As one half of Brum based duo Original Rockers (later Rockers Hi-Fi) Glyn ‘Bigga’ Bush created the 90s progressive-house-dub classic Push Push, put out four great albums, contributed a cut to Kruder & Dorfmeister’s era defining K&D Sessions, then he carved out an existence as a prolific maverick creator, mashing up batucada, latin, dancehall, hip hop and afrobeat grooves and making excursions into experimental sound collage. More recently he joined the ranks of 1BTN DJs.
Brighton label Tru-Thoughts has reissued two albums recorded under his Lightning Head alias, with the LP Biggabush in Dub forthcoming, and that prompted Ian Lawton to interrogate the mild mannered studio wizard about 25 plus years of music making.
Hello! How are you?
All good, how about you?
Fine thanks! Are you in Dorset?
Yeah, near Dorchester. You?
Well, I’m just visiting my mum in the Midlands at the moment near Coventry, Nuneaton.
I’m from Northampton so I vaguely know that area.
Yeah, it’s probably equally unromantic.
Places you have to get out of as soon as possible!
I was going to ask you if you had anything to do with Alan Moore but in the course of my research I discovered he was on one of your records so maybe I’ll ask you about that later?
What have you been up to in lockdown?
To be honest, I quite like it! Because I can spend more time in the studio. To earn money, I teach kids guitar so I generally travel around schools a couple of mornings a week so I’ve just been doing that on Zoom. In that sense, I’ve been concentrating quite a lot on music, recently I’ve been obviously doing the shows for 1BTN and I’ve just done a mix for…do you know the Mostly Jazz festival?
No, where’s that?
In Moseley in Birmingham
Ah, I thought you said Mostly Jazz.
It is, they call it Mostly Jazz. It’s a typical brummie play on words actually. They asked me to do a set, so I spent the last couple of days putting that together and filming myself doing the set and adding some visuals. That’s coming out tomorrow, there’s a whole day of music on their website, which will be cool. Just been doing a few bits, like remixes, I’ve just done a remix for Coldcut, they got this new project called Keleketla!, they had Tony Allen playing on it. It’s a bit of an Afrobeat sort of vibe so I did a mix for them and different remixes for the Tru-Thoughts label.
How long ago did you leave Brum?
Yeah, a long time!
Have you been in Dorset since then?
Yeah, basically I was doing Rockers Hi-Fi throughout the 90s really, but my wife’s from this area and we got small children and we just decided to move to the country because we wanted to get out of the city. But first two years I carried on commuting to Birmingham and still working and I finally made the full move myself in ’98 and the band sort of limped along until about 2000. Then I’d had enough of it really.
One reason for doing this interview is to talk about the Tru-Thoughts re-issue of 13 Faces of Lightning Head. They put out the other album as well, didn’t they?
Yeah, Studio Don that was a month or so ago.
I discovered that there is bit of a Brighton connection, I read that you were inspired to start that project after visiting Miles Cleret (Soundway) in Brighton, is that right?
Yeah, that’s how it all started really. I hadn’t really listened to much African music, in the 80s I used to go to Womad and I used to see people like King Sunny Adé and the Bhundu Boys and what was then called world music, in those days you know? A few different types of African music but I’d never heard any west African funk or any kind of James Brown influenced music and had never even really checked out Fela Kuti at that point, which is criminal but sometimes it just takes a while to come to these things.
Yeah. What year was that then?
The first sort of proper Afro influenced thing I did was in 2000 or 2001, which is when I did a track with some Tony Allen beats. We did this compilation which was called The Allenko Brotherhood Ensemble from a French label called Comet and they just sent out his rhythms on CDs to a bunch of different people.
Was the Nu Guinea Afrobeat Makers thing an extension of the same of project?
I don’t know. Kirk Degiorgio did one and loads of people did them. There was a really nice mix called The Drum, it was one of the West London broken beats guys IG Culture or someone like that (It was – Ed). But at that point, I made a track which I thought sounded like Fela Kuti’s band might sound without ever having properly checked them out. I just thought there’s gonna be big horns, I actually put more of a highlife bassline into it, so it was just kind of what my imagined version of Afrobeat sounded like. Then in the mid 90s actually I’d heard The Daktaris, do you know them?
You know Antibalas?
So basically, it’s them under false names pretending to be an African band doing an Afrobeat album, and that was what really started to get me interested in Afrobeat and I never really checked it out properly until after I met Miles and that would have been… Studio Don was in 2002, so something like that.
He was well ahead of the curve, there’s since been loads of crate digging of particularly Nigerian, obscure afro-funk records.
The other big record for me was, there’s a guy called Duncan Brooker he did the same thing as Miles Cleret but before him and did an album called I think Afro Rock. Some of the tracks are on all the afro compilations like K Frimpong (Kyenkyen Bi Adi M’Awu), just brilliant tracks. That’s one that really turned my head.
So, as that Lightning Head went on you’ve involved more live instrumentation, right? Some of the tracks on 13 Faces, sound like it’s nearly all live instrumentation.
Most of the music I’ve made since Rockers Hi Fi I’ve tried to make sound like a band, that’s my musical destination unless I’m making some sort of electro type track, but actually only the horns and the guitars were live. The beats, the percussion and the keyboards were just programmed.
You’re just good at making it sound live!
That’s my quest, to make people think that it’s live! I mean I would love to do that stuff live. Actually during lockdown I’ve been using an app called Acapella
Lots of musicians have been getting into that.
It’s brilliant! I got my mate in Belfast putting the drum beats down, I’ve got my mate in Hereford doing the bass, various horn players, I got one in Edinburgh, they’re just dotted around the country. We’re actually putting together a track from 13 Faces at the moment that’s called Sousaphunk. It’s a lot easier than rehearsing a band and hiring a studio.
Will there be a split screen video to accompany it!?
Yeah, you just have to choose how many people are in the video and it creates that number of boxes.
So, I’m gonna try to use some of this interview in my radio show as well as writing it up for the website so I’m gonna play a few of the tracks. One of the tracks I was gonna play was The NPG, could you tell us something about that?
The NPG stands for the Nigerian Police Groove and I think it (Nigeria Police Band’s Asiko Mi Ni) was possibly the first track that Miles played when we got back to his house, having had several pints and a strong spliff! This was my gateway drug into Afrobeat. In those days, you’d actually have a band of policemen, musicians who were policemen, and their job was to play really cool music, so they were making records and just laying down these incredible grooves. I remember it having a bassline which is a bit like Dave and Ansell Collins. Is it Monkey Spanner? Or Double Barrel? One of those reggae 7-inches, all time classics, but it had that combined with this amazing beat and this really scratchy guitar and horns. The NPG was my way to kind of recreate what I heard in my head in that moment.
So, a tribute to the Nigerian Police Band?
They’re on some Soundway comps, aren’t they?
That track ended up on the Nigerian funk …
Yeah one of those, I think it’s called Asiko Mi Ni.
The 4 tracks at the beginning they came out on an EP initially, right?
Just the first two and then there was another two on a 45 7-inch.
Rascal Republic, what can you tell me about that one?
I did a DJ-set in Belfast at some point during the creation period of this album and there was an MC called Lariman, a Nigerian guy, and I really liked his voice and his style, he was just chatting while I was playing records and I asked him to do a track on the album. Fela Kuti, called his enclosure the Kalakuta Republic, which meant rascal republic, where he had the shrine and he had his place where he lived and in his mind, it was like a separate state because it was so opposed to the way Nigeria was being run. So, the Rascal Republic was sort of a tribute to that.
Have you ever been out to Lagos or have any ambition to go out there?
No probably not, too old for it! No, I do all my musical travelling in front of two speakers really.
Area Boy, how did that track come into existence?
I kind of subconsciously stole that riff from a Fela track called Buy Africa, I think. That was one of the first tracks I wrote actually. I remember around that time I used to play the Big Chill a lot, they did one in India one year so I managed to play at that and I played that track and Matt Black from Coldcut was there and described it as Fela electronics, which I always thought was a cool way to describe it. Again, one of the tracks I heard that Miles Cleret played, had this lovely wandering bassline and the end of Area Boy it kind of turns into a dancehall rhythm but the bass is just wandering all over the shop, and that was inspired by that.
Do you play the electric bass as well as guitar?
Yes, I have several.
What other instruments do you play? You played percussion in Magic Drum Orchestra, right?
Yeah, the Magic Drum Orchestra started as a samba band really. I got into samba and tried to get the whole Brazilian feel down, just very very hard to get and very very hard to teach, particularly to teach to non-musicians which most of the band were, they were just friends of friends or people who fancied playing some drums you know? Originally the Magic Drum Orchestra was trying to play like a Brazilian samba band, but after a couple of years we realised it was just not gonna happen, so we just started making our own grooves and using samba instruments to do our own thing. But yeah, I play percussion, guitar is my first instrument, I can stab out a tune on the keyboard and correct it on the computer afterwards. Over a 10-year period we had over 60 members, they just came and went, and there were different phases. In the last five years, we finally got an equal balance of men and women, which was you know a bit late but we managed to do it in the end. They were just people who were up for it really.
I’ve played in a couple percussion bands in Brighton. Thing is, if you try to play parade batucada, you can’t really play it like Brazilians play it. So some of the bands in Brighton, like Carnival Collective, they’ve brought their own thing, like drum and bass rhythms, guitars, vocals.
Are Carnival Collective still going?
Yeah, they are.
I remember seeing them and thinking, you know they are really taking it to the next level!
Yeah, they are the granddaddies and mummies of the scene, any percussionist who’s anyone in Brighton has been through CC. Anyway, back to Lightning Head. It isn’t all Afrobeat is it? There’s some tracks, particularly on Studio Don, there’s a definite batucada and reggae influence right?
What are some of your favourite tracks that you’ve laid down as Lightning Head?
The first track I’ve ever did which was Me & Me Princess, I still think it’s probably my favourite track because it was done at the time Daniel Best from Sonar Kollectiv approached me and said “’I’m gonna start a label which puts out 7-inches and I want you to make a track for me and it’s got to have kind of a stripped back dancehall feel, keep it minimal”. It was really nice to have a template to work to and I found on a bunch of tapes, as it was in those days, we’d been sent a track to remix and it had this vocal line in it, from a band called Sofa Surfers, but the vocal on its own it was proper Jamaican toasting and that just went perfectly with the rhythm I put together, I just cut it up a little bit and the track was made. Then, I subsequently got a hold of Singing Bird who is the guy who sang on it and he did it a few more tracks with me, like Superfunky Bird. On that album, I do like the mix, there is some quite dubby stuff and then a Latin salsa Montuno piano line, those kind of influences and vibe mixed in with reggae.
If somebody asked you about Lightning Head’s music how would you describe it?
Well, it all got confused with 13 Faces really, because I wanted to do a second Lightning Head album but I wanted to kind of flag it as a Biggabush record which just actually led to a lot of confusion. So really the definitive Lighting Head album is Studio Don. I would say that the Lightning Head sound was more reggae, batucada, and Latin and then the 13 Faces of Lightning Head album is actually a Biggabush album which showcases more afro styles, it’s got a bit of reggae on there, there’s a guy called Blanquito Man who sadly passed away a couple of years ago and he did a track called Preguntas Por Que and had a nice reggae vibe.
How did you hook up with Tru-Thoughts, the first thing they put out with you was with Magic Drum Orchestra record was it?
In those days Tru-Thoughts used to run a thing called Deck Promotions and they were engaged by sonar Kollectiv to promote Studio Don, so I had some interactions with then. Rob Luis knew my stuff and was a supporter and then with Magic Drum Orchestra we made our own CD called In the Studio, which came out on my Lion Head label. I was at The Big Chill, I remember it distinctly because I was off my tits, I just seen Orbital which was amazing, I was playing so I had a wristband to go anywhere and I went backstage and I had a bunch of CDs and saw Rob Luis talking to Will Holland at the back of the stage. I said, “oh can I give you this?” and that was it. Some while later he called me and told me he’d been playing a track off of my CD and he really liked it and asked If I would like to do an album for Tru-Thoughts, and we went from there.
Recently you put out the remix EP, what is that called?
100 Whites a Day. The track 100 Whites a day is on the last MDO album called DNA of Rhythm and I’ve been collaborating with Farda P since the days of Rockers and he sang on lots of Rockers Hi-Fi tracks and toured with us and then he did some Lightning Head stuff with me. I wanted to do a track with him and I had just watched this documentary about the police in Bristol and how they police the drug trafficking scene in central Bristol, and it was just an interesting documentary, it was quite dark and it just had a particular vibe about it. If you know that area especially at night it’s a bit seedy and there was all this sort of shady stuff going on with all these innocent students out there experiencing the city life for the first time and a few yards away there was this real heavy stuff going on. I jotted down a few ideas from that and sent it to Patrick and he put some ideas together. For the rhythm for that track, my daughter is a DJ actually and she turned me on to this genre called GQOM, kind of quite frenetic electro weird beats and that inspired me to make some beats like that but using the MDO sound. Ever since 2015 when the live band split up all MDO stuff has been me using samples from our original studio sessions as well as programming new beats ad new sounds. So I put this GQOM type rhythm together and Patrick did all the vocals on his phone emailed that to me, there is no way I could get him in a studio because he’s too busy, and then we got other people to do remixes; like Blood Wine Or Honey, which is a friend of mine who lives in Hong Kong they’re an interesting outfit, they do some really cool music, he’s clarinet player and they do very interesting beats and arrangements.
That’s a remix of Parade Skank?
Yeah, and then there was Minor Science which was an artist that my daughter had turned me on to, he’s based in Berlin but he’s English and he was kind of influenced by Rockers Hi-Fi, funnily enough. This is a whole new generation of musicians coming up who’ve listened to my stuff as they were kids and it’s quite nice that the circle is coming around again, and they’re making music which is influenced by that basy Rockers sound which itself was influenced by Jamaican music.
There’s another Brighton connection because Kassia from the Resonators is a vocalist on Original Nuttah right?
How that came about, I was trying to find a vocalist, and Rob Luis is good at suggesting cover versions – one of the band members suggested Drop It Like It’s Hot, which is probably on Spotify our most played track. Anyways, I emailed the guy from Wah Wah 45s, Dom Servini, and the Resonators were on that label and he suggested her and she was up for it.
Should we visit the Alan Moore thing?… So the Dandelion Set …
Yeah, he does the vocals on one track, Judy Switched Off The TV.
So these are things that are been recorded over many years?
The story of the Dandelion Set is that the guy I did it with I’ve known since we were about 3, our mums were friends then fell out, which is what happened with me and him weirdly! But when we started doing that, I’ve been listening to a lot of Broadcast and an album by the Focus Group. Basically, this designer Julian House (Ghost Box), he designs all the Stereolab album covers, and he samples charity shop records in his spare time and weird musical clocks and strange snatches of dialogue and makes this kind of collagey stuff as The Focus Group. He did an album with Broadcast called Investigate the Witch Cults of the Radio Age and that record really really inspired me. I hadn’t really been in touch with PK the guy from the Dandilion Set; we kind of been on and off friends for years, but that just inspired me to send it to him so I said “what do you think of this?” and he was into it and we just started making music together. This was in about 2011 and we did that for about 5 years and during that time we revisited stuff that we had written in Northampton in the 70s when we were youths and we’d go around to Alan Moore’s house and he’d roll joints and tell us his theory of the universe. It was like a salon kind of thing, having our mind blown! We were working on music for a play that he’d written called Another Suburban Romance, and so when we did the Dandelion Set we kind of unearthed some of the scores, we’ve never actually been able to play this music, we’d never found the musicians to play it and so we kind of were able to reconstruct some of these songs that we did and we’ve never heard them played as part of the Dandelion Set. On the CD you get tracks from Suburban Romance. So PK got in touch with him and he kindly agreed to record the vocal for us and to write the sleeve notes.
So, does this connect with your Sunken Foal Stories stuff?
And that is also stuff from charity shops and car boot sales?
Yeah, I think the Focus Group influenced me. What we were doing in the Dandelion set stuff, I was sort of inspired to just pull out some records and just randomly grasp some samples and see what I could make quite quickly. There is a track on the Sunken Foal Stories which originally started as a Dandelion Set track. But that method of working worked really well for me, it was quite quick and it was short track, things that just kind of flow. I started doing that and the way I made that album I basically did 5 minutes of music then 8 then 10, and it more or less all came out as a sort of splurge. I did have to move some stuff around but it was just grabbing stuff off weird records I found, but I really like that record is not like anything else I’ve done and the label who put it out was very supportive and they kind of specialise in pretty weird music.
There was a really nice review in the Wire.
Yeah. The whole thing about Sunken Foal Stories is that it’s not a beats album so for once in my life I didn’t concentrate on the drums and it was all about the other sounds and the voices and stuff. Then of course, I thought I should do some beats versions of these tracks so I’ve done some remixes!
I look forward to hearing them. Are you a Caretaker fan? He does this sort of spooky stuff with deteriorating 78s – James Leyland Kirby.
I don’t know him.
I think it’d be fair to say you yourself were a bit ahead of the curve with Rockers Hi-Fi stuff because there was lots of stuff in similar territory soon afterwards, like the Jazzanova stuff, Kruder& Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation. How did you connect with the Jazzanova guys in the first place?
Just playing gigs really, because Rockers were much better known in Germany than anywhere else in the UK. We were quite popular in mainland Europe especially Germany, Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria.
Why do you think you were popular there? The kind of sound that you had?
There were a lot of people who were into dub out there, also the small matter of being signed to a German label. We were pretty well promoted there, our first album was on Island and they didn’t really get behind it, it was like they thought we were a trip hop act and Tricky was their big trip hop act so we just kind of got sidelined even though there was a lot more to us than that. It just never really went anywhere so we just got dropped after a year, and Warner Brothers in Germany picked us up, because the MD there was an old pot head and he liked his dub, he understood the music and he was incredibly supportive. When I decided to quit Rockers and end the project he actually phoned me up and said “Please don’t do this we can seriously do something with your music” and I was like “I’m sorry I can’t be doing it anymore.” They did a great job, we were well known out there.
I remember Push Push being massive, Pete Tong playing it, but maybe there was less publicity for the albums?
Well we did a track called What a Life, a sort of hip hop track which had quite a cool vocal and lyric on it and that one did ok but Push Push was the biggest. That was kind of during the glory days of house music.
Push Push still sounds great, I’ve played it a couple of times on the radio during the last year and people always ask me what’s that? A lot of stuff sounds really cheesy from that time and just really dated but that sounds fresh.
There were people like the Aloof doing similar stuff to us and yeah we kind of did our thing and made a career out of it, we did loads of remixes we were getting regular paid work and touring and stuff. Because we weren’t big in England we didn’t really play in England that much.
I didn’t know until recently that Airgoose was you, there was a cult following for that record amongst me and my mates.
Well that was the sort of thing we used to do, we had sort of a shady manager but he did do some great things, he could pull things off, he kind of persuaded a bunch of labels to give us all this money which then we used for our own releases and setting up our own Different Drummer label. The Airgoose thing was like, let’s make a techno record when we got a week off or a couple of days free and make it look like a moody import from America.
Well we were successfully hoodwinked!
The phone number on it was a guy called Freddie. Freddie was a fan who got in touch with our manager from Sherman Oaks on the outskirts of LA, and he was a DJ and was a young guy who was happy to help us out, so we put his phone number on the record to make it look like an authentic. It was Dick Nigel Glyn DNG records and it took off. A DJ called Doc Martin used to play it a lot and it was reissued recently on vinyl.
A fine DJ Doc Martin
I think that’s how I found out it was you, I saw the reissue on Bandcamp.
The label who did that is a bunch of young guys in London, it’s called Seven Hills records and they re-issued the Airgoose 12 and next year their doing a Rockers one a double 12 with some classic Rockers Hi-Fi stuff. It doesn’t really need doing again but there’s probably about 6 or 8 rocker tracks coming out on vinyl remastered.
There’s obviously an appetite for that stuff.
I tell you what, because we got the Airgoose on Bandcamp, that’s tailed off a bit, but the track that sells all the time and it’s been selling for 18 months now is Stoned, the Manali Cream mix, it was on the first rockers album and a DJ called Francesco Delgado played it, I’ve never heard of him but he’s obviously massive, and since he played it that track just sold loads. There was another DJ who played the Airgoose thing and that blew up as well.
In the last year.
Re Blown up. Great… So, you must’ve done really well at the thing that was on K&D Sessions? Going Under.
That was probably ironically our best-selling track, even though it was Kruder & Dorfmeister who did the remix. It was on a Steven Soderbergh film called Traffic and it’s been used on TV a lot and that’s been a good earner for us.
That was just so massive that record, an omnipresent zeitgeist record
Yeah it was like the Zero 7 of its era. Or the Portishead of its era.
Don’t seem to get those zeitgeist records anymore, maybe that’s just my age.
I don’t know, you might be right.
Well thanks for speaking to me that was really interesting. I could probably natter on with you forever.
Glyn is playing a DJ Set as part of Awamu’s Together Festival’s 2020 House Party on Sat 1st Aug (which is being made available with visuals afterwards) and Tru-Thoughts are releasing the album Biggabush in Dub on 21st Aug 2020. Biggabush’s Bandcamp page is here.
Listen back to the audio version of this interview on Ian Lawton’s Trainspotters show
Glyn’s 1BTN show can be heard on the 1st Friday of the month 8.00PM – 10.00PM