Screamin’ Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya’ Mama Big Band
By Walter Price
The sense of family that the good ole string band has provided is almost as old as the hills from which they originated. Store bought or handcrafted instruments, never you mind, start a fire break out the jugs of wine or fine homemade whiskey and let the fellowship last well into the morning.
Bristol, England’s Screamin’ Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya’ Mama Big Band are as mischievous as they are a good-hearted collection of players utilizing their love for tradition and having a blast congregating and sharing what they love, down to basics music.
The band is April Jackson (Screamin’ Miss), Mark “Howlin’ Lord” Legassick, Marc ‘MR’ Griffiths, Miss Becca Philip, Henry Slim, Rory Smith. Robert Alexander III and they do a real fine job of reworking fair portions of deep rooted hillbilly sounds and tastes of Jazz and rag; evident in the voice of Screamin’ Miss Jackson herself. Jackson has no problem blurring the vocal prowess of names like Anita Carter and Lil Hadin. Strong, not over powering, fun and humble she will draw you in with that vocal delivery of hers.
The band, all of whom are careful not to try to be the star of the show, fill out the rich excitement and airy sound that brings one to want to gather in that living room or build a party around a fire-pit and play, dance and drink the night away.
From my vantage point, there is nothing forced, weird, too hipsterish or convoluted about Screamin’ Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya’ Mama Big Band, they’re just a band, a family doing what they do and that, is cool.
In anticipation of where they will take this collective, I caught up with the band’s Marc Griffiths….
First, thanks for going old school with your sounds. How did this revivalist band come to be?
No problem Walter, I suppose you could call our sound revivalist although I am not sure we see it quite like that, we don’t like to do carbon copies of songs like some others in our niche. I think we all have a shared love for this type of music and although we all come at it from slightly different angles we mush it all up together to make it a sound we think works.
As to how it all started, April and I (Washboard & banjo) went to Mardi Gras 2013 in New Orleans and got to see all the fantastic street bands like Tuba Skinny and Smoking Time Jazz Band, and when we got back we formed Jackson & Griffiths as a duo to try and approximate that New Orleans Sound. This morphed quickly into Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the Slap Ya Mama Big Band, adding Mark Legassick (of Howlin’ Lord fame) on Mandolin and Rory Smith and Robert Alexander III (from Poor Old Dogs) on Double Bass and Drums respectively. Henry Slim was found at an Open Mic blowing his Harmonica and joined next and finally Becca Phillip (guitar and vocals) joined for a jam one day and was asked by three members of the band to join, each asked her individually and without asking anyone else, because they knew straight away how well she fitted in with the rest of the gang.
Most people would agree the music you guys play is extremely reminiscent of American hillbilly, bluegrass and folk. But actually, those sorts of musical styles can find their roots in and around the UK…which version of the genre do you prefer?
We think if you asked each of us we would have a different answer for you! We do have a feel to what we do that people can relate to, it has a thread running from this side of the Atlantic to America and back over this side of the pond once again, however we all like those styles of music because they do reach back further than last week, and are rooted in something more substantial than a lot of other music. We dont think you can tie us into a genre; we actually describe ourselves differently every time! If you wanted to pin us down we are probably Hokum Jug Band blues with a dash of Jazz and Old time Country thrown in!
Recording-wise, what do you guys have planned? Do you plan to continue more on recording standards/classics or work more originals?
As far as recording goes we have just released an EP of 5 of our favourite tunes, its available on the Little Paradise Label (www.littleparadiserecords.co.uk) and we will be releasing a Long Player early 2015. It will be a combination of Originals and found tunes. We are always on the hunt for forgotten tunes, and have a collective appetite for music hall sheet music and 78rpm records, so expect to hear plenty of tunes not heard by anyone still left alive!
What can you tell me about your label?
Ok, the sense of achievement from doing something yourself is addictive. We like doing everything ourselves. All the Bands on the label (Poor Old Dogs, Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the Slap Ya Mama Big Band, Howlin’ Lord and Jim Evans) all record in our own studio, located above The Stag and Hounds in Bristol, UK, we all have an active part to play in the producing, promotion, distribution of our Music. We play festivals together, travel in the same bus to gigs, play in each other’s bands, most of us work together, some of us even live together. Paradise? Sure is.
In all seriousness, we needed to have control artistically and financially over our own destinies and having our own label to co-ordinate this endeavor through was the logical progression. We have had five releases so far with four more planned in the next 12 months including the debut LP’s from Poor Old Dogs and Screamin’ Miss Jackson and the Slap Ya Mama Big Band, Howlin’ Lord’s second Long Player, and hopefully a release from Becca Philip.
You recently got yourselves added to the Once Upon A Time In The West Fest., That sound like my sort of party. What can you tell me about it? Do you have other festivals lined up?
Once upon a Time in the West is gonna be great fun, its small, full of great likeminded bands and in a beautiful (if cider soaked) part of the UK. There is a great small festival scene over here; we are playing a few, Holifair in Cornwall, Funny as Folk in Lincolnshire as well as the larger ones like Glastonbury and Boomtown Fair. Small festivals have a different vibe but they are so much fun, we love them.
We have already done, Bearded Theory, Fire in the Mountain (a wonderful festival we sneaked on to via the back door) Grillstock and Glastonbury, and other than the one already mentioned, we are at Backyard Bash in Bristol, Sunshine in Newcastle and the Worcester Music Festival. They all have different vibes are all different sizes and all lots of fun.
What are five things the world should know about Screamin’ Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya’ Mama Big Band?
1: We are Lots of Fun
2: We like a drink/party
3: We love being friends more than anything
4: We don’t take anything too seriously not even music
5: We are here to stay
By the way, one of the better band names…what were your first choices before deciding on this attention getter?
We didn’t have any believe it or not, the Screamin’ Miss Jackson bit fits April perfectly and the Band name comes from the Louisiana spice we all love so well.
What else is in the musical cards (in the near future) for the band?
Well apart from recording the new album, we are putting together a Country Rock and Soul Revue show with Poor Old Dogs and Howlin Lord that we intend to tour around the whole of Europe next year taking in some festivals along the way. Its in the planning stage at the moment, its debut show will be in Bristol at the Backyard bash on August the 16th, we are looking forward to it loads.
Thanks for chatting with me. I think the sounds you’re putting out is the bees knees and hope to hear more soon!
Cheers Walter, Hope to see y’all soon.