Take four very different personalities, a huge dose of easy going Caribbean vibe, an effervescent live show and a lot of experience chaperoning Slipknot and the like, and the result is a ska outfit – Big Hand.
With an ever growing fan base and now legendary live shows, the four piece are going from strength to strength, and with their debut album in the pipeline at Air Studios, the famous four took some time to chat about what it’s all about with Dee Massey.
Big Hand first sprung to life in 1999 and it wasn’t until last year that the line up was finalized. How do you feel that the current line up compares to the original one? What does each individual member bring to the band?
Tim: The original line up was a real random collection of 4 very different individuals, all very random, chaotic and intense, with a real free anarchic spirit, different demons and ambitions, and all these crazy ideas. That’s still true with this line up, its just that with the old line up, we had many moments of magic, but the whole thing just didn’t really gel, and it was still beautiful, but more volatile and unstable. Now, the band has the same kind of spirit to it, but it just works as a unit, like we’re all really on a wavelength, so there’s strength and unity to it.
In terms of what we all bring – I bring the songs, the flower-power positivity, the funk, and the dandyness, Luke brings the world-wise industry head together know-how, the energy and driving force, as well as the pounding bass undercurrent that moves it all, Paul brings the ROCK, the cheeky sense of humour, the fine ear for detail, the amazing ability to sing and play drums like a warrior, and the boy-band approachability, and Phil brings pure randomness, poetry (he is the new Robert Burns for real), the unusual instruments, the eclectic stage performance.
In the space of a year you’ve gone from opening at the Barfly to almost selling it out as top of the bill, and played to such a huge range of audiences, from the Edinburgh Festival through to a Russian wedding?
Phil: People deep down seem to want to enjoy themselves / release themselves from various every day tensions and there ain’t no place to do quite like a dance floor to some proper intense euphoric zorbanian psyskadellic ska beats man.
Known and played together since you were teenagers what were your main influences then, and what kind of stuff are you listening to now?
Paul: The band have always had a real variety in the music we listen to. The main influences when the band started were the likes of Manu Chao, The Specials, Jimmy Cliff, Tom Waites and early Chilli Peppers. All of us listen to different styles of music and listen to as broad a range of music as possible to get as many different influences we can – I think that gives us versatility and depth to our songs. The main stuff played in the BH tour bus at the moment is The Slackers, The Cat Empire, The Killers, Jimmy Eat World, Devandra Barnhart & KT Tunstall (partly because Luke fancies the hell out of dark haired women that play Telecasters).
Luke, having spent seven odd years in the music industry that must give you invaluable insight for managing the band?
Luke: To an extent it helps to have a lot of friends that are still deep in the industry that I can ask for advice on stuff and have had experience of how a show is run etc. However there is nothing that can prepare you for living it yourself.
Knowing both sides of the coin must give you a solid foundation for the band?
Luke: Again on some levels this is true but it can make you overly cynical and I don’t think there is such a thing as a solid foundation for a band. We all work pour asses off and take pride in what we do. In any walk of life this will get you places and if the band didn’t have that I wouldn’t have got involved in the first place.
Also how does working with the likes of Slipknot etc compare to being in a ska band?
Luke: I miss my expenses account..
You’ve spent quite a bit of time recording this year. What you enjoy more touring or recording?
Phil: I live for the live shows, it’s like an addiction man. If I don’t get my live addrenalin fix I get very edgy, very true! just ask my pet gnome Eggbert.
Recording at Air. How did that come about, and how did it feel to be recording on such hallowed ground? Are we about to witness a charity single a la BandAid20?
Paul: Don’t worry, the folk in Big Hand would never dream of doing a charity single al la BandAid 20 as we only have each other! The recording came about when a producer at Air studios saw the band play their first London Barfly show and was blown away by the band. He’s into ska music but was impressed with our take on it and was really keen to work with us, so invited us into Air for a few days recording.
Air studios is one of the most amazing places we have ever seen and the first day consisted mainly of us trying to stop dribbling and keeping our jaws off the floor! Singing into £20,000 microphones and being behind a mixing desk that looks like it has come straight from the Starship Enterprise really blows your head and makes you pinch yourself to make sure you’re really there.
The guys were really happy with how we worked, so after the initial recording, we were invited back to record our debut album. We’ve now completed all of the planning and preparation and the main recording is well under way. Working with producers and engineers with the gravitas and knowledge of Chris Nuttall, Tony Clarke and Adam Noble has been a real privilege and we can’t wait until the album is on the shelves near you…!
In the studio, who takes artistic control?
Luke: To be honest when it comes down to studio stuff it’s a pretty even keel, when we’re recording and mixing we all tend to get focus on what we are doing as individuals rather than worrying about the overall sound which is where having a producer is essential.
How involved were you in the production of your EPs Right and Wrong and Light and Dark and Light?
Luke: We bought in our live engineer Mixmaster Matt to help with the final mix and master on all the tracks but other than that the first 2 EPs were entirely self recorded, produced and mixed.
Who writes most of your material?
Luke: Tim comes up with the chords and melody for 99% of the stuff we then sit down and work it out as a band with everyone chipping in on what sounds best. We also tend to test drive stuff live for a few months before we record it.
What can your fans expect from the new EP?
Luke: Something to play loud as fuck that will make the neighbours smile.
Last year was a busy year for you guys 85 shows, a move down South, studio time in Air and this year with 125 booked looks like life is fairly manic. What’s been your best experience this year?
Tim: So many gigs stick in my head as incredible sights etched onto my memory, like being all dolled up in our suits in front of a sold out garage, the floor shaking at the Left Bank with these beautiful girls at the front properly moshing, our homecoming at the Bongo club with all our home crowd welcoming us back. The one thing that really gets me though is when we were in Air, which was mind-blowing in itself, like full on jaw-dropping wide-eyed craziness, all the magical gadgets and famous artists they had there. In particular, at one point, we set up the acoustic guitars, loaded up a video camera, and just played for 3 hours, and right at the end, when they’d all got tired, I played Hallelujah, and the place properly felt like a church, and i could feel all these benevolent spirits flowing around me, wishing me well sort of thing, and the time stood still.
So why should your average music bum come see you guys live? What do you have that no one else does? What should people leave your shows feeling?
Paul: The real unique attribute we have is 4 true frontmen – from Tim on guitar and lead vocals, myself on drums and lead vocals, and with Luke on bass and Phil ‘is he on drugs’ Ramsay giving all the energy and enthusiasm that is humanly possible on a stage. We love being on stage and enjoy every show we play, whether it is to 3 people or 3000 – If you don’t enjoy what you play on stage, you shouldn’t be there!
There is also a real depth to the songs we play, which means if you’re not in the mood to dance and forget all your worries, there is enough in the lyrics, melodies, harmonies and progression of the songs to keep even the most cynical of music buffs entertained.
We have recently been hailed as the ‘cure for an overweight generation’ and are proud of this. Everyone who sees Big Hand should leave with a smile on their face. If they don’t we’ll give them their money back (honestly!)
Lastly, is 2006 going to be the year Big Hand takes the world by storm?
Tim: You know, in a way, but we won’t properly have conquered the masses fully until next year. Its like 2006 is a year of planting all these beautiful little seedpods all over the place, and people with their ears to the ground will hear all these peculiar rumblings underground, like elves plotting a revolution but keeping it kind of sly. Then suddenly in 2007, everything will burst out into the open in a blaze of colour, like the day of the triffids but with electric spangly ska demons instead of man-eating plants, and it will be all anyone will want to talk about.
Your big ones….(a la Pop World…only without Simon Anstell)
Favourite venue to play?
Phil: I prefer smaller venues, lets you interact more with the audience in an intimate way, Mmmmmmm intimate. Ok, em…..would say Whistle Binkies in Edinburgh was my favourite venue, it’s like roots man.
Best post-pub delicacy?
Luke: My bro is a chef and also a big fan of the band so we’ll frequently end up coming back to mine after a gig and he’ll cook for us. Everything he’s done so far has been amazing. Failing that Shebab in Shepherds Bush is a fave as it’s on the N207 route and amazing!
Who’s the most annoying person in the band?
Tim: Well, we can all be stubborn moody little devils. On balance, probably me though.
Most overplayed CD you own?
Paul: The Cat Empire (1,4,5) and The Slackers (Peculiar)
Edinburgh or London?
Paul: Both are special in different ways – Two of the band are Scottish and two are from London. We know Edinburgh like the back of our hands and is the place that really feels like home for the band. We’ve done some awesome shows there and always love going back. In saying that, we moved to London as Edinburgh is small and doesn’t have nearly as much opportunity to develop as a band. We are always looking to push ourselves as much as we can and gain as much experience as we can. There is no better place to do that than in London.
We want to play to as many people as possible and will play any show we are asked to, if we feasibly can (See North Berwick Scout Hall show…) Scottish crowds are insane. London crowds warm up quickly and then let it all out!
Worst habits of band members?
Luke: On occasion some of the members in the band are able to catch me with really annoying questions just as I’m in the middle of something important. EG (talking to the promoter) – ‘So is it cool to get 9 passes and I need two phot….’ At which point someone will butt in with ‘So Luke do we get a rider of 20 Carlsberg or 19 Grolsh for our show in 7 months…’ other than that not much really. Oh and I’m the grumpiest bastard in the world until I’ve had a diet coke in the morning…
Worst experience on tour?
Tim: Attracting the attention of some little vampire goths in Belgium, them following us back to the left-wing anarchist squat where we were staying, before they reveal their secret right-wing allegiance, and land us in a whole heap of trouble before we drunkenly manage to explain in French that we are an anti-nazi ska band, that these mini-tearaways were just misguided attention seekers, and so on. 3 hours of stoned sleep in a festering armchair put me in fine spirits for the early flight the next day. Nothing but the best for the hand.
Phil: Give me at least 2 bottles of buckfast and I will feel at home anywhere
3 things you never go on tour without?
Tim: hip flask, chess set, hat
Luke: Paul, Tim and Phil
Phil: – A copy of the Daily Sport (tits and comedy man, genius!), my 1906 undertakers top hat and voices in my head.
Big Hang play The Barfly, Camden on May 4th.