Talking Music With Steve Pretty of Hackney Colliery Band
East London’s Hackney Colliery Band are set to play Bristol’s Colston Hall on May 5.
The band formed in 2008, reinventing the brass band sound for the 21st century. This is displayed on their latest album Sharpener, which is a a tour de force of trumpets, trombones, saxes, sousaphone, marching percussion and electronics.
Andy Howells recently put questions to Steve Pretty of the band.
How did The Hackney Colliery Band come together and what was the premise behind it?
Some of us went to see some of the great contemporary brass bands coming out of the US, especially bands with a big hip hop influence like Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and Youngblood Brass Band, and thought that it would be good to put together a London-based take on that line up. The name pays homage to the great tradition of British brass bands, and with Hackney being an area of incredible musical diversity, we try to reflect this eclecticism in what we play.
You’re fusing a style that’s very traditional with new sounds to make something very accessible how fun is that to do?
It’s very fun indeed! We try to approach the band as a rock band but with brass instruments. We play quite complex contemporary rock, jazz and electronica, but at the same time we work really hard to make it as accessible as possible to new audiences, and above all, fun. It’s that combination of tradition and modernity - acoustic instruments with electronics, traditional composition with contemporary improvisation, credibility with fun - which is what makes the band so fun to do.
You’ve recently released your third album, can you tell us a bit about that?
Our third album Sharpener came out in July 2016 and we’re super proud of it. There are a lot more rock and dance music influences than on previous records, and we were delighted that it hit number 3 in the jazz charts and number 14 in the cross-genre independent charts. Pretty exciting for an independent instrumental band. We’ve got our new live album coming out on 12th May, and maybe this time we can edge out Gregory Porter and hit number 1 in the jazz charts…
Theres a few covers on there including Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box, Kwabs Wrong or Right and Three Trapped Tigers Cramm, how do you all go about selecting material to cover, as I imagine you must all have different influences with music?
The main consideration is whether we can add a unique perspective to whichever tune we’re covering. People often suggest covers they’d like to hear us do, and they’re almost always tunes with loads of brass on already, which, to be honest, don’t work well as covers as we end up just sounding too similar to the original. That’s why we like covering genres which you wouldn’t think a brass band would be able to do; grunge, techno, drum n bass, math rock… these are all pretty fun challenges to write for brass band!
What can people expect from your live shows?
Our live show is the strongest it’s ever been at the moment, and we’re touring to promote Sharpener and our new live album. As well as playing for fans, we love to surprise new audiences who might not immediately think they’d be brass band fans. There’s some lovely light and shade in the show with our ballad Reawake and jazz-based material like Timelapse, but needless to say, every show always ends in a huge party.
What's been your best live experience so far?
Two obvious highlights would be playing the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony and the time Amy Winehouse unexpectedly joined us for a song. Both are bittersweet as the Olympics was incredible but a LOT of thankless work and faff in the process, and with Amy it was towards the end of her life, so she wasn’t in the best state of mind, but both very memorable and unique experiences for us I think.
Finally where can people find out more about the band and the music?
Our website www.hackneycollieryband.co.uk has all of the latest tour dates and music on it, and much more of course (needless to say, we’re also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all that). You can also buy our music or merch directly from us, which these days is vital for an independent band. Of course we’re on Spotify and iTunes etc. as well, but buying directly means that the money comes straight to us without the middlemen. With ten of us on the road, it’s not a cheap band to run, so every little helps!