“We all had a lot to offer. The trouble with the Brit funk scene was that the record companies really didn’t know what to do with them. Central Line did not get as much support as they should have done. Had they got the right amount of support, who knows where they would have gone.” – Steve Salvari
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Steve Salvari is a London-based music producer, singer, song writer and musician who has played an integral part in shaping the British musical landscape ever since he co-founded Brit-Funk/Jazz-Funk pioneers Central Line in the late seventies/early eighties, who enjoyed a heightened period of success with a handful of songs which are still cited as vital reference points today in the chronology of British Pop, Soul and Jazz Funk. His CV reads like a who’s who of musical luminaries, having worked with artists from a broad spectrum of genres; Chaka Khan, Robert Palmer, Barry White, Billy Ocean, Lulu, Aswad, Jonathan Butler, Natalie Cole and Omar to name a selection.
Nowadays Steve is a go-to-guy with regard to artist development and music producing, churning out quality productions at his state of the art Moondance Musik studios. With a lead-off single ‘Golden Lady’ from his fresh new album of his favourite cover versions garnering healthy feedback, Michael J Edwards met up with an excited yet professionally poised Mr Salvari, prior to the album launch at Pizza Express Jazz Bar, London for a rare interview with an insight into this man of many talents.
Michael J Edwards: Steve Salvari, after many false alarms we manage to link up at last, fittingly prior to your return to performing on the live stage here at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Bar. It’s great to see you. Are you ready to get your groove on?
Steve Salvari: I am indeed! Strangely, it’s my debut as a frontman gig, can you dig it! I’ve got a hot band, and I’m aiming to have some fun.
Michael J Edwards: Before we get in to the Steve Salvari story proper, recent events means that I have to broach the subject of your dearly departed friend and former Central Line lead singer Linton Beckles. The news is no doubt very unexpected – Your thoughts please?
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Steve Salvari: I’m heartbroken! I couldn’t believe it. He was actually supposed to be performing tonight. We’d spoken about it a few weeks ago and he’s notoriously late getting back to people. I was actually on the point of ringing him up and giving him a hard time when I got the call to say that he’d gone. None of us could believe it. He got a cold and he went into hospital and never came out.
Michael J Edwards: How old was he?
Steve Salvari: He was 59; now age at all really, especially in these days. So my friends gone; we had a musical journey together, we were in three bands together. We met in a band, which neither of us can remember the name of now – the leader was Bigsy, I remember that. Then I formed a band called ‘Headquarters’. The bass player in that band was Sketch, the future Linx bass player, and also there was the future Linx guitar player, my brother Burt Salvari; and Linton was the lead singer. When Central Line formed, a couple of years after that I called Linton and said, “I’ve got a new band, come and sing.” So we’ve been through a lot.
Michael J Edwards: What did Linton bring to the dynamic of the groups that he played in?
Steve Salvari: Linton was one of those guys that you always knew was there. He had a very strong work ethic and a great sense of humour; we used to have some great jokes man. Everybody in the band brought something with them, and Linton brought his special thing with him.
Michael J Edwards: We’re definitely going to get more insight into that influential band as we proceed, but let’s discuss the reason we’re seated here at London’s Pizza Express Jazz Bar. After a long hiatus, you’ve decided to release a new album of your favourite cover songs with tonight being the album launch. Please expand further?
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Steve Salvari: The album is called ‘Interpretations’, and I’m going to play a couple of tracks from it. It’s going to be all covers, or at least ninety-nine percent covers, but will have a special twist it, my twist on it. My belief is, if you going to do something make it your own. I couldn’t hope to approach Stevie’s (Wonder) ability, so I had to switch up to my ability and come at it sideways. And that’s the personal take with all the songs; so they’ll all be kind of unique. I’ve got Mazen Bedwei featuring on the Curtis Mayfield classic ‘Pusher Man’; I came up with an arrangement of that.
Michael J Edwards: Which artists’ tunes did you decide to cover and why?
Steve Salvari: Well, it’s kind of random in a way, I put something on and see if it spoke to me, and if it did, I’d do it – it’s as simple as that. I’ve got Keni Stevens doing ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, and we’ve done that in a very different way. Keni and I go back a little piece now and we’ve always wanted to do something together. So when I started with this album. I said, “Keni listen to this, what do you think?” He said, “Yeah, I like that man!” So I said, “Great!” Because it’s in 4/4 time right, so I said, “Great, I’m doing it in 3/4 time, so it sounds churchy.” It took him a while to get his head around it. (Laughs)
Michael J Edwards: He’s an eighties Soul legend in his own right of course.
Steve Salvari: He’s a great singer man! Keni Stevens, I love his voice!
Michael J Edwards: Was this album a long-held ambition of yours or a moment of inspiration?
Steve Salvari: It’s a moment of inspiration to be honest. I’ve been producing various things. I had an artist that I was working with quite some time, and when that finished I kind thought to myself, “You know what I ain’t dead yet, let’s have a go!” I got the idea for the album, and then I got into various stages of development – ‘Golden Lady’ was the most developed one. Also, Patrick (McLean) from Hi-Tension and I were working on something ourselves, because I produced his ‘Go Right On’ track. And he’d heard it at its early stage and he came down to the studio one day and he said, “What’s happening with that tune, how far have you got?” And it was nearly finished, so I played it to him and I started scatting to it. He said, “Man, you should sing that you know!” I said, “No, I don’t think so!” He said, “No man I’m telling you, with that tone you’ve got going on, you should do it!” I said, “No, I’m not going to do it.” And then when he left. I thought, “Hmmm, let me try it.” So I tried it, and it sounded alright! So that’s how it came about.
Michael J Edwards: Do you have any guest musicians or vocalists on the album?
Steve Salvari: I’ve got Keni Stevens and Mazen Bedwei, they’re the two guest artists on there. Mazen works with a band called ‘Warhouse’, they’re really good. He used to be in a band called ‘Akwaaba People’ and that’s when I first got to know him back in the mid-nineties. Our paths crossed occasionally after that band split up, and he’s a really good guy, he makes me laugh. We make each other laugh a lot. I knew he’s got that nice falsetto going on. So when I came up with the arrangement for ‘Pusher Man’, I thought of him. So I rang him up – I’d already got him to sing on another project that I had, and he was just something wicked on that – so when I came up with the ‘Pusher Man’ arrangement I rang him up and said, “Mazen, come and sing on this.” So he came down and that was that; he’s done a splendid job as they say!
Michael J Edwards: Will this be a one-off project, or will future volumes to follow?
Steve Salvari: There will be, yes. This is the beginning for me; the story will unfold. This album is going to be covers; the next album will probably be originals, because I’ve got quite a backlog of songs and stuff, and people who want to work with me.
Michael J Edwards: Please give us some background on the band members you’ve selected for tonight’s performance?
Steve Salvari: On bass is my long time friend and operative; we’ve been working together on and off for a long time now, a great bass player called Gareth Morgan. He’s kind of like the backbone of the band really. And drums you’ve got Andy Wilder, he’s just got himself the nickname ‘Youngblood’ because he is the baby of the band. I met him in a pub in Hackney believe it or not. I went down to a jam session at the Eleanor Arms, and the guy there Frank he holds Jazz evenings and stuff, and I sat in on a number, and this kid was behind me and I was thinking, “Ohhh!, He’s dropping that hard man!” So I thought, let me test him; it’s important that people react to you, people have got to react to each other. So I started messing about and doing certain things on the piano, and he started going with me; so I thought, right, “You’ve got the job, you’re sounding great!” I have Paul McLean from Hi-Tension on guitar, that’s Patrick’s brother. There’s Chris Storey and Zak Barrett on trumpet and saxophone, respectively. I’ve got Wayne Campbell on percussion, and Adam Day keyboard. They’re all great players.
Michael J Edwards: Let’s get into the Steve Salvari story; growing up was music an intrinsic part of your upbringing?
Steve Salvari: Oh yes! My dad loved his music, my mum taught me my first couple of songs.
Michael J Edwards: Where are your parental roots stems from?
Steve Salvari: They’re both from Trinidad. My mum was a frustrated musician, she never really got into it, but she remembered a couple of songs which she taught me, and I took it on, because I found that I had an ability for it you know. My dad was very eclectic in what he listened to; obviously he loved his Calypso and all that business, but he witnessed Jazz and Pop. I remember him coming in. one day and he had bought that ‘Sweet Soul Music’ by Arthur Connelly. He was very eclectic, and listened to all kinds of things which influenced me.
Michael J Edwards: Was piano/keyboard is the first instrument you learnt and are you classically trained?
Steve Salvari: No, I learned guitar, and then I bought an electric for a tenner. Then my mum bought me a piano, I was about fourteen or fifteen…I just loved it, so I moved more onto that. But I’ve never had any Classical training, I’m completely self-taught – a lot of us are.
Michael J Edwards: If not music, what other profession/occupation would you have pursued?
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Steve Salvari: That’s an interesting question. I don’t really know, I mean I started life as a Civil Servant actually. From college I went into the Civil Service, a most boring job. I’ve done many things, I’ve driven lorries, I’ve sold clothes, I’ve sold double glazing I’ve been a teacher. I actually got into the music business by working for and equipment Hire Company delivering gear and all that kind of stuff. And that’s actually how I met Central Line; a guy called Richard Lightman was their MD and introduced me to them. They were then TFB – Typical Funk Band. That was the polite one. (Smiles) He introduced me, in fact he nagged me about hooking up with these guys, and eventually I went down there and I was sold straightaway. So at the time the line-up was Camelle Hinds, Henri Defoe, Lipson Francis and Errol Kennedy?
Michael J Edwards: So let’s talk Central Line, can you confirm that fellow band member Henri Defoe was inspired to name the band Central Line because the band were in a transition phase and following a central line of Soul and Funk?
Steve Salvari: Yeah! That happened at our first rehearsal, because you know the core was the four of us, because Errol (Kennedy) had moved on. So we had recruited Linton (Beckles) and we had Jake Le Mesurier on drums. On our first rehearsal, we rehearsed in a pub in Camden Town actually. We sat there and we thought, “Well we can’t call ourselves TFB because we’ve grown up a little piece anyway; and Henri (Defoe) said, “Well we’re following a Central Line anyway.” And we went, “Yeah! That’s it!” So it was Henri that came up with the name.
Michael J Edwards: The Central Line sound was synonymous with feel good vibes encapsulated by infectious summertime anthem ‘Walking Into Sunshine’. Who wrote that track and are you aware that it still fills dance floors today?
Steve Salvari: That was kind of a joint effort, because Lipson (Francis) was the main driver behind that. That was post my day, but Lipson and the other guys all put their bit in. Our first single was ‘What We Got It’s Hot’, and that was in 1979. We got signed to Mercury Records in 1979. This is the thing, everybody thinks it started in the eighties, but it didn’t! ‘Central Line’ arrived in 1978, and there was a previous version of ‘Light of the World’, which I was in at one point, which was 1977. So It started a lot earlier than people think; so that was the formation of it.
There were a few other bands around, but we were just young guys playing what we loved. We all loved the Earth Wind and Fire, we loved Herbie Hancock, and we loved Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. All those concerts, we’re going to, especially Earth Wind and Fire; and around that time, Hi-Tension was killing it. Our first major gig Central Line was supporting Hi-Tension. We did our first gig on 1 July 1978, in front of 6000 people at Alexandra Palace – which incidentally I’ll be playing in the summer at the Foodies Festival. So it’s almost like life’s gone full circle.
Michael J Edwards: Which is your preferred version of ‘Walking Into Sunshine’, the original one or the Larry Levan remix?
Steve Salvari: The original one; Larry Lavan’s version is good, but I prefer the original. Lipson (Francis) played that to me as a demo, “What do you think?” And I said, “Man, that the lick!” It really worked.
Michael J Edwards: Central Line also performed an alternative version of Nat King Cole’s ‘Nature Boy’ on Top of the Pops; do you have any memories of recording that tune or performing on that particular show?
Steve Salvari: That was Camelle Hinds, that was post me, but I know its history. Camelle had been pushing that song for a long time, and he eventually got the band to record it. He was certain it was going to be a hit and he was right.
Michael J Edwards: Before the late Linton Beckles joined the band Camelle Hinds was the original lead singer. What unique qualities did Camelle bring to the band? I believe you’ve worked on numerous productions with him since?
Steve Salvari: Camelle’s got a very unique voice. Camelle’s got a very left field way of thinking about stuff and approaching his music. He’s quite a spiritual person, and he’s got a strong sense of what will work, and very often he’s right. We worked on a couple of tracks on two of his albums, and he’s like that, and he’s got that unique falsetto voice. Some people you can hear them in the crowd when they’re singing. If there’s a big chorus going on. You can hear them; like Chaka Khan. You can hear Chaka Khan in a chorus, you can hear Camelle in a chorus, and he’s got a very unique sounding voice.
Michael J Edwards: You’ve worked with a diverse array of musical talent from old school to new school. Please give us a quick insight into your association with such musical luminaries as, Chaka Khan, Billy Ocean, Donny Osmond, Natalie Cole, Lulu and Robert Palmer to name a few. Did you work with them in the capacity as an artist or as music producer? Was it a steep learning curve in your own personal musical development?
Steve Salvari: It was an interesting time; I worked with them as a musician. At that time there was a lot of TV stuff going on – Wogan, Top of the Pops, Motormouth, and I was part of a crew that was doing a lot of the TV programmes and stuff, and I got to work with these guys. I worked with Robert Palmer on and off for about three years actually… Barry white again was good. I was the MD of the band behind Chaka Khan; we used to do this sickle-cell charity gala every year, and I was the bandleader at the time. And Chaka Khan was due to be the guest of honour, she wasn’t supposed to play, but we wanted her to perform. We kept on sending the notes, and she said, “No stop it!” – Because we were giving her a lot of champagne. (Laughs) When she came into the room, she got a standing ovation. And I just kept on, “Come and play! Come and play!”
Steve Salvari, Gareth Morgan (bass), Wayne Campbell (percussion) Paul McClean (guitar)
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
She kept saying no, but Mica Paris was on that as well, and Mica said, “Don’t worry; I’ll get her up here.” And sure enough, here she comes. Because what we did, we learnt ‘Ain’t Nobody’, and when they brought her into the room, I got the boys on stage and we licked it hard, just to show that we’ve got the chops! We did a minute of it, just to show her we’ve got it. So eventually she came on stage and just tore the house down! You couldn’t make it up, we were pinching ourselves. Billy Ocean was on that night, Lulu was on that night, Aswad was on that night; it was just a mash-up man, i’m telling you.
Michael J Edwards: You now when entrenched and renowned as a successful music producer. When did you establish Moondance Musik, why the name and what was your main objective?
Steve Salvari: I established Moondance Musik at the tail end of the nineties. I got to the stage where I wasn’t really doing that much playing and I had begun to learn production skills. That’s what I wanted to be, I didn’t want to be out there so much anymore, I wanted to be a producer. I had a studio in Hoxton at the time, and we started there with a friend of mine, and we’ve been using that as a production base ever since. The reason for doing it, I like doing it; I like making things happen.
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Michael J Edwards: Like a moth to the light or a bee to honey, artists regularly gravitate towards your studio to benefit from some of that magical Steve Salvari personal guidance and quality production techniques. From the testimonials on your website, it seems the highest praise is for your interpersonal skills, relatability, and ability to extract the unique essence of each individual artist. Do you have a mission statement or philosophy which guides you?
Steve Salvari: It’s a philosophy. I don’t think you can be a producer if you haven’t got the skills. Your job is to get it from them, because, sometimes they don’t want to give it to you. (Laughs) Sometimes it’s like a tiny, tiny dot in the distance, and you’ve got to go in there and grab it and bring it into the full sunlight. I do like having a laugh which lot of the artists seem to appreciate; it makes them relax. I can be quite stern, which you have to be. Because the thing is you see, if you’re not strong with them, if you’re not a strong producer, they’ll blame you if it goes wrong. They expect it and some of them don’t like it at the time. Regarding the name ‘Moondance’, I just liked it.
Michael J Edwards: You’re working with and have worked with some very dynamic fresh young talent, most notably with Soul singer Chidi and also Dawn Joseph who is enjoying global success currently as lead vocalist for Brit Funk the Brand New Heavies. You’ve also recently been in the studio with UK Soul/Pop stalwarts Austin Howard and Keni Stevens. What qualities do you look for in an artist before collaborating with them?
Steve Salvari: I’ve got to like them, if I don’t like them, then I’m not working with them.
Michael J Edwards: In 1984 after six years the band dissolved. Had the band run its course, or do you think Central Line had a lot more to offer?
Steve Salvari: We all had a lot to offer. The trouble with the Brit funk scene was that the record companies really didn’t know what to do with them. Central Line did not get as much support as they should have done. Had they got the right amount of support, who knows where they would have gone. With ‘Walking Into Sunshine’, people still think it was a hit, but it actually stopped just outside the Top 40. ‘Nature Boy’ was the hit, that was a Top 20 hit; but ‘Walking Into Sunshine’ was very, very popular. Had it got the support that it needed at that particular time it would have gone clear, but it didn’t! That was the thing that followed them all the way through their career, because I was actually at their last gig. They weren’t unique, but I think they suffered more than a lot of others.
Michael J Edwards: Given your extensive career working on both sides of the industry fence, what nuggets of wisdom can you give young aspiring singers and musicians starting out in the music “business”?
Steve Salvari: Well, it’s always been a business. People are continually learning more about the business, and I give them the advice – ‘Don’t give up!’, number one; number two ‘Don’t give up!’, and number three ‘Don’t give up!’ That’s my Winston Churchill moment. (Smiles) And learn your stuff man! Practice, if you want to get to Carnegie Hall that’s how you do it. You have to learn your craft, listen to everything and don’t give up.
Michael J Edwards: A final word for the UK Vibe readership and stalwart Steve Salvari/Central Line fans/music connoisseurs across the globe?
Photo: Courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw
Steve Salvari: I believe that the UK Soul scene is the best kept secret in the world, and sooner or later the secret’s got to get out. I was just on the radio the other day saying exactly the same thing. If you go to the Summer Soulstice it’s packed! – Four and a half thousand people going off their nut. You go to the Soul Shack, packed. there are lots of clubs and they’re all busy; what’s happened now is people of an age, say, forty plus, their kids have grown up and they still ready to boogie. They’re bringing their kids, they’re educating the kids. And they’re still up for it, and they still love their Soul music. Sooner or later someone is gonna latch onto that and let it cross into the mainstream, and then we’ll see what happens. Look out world!
Michael J Edwards
* In Loving Memory of Linton Beckles