Massive Attack on Blues & Soul (1991)

Massive Attack on Blues & Soul no.583 1991-1Massive Attack on Blues & Soul no.583 1991-2
Massive have always been know fortheir indivisual stance in music making. Now The hard work appears to be paying off for the Bristol Based quartet.

FOR QUITE a few years now, Massive Attack (now renamed simply Massive, for political reasons following the Gulf War) has always been a consistently credible name to drop by 'those in the know'. I say credible because an ever-fashionable air of vagueness surrounds this aggregation. Who exactly are Massive; what's been their output in the past; and what have they been upto recently?

For many, these factors are unimportant when it comes to the group's cred rating. All that needs to be said is that Massive are a sound system from Bristol.

They've been going since the early '80's when they started out as the Wild Bunch. They successfully fuse art and music, their 'sound' is synonamous with the drum and bass, and they were an integral part of the early Soul II Soul set-up — in fact, Nellee Hooper used to be a full time member. There you go — just like that the credibility monitor's gone and hit the jackpot. What'd I tell ya?

Anyway, to put things in a more discernable order, the Wild Bunch, a loose collective of Bristol based DJ's and rappers, formed back in '82 around a nucleus of Daddy G, Nellee Hooper and Milo Johnson, adding Robert 3D Del Naja in '83, when The Wild Bunch brought their sound system to London's clubland. The same year saw the release of their first vinyl outing, albeit on acetate, a jam succinctly entitled "Fucking Me Up". The following year saw an embroynic Soul II Soul jamming with The Wild Bunch before DJ Mushroom joined the combo in '85, when live appearances now included musicians playing the all- important bass and drums.

Another acetate, "Tearing Down The Neighbourhood" was released, whilst 3D made a television appearance on Channel Four for the documentary "Bombing" in which he teamed up with New York artists Brim and Bio. '88 saw Bristol's finest packing their bags and heading off to tour Japan, whilst 4th & Broadway Records released "Tearing Down The Avenue" and "The Look Of Love", a record which began the group's association with vocalist Shara Nelson.

'87 saw a splintering in membership with Milo Johnson returning to Japan on a full time basis and Nellee Hooper deciding to concentrate full time on Soul II Soul, leaving Massive with the nucleus of Daddy G, Mushroom and 3D with Shara of vocals. '88 saw the release "Any Love", co-produced by Bristol pals Smith & Mighty whilst 4th & Broadway released "Friends And Countrymen" b/w "Machine Gun" by the Wild Bunch.

That year, at the unlikely location of Templemeads Railway Stn., a crowd of five thousand showed to see Smith & Mighty, Soul 11 Soul The City Rockers and Massive perform live. '89 saw Massive supporting The Jungle Brothers in Japan whilst a one-man show of 3-D's visual art went on exhibition in Fulham's Black Bull Gallery. A return to London saw the aggregation commence work on their debut album for Circa Records.

ALL OF which brings us nicely up to date with Massive riding high in the national pop charts with their haunting "Unfinished Sympathy" previewing their forthcoming album, "Blue Lives" I hooked up with 3-D, Mushroom, Daddy G and Shara at their West London hotel. When I saw Mushroom walk into the room with a imitation plastic frog sucktioned to the side of his face, I knew this was going to be a 'different' type of interview, no doubt because Massive are a 'different' type of band.

A seemingly complete disregard for the music industry/business and other 'serious' aspects of having a hit record is maintained by 3-D, Mushroom and Daddy G. I gained the impression that if life could be spent DJing, staying in bed, watching/playing football, pursuing artistic design with the casual bit of music making thrown for good measure, then this is exactly the kind of life these three would lead — and in fact probably do — and I for one wouldn't argue with this arrangement.

Thus, when it comes to any 'serious' chat about music making etc., any journalist should be prepared to jump off at the nearest available tangent to discuss anything from "Vic Reeves Big Night Out", playing football on Sunday mornings, DJing ... and the frog on the side of Mushroom's face (which, incidentally proved the spontaneous inspiration from Mushroom and 3-D to start work on the theme for another song!)

Accordingly, 3-D explained, adhering to the apparent air of nonchalance that surrounds Massive, that there was no specific gameplan or concept in mind when work began on their new, distinctly individual album.

"Everything on the album just happened naturally, I suppose. It took us about ten months to do. Oh, and there was a gap at Christmas. We don't work to any routine, we just see what we can come up with. Anyone might come up with an idea and then we all fight it out until we reach a ceasefire."

The polite and quietly spoken Shara chipped in: "Most things start when we're all together and we'll bounce ideas off each other. We're all so different from each other that whenever we do collaborate something different is going to be the end result."

Although it was difficult to determine exactly who's responsible for what within the group, I gained the distinct impression that the beats department was taken care of by the two DJ's, Mushroom and Daddy G, whilst Shara and 3-D deal more with the lyrical side of things, with ideas coming from all corners.

Daddy G added: "Anyone might have an idea or a groove and the rest might pick up on it and develop it. We actually don't work together very often". "Yeah", said Mushroom, "when we are together we work quite quickly ... so we can get away from each other again!"

HOWEVER, despite a working relationship that can best be described as 'informal', 3-D feels that the new album does showcase a progression in styles. "The second half of the album shows the newer approach we've got, looking foward, and the first half has things with an older feel from the Wild Bunch days".

Daddy G prefers to view these changes, though in more general terms. "How would I say things have changed for us? Well I'd say we've now got better food, better studios ... and better women!" Fair enough.

Evidence of those improved studio facilities is apparent on "Unfinished Sympathy", as Mushroom revealed: "We hired a fifty piece orchestra for that. We've tried using strings on other things too, or in other places we'll just use keyboards. I tell you though, hiring a string section is bloody expensive. It's like five or six grand a session!"

While Mushroom, 3-D and Daddy G have a recognisable west contry slant to their accent, I noticed that Shara was having none of it. Not surprising really, when you consider she's not from Bristol.

"The first track I did with these guys was when they were The Wild Bunch and I worked on "The Look Of Love". 1 originally met them through Nellee Hooper. I'm not from Bristol, you see ... I live in London and travel over there when I need to.

"Originally my parents were from the West Indies but when I was eighteen I moved to L.A. and lived there for three years. Then I lived in West Germany for a year. I wasn't really involved in music there, only pn the outskirts of it. It was more of a case of me getting out and seeing the world and finding out some facts. I was doing some writing there. I went to Germany on vacation and ended up staying there and decided to do some youth work over there."

Although Shara's current listening interests include LL Cool J and Mori Cante, her earliest musical influence, not surprisingly, came in the form of an Aretha Franklin record, owned by her father. With broad tastes evident, she's quick to denounce Massive as being a part of any Bristol 'scene'.

"I don't think there IS a Bristol scene. Everyone in Bristol's just getting on and doing what they've done for years and it's just the media who tend to place everyone in Bristol with that tag."

THE IDEA of Massive being dynamic record label executives seems to be a hard one to envisage, but that's ostensibly what they are, signing their Wild Bunch label to Circa Records. 3-D explained: "At the moment it's just a fact on paper, but eventually it will be functional. I suppose when we first signed the- label to Circa we got carried away with the money and thought we'd do all the things we wanted to do, like waste our money on cars. Now we're skint and we've learned the error of our ways!

"We're gonna support the company, though, because they've supported us. Having said that, we're pleased the single's doing so well, otherwise we'd probably have been dropped and gone back to being skint in Bristol.

With a sound system tour tentatively planned to support the album, Daddy G's been keeping his in practice, deejaying.
"Yeah I still DJ, and play current sounds that create that atmosphere. For me, nothing can beat those early rap shows, back in about '81, seeing the DJ acting as the backing band, and working the crowd, creating that special party atmosphere. This was before all the dancin' and show biz came into it.

"l suppose I'm really still into dancehall and reggae really, but that idea of the DJ rocking the crowd may be the way we start off our sound system shows. It'll take us right back to our roots."
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