SUIT YOURSELF GET BOSS WITH THE INCREDIBLE BIG BOSS MAN
As part of the Bristol Modernist weekend in March BIG BOSS MAN are headlining the sold-out Friday night event. Cris Davies got to grips with the big boss man himself Nass Bouzida in this exclusive interview before the big gig.
Hi Nass, can you tell us a little about yourself, where you are from, where your love of music came from and your early musical influences.
I was born in Brixton, I think that’s where my love of ska/rocksteady comes from, then moved to Newbury which is where my love of the Wurzels came from. When Big Boss Man first started, I moved back to London in the ’90s and played regularly at the WAG club when Blow up was in full swing. 10 years ago, I bought a house in Wales and started Beat Mountain studios. All the Bongolian and Big Boss Man records have been recorded there for the last 10 years. I started playing the drums when I was 11, destroyed all my mum's pots and pans until she was forced to buy me a drum kit. I used to watch Top of the pops and play along with my hands and just fell in love rhythm.
My first big break was on Saturday Superstore where I performed a drum solo on Status Quo's drums who were on that episode. unfortunately, that was my biggest TV appearance to date and my career has gone downhill gradually since then.
Can you tell us where and how it all began for you, how did you get your first break and what the experience was like.
At 14 years old I started The Loafers (80's ska legends) and we went from playing the local village hall to headlining The Astoria in London for the International Ska Festival after being signed to Link records and releasing 2/3 albums I forget now.
that finished in the early '90s and after a few terrible attempts to recreate the magic we stopped playing the ska/reggae vibes but watch this space for some surprising tracks from BBM next year.
Can you tell us about your early gigs and how ‘Big Boss Man’ came into fruition?
We started off playing in our local pub the Dolphin which was the Mod/scooter hangout in the late '80s, The landlord at the time Mick used to call me Spock (due to my barnet, not ears) and kept a rusty mace behind the bar.
I’d only played drums at that point but had been writing songs and messing about with pianos/keys for a while, So once our old band Skooby split, for fun, we started a Hammond Instrumental four-piece I would play the organ.
Can you tell us about the band members?
The line-up is Desmond Rogers, sometimes lovingly known as "the beast" or "the machine" on drums, a local Bristol drumming superstar and also a top chef! We have new guy Badger Burgess from Folkestone on Bass who was the original guitarist for The Bongolian and former Bassman for Morcheeba. Wielding the axe of doom is Trev Harding hailing from the medieval village of Leckhampstead, now residing in the Capital who was in the Loafers with myself back in the 80s and the two have played together ever since. Myself on organ, bongos, timbales and vocals.
Can you tell us about the writing process within the band?
We encamp at Beat Mountains Studios - place chock full of vintage organs, drums, synths and amplifiers, stock up with supplies and get to work. Some songs I have a demo already prepared, some are collaborations with all four playing live in the studio and some are myself and Trev working together through their love of sixties sounds.
The Big Boss Man sound is very Hammond, R&B, Soul, funk-driven coming straight with a mid to late 60s vibe, it’s very Mod, are there influences of Mod culture within the bands roots?
Yes! Mod Culture has been a massive influence on the band, in fact the music was the sole inspiration for us starting. Trev and myself started to go on the runs in the 80s where the best Hammond Organ and Latin Soul tunes were played. When we started Big Boss Man we incorporated all greatest Hammond-Mod sounds; such as Jimmy Smith, Wynder K Frogg, Jackie Mitto, Brian Auger and Brother Jack McDuff along with latin vibes from Ray Barretto and Tito Puente. We are also inspired by other sounds such as Jaques Dutronc, KPM library music, Farfisa Garage, late 60s synth sounds form Jean Jacques Perry along with the powerful drums of Bernard Purdie and Clyde Stubblefield.
Which Mod orientated events have you played over the years and can you tell us a couple of funny band anecdotes?
We have played on loads over the years, including Rallies in the UK for the New Untouchables, at the Isle of Wight, Margate, Scarborough, and Birmingham, in South of France overlooking the mountains at the Riveria Affair. In Germany, we played UNKLE and 2 Men from Linz by the Rhine. We played by the beach in Greece for a 60s weekender, the Italian Job in Rimini and The biggest is Euro YeYe in Spain. We had a blast at all these places, there are plenty of sordid debauched stories none of which can be repeated for legal reasons - see band members for details.
The bands recording career has seen you release many fantastic albums including Humanize, Full English Beat Breakfast, Winner and Last man on earth as well as countless singles, mainly on the Blow pop record label, can you tell us how you came to be signed by them.
We played at the Blow Up night at the Wag Club in the late 90s and Head Honcho Paul Tunkin signed us on the spot to Blow Up Records and publishing , Paul Included the demo of our track Humanize on the V2 compilation Blow Up a go-go , which featured tracks popular in the club and was released internationally and put out the first LP - we have been working with Blow Up ever since.
Is there any advice you could give a young band trying to break through.
The best advice is to play the music you love and enjoy the ride, when we started out with the Loafers we would play up and down the country and support as many rocksteady legends as we could to spread the word and gain live experience without thinking about fame and fortune. We once got the bus from Newbury to Bradford to support Desmond Dekker - we didn't even make enough to pay the bus fare.
You have been busy over the years with Big Boss Man but incredibly you have also had massive success with your alter ego The Bongolian, what made you want to diversify with this new musical outfit.
It wasn’t a conscious choice to ever gig with as a live band, It came about because I used to spend a lot of time practising percussion in ramshackle studios (BBMs first studio) and I started recording conga parts, then bongo grooves over the top, layering different patterns on top of one another just because I loved playing and recording and had built up 12 songs with heavy percussion and beats at the front, I played them to Paul from Blow records and he loved it and said let’s put it out there. The first album was recorded on my old Fostex R8 1/4” tape machine and one mic which is all I had at the time, very lo-fi. When it was released, the guy who runs a big festival in France called “. got in touch and said he wanted to get the band over to play, so I put the band together with mates and been playing ever since. The music has gone much further than I ever dreamed just turn on the tv and within minutes there’s a theme or another with percussion and Hammond/synths and it’s from one of the albums, the big one at the moment is the old top gear “grand tour” that the music is used a lot.
We ended touring Spain quite a few times and have a good following there too, so I guess you never know.
Whilst Big Boss Man is a more stripped back sound The Bongolian seems to have a swagger of a much later sound incorporating visuals and early electronic keyboard components was this a conscious decision or something that became organic whilst writing?
The Bongolian has always been heavy on the late 60’s and early 70's synth sounds, I got very interested in the Moog synthesiser 20 years ago and have a nice little collection of vintage synths that all got a good workout on the last LP Moog Maximus. I love the variation of sound that can be created from one instrument built 45 years ago that has such a phat bass sound and soaring leads/brass/strings percussion and paired with a Roland Space Echo you can really get trippy and psyche out. so the visuals really work with that too. The Mini Moog Model D is my fave and is the cat's whiskers, it’s never been equalled, I use that on most Bongolian records
Playing and running two very successful and unique musical outfits must be very exciting, where do you find time to be creative and is it difficult whilst writing to decide which way to turn, make the tune either a Big Boss Man classic or a Bongolian masterpiece.
I spend as much time as possible in Beat Mountain studio up in Wales, I'm inspired by so many amazing musicians/styles/instruments and sounds that I’m constantly either playing/recording/writing or experimenting with sonic ideas, I also love recording rhythms so will listen to my fave drummers and percussionists and try to figure out what their playing, I normally have a definite idea of whether a tune is going to be Big Boss Man or Bongolian before I start but if I play a track to Trev and he loves it we sometimes change tact.
You are very animated whilst playing live, I’ve seen you on numerous occasions and whilst I love the sound you make with the bongos and keyboard I can’t help but feel sorry for your fingers and palms of your hands, what cream do you use to moisturise?
Yves Saint Laurent is good but my favourite has been Chanel, it smells like fresh spring apples falling from the heavens, but seriously they do take quite a battering and one of the reasons I don't gig every night of the week,
Not being content with two highly acclaimed acts under your belt you also work with other artists, notably Fay Hallam on a joint project ‘Lost in sound’, that must have been a bit wild you both being organ lovers.
I’ve always been a fan of Fay’s work, I was at a gig she played at the Blow Up club in London and chatted to her afterwards, the first thing I did was to produce one of her 4 track EPs and worked well together so was a natural progression to try an album, a lot of our influences were coming from the same place and she has such a powerful voice and writes great songs that we thought it could work pretty well, so I played drums/percussion/bass and guitar and we shared organ duties.
You’ve only got to spend 5 minutes looking through YouTube to search for Big Boss Man and The Bongolian and various musical videos come up, they are very cool. It must be a lot of fun making music videos, can you tell us a little about the process and the story behind making one or two of them.
Big Boss Man's video for The Last Man on Earth features a Mod-based Zombie apocalypse, we filmed the scenes down by the river in Bristol late at night dressed as mod-zombies complete with full horror makeup and spooky contact lenses, the video also features a 1966 SX Lambretta. The guest singer for the song, Princess Fresia, was living in Australia at the time so she filmed herself and appears on a vintage tv in the scenes.
What does the future hold for Big Boss Man and The Bongolian?
BBM are putting the finishing touches to the fifth LP and hope to play the States this year, Bongolian new Latin Soul drenched record will be out in April and touring that in the summer. And I’m also working on new album written around the Brothers Grimm fairy tales but set in the late sixties plus there will be a new Beat Mountain sample pack featuring the Moog.
Where can our readers catch all the latest gossip on the bands and where to see you live.
Looking back over your colourful career, is there any bit of advice you would give a young Nass Bouzida?
Learn to read music, go to art college and keep the free love experiment alive, I toured with The Fish from "Country Joe and The Fish" and played Hammond with him for a while. He was there in San Fransisco in 67 when the psychedelic movement kicked off and I asked him what it was like, his reply "well, free love was an experiment that didn't quite work out, but it sure was fun finding that out" with a big smile on his face…….