TC & the Groove Family - Let's Start (Interview + Review)
Updated: Oct 7
"Every member of the Groove Family, I cannot state how much of an honour and a humble privilege it is for me to play with them all, and it's why lockdown has been hard because we have had to take a break from writing as it's about being in a room together with that indescribable chemistry."
In between chats about drumming influences, DJ Shadow's 90s classic Endtroducing, the magic of improvisation, and lockdown berry farm work, Ben managed to catchup with Leeds drummer Tim Cook and speak about his project TC & The Groove Family.
The 10-piece collective's music celebrates the coming together of cultures, and the unity that music can provide for everyone. They explore grooves from both the UK and around the world, including afrobeat, breakbeats, jungle and highlife. Having seen them support Pyjæn at The Wardrobe a year ago with a lively and powerful set, the Jazz Revelations team could not have been more excited for their debut release.
'Let's Start' is extremely high energy and captures the exuberance and aggression of the collective's live performance. From the moment TC lays down the ferocious afrobeat groove before the snarling bass line from Beth O'Lenahan, you get a real sense of the drive the next 6 minutes are going to push you to. Full of delicious horns features and a sumptuous guitar solo by Mikey Scott at the end, the song never ceases to stop you grooving to it. TAMBALA offers a dub-inspired remix with ambient flavours running through.
What's apparent after getting to speak to Tim, as I'm sure everyone else agrees with this who has had the pleasure of knowing Tim, is his passion for his music is infectious; that and being modest about his achievements and ability, and his gracious nature in appreciating the hard work of his friends that surround him and have helped make this collective what it is, I doubt there are many nicer and humble musicians around in the world. Enjoy getting to know a great person and wonderful musician.
Tim, when you assembled everyone in TC & the Groove Family, did you have any preconceptions of what you wanted to do or just do whatever everyone wanted to do?
Well it's very much a collective, and there was a time when I wanted to change the name away from TC & the Groove Family as I put the band together for my recital at LCOM with some extra friends performing with us too. Nothing gives me more joy than to approach a piece of music by saying, every single musician here has their own story to tell. So rather than me come up with something, it's everyone contributing and so this is why I struggled with the name of the group. But now the name has stuck because it's been hard to find a different name and I've started to own it a bit more now, the guys love it and think it should be that. It's nice having a band that's led by a drummer, even if it's just led in terms of energy and vibe, but musically it's about the collective. Everyone is so crucial to the band and the writing process.
What's the message of the single 'Let's Start' - is it related to the Fela Kuti song?
I'm glad you mentioned that so yeh, we were jamming in a room and Beth just had that bassline and we were like 'what is this?!' and I immediately just laid down the beat to it with that Tony Allen energy to it. I'd be listening to loads of Fela Kuti and of course the song 'Let's Start' by him. We were all vibing together and buzzing after that session, and then I put on the record 'Let's Start' and we heard that classic intro to the song, with 'let's start what we have come in the room to do', and I thought that is it, that's the message. It's that message of 'let's go, let's celebrate life, whatever worries and difficulties we're facing', let's put that out as music as a therapy almost.
It's like when you see what's going on and the mess we're in and the terrible corruptions of the people in charge, it's a political nightmare really. The oppression innocent people have been facing has made us step back and be like, 'hang on, there's a deeper meaning to this'. It's not just about 'let's start in a room' but let's start in the world, as the collective forms from people from all different backgrounds coming together with a powerful energy. There is a quote I like to use from Mahatma Gandhi, 'your anger is a gift', and for me, 'Let's Start' is letting that anger that we all have as a young generation to ask 'why are we in this mess that has built up over the years?' So the message, after having conversations with the band, we want to use the song in our own way to with our own voice to give encouragement and energy to people who are having a tough time at the moment. We are all giving love in such a deep, meaningful way and the music, energy, anger, and frustration is a therapy for people who stand for unity in the world. The ethos is about breaking through the boundaries we have been given. It's about empowering people.
The solo Mikey does at the end, it really just takes the whole song to another level, and the message just open up to so many different avenues about breaking free and giving power to people who need it. Every time I'm hitting that snare drum, I'm angry because I'm so upset with what's going on. It's all about energy, love, peace, unity and empowerment.
You clearly feel very strongly about the people you're making music with and how they help bring it all together, your enthusiasm is very infectious.
I think as a drummer, we have so much respect and polite and courteous and when I play I love to let that go and use the drums as my outlet to let everything out, it's all about energy and gratitude to be alive and playing with these guys.
You have seen airplay from the likes of Bob Hill of Illicit Grooves, Jazz 91.9FM WCLK Atlanta, Colin Curtis' Worldwide FM show, BBC Introducing and the BBC Radio 6 Craig Charles Funk & Soul Show - have you been shocked by the amount of support you've received?
It's been overwhelming! I call him Uncle Lubi (DJ Lubi Jovanovic) , but Lubi looks out for all the upcoming musicians coming from Leeds and he really cares about the music really and has done so much for us with this single. He can talk for hours about music and he has so much music experience, and for him to come to us and be like 'this is something else' is so humbling. For our age group and only experienced a certain amount of music, his knowledge of music is incredible and for him to hear that in us is a wonderful thing. He has helped so much with the promotion.
What are your thoughts on the Leeds scene?
Yeh all the projects going on, with Necktr that I've been involved in. Then others like Mamilah, Project Hiltz, Space Antics, b-Ahwe, Yaatri, K.O.G., Têtes de Pois - it's all one big family. I want to say thank you to everyone who has released music because it's inspiring and keeps us going and it's really not easy being a big ensemble. I want to say thank you to all those bands and everyone that has come to a gig of ours and shown us love. The music is innovative and having people around us to build that momentum really makes such a big difference. I'm very lucky to have been a part of this community, and if it wasn't for Leeds, we wouldn't have known anybody! For me, LCOM has been really good at giving a platform to different musicians and providing a melting pot of people to perform, and Leeds as a city is so diverse and helps us. There's Subdub, Leeds West Indian Carnival, Cosmic Slop, Soul Rebels, Tight Lines and Sela Bar jams - there's so much different music in the city, and we owe it to the city. It's so exciting to be hearing music constantly and so many venues putting on great gigs.
How have you found adapting to being away from Leeds during lockdown - what was planned that you've missed out on?
Well we had some really exciting gigs planned, with the Groove Family we had our single launch with Lubi, and we had an amazing support from Apltn who is a great guy and awesome producer who does innovative live electronic jazz kinda music.
We had our first gig with Onipa planned too, which would've been mental. That's a project from Kweku Sackey of K.O.G & the Zongo Brigade, I've played with them twice and they have a beast group of drummers. They've got Charlie Grimwood, Fin Booth, and Theo Goss as their main guy who is an absolute monster on the kit with a great feel on the kit and his limbs flying everywhere. I saw him at the Re:Soul jams and he was so creative and just took the drums to another level, whilst playing in the pocket and with groove and taking the song on a different journey. He was a big influence of mine.
How do your influences change between musicians you're surrounded by in Leeds and other idols?
My two biggest influences on me are Tony Allen and Yussef Dayes. They both have such a distinctive sound on the kit that no one else can replace. Their energy into their groove is amazing. Tony Allen is the godfather of afrobeat and created this sound with the syncopation and loose hi-hat - you can't replicate that. You can play afrobeat but you can never touch it like him, and he is always so relaxed and cool.
And Yussef, he's sweating after every beat. I saw him playing with United Vibrations, a band with his brothers, and I was just like blown away and I realised this is why I wanted to play drums. There was a point in my second year at uni I was really interested in the keys and production stuff, I was watching gospel stuff and blown away by the arrangements. But when I saw Yussef, I decided to progress with the drums and speak that language with the drums.
You've supported Yussef Dayes haven't you?
Yeh, well I want to big up Tight Lines for booking us on that gig as it was a great lineup playing alongside Long Legged Creatures as well. I know nothing about jazz really, I love jazz music and I'm in awe of it but I've never studied it. I've never studied Tony Williams or other great players who innovated it, but it's a vibe where I'm like 'wow, I get it'. It's the same every time I hear Yussef play, I can hear heart, not the brain, the heart. Mikey was chatting to Yussef after the gig and talking to him about the band and music and the influence of him on me. So Yussef asked me to play on his kit at 3 in the morning after the gig, and I didn't really think about playing to my hero but it was just madness!
How have your influences changed through your life in how you approach your own music?
Leftfield was the first gig I saw, my parents took me and my sister to Manchester and they had this big electronic show with screens and guest rappers and it was a huge influence on how I play as they use all these different musicians and beautiful cultures together. I think the key for me from that is collaboration, especially when I think about the Groove Family and I introduced the guys together when they had never met each other before. Pariss is an incredible vocalist and percussionist, and when you fuse her with Mikey and Nathan on guitars who I played with them in an indie band where they played incredibly together in this highlife-styled guitar, and alongside Nicole on the the turntables who is an incredible musician.
You have a very energetic style yourself and you drive your grooves for the band that way - do you feel like you want your style to be like that or not?
I think maybe it's down to the fact that I'd never describe myself as a technical player. I never really think too much about what I play I like to be in that moment, and the situations I've been in playing the drums have been ones of loads of energy. So I guess that's naturally comes out, and I'd like to think there might be a time in my life when I calm down a bit! And maybe start to reflect that, but I don't believe I have that discipline yet. Another favourite of mine is Chris Dave, who is such an influential player and has that ability to carry energy but in a laidback feel.
My favourite track out now is from a guy called Daniel Crawford who features Chris Dave on the drums, it's called 'The Change'. I was on the Malvern Hills at the time with the sunsetting on a bike ride, sort of reflecting, and the song moved me a lot as the message relates to changing things related to the BLM movement. And I realised Daniel Crawford is a genius, as Chris Dave is playing an afrobeat groove to this neo-soul hip-hop tune and I realised that this is the music I want to create as the level of harmony, message and groove is amazing. Sometimes you have those songs which just take your breath away.
Has sending bits to other musicians during lockdown kept you going with your passion for music?
For sure, and I think all the musicians in the band are such hard working people and life is hectic for everyone so taking a breather has been really valuable for everyone. It's just been really exciting for us to have this release and build on this momentum and making this release the best possible. It's going to give us another lease of life getting this music out, and hopefully we should have a gig with Music:Leeds soon at some point to look forward too as well.
What else have been up to since lockdown happened?
I moved back home at the start of lockdown, and because I wasn't doing the gigs I was doing a lot of community work, so stuff with schools. Me and Max Purcell-Burrows (trombone) are part of an ensemble called Resonate alongside Greg Burns (Necktr, b-Ahwe), Fraser Kerslake (Morpher) and Aisling Doherty (Mamilah). It's such great fun putting it together, and we went through loads of hurdles to get through to this company called Live Music Now who gave us all training, and just as we were about to have our first session, Covid happens and it all gets cancelled but luckily we were able to do it all online.
Is there plans to continue that in the future?
I really hope so, and in fact I did my second drum workshop since the start of lockdown last week, with a lovely group from a day centre near where I live in Malvern in the West Midlands who have differing abilities and it was awesome. You walked in and everyone was super friendly, no inhibitions and everyone was ready to play and lose yourself in the music.
I think the creative arts are going to be needed more than ever, because with the bits of community work I have been fortunate to do, it is really moving to see that impact of being in a room of people who just want to interact and make music - you can't really beat that. The live interaction is just completely different.
What's you future schedule like to progress from this single?
We're looking to release another tune in November, and alongside it we will have another remix come out with the next single too, and a remix EP that will follow soon too. The dream for next year is to have an EP out with some unreleased songs that we've played live before, we just need to record them!
TC & the Groove Family are:
Tim 'TC' Cook - Drums
Paolo Mezzoni - Percussion
Pariss Joseph - Vox / Percussion
Mikey 'Mantis' Scott - Guitar
Nath Sayers - Guitar
Beth 'Lemonhands' O'Lenahan - Bass
Max 'Snax' Purcell-Burrows - Trombone
Grifton Forbes-Amos - Trumpet
Hannah Mae-Birtwell - Baritone Saxophone
Nik-Nak - Turntables
Buy and stream 'Let's Start' here:
Follow TC & the Groove Family here:
Resonate Workshop - Website