This interview will appear on Simon Harrison's excellent Basic Soul website in the coming days and seeing as his site is far more trafficked than my own I'm sure he won't mind if I put it up here first and do yourself a favour and sign up for Simon's superb podcast which features upfront selections of jazz, house, funk, broken beat and all points in between.
I first had the pleasure of meeting Danny ‘Dubble D’ Ward in late 2005 at the frankly awful Ministry of Sound in Taipei of all places when he was playing over there and what immediately struck me about him was his unbridled passion for music of all persuasions. This love and dedication stems from his years of drumming for the likes of Gilad Atzmon, Jim Mullen, Rae & Christian, AIM, The Pharcyde and one of my great influences, Chapter and the Verse amongst many, many others. Basically if it has a bit of swing to it, be it jazz, funk, house, reggae, hip hop or soul, then Danny is more than capable of lending his undeniable talent to reinforce the rhythm of the music. How many musicians can say that they’re as influenced by Detroit techno as they are by the golden era of jazz and being equally adept at playing either? Not many I’d wager and that is what makes Danny stand out and is best reflected on his two criminally underappreciated albums ‘Reachin’ Out’ and ‘Playin’ Out’ which showcase both Danny’s percussion ability as well as his exceptional talent for songwriting that are of the highest order. Danny also may or may not have his hands in the superb releases by the mysterious Moodymanc, which if you haven’t checked them out already you should do so immediately.
Here is a tough one to start you off with. Who is greatest drummer to have ever lived?
Hmmmmm, greatest drummer! Tough indeed! Some of my favourites are amongst the jazz drummers of the 40s, 50s and 60s; Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Joe Morello, Roy Haynes and all...These guys were all true innovators and technically masters and had their own very distinct sound and style. If I had to pick one out of these fellas it'd probably be Art Blakey for his unmistakable swing and sound, but I'd probably give a different answer tomorrow and would quite happily rabbit on about it ad infinitum!!!
How did you begin working with the 20:20 vision crew?
I met Ralph back in the early 90s when I started to play percussion up at Back to Basics. Even then he really shone as a dj. Later, when I started producing beats with Danny Evans, Ralph and Carl (Finlow aka Random Factor) jumped straight onto using them in their projects at the time.
When I started making tunes as Dubble D Ralph signed me to the label and the rest is history!! I was really glad to be with a label who were up for the hip hop beats I was making along with the house. When the Silver City guys turned up on the scene it made a lot of sense that we should do something as a live band, hence setting up 2020 soundsystem.
Tell us about your time with Chapter and the Verse.
Wow, suddenly I feel old, and relieved that all the money I've spent over the years in destroying brain cells wasn't wasted!! Haha! I played drums with Chapter and the Verse in 1990/91 (or was it 92?). For me it was a great opportunity. Chapter were at the forefront of the emerging 'acid jazz' scene, although a little deeper and more soul oriented than a lot of those bands. The band was great and it was the first time that I'd played live drums along with a sampler/sequencer which obviously opened my eyes to a lot of possibilities. We had some great gigs; perhaps most notably playing down at Gilles Peterson's night at the Fridge in Brixton and going on tour with Gil Scott Heron!
Anif Cousins and Colin Thorpe are still successfully making great music in their own right. They ploughed the way for a lot of British black music artists and 'Black Whip' is still a massive classic club tune!
Do you still consider yourself to be primarily a jazz musician? You seem as much at home in house, hip hop, reggae and soul. Where did all this eclecticism come from?
I do. Miles Davis initially inspired me to become a jazz musician and I still frequently think about what he would be doing if he were still alive. A friend of mine said to me last week that you have to think about what of yours you'd play Miles if he walked into the room!!!
The music that I am inspired to play and listen to is all very much rooted in the black American tradition, and all that has influenced that. So for me, it doesn't feel eclectic at all to involve myself in bebop, hip-hop, latin, soul, techno, house or whatever. In particular as a drummer first of all, it seems like a logical route. The drum kit as an instrument didn't exist before jazz and has developed as black music has developed; even an MPC drum machine is a direct development of this tradition, so all this music is very much part of what is for me a very singular journey.
Tell us about your album ‘Playin' Out’.
When we started to do more touring with 2020 soundsystem quite often we'd end up dj ing as well. Mostly Ralph (of course) would play but we started to get more gigs where I'd play 'warm up', then we'd do the live set, then Ralph would play. The warm up set is great for me and I love starting off playing downtempo beats and mixing my way up to 125 bpm four on the floor stuff. It's a real art and if you hit it right you can really set up a great musical vibe for the rest of the night. Sometimes it can be quite intimidating to walk into a club early and immediately get hit over the head by a massive kick drum, know what I mean?
Anyway, I started to make a lot of tunes just to play in my dj sets. At the same time I was thinking about doing another album to follow on from 'Reachin' Out' but wasn't sure how to tackle it; I really didn't want to try to re-make the same kind of thing. In fact that would have been impossible!! We were touring when J. Dilla died (a huge influence on me) and when 'Donuts' came out we really battered it on the bus. The way that album was put together was a real inspiration and I decided to make an album of just instrumentals, mixed together as I would my DJ sets at the time. It seemed really organic. I realised that this wouldn't have the immediate attention grabbing effect that 'Reachin' Out' had with all the amazing guest artists, but felt that it was important to make an album that was a little more personal and an honest reflection of where I was at as an artist at that time.
Tell us about how you met Danny Evans and the work that the two of you did together.
I first met Danny Evans I think at the end of the 80s! A mutual friend took me around to his flat in Hulme. He was sitting in his room playing bass along to a record that was playing on a deck that was suspended on chains from the ceiling, so that it wouldn't jump as result of the amazing sound that was coming from an absolutely HUGE pair of Tannoy studio monitors he had. COOL!!!
At the time Danny was working as house engineer at a studio called 'the kitchen' which was a knocked through pair of maisonettes in one of the concrete 'crescents' in Hulme, Manchester. At weekends they threw acid house parties downstairs and upstairs they had a jam in the studio with musicians from all the Manchester bands at the time getting high and playing. It was an amazing scene.
We made a couple of records with other bands together and really hit it off as friends. A couple of years later started to spend a lot of time experimenting with recording drums and making loops. We released some on vinyl which made quite a stir and got used all over the place, including on records by Rae and Christian and Fila Brasillia, both of whom I went on to play drums with. We then made a sample cd, (Slam on the Breaks!) which was a massive task but I learnt such an enormous amount through that. With the money I made from it bought my first computer and started putting tunes together.
Danny Evans is really one of the most amazing sound engineers and musicians I have ever met and probably my biggest influence. I'm glad to say that we still hang out and make music together to this day! He's working with us on the next soundsystem album.
Who are your influences?
Apart from Danny? haha! The list is massive and constantly changing. The essentials are all there; Miles, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancocock, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Marley...right through to Theo Parrish, Moodyman Carl Craig...
I'm most influenced though by the people that I make music with and hang out with. I'm lucky to have great friends who are constantly feeding me all kinds of amazing music that I wouldn't otherwise hear. It's a real gift. I've always been a 'clubber' which has been and still very much is a massive inspiration. In Manchester we're really lucky in that we have great record shops and great DJs. There's a real tradition of soul music here, right across genres, which a lot of clubs elsewhere seem a little afraid of. People like Mr. Scruff and the Electric Chair are really carrying a torch as far as I'm concerned.
What can you tell us about the mysterious Moodymanc?
Hmmm; apparently he looks a bit like me but he's taller, better looking, and far funnier!! There's more from him coming very shortly and should be continuing to do so...
Tell us about a few records that influenced you greatly.
Public Enemy 'It takes a nation of millions'...life changing; Miles Davis ' A kind of Blue' - absolutely seminal! John Coltrane 'A love supreme'. Marvin Gaye 'What's goin on?' Bob Marley 'Exodus' I could go on and on. It's a real tough one. Come round and check out my collection! Records full stop are a massive influence on my life.
At the moment I'm checking out a lot of detroit techno; lot's of rougher stuff. All the obvious guys. And always lots of house. I just got some great stuff on Freerange, Fred Everything's got a new EP on his label. There is a lot of great stuff coming out. I've been listening to a lot of early ska; the Skatellites - genius!! There's a new album out by some mate, 'The haggis horns' which is great. Quantic's last album, ‘Made in Columbia’ is great. I'm a big collector of afro-cuban, latin and Brazillian records and have recently picked up a few 'finds' whilst sifting in Paris and Chorlton(!) so a lot of that stuff too. There's some of the Patchworks re-works of old soul and disco tunes that are great, some great funk on Home Breakin' records, and funk weapons. There's some great stuff on Mark Rae's 'Yes King' label. I wish I had more time and money just to BUY MORE RECORDS ALL THE TIME!!!!!
Are there any projects that you're currently working on?
At the moment I'm finishing the next 2020soundsystem album with Ralph, which is sounding great. It's been an enormous amount of work for all of us but I'm hoping it's going to be well received. I'm constantly producing tracks on my own too. I just had a 12 out on Baker St. recordings, the second Moodymanc is dropping at any point now and a release on 3rd ear is out in April with hopefully more to come later this year. At the moment I'm making a lot of stuff to play out. I've just got some CDJs with which I'm having a lot of fun! I'm still playing drums as my 'day job' and having a lot of fun with that. I'm playing in a band with a young trumpeter called Mat Halsall who's influenced by Detroit techno as much as Miles Davis. I’m playing a lot with an amazing singer and great friend, Doreen Edwards... It's all good. One thing I've discovered is that if music is going to be your life it HAS to be 24/7, and the more it is, the happier I am.
20:20 Vision Recordings