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Leeds-based three-piece Roller Trio might not have been the industry’s pick for the 2012 Mercury Music Prize but the other nominees were impressed with the group’s rolling jazz and art rock fusion.
After the trio had played the ceremony, the eventual winners Alt-J and another hot-tip Django Django declared their thrashy performance the evening’s highlight.
“I was astounded by the reaction,” says drummer Luke Reddin-Williams, a late stand-in interviewee in place of saxophonist James Mainwaring, who had been toasting the recent success with a heavy night.
“It was the most surreal thing ever. We’d never played to that capacity of people. We’d never been on TV and then you have to go do it with this weird music you’ve made and every single person was like ‘wow’.
“All the other bands, Alt-J, Lianne [La Havas], Django Django, Jessie Ware, Field Music, were saying ours was their favourite bit of the night, and again that was surreal – these are people whose career I’ve been following.”
Reddin-Williams says his favourite record on the list was Lianne La Havas’ soulful album Is Your Love Big Enough?
And listen to the drums on the eponymous Roller Trio debut and you’ll hear a man with broad influences – from straight-up funk to snappy rock and jazz. He says Queens Of The Stone Age and Soundgarden influence the band as much as jazz-men such as Tim Berne, Chris Potter and Anthony Braxton.
Hip-hop super producer J Dilla and electronic-loving rap artist Flying Lotus are other names the group likes to drop. He also namechecks Leeds band trioVD, another light in the city’s burgeoning improv scene.
“I got my first drumkit aged seven and first started playing to Stevie Wonder and Motown which is simple but groovy,” he explains.
“I didn’t have any drumming role models but I had a teacher for a year, then I was self-taught before I got to college. I used to listen to a record and play it back. You have to do it yourself but it helps you get a good feel.”
Reddin-Williams was born in England but moved to south-west France when he was five.
His grandfather, Bill Maynard, played Claud Greengrass in long-running TV series Heartbeat and his parents were actors and musicians (his father Martin Maynard was in West End hits Starlight Express and Joseph).
He moved back to England 15 years later to go to Leeds College of Music once he realised his calling was music not acting.
In Leeds he met Roller Trio guitarist Luke Wynter on a jazz course as part of his studies.
“I’d never really listened to any jazz records but I went on the course because I thought it would be more challenging.”
Now, he adds, jazz is like a poison: “It’s all I can listen to.”
He shares that viewpoint with the trio’s saxophonist, Mainwaring, an old housemate with a fine technique who he’d dare not jam with at first.
That all changed in December 2010 and the trio did their first show in March 2011. They were soon booked at Manchester’s legendary jazz venue Matt and Fred’s.
“They require three 45-minute sets even if you are not a traditional jazz band, and three 45-minute sets for us was ridiculous – we had to write so much material to get through those which is why we have so much stuff now.
“It was horrible to play three instrumental sets initially. I was dripping with sweat and dying but it was great for composition.”
There’s plenty of material for album two, but before then it’s the tracks which have lasted since that first show new audiences want to hear.
The interest is down to energy (and youthfulness) as much as the sound, believes Reddin-Williams.
“That is a common thing we all share. Some of us listen to things the others won’t but in terms of shared influences, they all have the same type of energy.
“We respect anyone who puts in high energy. You see some bands who are technically good, but I always say if it fits the song you can go as crazy as you want.”
Roller Trio were nominated for a MOBO earlier in the year and won the 2011 Peter Whittingham Jazz Award.
With the £4,000 grant for a musical project, they will be making a live soundtrack to a short film by Irish filmmaker Ray Kane.
As for the record, grammarians might take issue with the flurry of hyphens that litter the band’s song titles. It was an idea by graphic designer Dane Chadwick who also designed the album artwork.
“All the hyphens are based on an interpretation of the song structures and where he thought there was a break in the song.
“For the art work he put the album on and got a piece of paper and put it over the speaker. He dangled a pen on a string and then played our record though the speaker. The soundwaves made the pen move so the art was drawn by the music.
“The first time I saw it I thought it was the most incredible thing.”
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