SA Bassists With Martin Simpson: An Interview with Alistair Andrews
Alistair is one of Cape Town’s legendary faces. A Warwick endorser, clinician, solo artist, side man and just about anything else you can think of. Every musician in Cape Town either knows him or knows of him. I had a very interesting chat with this extremely experienced man early this year and this is what he told me.
How did you get started?How long have you been playing Alistair?
More than 32 years now!
I come from a musical family and played violin and guitar before I started playing bass. I didn’t choose bass. Bass chose me. I was playing guitar at the time, and the band needed a bass player, I made the switch and never looked back.
Many bassists seem to come from either a drummer or guitarist background. Can you remember your first bass?
Hofner type of bass – I think it was called a Dia
What instruments do your family members play?
My late father played Banjo and Guitar. My sister plays guitar & my mother sings
Did you ever enjoy ‘family musical evenings’ together when you were younger
Never my Father died when I was very young and I think I missed out on that
Have you played overseas very much?
Not as much as I would have loved to. In fact I would love to move to Europe permanently.
What’s your favourite band?
Mmm difficult one. I would say Weather Report
Who’s your favourite solo artist?
Who’s your favourite South African bassist?
The late Johnny Gertze from Cape Town
What are the instruments you currently use?
I’m currently using two Warwick Thumb 6 string basses – one fretted and one fretless. I also use a Warwick Streamer LX 12 string fretless and a Warwick Alien 4 string acoustic I am adding an upright an a7string to my arsenal
My amplification consists of an SWR Babe Blue with valve preamp, an SWR SM 900 and an SWR Goliath 2x 4 by 10
I also utilize Various Effects.
You endorse Warwick basses. Are you an SWR endorser as well?
Yes I am. Both great gear manufacturers.
What instruments would you like to have if money were no object?
A custom 6 string double bass with onboard MIDI and a playable neck for this monster. A state of the art recording studio with Digital and Analogue gear, A Steinway Grand Piano etc and an OB van with some serious gear so that I can record almost anywhere.
What have you been doing for the last five years or so?
Performing with various projects and lots of composing and arranging. I work mostly with legendary bebop Guitarist Alvin Dyers. I also do Bass Clinics.and am lecturing Music Technology part time at the University of Cape Town.
Writing articles for MUSE magazine.
I’m currently busy with an Instruction Bass DVD.
What topics are you covering in your instructional DVD?
Creative bass lines and solos using Modes and Scales. Funk techniques and Grooves. African Grooves as well as Multi-string and fretless concepts.
What recordings that you’ve played on would you recommend for listening?
My latest album “Rainbow Music” that will be released towards the end of October 2009.
The 10 track album, Rainbow Music was originally going to be called “Let There Be Bass” – why the name change?
The music is like the rainbow, many colours. Let There Be Bass will be another project where I am going to collaborate with other bass players
Could you tell us a little bit about the new album and your previous albums.
My previous album “Your Unconditional Love” was a Gospel album. I used lots of vocals by various singers – sometimes with up to seven part harmonies! My playing on that album was more groove orientated with not much soloing and I played a lot of guitar on the album as well.
My latest one, “Rainbow Music” is a Worldmusic album with a mixture of Eastern, African and Western sounds (Sitar, Koto Mbira, Kalimba, Marimba etc). Everything on this album is worked around the bass with big arrangements. I sometimes use up to 3 bass bass lines at once. I’m at the final stages of the production.
Great musicians such as Mark Fransman, Denver Ferness, Errol Dyers and Ivan Bell are doing their thing on some of the tracks.
How long did Rainbow Music take from conception to final mastering?
Could we go through the album track by track with you telling us exactly what each track is about and what went into it. Starting with:-
It means “here is the bass”. The whole song, like most of the songs on the album, revolves around a basslline. It’s very similar to African bass singing. It starts out with a flashy riff and then into the groove.
I use 3 basses on the song. Upright, accoustic fretless and fretted 6 strings.
This song is dedecited to God who is my refuge and my strength -veryAfrican sounding. The melody is played on a Koto Sound and I also use my 12 string fretless on this song
As the name says, it’s a funky slapping groove with Cape Town in mind. The melody is played on muted Trumpet
Painter of the Sky
This is a ballad and it’s about God, who “paints” the sky at sunset and the stars at night. In South Africa we are blessed with the most amazing sunsets
There is some sitar going on in the song. What kind, is a phrase I used to hear a lot in Durban and that is where I started getting into classical Indian Music
This track is dedicated to Denver Fernuss who plays drums on many of the songs on the album. The song has a Cape Town Ghoema feel
I don’t know where I got this name from it’s a random name for a random song – a bit on the electronic side
Dedicate to my son, Verdine. It’s more of a Ghoema than a Samba
Dedicated to my wife Michell. I used Fretless bass to play the melody. I think of this as smooth jazz
A Reggae tune with 12 string bass.
Will you go out on the road to support the album after it’s been released?
Yes I want to tour as much as I can next year. I have neglected it a bit
Have you already played some of the songs live?
Yes Verdine Samba was written 21 years ago and I played Elapela bass on some festivals.
I work most of the time with other band leaders and we perform their songs most of the time.
I also do lot of Jazz stuff but things are changing and I am busy focusing on my own thing more.
Have you ever recorded anything with another bass player?
No but I am defiantly going to
What’s been the low point in your career so far?
I can’t think of any low points other than gigs where I’ve felt my playing and deliverance was not up to my own expectations.
And what has been the high point?
Experiencing God’s presence when I was working with American Trumpet Player, Phil Driscoll.
What are your goals currently?
To be the best I can be as a person and a musician. To spend more time with my family and Impart as much knowledge as I can. To record a lot more albums, having an Online bass school and to leave a legacy.
What do you get up to when you’re taking a break from music?
I’m a Family man and that’s where you’ll find me. I love cooking – especially “potjie kos”. I love computers – Apple Mac to be exact. I love Soccer (my favourite teams are AJAX CAPE TOWN in South Africa and LIVERPOOL in England)
What role do you think the Government can play to improve the music situation in South Africa?
Firstly, elect a Minister of arts and Culture that does not support buddies at the expense of developing our next generation. Support real projects and programs and not only certain people that move in their circles.
Withdraw funding from projects where there is actually nothing significant happening.
Make sure that Television and Radio stations play more Local Music.
Choose Curriculum advisers that want to take our music Education to the next level.
Offer music at all Government schools and create awareness programs for African music.
Open a resource centre for artists in every Province.
How can we get a Musicians Union together?
Start it with musicians and other sincere individuals! My experience of previous attempts of starting a union was that Club Owners, Festival Organisers and Radio DJ’s were the first to be informed by their mostly shady political connections, to start a musicians union.
Musicians must stand together, have a common purpose and leave their racial and tribal ideas at home and work together as one. It will be difficult, but if we do not start somewhere, we will go nowhere.
Thanks very much for your time Alistair
It’s a great pleasure and an honour
I asked Kai Horsthemke to review Alistair’s album and this is what he had to say;
Port Elizabeth-born and Cape Town-based fat-string monster Alistair Andrews has produced a wide-ranging album with Rainbow Music, which features him on a variety of basses, fretted and fretless, oozing technique and attitude, with great feel and some great melodies. ‘Elapela Bass’ opens the disc with a wonderful piece of fretless flash that eases into a nice bit of pop. What I don’t like here is the kwaito-hop-gangsta-rap stuff, which sticks out like the proverbial thumb. ‘Refuge’ is, again, a mixed bag – with AA alternating between reggae and mbaqanga-type bass grooves. The vocal parts are forgettable but the instrumental and solo sections are highly pleasing – is this a koto? Great! – although the brass chips detract a little from this and the cool acoustic solo. ‘C.T. Funk’ is just that – an ultra-funky ode to the mother city, with thrilling flute and synth work (I love the retro sound of the latter!) and the leader’s thundering thumb. This is a first real favourite on the disc. ‘Painter of the Sky’ is the longest piece here, clocking in at 8.26 minutes. The chords of this ballad are gorgeous, but the piece is marred by the ersatz-Stevie Wonder vocalese – not at all badly sung, but so utterly derivative and irritating that one is moved to reach for the fast-forward button, before one has even reached the so-so sax solo and a competent-but-hardly-memorable piano solo. This should go down well with those who dig R&B vocal acrobatic indulgence – to my ears, this is the one track to skip. ‘What Kind’ is all funky, albeit with lush strings and some great muted trumpet, and AA shining on funk and melody basses. But why add the sitar-figure only at the very end? More, please! ‘Got it’ is an intriguing little piece that contains a number of little rhythmic and melodic gems, and some great instrumentation: another favourite here. ‘Verdine Samba’ is neither a tribute to the earth Wind & Fire low-end henchman nor a samba, strictly speaking – it turns out to be ghoema piece dedicated to AA’s son, actually! Lovely guitar solo, by the way, and the same goes for the fretless break. Then there is ‘Mich’, the third of my favourite pieces here – a fretless and piccolo bass ballad, with some nice hooks and key changes. To conclude: I could have done with more of the ‘world music’ influences and quotes AA includes here, often only in snippets (especially with the development of many of these ideas), and with less of the more mainstream R&B and southern African pop clichés – but I’m aware that this opinion may not be very representative. Anyway – ‘Rainbow Music’ caters for many diverging tastes and is a very good showcase for the bassist’s many competences.
Kai Horsthemke/ January 2010