Corduroy arrived on the Acid Jazz scene in early 1992. Self-styled as the Fabric Four, they cut a striking presence with their soundtrack for the beatific generation. Dressed in black turtle neck sweaters with goatee beards, their cartoonish charm and visual style, a cross between Bop musicians and Greenwich Village bohemians, was the cat’s miaow.
Behind the flummery though, there was music that captured hearts and minds; three albums, Dad Man Cat, High Havoc and Out Of Here for Acid Jazz that drew on their unifying love of 60s and 70s TV themes and film soundtracks, then two, The New You and Clik, for Big Cat. The Acid Jazz trilogy will be reissued later this year; the later through Well Suspect Records.
2018, however, welcomes a new album. The aptly titled The Return Of The Fabric Four, recorded in the 2Bit studio in south London between May and November 2017, takes the group – drummer Ben Addison and keyboardist Scott Addison, bassist Richard Searle, guitarist Simon Nelson-Smith – back to their Acid Jazz source with 12 tracks that score that archetypal ’60s spy film, with split screens and montages, car chases, secret agents in black specs and fawn macs and girls in kinky boots and knitted dresses. Interspersed with jazz passages, mood mosaics and a samba, it reminds us just how much Corduroy were ahead of the curve, pre-empting the mid 90s easy listening renaissance that blew up with Club Smashing and Indigo’s and the lifestyle paid homage to in the Austin Powers films.
But their influence stretched even further: a favourite of Blur’s – they’d play their early records on their tour bus as they were formulating their ideas for the Parklife album and British Image Number 1 – Corduroy’s imprint is writ large over Britpop’s foundations. Blur showed their appreciation, inviting Corduroy to play at their 1994 Alexandra Palace extravaganza alongside Supergrass and Pulp. They put on an amazing show, explaining why they reached Number 2 in the Melody Maker 1994 end-of-year Live Poll, despite the music-paper making it very clear they hated the very idea of them.
Corduroy were a thrilling live band from the off. The Addison twins Ben and Scott had previously played in an early line-up of new positive punk group Brigandage and art-mod-yob band Boys Wonder. In 1991, after Boys Wonder had split, a friend and the host of Okie Kokie Karoke, a weekly night in Greenwich’s Up The Creek, offered them £100 to put a half hour set together for a new year’s eve show. They recruited former Dr and the Medics’ and erstwhile Boys Wonder bassist Richard Searle and guitarist Simon Nelson- Smith, another pal, who played in his own jazz band, and Corduroy were born.
“Before we did that first gig we said, “Let’s be the band in the party scene in every film we’ve ever liked.”
A month into 1992 the four, having written an album’s worth of material, were recording it in a Denmark street studio for their debut album on Acid Jazz. Dad Man Cat with its bop speak and Hammond funk set their manifesto and helped sculpt not only their signature sound but that of the fledgling Acid Jazz label’s too. Their 1993 follow up, High Havoc, the soundtrack to a mythical spy movie, spawned London England, a nod to Pete Townshend and a Camden Town anthem. 1994’s Out Of Here featured their scherzo cover of Motorhead.
After their Alexandra Palace triumph, they were set to go from cult band to teen idols; instead they recorded two further albums that flopped, then they split.
Jump forward to 2013 and it’s another one off gig – to promote a rarities box set of the band – that gets the group in the studio together again.
“The show [at Islington Academy] went well, we did a few more and it just made sense to make a new album. It felt needed. If we were to continue to play, we wanted new material, not to just keep doing the golden oldies. Revisit the group’s classic sound – instrumentals recorded with a spontaneous live-in-the-room feeling.”
The title track is the centre-piece, the group’s calling card, “illustrating the four instruments in the band.” It’s a sound gallery of Hammond jazz, funky drumming, popping bass and subtle guitar that’s technically proficient but delivered with inimitable verve, flair and swagger. “It’s our big film soundtrack theme. Our Johnny Pate or Quincy Jones moment.”
Like all the best [imaginary] soundtracks, Return Of The Fabric Four mixes nostalgia with originality in equal parts. Vast in aspiration and musical scope, this is no genre exercise: the joy, passion and commitment in its delivery is palpable. “It’s been a great experience getting back in the studio again. We’ve got a common purpose and the results are smashing.”
With support from DJ Heavy Stylus: an explosive amalgamation of Acid Jazz, funk, hip hop beats, heavy soul breaks and blaxploitation ghetto-funk.