Ben chats to Leeds 10-piece TC & The Groove Family, who released their debut album 'First Home' on Bristol label Worm Discs last week. Blending together jazz, afrobeat, and highlife with an incredible energy, their album captures the same level of fun and intensity they are known for bringing to stages across the UK. Before playing a packed out homecoming show at Leeds' Brudenell Social Club, they chat about the new album, playing live, bringing empowerment to their fans, and their favourite festival moments.
It's always special to see a band play in their hometown, and across the whole of the TC & The Groove Family collective you can see all of their smiles beaming as they approach their headline gig to kick off the inaugural Leeds Jazz Festival.
With some of the family moved out of Leeds now, they are dispersed across the country but have come back together for a UK tour of their debut album 'First Home' before they reconnect for a full festival season playing at esteemed festivals such as Glastonbury, We Out Here, El Dorado, Outlook, Secret Garden Party, Kendal Calling, Bluedot, Greenman and Shambala.
But they are all aware of their musical roots and what brought them all together to create their lively, entrancing sound. As you see them reconnect with old pals, fellow musicians and just soaking in the atmosphere at one of Leeds' best venues in between their show, you get a really good sense of what the Leeds scene does for bands like TC & The Groove Family.
Leeds brings together a community of like-minded people who share their love for music, and appreciate the opportunity they have in a city where they have been able to play and practise their instrument and explore their musical identity through being on the doorstep to a wide, eclectic range of music.
Bassist Beth O'Lenahan remarks a story that exemplifies this. "One of my fondest memories of being in Leeds was when their old band Necktr played at a rave event at Beaverworks when we first met NikNak after she DJ'ed after their set. She was pulling out some of our favourite tunes and everyone was going up to her like "oh my god!". Everyone was talking to her as if they knew her."
"So I was like "how do you guys know her?" And they said "we don't" but I only found that out months later that we had no connection to you and that was the first time you kind of joined our friendship group."
"Yeah everyone apart from me went to the same college so everyone already had that connection from the get go so to kind of meet everybody outside of that and join the band was amazing," says their turntablist NikNak.
"To be included in the band, I never saw that happening in any band anyways because I am just doing some weird shit on the turntable. But the fact they were like "come through, you're sick!" was a special moment to be a part of their Leeds journey here."
A huge part of what brought them together was some of the regular nights run by local Leeds DJ, promoter and legend Lubi Jovanovic. Soul Rebels, RE:SOUL, Sunday Joint and Jazzland Sessions are some of the recent events put on by Lubi over the past decade that sees many of the student musicians play at.
It was truly fitting to see the band stop halfway through their set to pay tribute to Lubi who came up on stage to receive his gifts from the group as a show of their gratitude for everything he had done for them and the Leeds scene. The impact of allowing young musicians the opportunity to play regularly in the city doesn't just extend to this collective though.
The band recorded their album a year ago with David Haynes, and Tom Excell of Nubiyan Twist and Onipa. Excell played at these events Lubi put on a decade ago as he grew up in the Leeds scene and met his future bandmates. Tim Cook, drummer and bandleader of TC & The Groove Family, spoke about the recording process and Excell's influence on their album.
"We recorded it in the summer last year in Sheffield, at Yellow Arch Studios. It's a really special place for us, because we've gigged there before and it has kind of become a bit of a second home for us."
"Both Tom and David really looked after us that whole week and the both of them are just big influences on us. Especially with Tom growing up at Leeds Conservatoire, watching him with Nubiyan Twist and Onipa. It was a big honour to work with him for all of us to have that. 'First Home' does not only represent the location of Leeds where we first met, but a state of being for us. We know each other inside out. That close connection we all have playing together, being together, that is our 'First Home'."
"Tom was really valuable to us because he also helped with the arrangement side of things as well. He was able to give an insight into the music with his knowledge and expertise within the sort of music that we love. He's an awesome guy, he traveled across Africa and recorded an album with a tribe of people who didn't have opportunities to record so we've got a massive love and respect for him because of his real passion for the music."
"In terms of working with him in the studio, he put us all at ease, reassured us, and gave us a lot of time as individuals to really hone our crafts and get the best optimal sound out of us all."
Trombonist Max Purcell-Burrows adds in how the recording process went smoothly. "We would record everything live, but also have separation so there wasn't the pressure of "it needs to be this take and everyone needs to be happy". We were able to have the kind of push and pull of getting a great live band take, and then also having the separation between everything so we could get all the solos organically as it would be live and have the interactions with everyone and just get it sounding really tight as well."
"In the lead up to that session, we had a few sort of like bumper sessions of getting together for like a week at a time coming out of the lockdowns where we were finally around each other again and getting back into the family dynamic."
"And that really set us up for spending that amount of intensive time together and find a good balance between like eating good foods, recording, going for wild swims and squashing into tiny rooms with four people per bedroom."
"That's kind of why we chose Yellow Arch so we had a big enough room, and it was really nice just being able to spend like a week just living and breathing music," says O'Lenahan. "That was all we did, and it was really relaxed. We didn't stress about it and we knew that everything would go how we want it to. We had faith it would all work."
The pure enjoyment heard on the album only gets better live too. Before getting to hear the album in full, up-and-coming Leeds acts warmed up the crowd that are worth mentioning. Rising star August Charles with his neo-soul group Chissu saw them test out his vocal range and move from moody, atmospheric numbers into dark, R&B groovers and bluesy ballads.
Yusuf Yellow & The Energy Collective brought through uplifting, spiritual hip hop as there was a gospel soul feel to some songs that turned into full blown skankers. Both acts provided the perfect setups for TC & The Groove Family and as they started, immediately an incredibly mesmerising trombone solo from Purcell-Burrows lit a flame that burned so bright for the next hour.
The carnival inspired 'Clipston Parade' got everyone dancing around as well as touching upon more ethereal soundscapes. Second single from the album 'Duende' produced a beautifully swaying afrobeat vibe to the room, with the pulse amplifying Pariss Elektra's vocals before a wonderful trumpet solo from Grifton Forbes-Amos that journeyed into a searing climax. 'Sleeping Lions' was one of the more subtle, gentler songs that had a Latin-Caribbean soulful feeling to it.
The horns section provided super tight stabs, and this continued in the bright and funky 'Sucker Punch'. Hannah Mae-Birtwell's saxophone solo twisted to the motion of Cook's drumming that tickled the rim shots and cymbals before paving way for a scratching solo from NikNak that defied anything I had seen live in a long time from a DJ.
One of the beefier tunes came from lead single 'Bossfight', a fiery UK grime tune that sees powerful horns bounce against Trinidadian soca groove and breakbeats. The lyrics from Elektra represent an anger towards towards governments and political classes that have sown hatred and division in society. This comes from the ongoing systemic racism and oppression experienced by POC’s across the creative industries and society as a whole in this country and around the world.
Elektra goes on to say, "it really is about standing up for what you believe is right, and also understanding your own sovereignty. Taking matters in your own hands, your own community, your own tribe, and be like, "this is what we value and this is what we're going to stand up for and move forward". At the same time, we want to just enjoy that energy with the song."
Cook backs this up. "The ethos within our music and our identity as a band is one that we want to empower people to be themselves, no matter what their identity is. We embrace all identities, and we want to be able to basically have an opportunity where people can really just let loose everything trapped in because of all the situations going on politically."
"So if we can achieve that with the music and the live shows, and give people a feeling of empowerment as individuals and as communities, that's the idea. The belief as a community is more powerful than our leaders essentially. When we come together, those egos that try and rule us are not as not as powerful as they think they are. Actually we're more powerful and that's that's what 'Bossfight' is all about."
After playing through an old spiritual classic from their back catalogue 'Temple', they introduced 'Tio' after handing Lubi his gifts on stage - the song title means 'Uncle' and is dedicated to him. The hypnotic riff in the buildup paved way for some magical guitar loops back and forth from Mikey Scott and Nath Sayers after the melody.
Another dual solo between Cook and percussionist Paolo Mezzoni that ensued was vibrant and dynamic, and that energy was retained with Franz Von rejoining them on stage for 'Weh Dem A Do?' that was super punchy and mixed together Latin and African polyrhythms sublimely.
The drum solo from Cook here absolutely teared up the crowd into hysteria and by the time the group came out for their encore, the surprise cover of Gorillaz' 'Clint Eastwood' focused more on the garagy Ed Case / Sweetie Irie Refix put everyone into a meltdown that made the Brudenell's floor even stickier with drinks flying everywhere every time a drop happened.
It's not only in Leeds where the reception to their live shows has been immense. Mae-Birtwell describes how it's gone down outside of the city.
"People have been to see us that have traveled from London and Bristol, and we've got like a super fan called Faith! She comes to see us, and is dancing and it's so nice! We had a massive conservation with her after a London show we did and she spoke about how much we had inspired her to do more music outside of her job she wasn't enjoying. It was really nice to hear that."
"Sheffield was amazing too, the vibe there in this sweaty basement where you couldn't move as there's 11 of us on stage." Purcell-Burrows builds on this. "The last London show was nice as well because it was the first one we've done since releasing this the singles so when we started the intro to 'Bossfight', people knew the track and that was a really nice reception to have people hollering and getting gassed up for it."
Their shows alongside Bristol's Snazzback around the UK too helped them secure a place on Worm Discs' roster, which has helped them to develop beyond the Leeds scene and steadily progress into the UK jazz mainstream.
"It kind of felt really natural, like the first gig we did in Bristol at The Crofters Rights was amazing and Worm Discs just kind of picked us up from there. We did quite a few shows with Snazzback, including a special one at Shambino, and that kind of just like solidified the Bristol connection."
"Shambino was amazing for us all," says Sayers. "I'd been going since I was 16/17 so to go back to where I had grown up and play and have the opportunity to do that was really special. The turnout for that gig was special and we saw people crying in the crowd! That was our first big festival opportunity and now we are doing so many more like Glastonbury, Shambala, Green Man, Outlook and We Out Here. I think we all agree that was a one of our best moments together."
Guest vocalist and MC Franz Von agrees. "It's been amazing working with Tim and everyone, and I agree with them about Shambino. It was a massive crowd at a massive festival and we just delivered everything on point. From that point, I was like "you're gonna go far" with the reception to the music."
It seems the summer is set for the collective, with them being on the precipice of a big turning point in their journey. With a constant driving energy from Tim Cook behind the kit that spurs on the family to deliver some of the most infectious, big band dancefloor heaters around, it's hard not to see them become a part of Leeds music royalty and take their music beyond the city and hopefully beyond the UK into international waters.
But it's one of the quieter moments from recording the album that has so far stood out for Cook amongst their loud introduction into UK jazz scene. "One of the highlights was actually sat down on the floor of Tom Excell's studio and sitting down listening to Franz Von bringing the fire on a track which was just insane. I was really just blown away by the flow, by the message and it brought the whole track together and to be sat there on the floor humbly just a part of that process and listening to it was just wicked."
We are sure to see more magical moments like this in the future from TC & The Groove Family. Keep tuned into them!
Buy 'First Home' here:
Keep up to date with TC & The Groove Family here:
Watch TC & The Groove Family play live this summer at:
26th June - Glastonbury
30th June - El Dorado
1st July - Outlook
22nd July - Secret Garden Party
23rd July - Great Get Together
24th July - Bluedot
28th July - Kendal Calling
29th July - Deershed
30th July - Farmfest
4th August - Good Society
7th August - Wilderness
20th August - Greenman
25th August - We Out Here
26th August - Shambala
27th August - Camper Calling
28th August - Moovin
3rd September - Smugglers