LIVE: The Headhunters
@ Band on the Wall
WORDS BY RUSSELL HOPE
Only should the word ‘legend’ be used when absolutely necessary! For example, I knocked on my neighbour’s door yesterday to see if everything was alright after his wife had a baby a few days before and he said “All is good except the boilers packed in!”, a quick inspection showed that it was just the batteries for the thermostat. Fast forward 10 minutes… “You Legend!”. His house warmed up, I rolled my eyes and there’s another overused moment of ‘Legend’! The Headhunters, however, sit very comfortably on the pedestal of legendary musicians. Known for multi-instrumental wizardry and being the foundations to Herbie Hancock’s career. They’re in town and bringing the funk, jazz, percussion, and all-around magic.
Ably supporting tonight are, Porij, they’re from Manchester and well worth keeping an eye on, a young setup of 4, Bass, Guitar, vocals, drums and synths (some doubling up going on). “We’re so glad we’re doing this, this band are full of our favourite musicians…we’re so lucky”, a band at the start of the career being championed by the promoters of one coming towards (hopefully plenty of years left yet!) the end of theirs. They have a sound of Thundercat; funky, bass-driven jazz. Their last song ‘Sunshine Blinds me for a while’ comes out in January and it’s their first single… I asked if they had any copies! “We’re from Manchester, we love you guys”, they announce as they hug together at the end of the gig. Well done Porij! Onwards and upwards.
I often take notes on my phone ready to tell you good people all about the gig and tonight my battery nearly ran out shazaming the soundtrack between the bands, the DJ was firmly ‘on the pulse’, I bought Harvey Sutherland, Amethyst as soon as it was played, Piccadilly Records had it in stock so why not!
The Headhunters are: Mike Clark (Drums), Bill Summers (percussion), Big Chief aka Donald Harrison (Saxophone), and Jerry Z (Keys and Bass synth, at the same time!) “Don’t worry about those CDs”, Mike Clark takes the early role as spokesman for the band. Gently pushing, the merchandise in a tongue in cheek way, “These are a limited run… for Europe only… I’ve bought 10 myself, they’ll be worth a fortune!” Of course, we all know the first rule of gig club, and yes I bought the CD and Bill Summers signed it for me too.
After reminding the funk reveling audience of the merch available Mike pops off a few taps on the drums, then stands up and goes to walk away from the drums, “Hope you enjoyed the show!” These guys are funny and full of life on the road, Big Chief has a constant smile on his face and Bill Summers, firmly behind the Congos is Mike’s best audience… I guess if you’re this level of legendary status you can get away with any banter and enjoy it as you go! “It’s freezing”, says Bill, “Welcome to Manchester” shouts out one of the audience.
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Big Chief is there for Sax freestyle Jazz, after each skit he walks to the side of the stage and takes to his seat, waiting for his colleagues to open up the next slot, mainly topping and tailing percussion and keys sections. The keys are immaculate, Jerry making the synths talk at some point, I turn to my mate, an accomplished musician and ask him “how is he doing that?”, with a puzzled look, he shrugs and continues to look in amazement. Bear in mind this musical genius in playing bass synth at the same time!
“Are we moving in the right direction?” Mike checks in with the audience. Of course, we are we’re all in on this. “This one’s called ‘Actual Proof'” says Bill, to a resounding “YES!” from one of the audience as if he’s won the jackpot in the lottery. Music, jazz, funk, and beats are everyone’s currency in Band On The Wall tonight and all the numbers have come up. “This next one is written for Sly Stone the famous funkster from San Fransisco”, this is a real journey through musical history, songs written for others and well-known tracks performed by The Headhunters themselves, including Herbie Hancock.
“Don’t forget about the CDs!” we’re constantly reminded to full amusement through the set by Mike Clark, it’s his punchline and it’s making him and Bill Summers constantly laugh. In between the humor and banter, we are treated to some of the best, if not the best percussionists and innovation in music I have ever seen. Bill Summers, teases in the audience with some African influenced ‘call and response’, “Oooooh my anatomy” is the mantra with his beat to the chest… and I’m conscious that is lost in translation in a blog and Bill seems pleased with the result, “we’re going on tour with that” and I’d like to dedicate that to that young person there. “These guys are our future!” he invites a group of youngsters up on stage (around 12-13 years of age), coupled with the championing of the support “And what about Porij?! Those guys are awesome!” Bill continues to applaud and goes straight into the next track.
Towards the end Big Chief jumps on the mike, leaving his saxophone to one side for some New Orleans vocals and it is spectacular! They are truly talented, expert musicians and in the introductions, by Mike Clark and Bill Summers (Original The Headhunters), we realise they also appreciate their individual capabilities “Jerry Z, 2 for 1 special bass and keyboard at the same time!” huge applause erupts and acknowledging each of the members. There is so much happening on stage, largely the variety of percussion from Bill Summers, ranging from playing beer bottle ‘flute’ to ‘African’ percussion and plenty of cowbells. It was mesmerising.