CM Let me tell you
I have been a huge fan of yourself and Incognito since 1981 when I went
out and bought your first album on vinyl and I have bought everything from
then until now…
B Oh, you’re old like me then (laughs)
CM Yes I’m a 50’s child and I’ve been a huge fan for all this time.
I’ve been listening to the new album like crazy and I want to congratulate
you on the success that I know you’ve had to date in Europe with “Tales
from the Beach” and I know that this gets a US release on, I think, the
24th of June.
B That’s right. Thank you very much for the kind words about it.
CM It’s fantastic! I’ve read comments that you’ve made about the
songwriting being some of the strongest you’ve ever done and I just can’t
stop playing the record. The lyrics come across maybe more strongly than
they have on any of the other albums. They’re instantly grabbing me and I
just can’t leave it alone. So, the first question I had about the album
itself was and the way it came to being was – I know that a lot of the
recording was done in Europe but the mixing, I think, was done over in
Indonesia. And I wondered how that came about. Was this by chance or was
it always planned that it would be that way?
B The album title “Tales from the Beach” tells you that I wanted to
be around the coastline for writing this so I went to Italy and wrote on
the coastline there and I was spending a lot of time in Indonesia – I’ve
made a lot of friends there.
And the people gravitate towards our sound, every band that plays in a
hotel or a club plays Incognito tunes. All the musicians, it’s almost like
a musical institution as well as a band that they like for songs and for
personal reasons. It seems to be almost like a musical college. You know,
people learn Incognito songs and then share the arrangements with friends.
So this really opened up a doorway to a nation that is really embracing
our music in such a positive way, that I made many journeys there and in
the end I suggested that they used my engineer who I’ve worked with for
about fifteen years to come there and show them how it’s all recorded. And
of course once he got there he didn’t want to come home again, so I had to
go to him to mix it…
CM Right. You just mentioned a number of trips that you’ve taken to
Indonesia. I happen to know that you’ve just completed your first date of
a four-month tour that I think started of in Réunion and this is going to
take you all the way to Shanghai at the end of September.
B Yeah, and now I’ve also just found out that we’re going to be in
Japan in December. So it’s going to be from China, stay out in Asia and
probably bring in the New Year in Japan.
CM Fantastic! Now, there was another comment that I read in the
last couple of days. Rather than touring being something that leaves you
and the band exhausted, it seems like it really is your inspiration…
B It is. I mean if you ask us five minutes after we come off a
flight, like the 11-hour flight from Réunion to Paris and Paris to London
it would probably be a bit of a dull answer that we give you but in truth,
when I look back at my life, this is the way it is… My joy of visiting
other countries is, in a way, my first love.
Music is something that that is really big in my life, everybody knows
that, but my first love was travelling. I saw the ships disappearing
whilst I was in the island of Mauritius at a very young age and that sense
of wonder that is in my music came about before I even played a note of
music. It came about from wondering where those ships were disappearing to
and listening to the stories told by all the sailors because I came from a
Sitting there as a kid and listening to the stories of the sailors in my
grandfather’s garden, because all my uncles were sailors, and hearing
tales of Europe and South America. Hearing these adventures which I wanted
to make. Music has been a way for me to have a similar lifestyle…
CM And you mentioned getting off the flight and that tired feeling
but it must be nice to have a core of people around you who you trust so
much and work with very extensively in some cases.
B It changes. We’ve had 1,500 if I count all the strings and
arrangers and people who have worked with us over the years. I count every
person who’s joined us on stage or contributed in any way as a band
member. And in a way, having thought of music in the sense of making music
with people, if somebody gets tired of the road or starts to feel dull
about playing live music, we can interchange with somebody else.
At the moment we have a new drummer who came and did his first gig in
Korea. He’s been with us for a week and by the time he did his second gig
in the Réunion Islands, people were going crazy because he’d lifted up the
band. People thought they were witnessing something quite incredible and
unique – something was taking place before their eyes and their ears were
telling then that this was something special – and it was to us too.
Now that’s the way I like to keep it really. That balances all the
tiredness of travelling. We’ve just come back today, I’m just about to
jump on a tour bus and go again. But by the time we all sit there and
watch videos and we get to sleep on the tour bus, it kind of balances out.
We’ve been on flights and everything and we were standing there in front
of waterfalls and diving in the water and swimming – we felt like we were
in the movie Nemo – just a few hours ago.
You’ve got to remember, we go on all these journeys but we get all this
love and affection – we’re treated as very special people because of this
gift of music that we have. We’re courted by politicians who want to come
along and align themselves to the band. We’re courted by people who have
tremendous assets and can make it possible for the band to return to these
We accept all this and we do our best to get to the people who don’t
usually get the opportunity to see this kind of music, you know. So we use
all the aspects of what’s available to us to make sure that the music goes
out to the people.
CM Yeah, I know because I have read a comment which stayed in my
mind about you feeling like less of an entertainer and more of a healer.
And I thought that was fantastic because that kind of vibe seems to be
returned to you and the band a lot from comments I read on the website all
B That’s where I realise it you see. I meet these people –
so-called “fans” who I’d like to call my friends. And basically these
people come to you and they let you know this. They’ll tell you things
like “your music was the soundtrack of my life while my brother was dying
of AIDS and he wanted me to be here today. I didn’t really know your band
until I was caring for my brother in the hospital and he made sure before
passing that I should come and meet you and I’m so glad that I have done”.
When you get things like that happen in your life – when a kid tells you
that you’ve actually been their direction, their inspiration, I feel the
same way as I felt when I was younger. I feel that people like Stevie
Wonder brought me a healing, brought me a teaching. Marvin Gaye brought me
a history lesson – I didn’t really know about the Vietnam war. Gil
Scott-Heron made me realise a bunch of things in life – he may be hurting
himself right now and hopefully his music and other people may be able to
It certainly did educate and heal me, so I feel the same way really.
CM So when you’re in front of some of these audiences, a lot of the
music’s very danceable but it’s much more than a party going on out there
B Well, I know the party’s important because I’m a clubber. I used
to spend the money that I earned cleaning toilets and working in factories
across the UK to go to Paradise Garage, to go and check out the vibes in
the clubs in New York, hear the DJ’s and hear the new records. Or I’d hang
out with people like Chris Hill and Froggy in the UK and see what was
going on, what was new on the scene…
So this kind of attraction towards the dance and at the same time this
attraction towards people that I have from being an island kid, it all
kind of works side by side and I think if I didn’t embrace all of that
fully I would be denying myself what I’ve been put on this planet for.
CM Well, the dance thing to me is very central and I and I don’t go
clubbing now but, basically, any time I go listening to new hi-fi I take
“Tribes” with me and if I’m not dancing in the shop I don’t buy the gear…
I’m returning to something I really wanted to ask you: one of the reasons
I use that CD and I play it a lot is for the great vocal performances out
of everyone who appears on the Incognito albums. I wonder how you do it –
is it just the singers that you work with or is there some freedom you
give them that makes them produce these performances?
B I think it’s a mixture of both really. I fell in love with vocal
performances from a young age. The music that I was exposed to, from Edith
Piaf when I was young, Jim Reeves and stuff, they weren’t really the area
where I would work but I was always attracted to how the voice sounded on
the record and how it connected. Watching my aunties listening to these
songs, feeling the emotion that they felt, I knew that it was what they
were singing but it was also partly tone.
The tones of the voices, the richness of it, the quality. You learn melody
at school, you learn songs but the difference between that and hearing a
great singer was obvious from an early age. The ones that could make the
listener connect. And it was something that could not be explained –
that’s what I like about it because no-one ever told me about the tone of
the vocalist. They just told me “this is the melody” or “this is the song,
listen to the lyrics” or “he’s a good singer” but they never told me why
he’s a good singer.
And sometimes people have different ideas about what a good and a bad
singer was. I knew, for me, the ones that had the tone to carry the
message with a certain “vibe”.
This is the area I work in – I’m not the best guitarist in the world, I’m
not the best arranger, the best producer. What I’m good at is bringing out
of people what already exist in themselves. Many of the artists that I
work with sometimes go on to make their own records but people say to me
how they sound really great with Incognito. I think that’s where I come
I think that I listen to it, think about it and I give them something
original and also when I’m writing for them, I think about their tone and
the timbre of their voice and how they convey the words sometimes. Not
just by looking at the notes that they’ve got to sing but the tones
they’ve got to sing with.
I think that a lot of producers don’t go to that extent with their singers
and I do. I obviously choose people who already have the tools. I’m not
the one making these singers – they already exist – but what I am part of
is to make sure that between me and them we create a performance.
CM It’s for sure that on “Tales from the Beach” the tracks which
have Maysa on lead vocal, they’re just perfect for her voice. There’s that
familiarity because we’ve heard her on the records before but new songs
that just fit so perfectly with, as you say, that timbre that she’s got.
B And also because, someone like Maysa, she’s in a world of smooth
jazz. It’s a different world so in a way I think Maysa’s excited when she
comes in to do an Incognito album because she’s getting something which
has got a rawness and an originality to it. It’s not that we’re scrapping
smooth jazz and going towards something more funky. It’s more to do with
the subject matter and the choice of chords that she’s singing over. It’s
all really important in bringing out what Maysa’s got.
CM Yeah, now something else I read, something I’ve thought about a
lot and I absolutely can’t define it. It’s this Incognito “sound” and
you’ve just said it would draw a singer like Maysa from the things she
On this CD, I think the Incognito “sound” which I recognise instantly is
as strong as on any of the CD’s that I’ve heard. I just wondered how since
1981 and that first album have you managed to consistently surround
yourself with all of these great musicians, singers and engineers…
B In a way people are attracted to something which allows them
space. I allow people space. I pick them because they’re good at what they
do and then I allow them the space to shine. You’d be surprised how many
people find great musicians and great engineers and then try to tell them
what to do all the time and try to put these limitations of their own.
They might be great at what they do but by the time it’s imposed on other
people it becomes like a barrier.
I thank that Incognito sound comes from the fact that I am allowing people
to come through from different backgrounds and different bands and people
who’ve had experiences in different musical worlds.
But I also know what I like, about my own creativity but also about my own
record collection. You know, there all kinds of things in my record
collection but I know which part of it comes out on an Incognito record.
It’s like my fetish. There are certain colours that belong to that sound,
that I like to use in the hue and the texture.
And without those colours I feel it’s incomplete. In a way, from what
you’re telling me about how you identify this album with the “Incognito
sound”, although it’s something fresh I’m not afraid to look at what we’ve
done and say I really like this African or Brazilian percussion thing
against this funk groove. I really like these accentuations of brass.
Sometimes I’ll get a great arranger and he’ll arrange some brass but it
will feel like someone’s come in with a fusion workout. And I’ll strip it
down and that’s where I’ll start singing the bassline or the brass line
and say “this is what I’m after”. And that’s the only time that I’ll guide
the musician because sometimes they can come in with things that are so
far beyond the framework.
The framework is really important – keeping its identity. Artists without
their identity feel like lost souls to me.
CM Well, this album certainly doesn’t feel like that. To a very
great extent it feels like coming home. And I know the African feel that
maybe I’m thinking of is the one that’s on “Freedom to Love”. I’m
embarrassed to say the number of times I’ve played that song (Bluey
laughs). It’s the only one where I can pick the bass up and play the line
B Oh great! Francis will be happy – I actually wrote that with the
CM It’s fantastic – it has that African ‘bounce’ to it, and I love
that. What I also love, and you’ve captured it again – would you
understand what I mean if I said the album still has a warm, analogue
B Oh yeah definitely, because although we’re working very much in a
digital domain - we’re recording live musicians sometimes direct to hard
drives – as long as it sounds good to the ear… My ‘bible’ that I read to
get the essence of my music over is Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions”,
“Fulfillingness First Finale”, “What’s Going On” Marvin Gaye.
I don’t know if I’ll ever attain anything near that height but that’s my
labour of love, you know. It’s trying to make the music feel warm but yet
exciting. Making the digital aspect transparent so you listen and you know
we’ve used this and that but it can stand the test of time. And for those
that don’t even ask those questions, I’d like to think that they’re
thinking “I’ve got a record that I’ll be playing 10, 20, 30 years from
CM Definitely, because I’m still playing “Jazz Funk” now probably
as much as I did when I first had it and now I’ve got it on CD of course,
I can play it as often as I like – it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter…
Now I know that we’re probably coming close to our time, but as part of
the research that I was doing over the last couple of days, I had not
known before about the record that you did with Tony Rémy called “First
I know that Tony has worked with Incognito before but how did that
collaboration come about?
B Just two guitarists going in for a couple of weeks and putting
some stuff down on dead studio time really. There’s nothing calculated
about that: we didn’t want to make a record that was too obvious – we
wanted to try and experiment and go more toward the dance side.
They don’t use guitars much in the dance world – it’s mainly keyboards and
stuff so we wanted to stay away from the horns except for a couple of
tracks and make the statement more from a live, but dance, direction.
So we got in The Bays to start with, who make live music in clubs but they
don’t even release records. They play the extremes of grooves and pulses.
That’s how we formed the basis of about four or five tracks on there, with
the Bays and Andy Gangadeen on drums and although it sounds like
programming, it’s not – it’s all live.
CM I haven’t heard Andy’s name for years – a lot of years.
B Yeah, he’s out there doing wonderful things.
B They’re pushing the boundaries with The Bays, because they’re
doing stuff with live orchestras now. They perform and it’s all written
whilst they’re playing. They use these various new tools that enable them
to be out there live and write the score while the performance is going
I love them for that and now and again I join them as a guitarist and it’s
really a joyful thing for me to do.
CM I’ve got just two questions Bluey to finish off and the first
one’s incredibly selfish, but I’m gonna ask it anyway.
I know that you’ve been invited, virtually begged by email, to go to
certain countries. I know that you’re planning to go to Chile soon and one
or two countries you’ve not been to before. Will the people in Manchester
ever get a chance to see you play in their home town?
B (laughing) If it was up to me, I’d probably be up in Manchester
every weekend playing music. I actually love it. Some promoters won’t take
a chance. It’s financially easier to travel to the Réunion Islands or
China and do a gig than it is to play in Manchester.
It’s very strange. We don’t have a major record company and it’s going to
cost us a bit because we’re taking a 10-piece band and crew up there and I
don’t want to take a 6-piece because I want people to ‘get’ what I’ve been
trying to do for 30 years. I think it will happen this year though.
We have some friends on our website who are planning to organise gigs
themselves. Brighton is going to be a huge night for us and it’s actually
an Incognito fan that’s putting it on. Newcastle’s going to be the same.
CM That’s a festival isn’t it?
B Yeah, and it’s people who love Incognito that’s making it happen.
It’s a labour of love for some of these people, putting this on. I’m only
a small part of something that’s delivering songs with incredible
intensity and feeling. That doesn’t exist much: there’s a lot of
over-singing, over-produced stuff going on. I think people would really
enjoy us if we came up there.
CM My last question Bluey: whether there is an artist or a band
that you haven’t worked with yet but that you would love to produce.
B The list is almost endless – it gets bigger every week. In Japan
I’d like to work with this band called Soil and “Pimp” Sessions. In Italy
there are countless singers and musicians that I’ve come across because we
have a really good following there and there’s an affinity with the music
but there’s one person who’s made, for me, great modern music. The album
“Voodoo” that he made was one of the great examples of music and lyrics
and it would be my desert island disc for sure. That’s D’Angelo. I have
remixed a track for him but I’d love to work with him – sit in a room and
work with him.
CM Bluey, it’s been an absolute pleasure. On behalf of the visitors
to our website, I’d like to wish you great success with this album and
with the tour – health and strength to the whole band and every success
with all your future ventures.
B Thank you.