Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Festival’s night birds are still pretty big in Japan

GEORGE ANDERSON likes to joke that Shakatak’s success is all down to him.

GEORGE ANDERSON likes to joke that Shakatak’s success is all down to him.

The genial bassist joined the jazz-funk outfit in 1982 — just in time for them to enjoy their first top 10 hit with Night Birds.

Along with their 1984 hit Down on the Street, it’s a song they will be airing on Sunday when they take to the Henley Festival’s Pizza Express Live stage.

Their show starts at 7.15pm, and George for one is looking forward to it — as he says playing Henley will be a first for the band.

“I’m sure on the day we’ll arrive a bit earlier and have a look around,” he adds. “Henley can be very, very nice — on a summer’s day it’s quite idyllic.”

Other festival highlights on Sunday include floating stage headliner Will Young at 8.30pm, comedian Richard Herring at 9pm, the Ronnie Scott’s All-Stars at 10pm, and silent comedian Sam Wills, aka The Boy With Tape On His Face, at 10.30pm.

But with around 35 years’ worth of material to draw on, George is confident Shakatak will be able to hold their own.

“The band got together around 1980, 1981 and then our first big hit was in 1982. That was Easier Said Than Done. And from then on we had a five-year run of hits, you know?

Night Birds, Down on the Street, Invitations, Day by Day — so we had our Top of the Pops moment. I joined the band in 1982, so I attribute their success solely to me joining, of course... I keep pulling their leg. It was just the right record at the right time, right place.”

George’s fellow band members are lead singer and percussionist Jill Saward, keyboardist Bill Sharpe and drummer Roger Odell.

With their early success having attracted a substantial following in Japan and the Far East, Shakatak continue to write and record new material on a regular basis.

“Our major record label is JVC in Japan and every 18 months or so we do a CD,” says George. “That’s what we’re doing at this very moment in time. This week I’m kind of putting bass on the tracks.

“Because of the technology these days we can transfer it over the internet — send tracks to each other and finish off each other’s tracks in the comfort of our own homes. We don’t have to hire a big studio like in the old days, because of technology and how it’s moved on.”

Originally hailing from London and Bishop’s Stortford, Shakatak’s members are now scattered to the four winds geographically — something made easier by today’s tech-connected world.

“Jill lives in Sardinia,” says George. “Because of the internet she can do her vocals and fly them over — in internet terms — and we can assemble a track accordingly, so we don’t have to be in the same room at the same time.

“As we’re going along we’re mixing the tracks because we kind of write in teams — well, I write by myself because no one wants to write with me,” he laughs.

“So we all kind of do three songs each and we all put our bits on to each other’s songs and then we mix the songs that we have written — we all mix it — and then in two weeks’ time it’s going to be mastered.”

The title of Shakatak’s new album hasn’t yet been revealed, but fans of the band won’t have long to wait, according to George.

“We’ll give it to Japan and then it comes out in Japan, I think, late July-August time, and then it will be out here — albeit via the internet — in September.

“We do have a small distribution here in the UK with a small label, so there are hard copies available of our stuff, instead of getting import copies from Japan, which would be very, very expensive.

“We do the same thing in different countries. So in Germany we have a small distribution company who will put our product out, but our main company is JVC in Japan, who we’ve been with for quite a few years. Prior to that it was Polydor.”

Once the album is out, Shakatak will be flying out to Japan to play live in support of it.

“Every year we go to Japan to do some dates in Osaka and Tokyo,” says George. “It’s nice to have that calendar and see it filling up.

“We are known as a live band and for a lot of bands these days that’s how you make your living — by live work. We’ll either be doing shows in England somewhere or abroad somewhere — that’s how we keep ourselves busy.”

Whatever else you might say about Shakatak, it’s clear they have no interest in standing still. Jazz-funk was how they started out, but George says their sound has evolved over the years.

“It’s more jazz-funk-soul, I’d say — I’d put the ‘soul’ bit in there as well. As we know, the press likes to put a label on things.

“I mean, when we started out, just as punk had a kind of brand name they called bands that played our type of music ‘jazz-funk’ at that time. It’s evolved more to like jazz-funk-soul. So it’s all of that and more, really.

“It’s still us, but all our songs don’t sound like Night Birds or don’t sound like Easier Said Than Done. We have full songs, we have instrumentals and we have ballads. It’s quite a rich tapestry — and we try to entertain as well.”

So it’s fair to call the band’s Henley Festival show a greatest hits set?

“Call it the greatest hits and a bit more!” laughs George.

Tickets for the Henley Festival can be booked by calling (01491) 843404 or online at www.henley-festival.co.uk

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