The Courtney John Project have just released their debut album, ‘Future’; internationally through the ongoing support of the Fiwi Music Label in Jamaica.
This ten track experimental album showcases a new fusion twist to contemporary music. Each track on the album is so emotively charged, thought provoking and auditor-ally sensual.
In the lead-up to the album release; The Courtney John project have been developing their new sound which they call Roots-tronic.
The Courtney John Project are a unique group consisting of lead Falsetto style singer, Mr. Courtney John, producer Nastassja Hammond better known as the Wizard and Grammy award winning Musician, Steven “Lenky” Marsden.
The inspiration for this album could be compared with Massive Attack, Portis Head and Tricky in the 90’s UK underground Trip-hop music scene. It is not something you would expect from a musical trio based in Kingston Jamaica.
The first track on the album Black Cinderella has been expertly blended together by the Wizard to truly revive Errol Dunkley’s original. The use of dub horns, drum paradiddles and keyboard lends beautifully to full effect.
Courtney’s vocals are well placed, it is an excellent choice of cover for the exceptionally talented falsetto singer. The tune itself is a wonderful version; the vocal input by both the Wizard and Courtney John is emotively charged. The final mix is expertly blended to perfection enhancing the original. Aircraft sounds and drop crash beats overhead give the listener a vision of the story unfolding as Courtney John seeks out his Black Cinderella.
The Wizard lends her vocals to track number two, ‘Give you Love’.
Courtney Johns lyrical input is well placed coming in at the middle. The strength of The Wizards vocals are obviously well suited to Courtney John’s falsetto style, here she takes the lead yet it does not overpower the strength of his vocals and impact.
Track three sees Mr. Courtney John voice ‘Soul of a Man’. The Lyrics Burning, burning Wild are at the pulsating heart of Soul of a Man. The sampled effects in the mix sound mechanized and are intensively justified while carrying forward the songs narrative.
Track four called Nothing for free has wicked lyrics that Courtney John interestingly exhibits by stressing the voice to give a kind of sinister effect. This track contains some true dub-step elements, yet not fully identifiable, making this sound unique to even the most critical of listeners. It is has a loose elevation as the tune rises. There is intermittent lyrical juxtaposition taking place here between the vocal section of The Wizard and Courtney John. It is a truly fitting piece that recognises the adaptability of the group in this endeavour .
The fifth track on the album So special is Courtney John exhibiting his crisp falsetto lyrics. It is a beautifully adapted track to the new Roots-tronic sound.
There is a beautifully performed keyboard section coming in behind the vocals. Each element is carefully balanced with precision to create a lovely heartfelt vibe. Tantalizing to the ears, Courtney Johns vocals are expertly honed to perfection.
Rain like Gold is track six and sounds as though it has been multi- layered to produce an absolutely amazing piece of music.
Through the use of carefully placed echo and distortion, obviously adherent with dub-electronica; the group manage to allow the track to expand and evolve into this more enhanced sound which they call Roots-tronic. The fast rising beats allow trajectory to manifest, The lyrics rain fall, fall on me are sublime.
Track seven ‘Gonna be alright’ is a great Roots-tronic version of Courtney Johns original, the digital elements further enhancing its production. The track is ecstatic as it plays through a host of carefully blended sampled sounds. The trio’s contribution becomes more aware to listeners as the track progresses. The harmony of vocals blended together is wonderfully warm and reassuring.
The wizard takes the lead on vocals with track eight, fusing traditional sound capability with digital elements to produce a grass roots feel. Jungle Pickney is treated with vigour thus making it steeped in roots and culture. The lyrics affirm: “I am a concrete Jungalist no fear in this heart” adding a nice singjay style to the overall production of the track.With rising beats that run on, the vocals affirm, ‘I am a warrior’ then fade out but potentially keep listeners wanting more. This has good balance in its delivery, an excellent tune that can easily encourage listeners to rise to their feet and dance, while becoming true roots-tronic steppers .
The ninth track is interestingly called Exploria. It sounds as though it brings the listener through an overall mix-mash of all tunes on the album.
In actuality this is a wonderfully crafted version of Rain like Gold.
Exploria is like an enormous rhythm factory; overwhelming, but in a good way.
A superb track worthy of awe and appreciation.
With the final track number ten: Transistor Symphony as the name suggests brings a sense of satellites projecting to far off reaches. Through sampled sounds, vocals and keyboard the trio are very much a unit with this album. This is an excellent version of nothing for free, but is actually much more as it hones all the Roots-tronic elements in one tune; shaping it into something uniquely different. There is great clarity in this conclusive final track; the instrumentation is sharp and this pulls the album together bringing on the wow-factor as the tune fades.
The Wizard and Steven Marsden’s input with the production is extremely creative; in their ability to lend futuristic other-worldly elements to each track.
This is an interesting album that is well balanced in its delivery, the trio are acutely aware of “Future’s” direction and vision. The Courtney John Project have an enormous album right here. It has so much to offer; exciting in its ability to captivate listeners and is a true fusion album.
Describing themselves as 100% provocative, that is exactly what this is; a truly sublime album from beginning to end. Each track is potentially a hit in its own right. It is obvious that the time put in to this hotly anticipated album, was necessary to produce such an amazingly new digital sound. Each track flows perfectly into the next; running like a continuous narrative, uplifting yet grounded at the same time it locks down an enormous creative effort that is bursting to be set free. Every song is so interestingly different.
It is difficult to identify the instrumentation on every track but that is not important. What each composition shows, is how capable and adaptable the Courtney John project are in developing their new sound.
If this album is anything to go by, the future of The Courtney John Project looks promising.
This phenomenal new track has just been re produced on the Fiwi music label. This version carries with it a new fusion twist to the sounds of Errol Dunkley’s 1972 original version.
With the release of this single brings the Courtney John Projects début album ‘Future’ one step closer to international release.
This version is just one of three hit singles, showcasing their ability to reach a broader audience.
The creative fusion of Courtney Johns lovers vocals with The Wizard and Lenky’s expert blending of contemporary dub-electronica, is tweaked so that it’s haunting mix enhances the original.
The listener has much to identify in the sounds of this new Roots-tronic fusion genre .
As the tune drops, quaking vibes enhance the narrative in Courtney John’s vocal style as the lyrics suggest loss beginning and throughout. the lyrics are heartfelt and reflective of Errol Dunkley’s version yet through their expertise the trio seem to make the tune seem like their own.
Mel Cooke a Jamaica Gleaner writer published an article on Sunday the 28th of June 2009 about the origins of the song Black Cinderella. Interviewing Dunkley he said: ‘it developed from a poem his producer Jimmy Rodway had written for him,when they recorded it at Dynamic studios’. The love song was to appear on Rodway’s Fimi Time label. The song was initially a tribute to hardworking black women but after a few adjustments to the lyrics, Dunkley made it into a love song.
Courtney Johns lovers style of vocals is truly reminiscent of the initial feelings captured on the original.
It has the potential to draw in both young and old fans alike, with its rich tapestry of melodic sounds.
The Courtney John Project’s long term super-producer, Nastassja Hammond better known as ‘The Wizard’ fuses sample sounds of aircraft and movement in time across a spectrum of dub beats, creating an astonishing fusion with Steven ‘Lenky’ Marsdens beautiful dub-style piano solo. The intermittent beat plates and subtle dub-horns take the listener on a personal journey from beginning to end.
The auditory feast on this track makes it a truly unique revive tune, one to gain momentum in the future success of the album.
So I recently discovered in the Irish Times this great review of Bob Marley ands the Wailers’ performance in Dalymount Park, Dublin, 1980.
Mr. Courtney John is set to release his most recent international album called, ‘The Future’ at the end of January 2013 on the FiWi Music Label. According to the Official Courtney John Project Facebook Page it is described as an audio journey; one part Kingston mash up, one part euro-electronica & 100% provocative in its approach to contemporary music. It is a collaboration alongside 2004 ASCAP songwriter of the year and Grammy award winning Singer Songwriter and Musician, Steven ‘Lenky’ Marsden and long term female super producer ‘The Wizard’ who is accredited with producing work for the likes of Nelly Furtado, Michael Franti and Courtney’s Uncle, Mr. Beres Hammond.
By way of a telephone conversation he begins giving some background on the current project. Courtney says: ‘We have created a new genre of music called Roots-Tronic, it’s a platform to experiment with our music.’ Referring to the evolution of Jamaican music, he doesn’t think music should limit its traditional sound capabilities, he feels strongly about the importance of roots reggae music and its fusion within other genres. This is a very unorthodox project and as the Courtney John Project we have had to let go of inhibitions with our music, you have to understand the economics.’
He gives the impression that to him music is music and should be regarded as such, not limited by the categorizations of the respective genre. He as a solo artist was often regarded as a purely Jamaican lovers rock style singer. Although he carry’s his lovers style vocals with him, this realization just allows himself and his colleagues a platform to showcase the potential for a new and ever evolving genre which refers to the great traditions of roots reggae. He says look at the great work of Bob Marley and others who have placed our genre on the international stage. Musically, Reggae can stand up to anything out there without compromise. The Courtney John Project is looking to continue to develop the work internationally with other producers so that it can follow in the footsteps of its predecessors.
The sounds on the new Roots tronic genre could be compared to UK artists such as Tricky, Massive attack and Portishead. Courtney says that he relates it to the Dub era and although ‘ there are elements of Dubstep, not fully identifiable, he is humbled every time to be associated with these comparisons. We are not making a conscious effort to cash in on the dub-step sound, but respect its association. Musically it is solid and at some point we have realized that we have stepped outside our comfort zone, it’s just a natural progression for me. Many of us Jamaican artists are classically trained in our traditional styles. We realize the importance of our image so that it does not deflect from our ability to reference our back catalog, I will always continue to make core reggae albums, but for now this is what we’re focusing on.’ How the Courtney John Project will evolve is yet to be seen, but what is undoubtedly true about its uniqueness is their ability to be creative, we await to see what the future holds for the Courtney John Project in 2013.
On this cold November morning of Saturday the 24th, I proceed to meet Stephen Grainger at his office at the Pavilion. He is a well-known Hip-hop and Soul Music D J on the national circuit; better known as Stevie G, we greet in warm surroundings at the downstairs bar and he swiftly welcomes me to join him upstairs in their office.
Stevie G began his career as a Disc-Jockey in the early 90’s in legendary Cork Nightclubs such as the Back- Bar at Sir Henrys; where he began programming sets for club nights such as ‘Sweat’, ‘More-Disco, ‘Free-La-Funk’, ‘Yo-Latino’ and up until recently Jam at the Savoy. During this time he also spent four years as a Pirate DJ with Radio Friendly up until 2000. In 2002 he joined Red fm producing and presenting ‘Black on Red’ a hip hop style music show, that won a PPI the same year for best weekly music radio show at the national radio awards. Since 2007 he has also been working as Events Manager at the Pavilion nightclub; negotiating bookings and organizing live music and club nights.
As well as being recognized as a vibrant radio personality, Stevie G also volunteers to provide assistance in helping underprivileged adolescence develop their self esteem. His activities involve training youngsters in how to D J, while giving them work experience and the opportunity to develop their confidence in a safe positive environment.
When asked about how he feels about volunteering he says: ‘we only do a casual thing, if these guys approach me on Face-Book or Twitter, I like to facilitate them.
I continue to host rap battles here from time to time as part of this youth-work; The project really started when I was in Sir Henrys doing Teenage discos, it was around early 2000 when I sparked the idea of hosting Jam Junior at the Savoy and occasionally at the Pavilion Nightclubs, it’s great to see those aspiring DJ’s have a passion for music promotion.
He says that he got a ‘sniff of radio’ around 1994 when he was only just started doing the clubs; ‘I started out doing pirate radio in cork’s Thomson street briefly on Dross fm on , that didn’t last long, ‘I remember doing a mothers day special with Andrew a friend of mine also known as DJ Fork, we adopted persona’s, Andrew being ‘ Jiles-Sunny-day’ and me as ‘G-dawg’ and ‘kept in character’ throughout the whole show as two funky soulful dudes! Playing all underground Soul and early Hip hop. We were just having a laugh, it was great fun. It was an ill fated pirate station for obvious reasons, a different time with a different vibe.’
I really enjoyed doing Radio friendly in the Blarney street studio; I remember doing one of my first shows there around 1996 and did a tribute special the same week about the death of Tupac Shakur, showcasing his respective music, he was an icon of our generation. we didn’t really get much hassle there from the authorities. There was loads of talk with licenses, I helped put together a few proposals for them, but as we quickly discovered, it’s big business financing and such a huge responsibility man, every penny counts, like any business! Just like the running of Red FM.’we had a great few years, I was there for four of them I felt a bit disillusioned, people weren’t expressing themselves enough. I wanted to bring it to a bigger platform, which is why I joined Red Fm. It wasn’t shut down and I feel it served it’s purpose.
The reason he became a Hip hop and Soul DJ was not only due to the fact that he says: ‘it defines who I am.’ He is passionate about this music saying; ‘when hip-hop came out in the 80’s it was regarded as a novelty, to me it has a serious culture to it, I’m lucky to be able to do my specialist music show: ‘Black on Red’, which I feel I treat like an indulgence it gives me free reign; I just turn up with my tunes for the day, or whatever I’ve time to plan such as an interview with musicians, vocal artists or producers or wherever the mood takes me to prepare to do a documentary.’ Sometimes it’s when I’m in the mood for Jazz, Soul or Reggae, I also throw that in. The loose vibe works for me for Black on Red. I appreciate the strategic structure of commercial radio. I don’t really have any major ambitions with it. It’s really up to me to make the decisions. I have done plenty documentaries live. I can come with my angle to it.’
His ability to improvise comes from his love of cultural music and has allowed him to hold down long-term residencies at clubs around Ireland such as Brown Sugar at the Kitchen in Dublin and U-Turn at Ri Ra also in Dublin. He has had regular sets at Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway.
He spent time D J-ing at Thomson’s Garage in Belfast and The soul clinic also in Belfast and regularly performed in Limerick at club nights such as Dee Bop, Meltdown and Mo Bounce. He also played abroad in the UK, and US. He has a love of writing features and also writes a regular music column, ‘usually in the style of a review’ for the Cork evening echo.
He is currently involved in producing a radio documentary about one of his favorite and most legendary Hip- hop groups called ‘A Tribe called Quest’ who are best known for the tune; ‘Can I kick it’. Stephen says: ‘I have had the idea in my head awhile now; I have made the playlist and could broadcast today if I put my mind to it.’ I don’t want to make a Wikipedia entry; I want the angle I have in mind to appeal to fans and a wider audience, so that I can stand over it in future years. He said that after watching a TV documentary about them, he ‘was annoyed that the love of their music didn’t come through strong enough;
the angle of the TV documentary was focused mainly on the dynamics of front men within the group; Q-Tip , Phife Dawg , and Ali Shaheed Muhammad .’ He wants to do something just about their music.’
He also plans to do a short film which he ‘wants to be proud of and be able to stand over it in years to come’ the theme is strictly about the love of Vinyl and would aim to interweave segments on the history of labels, its production showing the importance of analogue sound recording, pre the digital era. He said that he ‘had a meeting of minds with a friend who’s an aspiring film maker and hopes that with time permitting for them both, they can see it come to fruition.’ I’m coming at it from a visual rather than a technical angle; I don’t know much about that, I’ve been collecting Vinyl since I was a Kid! I can pick it up and just see the history and its association. He makes a joke and says: I would love someone like Quentin Tarantino to recognise this film and ring me up.
Stephen said that he got into Roy Ayers and Miles Davis through researching and listening to Hip- hop, with a smirk he says: ‘the structure of doing my Red fm shows are usually unscripted, and as you probably notice it’s all over the place. On Red it’s generally wherever the mood takes me.’
He said that he was encouraged to do more commercial radio shows for Red Fm such as Red-Drive and Hit-list as the producers felt; ‘I had a profile for radio, I only treat this as a day job, like stacking shelves and kind of regrets taking on the extra work. During the week I kind of bang out the commercial tunes on Red-drive and Hitlist to a general audience, I prefer doing my Black on red show, which I’ve been doing for nearly 11 years! Although the figures are good for the listenership, the music is more important to me.’ I try to go with whatever the flow is with the club and tie that into my Black on Red radio show.
Before finishing up the interview to start his days work; he says that he noticed that when he was growing up all Irish radio personalities sounded the same to him, with a particular Americanized persona and weren’t really expressing themselves. I got the impression he felt it to be fake; there was too much emphasis on the voice rather than the content. Theres a spoken word tradition in music in Ireland, he says I hope to get Markus Connington a well known media figure into the Red Fm studio to record an interview shortly, he wrote a book on Rory Gallagher. My intention is to try to bridge the gap by talking about the influence to young cork bands by showcasing Rory Gallehers music while reviewing Markus book.
“Art is about expressing yourself exploring beauty and intellect, for me I have to be absorbed into the process of painting, almost in a state of meditation”.
Mr. John Adams has continued to embark upon a personal journey through his work since he began his career in London in the early 80’s. The Wicklow Mans current project involves travelling to Northern India to the village where his father grew up to discover his roots. While spending two months travelling about he feels: ‘It will be a time of reflection, for me to paint and gather enough inspiration, so that I can develop themes for my exhibition coming soon at the Cork School of Music.’
Mr. Adams is best known for his Cork Harbor Series at the Stephen Pearce Gallery. Also his Cork City architecture series held at the Cork Vision Center in 2010. For those unfamiliar with his work he has been developing his artistic expression over the last 30 years. He has painted sets for some of the most prestigious theater and film companies in London, Paris and Spain including The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Barbican Theater, The New Shakespeare Company in Regents Park as well as Pinewood Studios and The Walt Disney Company.
On this bright, Thursday morning of October 11th. I meet with Mr. Adams at his Cork City home in St. Luke’s. We greet with a warm firm hand-shake on the stair-way at the door to his apartment; on entering his open-plan living come dining room, the walls of the room display some of his most recent work unsold at exhibitions namely a vivid painting of the Elysian tower block for which the 2011 exhibition was held.
Mr. Adams was in a melancholy state while scanning over his previous art work hanging on the walls. Taking the focus off himself for a moment, he asked? ‘What do you think I need to do to this tide scene on the beach at Myrtleville, while summing me up as I admired the lighting he captured?’
Asking how long it usually takes him to create a series of paintings? He humorously replied: ‘How long is a piece of string? When I get involved in a series of paintings; I do like to prepare a lot of canvases, I wouldn’t have a set amount of finished paintings in mind, so I put them aside avoiding the risk of getting bogged down. For me painting requires letting my subconscious mind be in a state of meditation, it has to be worthwhile! The first few have to mean something and often get discarded.’
He says that his current work has developed a ‘subtle, socio-political message’ with a narrative that is easy to interpret‘. He gives an example of his previous work relating to what was happening in society during the height of ‘The Celtic-Tiger’. He said that he created a painting of God looking down from heaven disapprovingly at The Pope and the former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He is proud of the response that it generated when it sold at his Judgment Series exhibition. . He said: ‘for me it depicts corruption in political circles and the church.
As we discussed exhibitions that have made a difference to the success of his career he added: ‘I go through periods of unfinished business, with whatever has been going on in my life at the time. I suppose it was the ‘Remain in Light series’ with the focus on Trees exhibition in ’98, held at the Launderette Gallery.’
He relates this to a low point in his life where he felt his state of mind came through strongly in his paintings. He paused for a moment to think of one of his most successful exhibitions to date: ‘It would have to be the 47 paintings I created for the Cork Harbor Series. I could see from his facial expression that he was proud of how many sold at the time.
He believes that he was formerly perceived as a seascape painter, which is why he decided to update his skills by studying landscape and figurative painting, in the Summer of 2011 at the Florence Academy in Italy, he says: ‘I wasn’t happy with my technical skills, you never stop learning. It probably has something to do with the fact that I was thrown out of three art colleges.’ A roguish smile lit up across his face.
Mr. Adams has fond memories of a time when his career was gaining momentum; he had been co-curator of the ‘Cork Art trail’ at The Sirius gallery alongside, John and Suzy Mullane who opened to the public, with a 24 year old Simon Coveney who was guest speaker on the day .
When asked about how successful he’s become John said: ‘I don’t think I have gained any recognition, there are people out there who love my work, I guess! my work has a certain commercial value’. ‘I realize my limitations and have been trying to do more realistic paintings.’
The reason he chose to do the Cork City architecture series was he felt it important to record the preservation of the cities architecture prior to much demolition of old buildings during the Celtic tiger.
His anger towards the ruthless property developers was evident in the tone of his voice as he expressed the view that as far as he’s concerned: ‘these so called professional architects have no respect for the old world architecture of cork city.’
When he spoke about his art education and how difficult it can be to establish oneself he sharply responded mid-question: ‘I don’t have much respect for the art colleges, quite often it’s down to tutors not teaching the students anything, devastating their self-esteem, the students don’t really know what is asked of them.’
‘There are very basic things they need to know! like how to measure and mix paints, the color wheel for learning to create different tones. They’re just not prepared for the art world, Also I found the lectures I’ve dealt with are not qualified to teach students to do their own P.R. once they leave college.’
‘This is probably due to the fact that most art lecturers go straight into a teaching job after a master’s degree, they’re not that organized in my opinion. Administrators of galleries don’t always have the best interests of the artist at heart, some are arrogant and egotistical and rarely give a career developing artist a chance to get themselves out there. This is something that I have been fighting to overcome for many years.’
His most high profile exhibition to date, was when President Higgins whom was T.D. at the time, was invited to an exhibition at his residency studio at the Back-Water Studios in Cork Where he gave a painting to the former arts minister, his broken Leinster accent becomes more prominent as he threw back his head with a hearty laugh at my question saying: ‘We were buttering up the politicians.’ he said that he was interviewed by RTE’s Derrick Davis the same day, it all added to the excitement!
He continues to state that: ‘President Higgins is one of the few politicians who has any idea of highbrow culture. The media do not fulfill their role of promoting heritage arts, it is truly lacking in Ireland, which frustrates me! Certainly any of the arts ministers over the years did little for our reputation.’
He looked slightly demystified when asked had he a favorite painting and why?
He says: ‘I have done many different styles and it would be impossible for me to narrow it down to just one painting. I think.. Maybe one of my abstracts ‘Deep blue’ which I sold to well-known Cork Businessman, David O’ Reilly. I don’t feel any of my paintings would be my favorite per-say; ‘Art is about expressing yourself, exploring beauty and intellect. For me I have to be absorbed into the process of painting almost in a state of Meditation’
The people he feels have encouraged him are: ‘his deceased friend, Charlie Hennessy who had been a great help with his public relations, in establishing his reputation on the Cork art scene. His father and Norah Walsh were also very good to me, they gave me the confidence to believe in the quality of my work. It was a wonderful start.’
When asked what artists he admires, he said: ‘Francis Bacon would have to be somebody I can relate to. I have tried to paint like him; my paintings are definitely influenced by Francis Bacon, a loose expressionistic style. ‘Like him, I love to make a mess’. He described a situation at Pinehurst studios where his ‘love of making a mess’ in studio resulted in paint dripping through the ceiling going down on another artists work during an exhibition.
He admires the work of the Lavitt Gallery and how it has given career developing artists a chance to make a name for themselves. Although he wishes that Cork city could become a much richer cultural experience for the art viewing public. He hopes that one day his work will be taken seriously nationally, smiling as he says: ‘This is when the fun will start. It’s about time I can show people I can paint, pushing my technical skills. He feels his real success is a long way off, although he acknowledges his notoriety being due to his art critic stance and views on politics.