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
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
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.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?