“We got a call from America; they (GRP) called us directly and said, “We’d like to sign you.” I thought it was a wind-up first of all… but it was a reality; me and Philip (Bent) were the first European’s to be signed to an American label – GRP Records.” – Tony Rémy
Tony Rémy has been a mainstay on the international jazz and funk scene for over 30 years. His musical CV is extensive and continues to grow since he first came onto the scene, playing alongside renowned UK flautist Philip Bent. Since then Annie Lennox, Craig David, Pee Wee Ellis, Steps Ahead, Lonnie Liston-Smith, Fred Wesley, Steve Williamson, The Crusaders, John Toussaint, Jack Bruce (Cream), Bluey (Incognito), Jason Rebello and Sarah Jane Morris, many more have benefited from Tony’s trademark guitar licks and composition skills. Michael J Edwards sat down with the genial Mr Rémy. A few days before he was due to depart for Italy to join up with the aforementioned Sarah Jane Morris as part of her European tour.
Michael J Edwards: Greetings Mr Tony Rémy, it’s good to link up. Great that you could take some time out of your busy schedule to give us the lowdown.
Tony Rémy: It’s well overdue.
Michael J Edwards: You’ve been ever-present as a guitarist on the British and International Jazz and Funk music scene for over thirty years. However, I understand that before gravitating to the guitar you were already quite a proficient player on the piano, flute and saxophone?
Tony Rémy: That’s right. Actually I started on the recorder and then I progressed to flute. So then I was indoctrinated the Irish Centre in Kentish Town because of my skills in playing Irish jigs and rills on the recorder. I quickly progressed onto flute due to a friend of mine called Parque Massilino who is half Ghanain and half Brazilian. I saw him playing all these instruments in the school music room and I said, “Can you show me this? Can you show me that?” He showed me flute and he showed me piano and I just took to it naturally. I had lessons, all my teachers believed in me, especially my music teachers and my science teachers and they were always pushing me because they knew that I had something.
So it was a real amazing time being at school, especially with my friend pushing me as well. We were the same age and he was pushing me because he knew that I was going to be doing music – I didn’t know I was going to be doing music, but he knew.
Michael J Edwards: Where you raised in a musical environment with regard to your parents?
Tony Rémy: No, not at all. I’ve never seen anybody in my family play an instrument, but my mum goes to church and sings in the church…but she always pushed me towards music. She always said learn this; she’s never held me back, she’s never said, “Oh, go and get a real job.” What she did say was get an education first and then do what you like.
Michael J Edwards: How old were you when you received or bought your first guitar?
Tony Rémy: Well, you see this is the thing – I begged my mum for a violin, down at Chapel Market at Susan’s Music Shop. I don’t know why, I just wanted a violin. I was begging and begging for weeks and once she had saved up the money to finally go and buy one we went down to Chapel Market. As soon as we got to the front window besides the violin that I had been looking at for months and months was a classical guitar. And because it was bigger I said, “No, I want to have this instead!” (Laughs)
Michael J Edwards: How old were you?
Tony Rémy: This was when I was about ten years old. It was one of those things when you get your guitar then it was under the bed for another five years. It was like I wanted it but I didn’t have the motivation to learn. I didn’t have a teacher, because back in those days there wasn’t really any teachers around to kind of teach you. But when I went to my secondary school there was a guy called Roger Mallinson – he was an English teacher, but he used to gig on the scene playing like Country and Jazz.
One day I saw him playing an Elvis Presley tune for the assembly. After school I said, “Sir, can you show me how you did that?” He showed me and then I was hooked on guitar. But it was at a time when it was exams, you’re fifteen, you’re doing O-levels, you’re doing A-Levels. Then I did a degree in Electronic Engineering, so music was kind of a back-burner really. I was still involved but not on any kind of professional level.
Michael J Edwards: You went on to form the band Cube 60 at college, which later morphed into Desperately Seeking Fusion. Why did you choose those names?
Tony Rémy: Well Cube 60 came about because it’s actually the name of a Roland Amplifier. It’s called a Cube 60 – a 60-watt amplifier. So each of us, myself, Nick Cohen, Joe Bashorun, we all had Cube 60’s.
Michael J Edwards: And Desperately Seeking Fusion?
Tony Rémy: We just morphed and we were learning all these things like Joe Zawinal, Steps Ahead, Mike Stern, John Scholfield; a lot of tunes from back in those days. We said, “We need a name for this thing.” At That Time ‘Desperately Seeking Susan the movie was out, so we said, “You know what, let’s call ourselves ‘Desperately Seeking Fusion’. That name stuck and we became a force on the scene, on the fusion scene in London.
Michael J Edwards: So all of you obviously had this love of Jazz and related music?
Tony Rémy: I went to school with Joe Bashorun and Winston Clifford and I also knew Nick Cohen from school days. So we have that kind of bond, so you know we wanted it.
Michael J Edwards: Please expand on your musical relationship with saxophonist Steve Williamson and his extraordinary funk band ‘That Fuss Was Us.’ Rule or Paul Please give to background on Steve and the personel in this amazing super group i.e Noel Mckoy, Pete & Steve Lewinson. Thomas Dialli and Carl Vandenbosh etc?
Tony Rémy: On the main tours we had Carl Vandenbosh on percussion. There was also Dennis Rollins on trombone. This all started around 1986/7. I was in Philip Bent’s band. That was the first band where I could say, “Yeah, I’m getting wages now!” Before that we were paying to play. So I was in Philip’s band and were playing Ronnie Scott’s and playing all over England, driving up and down; you know the minivan kind of tour.
Steve (Williamson) and Philip (Bent) were good friends and Steve used to come and watch me play. Then one day he said, “I want you to join my band man.” Just like that. He was a very abrupt guy in those days. I said, “I’d love to!” Because I’d been hearing about Steve Williamson; first time I saw him when I was in Cube 60 and we were playing in this Wine Bar down Kensington High Street. After our gig Steve was playing a few Wine Bars down the road just doing solo saxophone and he was playing John Coltrane even then. We sat in there – we didn’t know him – and he blew our minds! He was whizzing all over the saxophone.
Anyway, fast forwarding, I’m in the Philip Bent band and he’s asked me, “Can you join, can you come and do some stuff with us?”… My learning curve was exponential then.
Michael J Edwards: To use a football analogy you went from non-league to the professional leagues?
Tony Rémy: I wouldn’t say I was non-league, because i was playing with Philip and I was doing Desperately Seeking Fusion.
Michael J Edwards: So it was more like a move up from the Championship to the Premiership?
Tony Rémy: In a way, because I was now playing a new type of music – music that I had never heard before – that M-Base time signature stuff ala Steve Coleman. It was just stretching my mind all the time. And from there I started to do a lot of tours with Steve, we went to Spain, we went to Japan. I go to Japan even now these days and people still see That Fuss Was Us as one of the best things to hit Japan as far as Fusion was concerned…And I just went there in February 2016! It was a shame that we didn’t quite get it together to actually record it properly as it was; because we had had a recording situation for That Fuss Was Us. But then The Roots got involved, which was a great thing, but it wasn’t ‘That Fuss Was Us’, it was another thing.
Michael J Edwards: It watered it down or diluted it a bit?
Tony Rémy: I would say so.
Michael J Edwards: Overall that band was the top of their game?
Tony Rémy: Top of the line. Denis Rollins is one of the most amazing trombone players in the country; even in Europe I would say. Steve and Pete Lewinson they’re amazing players, amazing! You’ve also got myself as course! (Laughs) Noel Mckoy – he’s a dangerous singer. I’ve always tell Noel – me and him we were great mates and now he plays in my band at the moment. I say, “Man, you should be a mega-millionaire now for what you can do!” And I’ve played with a load of big artists and I said, “Noel, you should be a mega-millionaire!” He has serious talent and writing ability… He’s big in the music business – a 360 degree artist.
That was one of the best bands around, still to this day. In England it was one of the best bands around; and I’ve been in a lot of bands, and I’ve even got my own bands…That Fuss Was Us – I was very proud of that band. We were always doing stuff – playing around in London, up North, all the Jazz Festivals, Japan, Spain – It was an amazing time. And when I write on my Facebook page and in my little articles I always say, “Thanks to Steve Williamson for a grand musical education. There were others, but this was a little left field.
Michael J Edwards: You’ve released six solo albums to date, your first being ‘Boof’ in 1993 on the GRP label which was the same label Philip Bent released his ‘Pressure’ album on. Was this coincidence?
Tony Rémy: We were the men on the scene then, we were doing it! We got a call from America; they (GRP) called us directly and said, “We’d like to sign you.” I thought it was a windup first of all. I had a manager at the time and I said, “Just check this out because this guy is persistent.” But it was a reality; me and Philip (Bent) were the first European’s to be signed by an American label – GRP Records.
Michael J Edwards: Why the name ‘Boof!’?
Tony Rémy: Because it was a statement like ‘Boof!’ – Done it!!
Michael J Edwards: I.E you’ve arrived – your first album.
Tony Rémy: Yeah!
Michael J Edwards: I love the opening track ‘Glide’ It’s one of those tracks I always had swirling around in my head but didn’t know who the artist was at the time. It could be because it was released as a 12″ white label. Who’s the vocalist?
Michael J Edwards: He’s got previous as well.
Tony Rémy: Yeah! He played with Thomas Ribero and Cairo. You know what; Lennox gave me my very first studio session. I met Lennox because I was playing with Philip Bent at Ronnie Scott’s and he was in the audience. Afterwards he said, “Man, I’m doing some recording for my album.” He was in a band called Cairo and said, “Can you come and do a little thing” and we’ve been friends ever since. He’s been in all my bands and on most of my recordings.
Michael J Edwards: ‘Hazel’s Dream’ is another favourite of mine, which is also from the ‘Boof!’ album. Can you give us a lick from either ‘Glide’ or ‘Hazel’s Dream’?
Tony Rémy: I don’t know if I can play ‘Glide’ on the (acoustic) guitar, but ‘Hazel’s Dream’ yeah. (Tony proceeds to offer up a sublime rendition of ‘Hazel’s Dream’)
And then Cleveland start’s singing. So my musical journey includes all those musical bod’s who are doing it now; all those on the UK jazz and funk scene. I was in Cleveland’s band for a while around that same time (1994) and he recorded the album ‘Blessing In Disguise’ and that’s one of my favourite pieces of work that I’ve been involved in.
Michael J Edwards: Did you release ‘Hazel’s Dream’ as a single?
Tony Rémy: Yes, it was a single. The two tunes ‘Hazel’s Dream’ and ‘Boof!’ were on a compilation beforehand, that’s why I got signed. So they heard them on the compilation, ‘The UK British Jazz Scene’.
Michael J Edwards: In between ‘Boof!’ in 1994 and your sophomore album ‘Metamofollow G’ in 1998 you worked with slew of artists such as on: US3; Roger Beaujolais; Jean Toussaint; Noel Mckoy; Garry Christian and Pee Wee Ellis from the J.B’s. How was it working with these talented artists, especially the success you had with Roger Beaujolais ‘Vibraphonic’ with Nick Cohen, Lex Cameron, Alison Limerick, Pete Lewinson, Frank Tontoh and Mark Lockhart?
Tony Rémy: The thing is it was like we grew up together, so it was not a big thing in working with these people. It wasn’t like. “Oh I’m working with Roger!” I knew Roger from my Polukaville days and we always said we were going to do something. So we just got it together. It was like, “Tone can you get me involved in this project?” or “Oh Roger, can you be involved in my project?” The answer was always no problem. So it was like that all those guys!
Jean Toussaint is another fantastic musician. He was my teacher along with Steve Williamson… I’ve learned so much music from these guys. Steve Williamson, Jean Toussaint and Jason Rebello, I would say I learned a lot of music in a short space of time from them. Not saying that the other guys are not exceptional, but these guys are writers. They were writing heavyweight music and you had to go into the studio and do it!
Michael J Edwards: Your 1999 live album’ Jammin’ At The 12 Bar Club is still revered as a classic recording and featured top class musicians such as The Brothers. It’s a real feel good album; I love the tracks ‘On The Bench’, ‘Ah Defnitely!’ and ‘Jazz Money’. How was that for you?
Tony Rémy: I’m very very proud of that piece of work. How it came about, is there is this little tin Pan Alley kind of club down in Denmark Street; it’s a really tiny place. I was walking past there one day and I heard some music coming out, and I thought, “Let me poke my head in.” I poked it in and it was a little dive, a little tiny stage, but it had a great atmosphere. It smelt of beer, cigarettes; it had that kind of vibe. So I asked the management, “Can I bring my trio in and just like do our thing?”
So we did the first week and it was a badass tear-up! The first gig was myself, Julian Crampton on bass and then Pete Lewinson – that was the first line-up. We did the first week and it went down a storm; then I decided, “Let me bring my machines in.” I had some recording equipment so we recorded straight to eight track. I brought my Tascam DA88’s in and we recorded about four weeks worth. I’ve got loads of material; I could make about five albums from that set of recordings. We just said, “Let’s just play!” There’s no going over it and fixing stuff… It was just no pressure, just fun and go for it, don’t worry about anything. You couldn’t see the audience anyway, because the light is so bright.
Playing there kind of brought me into a situation where people didn’t know I could do it – before that, they thought I was on jazz fusion player and jazz funker. They didn’t know I could tear up. That album, ‘Jamming at the 12 Bar Club’ is the album that got me into the Annie Lennox band. I knew they were looking for a guitar player and I was already known on the scene as a good guitar player. But the MD of the band wasn’t sure if I could ‘Rock Out’ – he thought that maybe I was a bit too smooth.
So my friend Paul Turner who’s a bass player; he plays with Jamiroquai and a load of guys. He gave Mike Stevens this CD and he heard it and said, “Yeah!” So I went down for the interview with Annie (Lennox) in Kensal Rise, and we were just talking – we were just talking about kids and dogs and everything. We didn’t talk about music. At the end she went, “Do you want to play something?” I said, “Not really, I’m just having a good time just talking, but I assure you I can play.” She said, “I can see that you can play!” That was without me playing anything, she hadn’t heard my album but people were vouching for me, so it was all good.
Michael J Edwards: How long where you in the Annie Lennox’s band?
Tony Rémy: Eight years.
Michael J Edwards: You saw a lot of the world then?
Tony Rémy: Oh yeah! We did an extensive tour of America – extensive!
Michael J Edwards: I understand Herbie Hancock was one of your first musical idols?
Tony Rémy: He’s a major influence! A major major influence!
Michael J Edwards: What is it about Herbie’s sound that impacts on you?
Tony Rémy: Just his Jazz sensibility, but still able to play some serious Funk! When you hear the Funk and then some serious Jazz on the top of it; that is the main formula for me. As a musician and a writer, basically everything he does I pretty much like – especially the Funk!
Michael J Edwards: Did he inspire you to become more of a composer as well as a musician?
Tony Rémy: Of course! I was heavily influenced by Herbie Hancock. Herbie Hancock and Marcus Miller – that kind of production. There’s a track on Metamofollow G called ‘Syndicate’ which is heavily influenced by Herbie Hancock.
Michael J Edwards: Who are some of your influences on guitar? Are
Tony Rémy: I would say Phil Upchurch, George Benson and Jeff Beck definitely! Jimi Hendrix, John Scholfield, Mike Stern, Hiram Bullock. Those are the guys I listen to extensively; I don’t mean just listening in passing, these guys are the guys I study.
Michael J Edwards: Like Bluey Manuick you seem to be consistently touring, be it with your own band or as an integral part of other protagonist’s bands. Do you have a preference for live gigs or studio recordings?
Tony Rémy: I like both, because in the live and able to really release and let go; in the studio it’s a little bit more controlled. I love the creative side that comes with studio work, especially if you’re given licence to create, not just like, “Play this! Play that! Play that!” If they say, “Tony, just come and do something on my track” then that’s fine.
Michael J Edwards: What are your thoughts on the current UK Jazz music scene?
Tony Rémy: Right now the UK music scene is not as I expected it to be is simply because the wages now there’s hardly any places to play! There are hardly any places to go and play and earn a living. Most of the venues now, the little venues it’s like, “Oh, bring your own crowd. You get paid by whatever the door takings are.” Music venues are not investing in the talent that is around; therefore you’re getting guys who play with that attitude. There are some great players around, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some really young guys who are immense. But you’re getting a lot of people were just going to university for the title of, “I’ve got a degree in music.” And they come out and they don’t even know a B flat major scale.
Michael J Edwards: Steve Williamson said that he should give to call on at least twenty musicians at a moment’s notice for a gig who can read music; yet he can only find a handful.
Tony Rémy: It’s true! Even for guitar, there are a lot of young guys who can play Jazz, but a 360 guitar player; there aren’t a lot of the next generation. There’s a tiny handful; there’s not someone you can call on to do a Bebop gig and then the next day do a Fusion gig, the next day do a Blues gig, the next day do an acoustic guitar gig – a finger-picking acoustic guitar gig, the next day do a Brazilian gig. That kind of musician is fading away very fast.
Michael J Edwards: What advice would you give to aspiring guitarists and musicians in general with regards to making their way in the music industry?
Tony Rémy: Practice every single day, there’s no excuses! You can’t come and say, “Oh, I was tired,” or “I was busy.” Even if you have to sleep for one hour, practice every day, you have to touch the instrument every single day… Either you’re playing scales, or you’re transcribing a tune, or you’re recording, because it’s all a learning process. We could be jamming with your mates, your fellow musicians. You have to do that; that’s the essential thing what’s missing today. I was down Solid Light Rehearsal studios when I was just getting into it all the time. But I lived there, it’s a dump. It’s a place where there’s no light, carpets the filthy, no air conditioning. We were in there, all of us all day, just me and my friends. If you want to work in industry you’ve got to play, you’ve got to practice.
Michael J Edwards: Steve Williamson was a great believer in practising every day?
Tony Rémy: He’s a great example of that, because I remember him, he didn’t stop playing, even in the tour bus!
Michael J Edwards: You’ve played alongside and toured with some legendary musicians such as part of the JB’s infamous horn section Pee Wee Ellis and trombonists Fred Wesley Jr. What did you learn from their approach to music and work ethic?
Tony Rémy: With Pee Wee I play with mostly, I learnt about funk – how do you play Funk? It’s not that he was telling me what to play, it’s just where to play. So, you got a tune or groove and you’ve got a specific baseline, you’ve got to find your pocket in between that baseline. So when you listen to all that James Brown stuff and you hear the guitars, in between the baseline. Back in the early days when I first joined the band – because I’ve been in his band for nearly twenty-five years – he would say, “Tony, try this!” And just hum something in my ear. And one of the biggest lessons I learned was when we did a thing with Fred Wesley, Pee Wee and Maceo Parker was our guest. I’m playing away on rhythm guitar at Ronnie Scotts and it’s funking away and I’m thinking, “Yeah, this is wicked!” And Maceo Parker came up to me and he just sang something in my ear – he just sang a little rhythm guitar part.
When I played that groove within the track it transformed the track and now I’ve made that my own – I nicked that one! (Laughs)
Michael J Edwards: You put out an album entitled First Protocol in 2007 with Incognito’s main man Jean Paul ‘Bluey’ Manuick. What prompted that collaboration and how far do you both go back?
Tony Rémy: I was in Incognito for a while, I was in Incognito about three years and was instrumental in writing some of the songs on the ‘Eleven’ album. Then I played all the guitars on ‘Bees and Things and Flowers’, which is an acoustic record, I played all the guitars on that. We were in Japan one day and we were listening to Masters At Work stuff in the dressing room and nodding away. And I said, “Man, we should do a little thing like this you know?” He said, “Yeah”, so as soon as we got back from Japan… we just went into the studio in Holloway; started playing on the computers and we just started laying down. At that point it was a brave thing because I grew up with ‘Light of the World’ and ‘Incognito’. I grew up with that music. Bluey’s music I’ve loved since I was a schoolboy when I went to Hammersmith Odeon and I saw Light of the World who were supporting Players Association and they blew them off the stage.
I worked with Tubbs aka Paul ‘Tubbs’ Williams on bass, he’s one of the best bass players I’ve ever worked in my life! And I’ve played with great bass players.
Michael J Edwards: You’ve made plenty recordings and toured with a certain UK vocalist Tony Momrelle over the years. ‘LIghthouse’ is a particular fav of mine. You seem to have a sixth sense when performing together and genuine connection on stage. Do you concur?
Tony Rémy: Yeah, in all genres of music, because he’s come and guested on my Blues Project and then I guested on his Saul project. We’ve done recordings and a lot of writing together of acoustic guitar stuff and electric guitar stuff.
Michael J Edwards: You’re off on tour again around Italy and Europe with another long time collaborator, vocalist Ms Sarah Jane Morris. I understand you co-composed a lot of her new album. How was that?
Tony Rémy: Yes, the ‘Bloody Rain’ album, she would come to my house and we would write, just constantly write directly into our voice memo on the iPhones. Then we went to the studio and it was just a magical experience because it was so natural, there was no stress at all. It was organic, this had the connection. When she sends me some poetry and I get an idea of what to play, it’s great! I came in that band, because they asked, “Can you play acoustic guitar?” And I wasn’t really an acoustic guitar player; I was an electric guitar guy. So I lied, I said, “Yeah, Yeah, I can play acoustic guitar.” And guess what, the first gig I did with her Dominic Miller was my fellow guitar player and he is an expert acoustic player; one of the best acoustic players along with Antonio Forcione. I’ve worked with both of them, I’m doing some shows with Dominic and I’ve done some tours.
Michael J Edwards: Regarding Sarah’s band, she’s put an amazing team of people together including one of my favourite percussionist’s Adriano Adewale. No doubt you appreciate his skills?
Tony Rémy: He’s excellent, he’s so good! And he’s a lovely guy.
Michael J Edwards: Recording sessions must have been joyous?
Tony Rémy: That was a holiday, we had Henry Thomas from Rock School, Martin Barker on drums, Dominic Miller playing some guitars, and I played most of the guitars, and the electrics.
Michael J Edwards: When can we expect the next solo project from Mr Rémy?
Tony Rémy: Actually, the track ‘Lighthouse’ is from my new album. It’s a whole album of eleven tunes. The name of the album is, “In The Middle of Before And After.
Michael J Edwards: So we can expect more solo dates?
Tony Rémy: They’re coming this year definitely; I’ve been keeping it sporadic simply because I’ve wanted to find a vehicle to release the record properly without it just getting nicked in the first week.
Michael J Edwards: Who would you like to duet with alive or dead?
Tony Rémy: I was aspiring to be in the Miles Davis band, his electric band,
that’s what I wanted to play in – Mike Stern and Robbie Ford, Steve Khan; I wanted to be the next good guitar player in that line-up.
Thank you for your time Tony, have a fabulous time spreading the good vibes around Italy and Europe.
Boof! (GRP Records 1994)
In The Middle of Before And After (Coming Soon)
Tony Rémy on Facebook