When Lazyboy’s Rob da Bank and Dan Carey finished recording ‘Penguin Rock’ they returned to Dorset cliff-top Bat’s Head, one of the album’s inspiration points and set about climbing it once more. Trailing behind seasoned ramblers in their hiking boots and stout sticks the duo raised eyebrows and smiles as the long-haired da Bank and Carey – with guitar flung across his shoulders – struggled up. Despite their sartorial differences Lazyboy are just as quintessentially English as the ramblers, just more out of breath when they reached the summit. That’s them huffing and a-puffing at the beginning of their debut album, one of this summer’s essential releases.
It was worth the climb though as ‘Penguin Rock’ sparkles with magic and when you hear some of Rob’s tales about its conception you’ll wonder if they really were working with wizards. Lee Scratch Perry and Roddy Frame were at the top of Dan and Robby’s list for would-be collaborators and to their delight both were interested. As Rob recalls, “We sat down and said, who do we want to work with? Lee Scratch Perry? Hahaha, we’ll never get him. Roddy Frame from Aztec Camera? Yeah, right? And lo and behold we were straight in with them. Now I’m thinking we should have also asked Brian Wilson and James Brown too!”
They have some spooksome telepathic tales to tell of these heavenly hook-ups. They wrote the music for what would become ‘Western Skies’ looking out to sea atop the aforementioned Bat’s Head. When they went to meet Roddy Frame with their composition, they sat waiting for him to turn up, a tad nervous, behind the wheel of Robby’s yellow, VW camper van. Frame turned up and reeled off the lyrics inspired, he says, by staring out to sea, VW camper vans and hippy guys featuring therein. “We wrote a song separately about the same thing,” recalls Rob. “It’s a lovely sentiment”. Indeed Roddy Frame comments: “It convinced me that when musicians collaborate they can tap into an almost telepathic form of communication. And I don’t even have long hair or a van!”
Taking a holiday in Jamaica last year Rob literally bumped into Lee Perry at Kingston airport. “He was there in his full regalia, CD’s hanging off him, mad boots and a cape around him. It’s funny we met up like that.” Dan flew out to Switzerland – Perry’s new home – to work on the track. A lifelong dub enthusiast Dan learnt some new tricks from the eccentric master. “He gave me technical advice about recording which became invaluable. How to get the best out of a drummer, how to get the musicians to feel relaxed in the studio. He would then turn round and ask, ‘what would you think if I was half fish?’ He also gave me a blessing for a year after we met. It worked!”
Rob da Bank is one of life’s plate spinners. With Sunday Best he runs the best balearic parties at home in pubs and clubs and beauty spots abroad from Ibiza to Norway. Though he never took DJing too seriously he is currently co-host of Radio 1’s influential Blue Room show, home of the chilled and leftfield which cites Glen Campbell and Cocteau Twins as discerning listening alongside the likes of Royksopp and Ulrich Schnauss. In September of this year a three day festival, ‘Bestival’, will take place on the Isle of Wight. Previously to building the Best empire he was a tea-boy at Wall of Sound and then Muzik magazine (“I went to work there for a week and stayed for four years.”). It was during this period and at the original Sunday Best parties at Clapham’s Tea Rooms that he met Dan.
Dan had been involved in music production from a tender age. He has played played guitar in the Manassah soundsystem, recorded for Virgin as Mr Dan and also worked in film editing, most notably on the cult documentary, ‘Tales From A Hard City’. Dan and his pal Massimo recorded for Sunday Best as Danmass, and as he recalls, “we would hang at Sunday Best every week, it was always the highlight of the weekend no matter what we had been up to.” Rob returns the compliment saying of Dan, “he’s a crazy intuitive genius. He’s one of those people who can’t tie his own shelaces but can draw the Houses of Parliament from memory. A bit of a rainman, he’s always got a far-away look in his eye.” Dan is now getting the recognition he so richly deserves; picking up two highly prestigious Ivor Novello nominations for co-writing and producing ‘Slow’ for Kylie Minogue, one of 2003’s most innovative and original pop songs. Lazyboy are an exciting combination!
Their first recordings together as Lazyboy were ‘Imperial’ (which was supported by one of their heroes, Gilles Peterson ) and ‘Nothing To Be Afraid Of’ which appeared on the first Sunday Best compilation. Of ‘Imperial’, made in 1997, Rob says, ‘it took us six hours to make that first single and then seven years to make an album!” Lazyboy have remixed artists as diverse as Clannad and Royksopp.
Blessed by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Lazyboy’s ‘Penguin Rock’ is Rob calls, “our beautiful mess, a bit like my DJ sets. It’s all over the place but then there are people who like that mess. It encompasses influences from house, hip hop, dub, funk and soul with an electronic edge.” Despite their background in dance music the only samples on the album appear at the beginning; our breathless bohemian heroes captured themselves on mini-disc and sunshine superman Donovan is borrowed for ‘Magic Fellow’. Alongside Frame and Perry they have assembled some stunning vocal talent. The beautific ‘Don’t Fret to George’ features Cathy B, an Ibizan spiritual legend and friend of sunset soundtrack don Jose Padilla. ‘Lost Star’ features London hip hop star Est’elle looking back on a chequered love life. It might seem lyrically at odds with the rest of the blissed-out album though crack the code to Lee Perry’s ‘Penguin’ and a political diatribe against Bush and Blair is revealed. Earl 16, a neighbour of Dan’s and vocalist on Leftfield’s seminal ‘Release The Pressure’, croons through the utopian ‘Fireworks’. As Rob puts it, “He has the spiritual vibe we like. Crack open the cans of Red Stripe and Bob’s-your-uncle.” The cut’n’paste vintage trip hop of their debut outings ‘Imperial’ and ‘Nothing To Be Afraid Of’ are updated and included alongside skewed instrumentals which highlights Dan’s talents as a multi-instrumentalist. “His studio hosts a menagerie of musical instruments from steel drums to harmonicas,” says Rob. Folky ditty ‘Left Rev’ is like a ‘meet the band’ jam as Dan does his thing. If they ever played live then he would need to be like Outkast’s Andre 3000 in the ‘Hey Ya’ video playing every instrument. “I’d be in there somewhere,” reckons Rob, “hitting a triangle”.
Of the other instrumental tracks mad brass jam ‘Soft Little Sound’ is a mash-up of trumpets and a favourite of the duo. ‘Police Dogs Bonfire’ has more hooks than a club cloakroom, a song that shows off Rob’s skills at finding sounds and samples for Dan to make a reality. The closing ‘Gully’ is their attempt to recapture the kind of ambient Mixmaster Morris would be found playing in the chill-out room adjacent to a mad trance party. All these influences make ‘Penguin Rock’ a very English album. As English as warm cider, Morris Dancing, brass bands and Brixton dub. Oh, and rambling of which Rob is quite good at, especially the verbal kind. “It’s quite an eccentric album. Not that we walk around with monocles.” No, but they do walk around with guitars, long hair and big grins.
Written by: John Burgess
6th Dec 2013
San Francisco, United States