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Bring your dancing shoes say funk specialists James Brown Is Annie who play Mad Hatters in Inverness on Saturday

By Margaret Chrystall

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Guaranteed to spark a venue alive, funk and RnB masters James Brown Is Annie have honed their talent for creating music that audiences want to dance to.

Jonny White (left) and Barry Gordon.
Jonny White (left) and Barry Gordon.

They have earned a reputation as a band to be reckoned with and have attracted the attention of Scottish funk legend Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band who has gone on to play with them.

It's been a while since they have hit Mad Hatters in Inverness, but expect them on Saturday.

So just how long has it been?

Guitarist and founding member Barry Gordon, originally from Caithness, has that answer – and many others!

Q When did you last play in the North?

A Due to Covid, the past two years have felt like an eternity, so it must have been around the time the wheel was invented. I’m joking, of course. Last time we played in the North was in April 2019 – at The Old Library in Kirkwall, Orkney. A terrific venue. After three years away, we’re certainly looking forward to travelling back up the A9 again. We can’t wait.

James Brown Is Annie.
James Brown Is Annie.

Q Did you do much during Covid lockdowns?

A JBiA tends to work best playing off one another in the rehearsal room, so recording anything – remotely – during lockdown wasn’t really an option. When we were allowed back into the rehearsal studio, though, we started writing some new material: more direct funk stuff. I’d made friends with some animators during that time, so I’d take some of those jam session recordings and match them to my friends’ animated loops. I loved the visual aspect of it, and it kept our followers on social media entertained at a time when it was near impossible for a lot of artists to keep coming up with suitable, meaningful content.

I also decided to get acquainted with audio recording software during lockdown, write my own music from home (for fun and to keep busy), and ask a few musician friends to contribute towards those demo recordings. Before I knew it, I had a full album’s worth of RnB material fully demoed. Restrictions had eased a little by then, so I managed to acquire Creative Scotland funding to record the music with almost 20 other people at Chamber Studio in Edinburgh. It was mad. A lot of fun. I couldn’t believe it was happening.

Better yet, Hamish Stuart of Average White Band– who JBiA had worked with before – came onboard to produce it. I decided to name it The Tomorrow Band (a positive, forward-looking name, and which is also a nod to JBiA) and we played our first show at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival last year. Last week, all 12 of us in the group – everyone in JBiA is in the band – played a few shows in Aberdeen, Newcastle and Glasgow with Hamish. I still can’t believe it’s gone from an idea to a reality.

That said, I’m looking forward to JBiA hopefully recording a new album later this year. The band’s musicians are on fire at the moment.

Q What adventures have you been up to?

A We’d been gigging pretty steadily up until Covid hit. In fact, one of our last shows before Covid was at the Hampstead Jazz Club in London – which turned out to be our final gig with our former frontman, Aki Remally. He had just taken on extra responsibilities at The Jazz Bar in Edinburgh, where he is venue manager, so his time for touring was increasingly limited. He gave the band seven great years and I learned a lot from him during that time. I still miss him.

Fortunately, one of the band’s original founding members, Isaac Sutherland, returned to the group, and we were delighted to have Lyle Watt – best known for playing in Blue Rose Code, and who, like myself and Isaac, is from Caithness – come onboard as a lead-guitarist. Lyle had depped with JBiA before so we already knew each other well.

Q Describe JBiA's music?

A To paraphrase one of your own quotes about us, Margaret: full-fat, whipped up, calorie-laden funk and soul. With a jazzy twist. If you’re coming along to see us – and we hope you are – be sure to bring your dancing shoes.

James Brown Is Annie's saxophonist Jonny White.
James Brown Is Annie's saxophonist Jonny White.

Q What will you be playing at Mad Hatters?

A We’ll be playing all our best-known material. And for anyone who has seen us play at the venue before, they’ll definitely get to hear a few new things from us, too.

Q What will you be playing at Mad Hatters in Inverness on Saturday?

A We'll be playing all our best-known material. And for anyone who has seen us play at the venue before, they'll definitely get to hear a few new things from us, too.

Q What will the rest of the year hold?

A Gig-wise, JBiA have got a few festival shows booked – Doune The Rabbit Hole in Stirlingshire being one we're looking forward to in particular. We'll be hitting up a few of the jazz clubs in England later in the year, too, and sharing a stage with our good friend, Hamish Stuart, again. We'll be back up north at the end of April, though – for a two-night stint at Lyth Arts Centre in Caithness. And with any luck we'll get that tricky third album recorded and released. The Tomorrow Band will also be playing a few shows around the country as well – rumour is we might even make it to Inverness. Watch this space, as they say...

James Brown Is Annie at Mad Hatters, Inverness, on Saturday (Feb 19). For more on the band go to Facebook: @Earls.Of.Caithness and follow them on Twitter: JBisAnnie

Find seven of their releases on their bandcamp: jbia.bandcamp.com

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