can hardly contain himself...

It's not often that you hear a record that almost makes you crash your car, but with "Curly Locks" by Baby Fox it was very nearly death on the roads for me. Pushing an unknown promo cassette into the stereo normally occupied by Island's "The Story of Jamaican Music", where Junior Byles's original version of the song is pretty near the best cut in a four-decker set of continuous glory, the unsuspected appearance of another, strikingly different, treatment was so immediately wonderful that I briefly lost control and had to pull up sharpish to avoid mishap. In retrospect, the pairing of the gorgeous original melody with an inspired sample of the string section's chorus from Ella Fitzgerald's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" was what did it, the unlikely conjunction producing pulsating waves of pure pleasure unsuited to sensible driving.

Trip-hoppy, dub-happy, Portishead-with-a-sense-of-humour, Deee-lite transplanted to the Holloway Road and made to undergo a rigorous education in popular culture, with compulsory seminars in Post-Modernism, Baby Fox is a dream of a pop group. They're not only clever enough to put a self- conscious spin on dance music's debt to reggae and soul, but they're smart enough to keep a dumb smile on their face while they do it.

Produced by Lee 'Scratch' Perry in 1974, the original "Curly Locks" is a righteous rasta lament, the singer wondering whether his girl will still love him now that he's a dreadlocks. In the Baby Fox version, the genders have been reversed and numerous liberties have been taken with the theme. At one point the melody even segues into another Lee Perry greatest hit, Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves", and the verities of the Byles version are deconstructed into a spliff-'em-up rap with sundry water-pipe sound effects. But, whenever that Fitzgerald sample returns, it's skanking heaven again, perhaps the most perfect feelgood refrain yet to be achieved by sample-deck music. The rest of the album, which is surprisingly varied, is almost as good, and full of strange, entrancing images culled from disparate sources: a touch of eastern mysticism here, a Marc Bolan cover version there, collages of spoken word samples, dub beats and animal noises (part of the album was recorded in a cottage in Herefordshire) throughout.

Despite the brilliance of "Curly Locks", the three-person collective of Baby Fox was somewhat wary of releasing it as the first single from their album, A Normal Family, preferring to go with the more unworldly "Jonny Lipshake". "Straight away we were thinking, 'I'm not too sure about that, because when you do a version you want it to sit in with the rest, and not want to pull it out'," says Dwight Clarke, who, along with Christine Ann Leach and Alex Gray, comprises Baby Fox. "We were worried that it wasn't totally representative of what we do, and therefore thought we'd better go with something more unusual," he says. " 'Jonny Lipshake' was just finished," says Christine, "and as it was very fresh we decided to go with that." "I'd nicked the original Ella record off my dad, says Dwight, "and it was just one of those albums that I really loved. I can't remember how we first thought of it but we kept saying 'Wow, that would be so good!', but first of all it seemed almost too abstract."

"The point at which we got the mix of 'Curly Locks', which cracked it, was way into the night," Alex says. "We'd abandoned the whole thing because we started arguing and it wasn't happening. My ears were completely shot, the whole thing had developed a life of its own, and we just started again and probably aimed at the rawest, crudest sound we could get."

"Afterwards," says Dwight, "when we'd virtually done it, we'd been working on it for so long that we'd forgotten the original, and when we listened to it for the first time we were saying, 'Wow! It's so faithful.' We'd thought it was completely, utterly different." "Curly Locks" is scheduled to be the group's next single, and if the summer lasts, it could be a big hit.

"Jonny Lipshake", however, is iconoclastic enough to satisfy all but the most jaded of dance-music sensibilities. It opens with a scratch from a Don Cherry album (no music, just a scratch), followed by a chant improvised by Christine in imitation of Cherry. Then a narrative of sorts takes over, full of echoes of kung-fu movies, drunken-master moves and the shade of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode". "It's whole cinematic things we're thinking of," says Dwight, who has directed videos for Blur and other Britpop luminaries, and who superintends the group's visual frames of reference. "The scratch from the original Don Cherry record was just to create a really dirty, gritty kind of feel, a sort of image in our minds," says Alex. "I had these ancient mellotron samples and it was like a new toy for me, and that's where that grungy flute sound comes from."

The three partners first met up years ago as students in the suburban wasteland of affluent Surrey, where they formed a weekend posse at impromptu parties. Dwight went on to study fine art at Hornsey, Christine to record with William Orbit as part of Strange Cargo, and Alex - the only trained musician of thethree - to record remixes with DJ Bob Jones. The mix of personalities is just about perfect: Christine sings in a sighing, sexy manner, like a trip-hop goddess; Dwight has the necessary visual suss and off-the-wall ideas; and Alex is sufficiently musical to tie all the disparate bits together. "It's often a bit magical when we're working," says Christine. "We know each other so well that we can kind of read into what we're doing, so that the process has got its own secret language."

"The whole album was a bit self-satisfying because it was all done for ourselves, really," says Alex. "I really love the dark side of things!" says Dwight. "Like Samuel Beckett." At this point the others begin to get a bit fidgety. "We definitely have quite different philosophies," says Christine, "but nevertheless, as a group, we have a similar philosophy, even though saying that might make Dwight sick." Alex, perhaps the glue that binds them together, smiles hopefully.

n 'A Normal Family' by Baby Fox is released on Malawi Records.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'