Booka Brass Band are triumphantly bold in debut Chilled Milk
Latest News | September 07, 2016
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Chemical Brothers on the main stage? Nah mate, Booka Brass are belting out Crazy In Love in the next field.
As a platoon of brass-toting, jazz-loving, fun merchants, their deep bass notes reverberate around festival sites and draw revellers like the Pied Pipers of New Orleans.
What had started as a fun jam for some classically trained musicians soon snowballed into something much bigger, with an ever-growing fan base anxious to hear a debut record.
That album, Chilled Milk, arrives today as an indisputable triumph for the group.
But as saxophonist David Conway admits, there’s a big difference between being a live hit and capturing the magic on record - particularly if your band is basically a small orchestra.
He told the Beat: “It definitely just built from that. Starting off we were just a few friends playing tunes really.
“Then all of a sudden we had a gig and we were working for a long time on our live shows, and really building that up.
“When we finally had a look at the recording process and it was just a whole other kettle of fish.
“But it was a really good learning process and I think we got a lot out of it. For us, we definitely feel like there’s a big difference between the EP which we put out last year and the record this year.”
Until now, Booka Brass Band have had something of a reputation for stealing the show at Irish festivals.
Being the first real act of their kind in Ireland, Booka Brass didn’t have a template for how their album should be recorded.
But by adopting a process of trial and error, they’ve produced a record that replicates the scope and ambition of their live efforts, while retaining their identity as a party band.
David said: “We took a long time over it I think. The engineer Ben Rawlins in DIT, who we worked with really put a lot of time into it as well and worked through it all, which was cool.
“It’s definitely a little bit different, not having any traditional instruments like pianos or guitars. Everything is kind of being spaced by ourselves, in our playing, if that makes sense.
“It’s a whole different kind of process when you’re recording tubas instead of bass. You spend a lot of time trying prepare and sort the depth of the sound.
“I suppose it has a lot of advantages, pros and cons. They can do things that bass can’t do, but then there’s some things they can’t do.
“I think we just learned as we went along what our instruments were capable of in the recording process, and what was unique to them and we tried to use that.”
While they first rose to a fame as a covers act, playing everything from Destiny’s Child to Kate Bush with aplomb - of the ten tracks that appear on Chilled Milk, they wrote all but one.
This might have been a source of concern for the casual fan, but Booka Brass have developed rapidly as composers in their own right.
Tracks like Trip The Switch, Trombolo and stomping opener Make That Do Noise leave the audience in no doubt that Booka Brass have the melodic chops to compete with the Queen Bey’s of the world.
For a band that cites Miles Davis and Kendrick Lamar as influences, it comes as no surprise that experimentation has been key to their success.
David said: “Writing, we try out as much as possible I suppose. We just sort of improvise and jam things in a room together.
“If someone likes something someone is playing then all of a sudden two people are playing it, and whoever’s the loudest one wins is usually what happens!
“It’s kind of a slow process, but it feels like it keeps everyone involved and that we all have our says.
“We’ve lucked out recording different things in different ways. That’s kind of the majority of them we’ve done in that way.”
He added: “I think during the recording process we got a bit tired of just being a party band a little bit. We were looking at all sort of different styles.
“It just sounded at the beginning… we just experimented with a lot of different styles. We were never specifically like ‘We’re going to write this kind of song.’
“It’s been three years trying to get to this point I suppose. It feels like we’ve been making it forever so it’s exciting to finally get it out into the world.”
Booka Brass Band - Photography by Ruth Medjber
During those three years, Booka Brass were going from strength to strength on the live front, and with a fine debut album now to their name, they’re looking at expanding on their success.
David said: “We’ve been in Europe a little bit and it would be good to try and get out there a little bit more. We were looking at maybe basing ourselves out of there next year.
“A lot of that depends on how the record goes. We’ll wait and see what kind of tours we can get.”
But their years of performing live have given them a leg up for the future.
David said: “It’s been something that I think will stand to us in the long run. We’ve been making and developing relationships with promoters and stuff.
“Hopefully, this album shows we can play. You’ll never really reach as many people as you would if the record starts circulating on Spotify or Google Play.
“Hopefully it can expand our horizons and reach people further afield.”
But David admits they’ve been taken aback by all their success so far.
He said: “Absolutely. I suppose there was a little bit of novelty to it. Nobody in Ireland had really done that yet.
“The eight piece is quite loud and you can notice it from quite far away. I think the whole thing really kind of caught us by surprise.
“But I suppose we took it on and just went with it. We were all in college until this year and we’re finished now, so it’ll be clear for the next two years I think to just give it 100% and see where it goes.”