People from the era tell their stories.
» Tammy Payne
I was born in Smethwick, West Midlands, just outside of Birmingham.
I moved to Bristol in 1989 because my brother had moved there and told me about the great music scene.
I was interested in the live jazz then, and went to jams and sat in with Adrian Utley (Portishead) who was playing great jazz guitar at the time. We were both really into old soul and jazz – 50’s and 60’s jazz. Bristol has always had a really strong set of “standards” musicians – people who learn from the Real Book (the old bible for jazzers containing the chord charts for classic 40’s 50’s 60’s and 70’s jazz tunes).
Some musicians don’t like to let on that they have the jazz background, because they don’t think it’s cool and it’s all got a bit middle class and institutionalised. But I feel really strongly that it should be embraced. And I know that loads of young people on the jazz scene in Bristol now are discovering jazz from the era of great lyrical tunes – Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and the likes. I mean, you don’t get to understand Lalo Schifrin, who was a huge inspiration to Portishead, without appreciating jazz harmony.
The best musicians are really open minded. I have a memory of Mushroom from Massive coming round for a cup of tea in the garden, when they were working on their second album after Blue Lines. He started asking me about samba, because he knew I was learning latin stuff as a drummer at the time. I never heard any samba in a Massive album, but the fact that Mushroom was asking about it shows a curiosity that has to be an advantage. It’s better to learn stuff and throw away what you don’t need than ignore it. Personal style comes through the editing!
Will Gregory of Goldfrapp and Adrian Utley of Portishead were in my band before they formed those well known ones. They were both phenomenally smart musicians and understood a lot of genres, but were really interested in songs and how they were put together and how the production brings them to life. I remember introducing Massive’s first album to Adrian and he got it straight away. We played The Thekla and such places, performing my song “Take Me Now” which was signed to Giles Peterson’s label Talkin Loud in 1991.
I grew up listening to old soul, James Brown, Barry White, Earth Wind & Fire, Isaac Hayes, Hip Hop, and loads of types of jazz. As a singer, the jazz was always the most challenging to do, because the melodies go all over the place because of the amount of chords. As a writer, this background instilled in me a sense of moving the melody around, which gave the one or two chord bass lines that Smith and Mighty gave me to work with an added dimension maybe. I kind of float around on top of the bass. I was always really moved by the tracks they gave me to write on. I just love the sound of their music, the extreme bass, and some curious mixture of darkness with sweetness that’s unique. I remember seeing in an interview that Rob Smith had said I was from a “cabaret” background, and he liked what I brought to their music. I thought that was funny, as it goes to show how some people hear jazz as cabaret, I don’t mind what he heard it as, as long as he was open to the results! Which he was!!
We toured Europe and a bit of the U.S. I was amazed at how the music seemed so strong and uncompromising in those environments; its pureness really came through. It really felt like music from “somewhere’’, you know, not a dog’s dinner of stuff mashed together, like we were bringing them a taste of home. You know, like bringing out the marmite from your rucksack in the Amazon!! (Not that I’ve ever done that)...
I’m afraid I don’t remember seeing many bands during the dates you ask about!!! I was playing drums along to Tribe Called Quest’s “Low End Theory” in my bedroom for most of that time!! And practicing vocal improvisation!!
Band wise, apart from my own, I used to play percussion in Adrian Utley’s jazz group – he played 60’s Grant Green stuff, around 1990. I also played percussion for Will Gregory’s Latin / soundtrack band Emil and The Detectives. I toured as the drummer for John Parish (P J Harvey producer and guitarist) and later with McKay, Geoff Barrow’s project with Bronx singer Staph McKay.
I don’t think I have been treated differently because of my sex by any of my male fellow musicians. But that is not to say I have found it easy. That’s because most bands were entirely male and finding your footing in that atmosphere can be tricky... It was always mostly blokes in a band. They have certain “go to” topics, just like all females together do.
I still live in Bristol.
I teach drum kit in schools.
I play congas in a Latin jazz band.
I have just released an album of my own songs on a New York based label Ninetyandninerecords.
I am at www.tammypayne.co.uk
I have a beautiful daughter and live in Totterdown.
Interview with Shirley Etaix
Words © Tammy Payne
Photos © Tammy Payne