Personal Life

Personal Life – Live @ Jazz Café
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

“There are those based in this country who believe the blueprint of Soul music is something that makes you feel good, something that is played with verve, virtuosity and energy, something that moves you! Tonight you will see such a band and they’re coming on the stage right now. Give a big welcome please to the very excellent band called Personal Life!” That was how Jazz FM’s esteemed DJ, Chris Phillips introduced the London based Jazzy-Soul collective conceived in 2010 by Musical Director, Bass Player and Song-writer Robert Strauss.

Soon after the seven piece band descended to the Jazz Cafe stage and following a few necessary shout outs, lead vocalist Stuart Lisbie proceeded to bring on the funk by introducing, “Classic Lady” the first of selection of songs lifted from the groups delectable debut album, ‘Morning Light.’ The vibrant up-tempo beat meshed Lisbie’s and co-vocalist’s Marriama’s smooth vocals engaged the audience from the get go.

Following another essential shout out, this time to his father, who was present in the audience, Mr Lisbie addressed his knowledgeable audience, “Okay, were going to roll it on a little bit like this!” And with a double-click of Nathan Allen’s drumsticks the band launched into the catchy retro- soul vibes of ‘Distance Can Be Sweet’. The infectious groove had the whole band swaying rhythmically to what they were playing which rippled throughout those gathered.

Stuart Lisbie – lead vocals
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Two songs later, Mr Lisbie took time out to pay homage to his dearly departed friend, Junior Mac a radio DJ who made the next song, ‘Bring It Back’ record of the week on his radio show and championed it whenever he could. While the other musicians and audience members snapped their fingers rhythmically, the lead vocalist went on to quote “Rest in peace Mr Junior Mac, I love you to the max!”

He then emotively delivered the lyrics which clearly meant a great deal to him and once the beat hit one immediately understood why the late Mr Mac edified the track whenever he could. The whole band were deep inside the groove as the funky vibe infiltrated every nook and cranny of the Jazz Cafe, with ex-Prince and Spanky Wilson saxophonist Max Grunhard’s energetic solo showing the way.

Max Grunhard – saxophone
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Des Morgan – percussion

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Once the applause died down Stuart Lisbie took time out to deliver the necessary preamble by way of introduction to the title track of Personal Life’s album, ‘Morning Light.’ In fact ‘Morning Light’ succinctly sums up the philosophy of what ‘Personal Life’ is all about as well as Robert Strauss’s vision for the band when he conceived it i.e. to bring back the essence, production and lyrical content of the Soul songs from yesteryear. As Robert outlined to me prior to coming on stage, “…I think we long for that time gone past and would love to see that music happen again today, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

And so as Stuart Lisbie continued his background info, clarifying that the track is called, ‘Morning Light’ and not ‘Morning Fight!’ It was master percussionist Des Morgan whose silky and sublime tinkling of his various percussive instruments signalled the beginning of Personal Life’s flagship anthemic tune. Nathan Allen on drums, Xantoné Blacq on keys and musical director and bass player Robert Strauss carried the groove superbly as vocalists Stuart Lisbie and Frida ‘Mariama’ Touray delivered the sensual lyrics majestically.

Robert Strauss – bass
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

It was great to hear this sublime tune in the live arena at last, performed with such feeling and professionalism. With the audience now fully immersed in the vibe, Stuart Lisbie introduced the next tune, ‘Rainy Day in London’ via a detailed monologue highlighting weather conditions that your average Londoner experiences on a regular basis. The tune itself is a stone cold funk Jam. Saxophonist Max Grunhard set the tone with his silky sax intro, which acted like a catalyst for the rest of the band.

Keyboard player Xantoné Blacq was given ample opportunity to express himself on the Fender Rhodes, jumping up and down on his stool like a ‘Jack in a Box’. As the tune evolved it morphed into an all-out gospel/funk bumper, especially when Mr Lisbie brandished a tambourine and went to church as the tempo increased ten-fold. Band leader Robert Strauss got his groove on laying down some raw and energetic bass lines, before dropping to his knees to round out the tune.

Xantoné Blacq -keys
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Robert Strauss – bass

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

With the band now in cruise control, the ultra-smooth, semi-a cappella intro of, ‘I Remember’ enabled vocalists Stuart Lisbie and Mariama to project their strong, powerful and emotive voices to the maximum, supported solely by Mr Blacq’s subtle keyboard playing. After a few minutes the sax, percussion and drum and bass all kicked in to maximum effect, giving the tune Personal Life’s trademark throwback sound.

Prior to Mr Lisbie counting the band in on the next tune, ‘It Is What It Is,’ Robert Strauss approached the Mic to give a formal introduction to the song. “Okay, so some of these songs are based on true stories. Sometimes things happen in life that we don’t pursue; and this song has a special place in our hearts i.e the bands, because it foreshadows an event that came to pass… It’s a true story, so we’ll see what happens. ” Front-man Lisbie then added, “This is real!” Soon after he was leading his cohorts through the emotive and reflective lyrics of ‘It Is What It Is’. The smooth refrain and sway of the tune captured the essence of the lyrics perfectly.

Stuart Lisbie – lead vocals
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Mariama – vocals
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The penultimate song of the evening was the foot-stomping, call and response feel good vibe of ‘There’s a Time for Everything’. All those present couldn’t help but nod, sway or bounce involuntary as the groove took a hold. Once again, the drum, bass, percussion and keys, intertwined with the energetic outpourings of our two esteemed vocalists, elevating this instantly agreeable song to another stratosphere; with Max on sax interjecting when necessary , adding the required musical garnish to this very palatable musical offering.

Having got the audience to repeat the title of the tune to him numerous times, Stuart Lisbie then signalled a change in tempo as he laid down some serious ragga-man toasting! Beenie-man and co would have been proud. The crowd lapped it up as pure reggae one – drop vibes filled auditorium.

Stuart Lisbie – Lead Vocals
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Robert Strauss – bass
Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

An uplifting evening of classic Soul, Funk and Jazz was fittingly rounded off by the Bobby Caldwell classic, ‘What You Won’t Do for Love,’ infused once again with a Reggae-fied lilt and with smooth aplomb as one would expect from such quality musicians and vocalist. Nathan Allen on drums kept a tight metronomic Reggae beat throughout, whilst Max Grunhard’s warm and inviting sax tones delivered that internationally recognised refrain, which complemented Stuart Lizbie’s singing and subsequent toasting perfectly.

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Opportunities to witness old school live performances performed with such power, purity, presence and passion are few and far between. ‘Personal Life’ has made it their personal mission to endeavour that we never forget those good grooves, lyrics and quality musicianship of yesteryear. ‘Personal Life’ is the ‘real deal’, so make sure you catch them live, should they ever come to spread the love in your town, city, village,neighbouhood or hamlet.

Michael J Edwards

Essential Album:
Morning Light (CD 2013)

Essential Website:

Personal Life band members:
Robert Strauss – Musical Director/Producer/Arranger/Song-writer/Bass Player
Stuart Lisbie – Vocalist/Lyricist
Xantoné Blacq – Fender Rhodes
Nathan Allen – Drums
Max Grunhard – Sax
Scott Bayliss – trumpet & flugelhorn
Frida Mariama Touray – Additional Vocals
Des Morgan – Percussion