Max Sedgley’s career to date has been a tale of unabashed talent, irregular bouts of what Hollywood folk like to call serendipity and bloody hard work.
That the man behind Happy, one of this century’s most enduring clarion calls, is blessed with an uncanny knack for fashioning infectious, dancefloor-slaying nuggets goes without saying.
However, talent, as any number of whoring, stage school self-publicists will attest, is not the sole pre-requisite for success in the music biz.
Sedgley has had to persevere: he has put in the hours at the coalface. His success today is not the result of some arbitrary hipster’s whim. He’s earned his rhythmical stripes alright.
And yet, and this is the Hollywood bit, Max will be the first to admit that slices of good fortune have gone his way. As a budding young drummer at school, his music teacher was friendly with one of this country’s greatest ever percussionists, James Blades.
During the war Blades had composed the BBC’s V For Victory signal, and he was also the musician who recorded the gong strokes behind the iconic J Arthur Rank films. And whilst in his 80s he passed on his expertise to Max.
Finally, these three parallel strands have coalesced, via Rob da Bank’s glorious Sunday Best imprint, to give birth to Max’s debut artist album, the sublime, and, as you shall see, appositely titled, From The Roots To The Shoots.
Max was always going to be a drummer. As a baby he was always hitting things. At the age of two his parents bought him a toy drum kit and when he wasn’t bashing away on that he displayed an early knack for innovation.
“I would arrange the cushions into semi-circles,” he recalls fondly, “and play on them with spoons to, I don’t know, Barry Manilow or something.”
Where did this love of rhythm come from? Maybe his dad who worked as a producer at the BBC, and who, in his spare time, built up an impressive soul, funk and R’n’B collection.
It could have been from his mum. Her side of the family heralded from Jamaica. Many a holiday was spent lapping up not only Bob Marley and other reggae Gods but also the New Orleans and Miami funk which he would devour over the Jamaican radio.
As he says: “It was an amazing place to be and soak it all up.”
Although he shied away from the violin lessons his parents bought for him, piano tuition was a great success, as was, later, the aforementioned drum lessons.
At university he was schooled in the classics – Beethoven, Mozart – as part of his music degree, and at night he would take a walk on Edinburgh’s wild and fertile nightlife. This was the mid-’90s, when house, hip hop and drum’n’bass, especially drum’n’bass, ruled the airwaves. As such his music today is a fusion of his classical training and the techno wizardry of dance producers.
“Hopefully it’s a winning combination,” he states.
He needn’t be so humble, having released tracks on labels such as Second Skin, Om, Irma and Cookin’ Records, he is a man of unique talents.
His aim to “combine the analogue and the digital; the real and the electronic” so that “no matter what style it was it would always seem current” has been achieved. And then some.
Happy, originally finished five years ago, “on the night Bush was elected for the first time”, helped kick the door down – the disparate likes of Mr Scruff, Gilles Peterson, Erol Alkan and Pete Tong were all key early adopters, the DJs at Radio 1 were all over it like a bad rash – it even beat lad’s mag favourite Rachel Stevens in one tune of the week poll – and the venerable ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris caught the buzz on Radio 2.
The track of course went onto soundtrack the exploits of Wayne Rooney and company when ITV used it as their main theme for Euro 2004 and after spending 10 weeks being played at Radio 1 reaching the Top 30, it went on to sell a staggering 25,000 copies.
However, Mr Sedgely is no one-trick pony: From The Roots To The Shoots (“It’s something which represents my old school influences in the roots and then the shoots is the modern, the colourful and contemporary) is clear evidence of that. It’s a joyous listen; an album enthralled by the possibilities of sound and an album that’s bought the party hats and the jelly and ice cream.
From the unpretentious and updated synth-pop of I’ve Been Waiting to the fractured funk and broken electro of Déjà Vu by way of the deep, Joe Claussell-like, rhythms of Ego Spiritual, this is the album George Clinton would have made if he had been a white South Londoner with a disco fixation.
Funky to the core, Celebrity – a commentary on sections of contemporary society – gives a clue to what electroclash could have sounded like if it hadn’t lost its rhythmical roots, and Slowly, with it’s mood enhancing orchestral strings, makes the prospect of a trip hop revival not such a hideous vision.
Live it sounds like the best disco workout. Max and his band popped their cherry at this year’s Bestival and next year will see more Funkadelic-inspired groove-ins.
One final thought: upon leaving university Max gave himself five years to make it. As the climax of the five years came hurtling around the corner, up popped Happy.
Max Sedgley is a man who won’t be denied. With Max in control, the beat will always go on.