The Fatback Band, Under the Bridge, London – review

The Fatback Band were the grittiest of the US club bands that mixed jazz with funk and dominated dance in the mid-1970s. They prefigured disco, were at the beginning of rap – their 1979 rap single “King Tim III” was released a week before the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” – and forged the mid-80s club anthem “I Found Lovin’”.

At this gig, a full house knew every tune and the band could easily have rattled off a well-drilled, tribute band-like routine. Thankfully, they were slightly rough at the edges and stretched out over fat, funky beats and bass lines that never let go. Party-time chants came with harsh-reality raps, ad-libbed harmonies soared and sailed and the jazz was spontaneous, hard-nosed and unfettered.

The only original member present was drummer Bill Curtis, who formed the band in 1970. He played percussion at this gig and was a somewhat peripheral figure – the uplifting disco hi-hat he claims to have invented now comes from young-blood drummer Lynell Muldrow. The main focus was the imposing figure of bassist/vocalist/on-stage director/MC and sometime rapper Cordell “Pete” Everett, who joined in 1998. It was he who whipped up the audience and oversaw the distribution of whistles before playing a note. And it was his musical entry that nailed the rhythm with a low-note crunch. He cued the themes and changes of key, sang like an angel, toasted, rapped and delivered tricky lines on bass guitar. He was previously in a band called The Total Package, and that just about sums him up.

This was no one-man show though, and Everett directed the long non-stop performance from within. And once the rhythm was right, the expression was free. “Do the Bus Stop” and “Wicky Wacky” are chants to be toasted rather than set in stone, and the generous instrumental breaks were crowd-raisers. Alto saxophonist Ed Jackson was fluent and focused and guitarist Darryl McAllister had an exhilarating control of post-Hendrix blues.

Instrumental funk set the tone, Everett rapped on a strapped-for-cash theme and then in crunched “Keep on Stepping”. The hits kept coming, there was a mid-set ballad, “Yum Yum” segued to “Spanish Hustle” and then “I Found Lovin’”, and a forest of arms waved in the air. The encore was inevitable.

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