"[The new album is] heavier. Much bigger sound, more representative of our live sound. It was mostly recorded at Abbey Road Studios."
It's always a success story when refugees end up creating music and becoming known both nationally and internationally, these are people who have stories to tell and they might not always be positive (think Somali-Canadian hip-hop artist K'naan who speaks out at the violence in Somalia [song: Soobax]), but when they are you have bands like The Scorpios spearheading it. The Sudanese-British formation have been grafting hard at their second album which is to see light sometime this year, Autumn time is the aim. With the lockdown we're in, they have been using this time to draft up ideas and form (so far) half of their 3rd album... Global Mainstream Arts decided to interview them about their past, their opinions on Heavy Metal and their future plans.
Adam Bulewski was happy to talk to us on behalf of the band.
For those who have not heard of The Scorpios, could you give us a brief history of the band? What does the band name mean?
"The band consists of five Sudanese musicians who have played around the Horn of Africa as well as Arab states. The main singer Regia Ishag comes from a musical family which includes such greats as the guitarist from the 70's Sudanese band The Scorpions. The other four members have been playing in traditional settings for many years, such as weddings and religious festivals. They left Sudan in the 80's when the situation became very bad, so when they initially came to the UK they were refugees. The music they are influenced by is old traditional songs, 60's songs and 70's pop songs, which had reggae, funk and soul as well as Latin leanings. The UK guitarist Adam Bulewski got to meet some musicians via some community work he was doing in London with the local Sudanese community and began recording sessions.
It was a musical project to reduce stigma around mental health. One of the percussionists became a very good friend and through him he managed to assemble the beginnings of the Scorpios. At present the Sudanese members are supported by an international backing band of guys from Jamaica, Poland, Japan and the UK. The music was put on YouTube and picked by Fredrik Lavik, label owner of Afro7 records ,who asked the Scorpios to do a whole album. So they did. It was recorded in a deliberately rough and raw manner, very live. So much so that some people thought they were original recordings from tape from the 60s. The Scorpios relates to Scorpions in the desert and also the star sign Scorpio.
Now half of the band originated from the Sudan, can you tell us what it was like growing up there and when was your first taste of music and rock music?
"In the 60's and 70's a lot of music came to Sudan via the West. Funk, reggae, psychedelic rock. I suppose key rock outfits would have been Hendrix and Santana. This was mixed with traditional forms and out of all the Horn of Africa countries Sudan has always been the most open to the influences. But most of the Sudanese members would have grown up with traditional songs about love, war and religion."
What are your perceptions of Heavy Metal music?
"It's heavy stuff. Some of the band members are into it but more older stuff like Black Sabbath. Sabbath has a lot of groove in there especially as the drummer and bassist came form a jazz background which we can relate to. But some members of the band find it too much!"
What were the challenges (if any) you faced when you moved to London? Surely you must be happy to see how vibrant the music and cultural scenes are?
"Being refugees it was getting work, somewhere to live etc. Sudan has a very strong relationship with the UK and the Sudanese members of the band find it very easy to love in the UK."
How is the new album coming along? What is different with the new one compared to your previous album?
"It's heavier. Much bigger sound, more representative of our live sound. But still has the moisture of big funk / groove tunes mixed with a couple of sparse traditional songs. It was mostly recorded at Abbey Road Studios."
What traditional instruments do you use and can you tell us what sort of sound they produce? Are they easy to play?
"We use traditional darbukas but also specific bongo / tabklas hybrids which are home-made in Sudan. They consist of three rather than two drums joined together."
What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and into early 2021?; what plans were cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19?
"We have nearly finished the second album which should be released in Autumn this year. given the COVID-19 situation, with the time we have it has already given us ideas for half of the third album which we will probably record at the end of this year or early next year."
Do you have any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans etc?
"Yes. These are trying times but music and art can lift you up and keep you strong."
"[Frank on the lockdown] A lot of my friends are all kind of saying 'man the very first thing I'm going to do is go to a gig once I'm allowed'"
Some of you may know Frank Turner from his time as vocalist of the Post-Hardcore group Million Dead, for those who don't, Frank Turner is an accomplished singer-songwriter whose music spans across a plethora of music genres but mostly is rooted within the Punk Rock, Folk and Country music genres. He is complemented by his touring family known affectionately as The Sleeping Souls - Ben Lloyd (guitar, mandolin), Tarrant Anderson (bass), Matt Nasir (piano, mandolin) and Nigel Powell (drums). Just last year, Frank Turner released his 8th studio album "No Man's Land" and two weeks ago released his 3rd live album "Live In Newcastle"; released earlier than planned due to COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown.
We spoke to Frank about his latest release, his lockdown experience and guitar building expedition, his passion for Heavy Metal and astonishment at the Syrian Metal band Maysaloon, his beloved and devoted support of independent venues and what tips he can give to musicians or bands looking to make it in the music industry.
As the UK is in lockdown musicians have been streaming performances, you played a benefit gig in aid of supporting the Huddersfield venue The Parish, can you tell us more about that?
"So basically I came home from a tour after playing around the UK; I was on the road when the lockdown kicked in, which sucked as cancelling shows is never a nice thing. So I came home and did a benefit for my touring family; my crew, my band who you know were looking at real financial hardships. It went really well and it was really easy to do, afterwards I was thinking about what else I could do that might be helpful.
So I thought about doing shows for independent venues because I've done lots of work with music venues over many wee places like that over the years; helping out indie venues and they really need help right now. I feel very strongly that I owe these places my depth in gratitude for helping my career, so I started doing them 7 weeks ago and haven't stopped yet because they've been going well."
Speaking of which it's not just COVID-19 impacting venues, but rents, noise complaints etc forcing some to close, so it's now than ever more important to back venues.
"Yeah definitely, I mean I think the fact that organisations like the Music Venue Trust existed before the lockdown goes to show that this is not the only problem facing venues, it's not all about us to run an indie venue and it's not certainly how anyone is going to become a millionaire. I think we have to be careful about talking about positives in regards to coming out of this as people are suffering and dying, you have to recognise that. Nether the less I think one of the potential positive angles about everything that's happening right now is that people really are starting to appreciate how much they miss live music and what it is that live music brings into their lives.
I miss gigs enormously but that's partly because of what I do for a living, but I think a lot of people who I speak to, a lot of my friends are all kind of saying 'man the very first thing I'm going to do is go to a gig once I'm allowed'."
Of course it's not just musicians, but the whole music industry is suffering due to COVID-19, in your opinion where do we go from this?
"Well I mean that's the million dollar question and if I had a short answer to that, I'd place some bets and make a lot of money (laughs). I think the thing is no one knows what's going to happen and at the end of the day I do sort of broadly accept the reasons for us having this lockdown and the medical side, that kind of thing. I'm not like sitting there saying 'there's no such thing as coronavirus, or anything like that', this is a real problem that we all have to deal with. It is a shame given that my career of 20 years has been based around travel and gathering people together and those two things seem to be a bad idea right now.
It's difficult and I suspect that live music is going to be one of the last things that will return to normality; if it ever does return to normality, but honestly I don't know but again I feel like that there's a lot of kind of positive energy right now in the industry. Even from some of the major labels, some of the major corporate promoters, people like that, there has been a sense of 'not being assholes' kind of moment, trying to pull together and trying to sort of maintain the structures that we built throughout all of this; which I think has been interesting and kind of heartening."
During the lockdown musicians have been looking at ways to keep engaged with music, but what other things have you been engaged with?
"Well the first thing this isn't strictly outside of music but it's outside of my usual thing, I've bought a kit off the internet to build a guitar, right, because I thought that would keep me busy. If I'm honest with you (because I thought it wouldn't be that hard), it turns out I'm an asshole and it's really hard and it's going to take me ages. I am working through it, but I was thinking that it might take me a couple of weeks but now it's going to take me f**king months. But you know it turns out that lockdown is going to last for f**king months as well so (laughs) I've got the time.
Other than that I read a lot, generally speaking I've been getting through books which I've been shying away from reading over the years. I'm fortunate enough to have a little root garden so I've made sure I've been doing a bit of gardening as well."
I suppose in a way building a guitar would be similar to the Airfix models you used to get?
"Well I think that was roughly the way I was thinking, that it was going to be something along those lines. But like I said, it turns out you've got to sand, cure, grain and all this kind of stuff. So I'm definitely learning new skills, but it's a lot of work."
Speaking of skills that you learn, what advice could you give to musicians and bands who are just starting out?
"Well I mean it's a difficult time to start right now in terms of the lockdown. Having said that one of the good things the internet has brought to us over the last decade or more is that it puts the power in the hands of the bands much more than it used to be. Much more than when I was starting out in bands when I was a kid, you can make your own luck, it is easier now to record good quality music at home, get it up on streaming services, do live stream shows you can do all of this and make noise.
Beyond that, this is going to make me sound a little old-fashioned so forgive me for that, but there is a large part of me that believes that quality will out, the fact that you can do that if you want to be in a band, make waves and be successful is to be f**king excellent and to be unique, to be different and make a noise that no one else is making - to do it in a way that is original. If you do that then people will find you and will pay attention."
Now you yourself are a Heavy Metal fan correct? Are you surprised about seeing bands emerge from countries like Nepal, Botswana, etc?
"That is correct yes I mean my first love was Iron Maiden.
No not really I think that one of the things that metal has always been is like kind of outsider's music and is kind of fashion-resistant. Part of the things that attracted me to it when I was a kid was the sense of defiance almost, it's like yes I'm a metalhead... f**k everyone (laughs) and obviously people from other parts of the world are opening up, for example a Syrian Metal band (Maysaloon)... I cannot imagine what it's like to play music of any kind let alone metal in Syria, you know hats off to them for it.
It seems to me that metal's attraction is again down to that sense of defiance, that sense of identity against the grain and so on that level no it doesn't surprise me too much."
With that and the whole global pandemic in mind, it makes the love and sharing of music more important than ever.
"Yeah definitely I feel like people are starting to kind of like appreciate it more, now on the level of gigs I was chatting to a friend of mine the other day and he said that 'a couple of weeks before the lockdown kicked in, someone invited him to go to a gig and he didn't go because he said he was tired from working and couldn't be asked, and he said right now I will literally go and see any band, any f**king band', he was like dying for it. But I think that people are getting a sense of appreciation."
Musicians have all kinds of influences from in and outside of music, what influences do you take in creating your music?
"It's mostly purely music, the external thing for me would be that i read quite a lot of poetry and I emphatically believe that lyric writing and poetry are two separate things; they're not the same thing. I'm slightly scared of poetry writing, in the sense that you don't have the structure of the music to back it up... how the f**k do you do that?
A lot of the influences on my work come from other lyricists, whether it's John K Sampson, Nick Cave, Adam Duritz or whomever, but mostly within that I try to be as broad as I can; I always have my go tos from Hardcore music, Country and Folk music, those are my two kind of main repertoires of inspiration shall we say. I like to try new things, I try to challenge myself particularly as I go through my career and I do album after album; trying not to repeat myself, but for example when I did "Be More Kind" I went through a big phase of listening to Afrobeat and Ska stuff, not because I was trying to make an Afrobeat record but more so trying to push myself outwards in my sound."
You released your 'Live In Newcastle' album on 24th April, what was the reception like?
"Yeah It's been great and it was entirely different approach to a show, we were trying to do something different, it was a secret show which was weird and new for us. Me and my family usually have a more of a Punk Rock approach to a show, but now suddenly it was a sit-down show and with this it is something we've never done before; it was kind of a one-off, this isn't now how I am going to tour forever, it was just an experiment and that's why we captured and recorded the tour.
We practised and recorded it and I think the plan was to put it out at the end of this year, maybe at the start of 2021... but then the pandemic set it and so we thought f**k it why not get it out there. The one thing I'd have to say about that though, is that there is a level of which I quote 'mixing the record and then like releasing it', it's ever so slightly emotionally mixed where it leads to a point where you suddenly go 'I remember gigs, like gigs were great'. It's lovely to hear a room full of people enjoying the show and at the same time it reminds you that you're currently not doing that."
Have you got any greetings or thanks you wish to send out to friends, family, fans, etc?
"I'd like to say thank you to everyone who's been tuning in for the live streams, we've been raising serious amounts of money every week for independent venues that I love. I know I'm the one sitting there playing the guitar, but it's the people who are tuning in, making the donations which is an incredible thing - to see people rising up week after week making donations to a cause like that'; I'm incredible blown away and grateful for it so big up for everyone who contributed to the live shows."
"Live In Newcastle" is out now via Xtra Mile Recordings / Polydor Records
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