Up from the deep south come The Grits: yes, we’re talking about, Brighton, England (as our American cousins call it). But despite its name the flavours this band cooks up really owe as much to a palette weaned on English psychedelia and quirky electronic experimentalism as much as from southern-fried US funk.
Led by producer and multi-instrumentalist Stuart Carter (violin, cello, flute and sitar as well as guitar, percussion and synths!) The Grits kick up a storm with a phat break-heavy sound from their hefty nine-piece line-up, sounding like ‘the love-child of The JBs and Delia Derbyshire’(!)
Following their well-received debut album for Freestyle and a bunch of singles on a variety of labels (Mocambo, Music With Soul, Fraternity, Hamhock), The Grits have beefed up their indeed ‘gritty’ raw funk with fuller instrumentation and explored the possibilities suggested by a move further in a psychedelic direction. Their music brings to mind an array of influences: think Dick Hyman’s moog albums with the eastern vibes of an Anandar Shankar, and maybe a touch of the Small Faces, and you’re getting warm. They cite The BBC Radiophonic Workshop (where the aforementioned Derbyshire shook up the musical and social establishment), Funkadelic, Os Mutantes, Pierre Henry, and even Stockhausen as artists that have shaped their sound. Singer Sophie Alder-McKean, with her distinctively English voice providing vivid contrast to all the sweaty funk comes to the fore on (I’d Walk A) Funky Mile, Just A Little Bit and Yeah, No.
Black Sambuca is in the tradition of early 70’s sitar-funk, culminating in some experimental Moog madness, and we almost get into dub territory as the track breaks down. Heel and Toe sounds like Afrobeat organ atop hip-hop drums, and references James Brown’s immortal advice to Bootsy Collins, ‘You gotta get to the heel and toe, or else you’re gonna blow!’ for the funk cognoscenti. Six Pack is slow grinding psychedelic-funk complete with spoken/shouted vocals provided by Brazilian DJ Joel Stones and a girlie chorus. Let Me Know is also pure ‘60s beat business with its catchy hook, plus some stinging guitar work and an exciting percussion and bass breakdown. Make A Sound (Like James Brown) is another pure funk groove, with the horns to the fore and some wicked percussion/bass/drums interplay, mutating into psychedelic electronics, while Skin and Bone could be a long-lost psych-funk curiousity of the early ‘70s, complete with a very ‘punk’ chorus and a really wild guitar outro! It seems The Grits never play it totally straight…
Further proof comes in their choice of covers: not many listeners under 60 are likely to know the Rosco Gordon R&B original of Just A Little Bit, here turned into a squelchy Moog-fest, with musique concrete percussion effects. We’re perhaps not a million miles from the kind of thing the Flying Lizards used to do with the Motown songbook. Psycho meanwhile, is another affirmation of the band’s love of ‘60s garage pioneers The Sonics, given the psych funk treatment (having previously covered The Sonics’ classic tune Strychnine).
With their breakbeat sensibility, their ease with greasy funk licks, and an irreverent sense of humour, this band manages to condense all the excitement of their live sets into the album format, a trick many a great band before them has failed to perform. Expect to hear them played across the board.