Federation of the Disco Pimp - funking to the top
Gimme Some Light is the name of the first single by Glasgow groove merchants Federation of the Disco Pimp. It might equally have been called Nothing Ventured Nothing Gained. Because the band’s guiding light, keyboards player Marco Cafolla, feeling that the track would benefit from top level production, contacted the leader in the field, Joel Hamilton, and that’s how Cafolla’s composition came to be recorded in Edinburgh and Glasgow but produced and mixed in New York.
Hamilton has major music biz form. He’s worked with Tom Waits and Gil Scott-Heron as well as producing New York funksters Soulive, whom Cafolla freely admits are the standard that Federation of the Disco Pimp are aiming for. Even top New York producers have to eat, though, and Hamilton heard enough in a live recording that Cafolla sent him with his initial approach to convince him that the Glaswegians were worthy clients.
“When we sat down and drew up a budget for the single we had a wish list of the names we’d have asked to work with if we’d been signed to a major label,” says Cafolla. “And Joel was at the top of the list. I just emailed him out of the blue and discovered that we could do two tracks with him within our budget. He was really complimentary about the band and he’s been spreading the word about us over in New York. He’s even said that he wants us to go over there to work with him on an album when we get the backing for that together.”
Moving in such refined circles wasn’t the slightest prospect when Cafolla began playing piano, a relative late starter at fifteen, when at school in Glasgow. He’d enjoyed general music classes without taking too much interest and although his father had a large and varied record recollection, running from Stravinsky to Herbie Hancock, he hadn’t been bitten by the music bug.
When everyone else in his year started getting time off from “the boring subjects” to take free music lessons, he thought this was a fine idea. It was more than that. He found a natural aptitude for the piano and within a few months his teacher entered him in Glasgow Music Festival and he won his section.
“Getting an early taste of success like that was obviously a spur,” he says. “But I just found that I couldn’t leave the instrument alone. We didn’t have a piano at home, so my grandparents bought me a second-hand upright and I’d sit up till two and three in the morning, playing nocturnes and Chopin.”
This, you may be about to say, would go down well with the neighbours. But strangely enough, it did. The couple next door, who were quite well up in years, actually used to comment favourably on the teenager’s progress, even when he strayed from Chopin towards jazz.
“I studied classical piano up to grade three but having started quite late, I felt that time was against me there,” says Cafolla. “Besides, my dad had played me some Herbie Hancock, which I loved, and then when he let me hear Miles Davis’s In a Silent Way, that just blew my mind. I loved the sounds he was creating at that point and the sense of space in the music. I liked fast exciting jazz, too, but there was something about Silent Way’s atmosphere that hooked me.”
In time-honoured fashion he read the album sleeve notes and investigated the other musicians involved, finding that one album led to another and another. By now coming to the end of his fifth year at school, he decided that music was the only career that he wanted to follow. He enrolled on North Glasgow College’s Music Course, which leant more towards rock than jazz but offered opportunities to get out and play gigs as part of the course work. Then a year later he moved on to Strathclyde University’s Applied Music Course, where a few years ahead of him were musicians such saxophonist Konrad Wiszniewski and drummer Alyn Cosker, both great examples to follow.
“By the time I’d left North Glasgow College I was getting asked to join loads of bands, so I was a gigging musician when I went to Strathclyde,” he says. “I must have played every bar that has live music in Glasgow. It was great experience and my dad was amazing – he used to humph my gear everywhere for me.”
The greatest experience – so far – was the time the great James Brown’s band arrived in town the night before Brown’s final concert in Glasgow and had sent word ahead that they wanted to jam somewhere. Mine host at the Butterfly & Pig obliged and asked Cafolla if they might borrow his keyboards set-up because Brown himself was apparently going to turn up and play keys. This didn’t happen but Cafolla, having looked in socially, was invited up for the first number. As the footage on YouTube confirms, he acquitted himself so well that he was then asked to stay onstage for the rest of the night.
Afterwards, Cafolla got chatting with Brown’s drummer, Robert Mousey Thompson, and the contact has been maintained. Thompson, who knows a thing about how music should groove, has endorsed Gimme Some Light and its double A-side partner, Bruce Lee, and is also spreading the word in the US about Federation of the Disco Pimp and Cafolla’s compositions and horn arrangements.
Cafolla would be delighted if any assignments come out of this but for the moment he is focused on Federation of the Disco Pimp and moving the band on to the next level. He’s just handed in his notice to another band, the Easy Orchestra, in order to concentrate on his own music and trying to push Federation of the Disco Pimp onto the festivals circuit and work further afield.
“The single’s a calling card, if you like,” he says. “It shows people what we can do and although I can go out with a quartet or trio version, like we do at the Blue Dog on our Wednesday residency, it’s the full seven-piece with horns that I really want to focus on. We could play jazz festivals or we could fit easily into Glastonbury, T In The Park, Latitude, those sorts of events. There’s lots of crossover potential because it’s melodic music people can dance to and when James Brown’s former drummer says that something’s really on the groove, I think we can take that as confirmation that we’re doing it right.”
From The Herald, December 23, 2010.