KENNY WELLINGTON

 

Brit-funk Heaven is honoured to present it's very first interview, with one of the leading figures of the British funk movement, both past and present. Trumpeter and vocalist Kenny Wellington.

Why did you learn the trumpet?

I first started out playing guitar in a band called TFB with my best friend Camelle Hinds who I had introduced to the bass guitar. However as we began to listen to more bands like Kool & The Gang we decide to have a horn section. Along with another good friend David Walker who decided to take up the saxophone I decided to give the trumpet a go. Nobody had told me at that time that the trumpet is actually one of the most difficult instruments to learn.

Are you self-taught, or did you have lessons?

Initially I used to learn riffs from listening to records, at that time I had already passed my music exams at school via the guitar so I had some understanding of theory and notation. Anyway, by the time I met and formed Light Of The World with Breeze, Baps , Tubbs, Bluey and the others I could handle parts reasonably well. A few years later I took a course of study in music at Goldsmiths University of London where David Baptiste the sax player of Light Of The World and Beggar & Co used to spend a lot of time studying. By this time I had of course listened to a lot more jazz to add to the funk. In terms of playing, the real lift came for me and most of the band after working with Augie Johnson of Side Effect who had augmented our sound with some of LA’s finest musicians. Some of the same players you will find listed on an Earth Wind & Fire album. It was this education that transformed us as a horn section and pretty soon we were picking up a lot of session work and projects outside of the band.

Are you from a large or small family?

I have three brothers and four sisters.

Where were you born and bred?

I was born in London.

Were your parents supportive of your musical ambitions?

Although dad had ambitions for me to train as an architect and wasn’t initially pleased he was very proud that we were achieving some degree of success and loved coming to Hammersmith Odeon to watch our show.

Who were your musical heroes as a youngster?

The Jackson 5, Sly Stone and then the bands that followed Kool & The Gang.

How and when was Light of the World formed?

Light Of The World was formed in 1974.

How and when did you first meet the other members?

I had met Breeze in Crackers Friday lunchtime funk session and we realized we shared a mutual interest in music. Breeze spoke to me about an idea of putting together a band with A young bassist, Paul Williams aka Tubbs and a sax player he knew called David Baptiste. I said I was interested and would come to the rehearsal. I went along and jammed with the guys and it felt good even though we were very raw. The bassist, Tubbs was very good even at that stage. This gave us something to hang the rest of the instruments around. Breeze developed this fast wrist action kind of riff playing around the bass which in a way became the early definitive sound of what has become known as Brit Funk.

London Town is such a classic song, and the band's most well known single. What inspired it, and roughly how long did it take to compose?

Augie and Tubbs had come with the bass line in the studio which we really liked. At that time there had been some popular songs about New York that we had liked too. Anyway, I found a quiet corner in a room at Utopia Studios and began writing the lyrics about London. I came up with the majority of the verse lyrics and Augie added the chorus kids. One or two others chipped in a line as they came to the room. I can remember Baps singing the line ‘This could be your reality in London Town’ and then we extended it by addind ‘you can be what you wanna be’. It was a real organic process looking back.

Who designed the covers for the first and second LPs?

The record company

'Light of Worlds' is the name of Kool & The Gang's LP containing Summer Madness. Did you ever meet or work with any of them?

We were lucky enough to meet them and hang out in places like Gullivers in Mayfair a couple of times.

What was the first time you went on tour with the band like?

It was great. We were really excited to visit other parts of the UK and we all got along well at that time so it was like a big outing with your mates. It was great when we got to the level where we would stay in decent hotels as well. There is of course a real feeling of sadness attached to that time. Just as we were making some headway tragedy struck and we were hit by an articulated lorry after breaking down on the motorway returning from Scotland. Chris Etienne our percussionist and the band comedian was killed as a result. He was 19 years old.

Do you recall the nightclubs that you frequented as a youngster?

Crackers, Hunters, The Lacy Lady, Waterloo Birds Nest, The Royalty Southgate, The Rainbow Rooms, Billys, The Goldmine, Flicks.

What other bands did Light of the World support?

The Players Association, It was really a joint bill since we had good following at that time. But we did go on first. It was one of our best performances ever. We were also on the bill at The Knebworth Soul Festival with GQ, and Lonnie Liston Smith. That was fantastic day. One of the best.

How was the band's first appearance on Top of the Pops. Exciting? Scary?

It was great. We did ‘Swingin’. However it didn’t do us any good in sales terms. The record company had not pressed enough records in anticipation of sales and we lost momentum. Just one of those things.

What were your early days on the Ensign label like?

Ensign were great, Chris Hill, Nigel Grainge and Doreen Loader were great people and gave us an opportunity to get our music released. At that time bands in the UK were not known for making these kinds of records and of course we didn’t have the same recognition in the industry as the many great bands from the USA. We were lucky enough to develop a sound that became our own and of course bands like Hi Tension were also making people stop and listen to what was happening over here in the UK.

Who is the girl featured on the American version of Light of the World's album?

That is the great Micki Howard who was singing with Side Effect at that time.

How did it feel to work with Augie Johnson on the second LP?

Augie opened up a whole new approach for us to our music. He also instilled in us the dedication to our instruments. Practicing. Rehearsing with just the brass section and stuff like that. He made us really start to work on the tightness of our sound in a way that we hadn’t really considered before.

There appears to be two versions of Light of the World touring at the moment. Are you able to explain why?

The Original Light Of The World members actually play and record as Beggar & Co featuring The Funk Jazz Collective. We currently have a new cd Brass Strings N’ Things Myself, Breeze, Baps, Bluey and Peter Hinds are all involved in this current band.
I worked as Co Producer on the last Light Of The World CD Inner Voices. Gee and Nat currently play some shows as Light Of The World. We were thinking of performing as Light Of The World, but so as to avoid confusion we are currently working as BCTFJC. People have kind of figured out the permutations now and our shows are usually sold out.

Fans can refer to their my space page at this address: www.myspace.com/beggarandco

The Boys In Blue was one of the band's earliest singles. Because of a recent spate of fatal shootings and stabings of young men in the London area espescially, politicians among

others are calling for a return of stop and search which has never really disappeared. Do you think it would be a detrimental move to make?

Hopefully, this generation of police officers have learnt from the mistakes of the past and will use these powers wisely. Time will tell. If it discourages young men from carrying these weapons it will be a good thing. If misused it will alienate these young men and others even more and prove detrimental.

How and why was splinter group Beggar & Co. created?

We thought it would be a really cool idea. Like Talking Heads had an offshoot Tom Tom Club and of course the whole Parliament/ Funkadelic thing.

You provided the horn section for Spandau Ballet's hit Chant #1. How did this unusual pairing come about?

We had met at Top Of The Pops. The Spandau Guys had revealed that they were real Soulboys. We had arranged to meet at A club called The Barracuda and hang out with them. The musical idea developed from there as Gary Kemp really wanted us to provide the horns for the record. And it was a real pleasure and highlight of the stuff we we were doing.

Did Light of the World or Beggar & Co ever make any promotional videos?

There’s a film from The Goldmine with video footage that’s really good.

The three of you produced the Monument album. Did you ever produce anyone else's?

I wish we had got Augie to produce that CD. He would have reined us in a bit. Some of the ideas I still really like but one or two could have been done more justice. Anyway the hit singles are on there plus tracks like Bahia De Palma which has always been popular and was probably more the direction that should have been used on the album in retrospect.

Why wasn't there a second LP?

We reformed Light Of The World for quite a while and it would have been seen as counter productive at that time. Anyway, the second one is finally out there now.

What was your first solo LP called, and when was it released?

My solo cd is called Kind Of Black and was released in 2006 and well received.
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kwellington

How many albums have you recorded so far?

That was my first solo project but I’m working on the next one right now.

What other artists have you worked with over the years?

I’ve been fortunate to work with a variety of artists over the years. Gabrielle, Mica Paris, Shola Ama, Osibisa, Incognito, Paul Weller, The Jam, Tina Turner, Heaven 17, M Beat, Eddie Grant, The Jazz Warriors, Innocence, Gee Morris, Stevie V, The Cool Notes, Simon Law. http://www.myspace.com/kennywellington

Where do you reside at present.? Do you still live in the UK?

Fortunately I have an apartment in a nice warehouse conversion in London next to Victoria Park.

Do you think that advances in technology have made modern music better or worse?

It depends on the user really. I obviously prefer the sound of real musicians where possible. But technology does mean more people can access music making.

* Special thanks to Kennie Wellington for making this page possible.

© Brit-funk Heaven.org.uk 2008