A Funk Infestation
Gwdihw is known for the eclectic variety of up-and-coming bands that it hosts almost nightly. Last month was no exception as the venue celebrated it’s ninth anniversary in colourful style, with a combination of birthday cake, funk, and late-night DJs. The event was headlined by Bristol-based band The Inexplicables, featuring guitar, bass, vocals, tenor saxophone, and a human beatbox. Local funk group Ramnastax were billed as the support and played a tight set of upbeat originals.
Ramnastax played a particularly rousing set. The band is comprised of students from RWCMD who are currently enrolled on the jazz course: Norman Willmore on keys, Dave Bush on tenor saxophone, Alex Lockheart on guitar, Ben Manning on bass, and Alex Burch on drums, with a brief appearance on cowbell from fellow student Michael Blanchfield. The group have recently released a debut EP on Bandcamp, from which they played a couple of tunes such as the funk-infested ‘Mrs Doubtfire’, complete with fast-paced riffs and drum beats. A particularly stand-out tune was a bluesy, hip hop number led by Lockheart, which grew in intensity as he looped and embellished upon the same melodic lick for ten minutes straight. The Ramnastax sound can be likened to a mixture of Braxton Cook, Vulfpeck, and Butcher Brown, with their own unique twist.
A band to watch out for, they will hopefully be performing more gigs around Cardiff in the near-future. Below is a quick-fire Q&A that I had with Norman before the soundcheck.
Echo How do you compose for the band?
Norman When we compose tunes, someone brings in a riff and we play around and groove on it. We all have different ideas, like “it should go half-time after this bit”, “Alex, you come up with some chords”, or whatever... In the past it was mainly me, but now definitely everyone’s got quite a lot of input into what’s going on.
E What’s the origin behind the name?
N Well, the Ramna Stacks are a group of rocks in Shetland, which is where I’m from. I’ve never seen them before myself, but I saw them on a map when I was sixteen or something, and I always thought it would be a really cool band name.
E Would you call yourselves a jazz band?
N No, I wouldn’t. I would just say it’s like music for dancing to or something like that. I mean, there is improvisation in it and there is quite a lot of freedom, so in that way it is quite jazzy. But it doesn’t follow form in the same way jazz does. And jazz is much more for listening to, whereas we’re more focused on you being able to dance all night.
E You study saxophone but you’re on keys in this band. How come?
N I don’t know. I’ve always played the piano. And the only thing I can do on the piano is play little funky things. I think some of us were just jamming, and I happened to be playing the keyboard, and then we just stuck with it. Sometimes I do think I would love to play sax on some of the tunes. But I don’t know, it’s really fun playing a different instrument.
E Would you ever add another instrument, or a singer even?
N I think it should be instrumental because there aren’t really that many other totally instrumental bands playing the kind of music that we play. Quite a lot of them get featured singers for different tracks and that sort of thing. So I guess in that way it’s kind of a niche. Also, it’s just about us being friends. So unless it was someone we knew…
E As a student of jazz, do you think there’s pressure to stick to the tradition?
N I don’t think there’s a pressure, I think it’s just something you should want to do. If you play jazz, then part of that is respecting the tradition, for me anyway.
E Did studying music seem like an obvious choice for you?
N Yeah definitely. When I was at school, towards the end, I was pretty much playing in bands every weekend. There was group of friends back home, and we all played jazz together. We all wanted to go study jazz in the same college, but then we all ended up going to different colleges. But yeah, I’ve never had a back up plan, basically.
E Do you have any plans for band for after you graduate?
N Yeah, I definitely want to keep going after we graduate. I want to get more and more gigs whilst we’re still here, use the facilities that we have at college and absolutely rinse them for what they’re worth. Get some videos and more recordings together. Yeah, I mean I could see us being a gigging band. I would be really happy if that happened.
ECHO | Gail Tasker