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Papa Cool!

By Felix Mensah | 20 November 2017

Britain’s very own cult pioneering Rhythm & Blues icons Ricky Cool & The In-Crowd have progressed into respected cult status from being a captivating live act… and still provide that live kick-butt experience befitting old school R&B. Ricky Cool takes a few minutes of his busy time to answer a few questions.

Would you please introduce yourselves to the readership of Black Sheep?

I have been playing music in front of audiences since the late 1960’s. Initially I played solo. Singing plus harmonica and acoustic guitar. Trying to emulate my blues heroes. Artists who influenced me hugely at that time were Sonny Boy Williamson No 2, Sonny Terry (both harmonica) and guitarists such as Lightnin’ Hopkins, J.B. Lenoir and Mississippi John Hurt.

I became seriously involved in bands from the mid 1970’s onwards. This started with the formation of a band called Ricky Cool and the Icebergs, who were very popular in the Midlands and then started performing on the pub rock circuit in London. An artist who was a huge influence on that band was Louis Jordan, who was known as the Godfather of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He was one of the first performers to have ‘crossover’ appeal with black and white audiences in a very racially segregated 1940’s and 50’s USA. He was also one of the main inspirations for Little Richard and James Brown. 

Following The Icebergs I fronted a number of bands, mainly playing old school rhythm and blues, either covers of largely forgotten artists’ music or writing original numbers in that style. Since the turn of the century I have been increasingly influenced by early Jamaican music: mento; bluebeat; ska; rock steady and early reggae. I have been fortunate enough to be able to work with a number of fine reggae musicians in the Birmingham area and I have had a long association with David Parry, a superb guitarist who plays rhythm and lead in my current band Ricky Cool and the In Crowd.

Ricky Cool and the In Crowd draws its influence from mainly 1960’s African-American and Jamaican music. Our set is about half and half covers and original material. It is the music that was popular with Mods in the first half of the 1960’s and it was mainly heard in the clubs of Soho, played live or on sound systems. Count Suckle was one of the main sound system guys in London at that time. His clubs ‘The Roaring Twenties’ and later ‘The Cue Club’ were THE places to hear rhythm and blues, bluebeat and ska in the early part of the 1960’s. He was very influential in the musical development of bands such as The Rolling Stones, Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames (who we liken ourselves to) and other rhythm and blues based bands.

What can music fans expect forthcoming from you, and what’s the reaction been to the new live album?
The new live album is not released yet. We only did the two recorded gigs at The Troubadour, Earls Court in October. We feel that there are 17 tracks from those gigs that are of good enough quality for release. We have tidied these tracks up and they are ready to be mixed. Realistically it will be sometime early in the New Year when we have the live album ready. We hope to start work on a new studio album in February. If everything works to plan, this will be recorded at a studio in Sweden and will see us collaborating with a well-respected engineer/producer who owns the studio. Nothing is certain at present but if it all works out there will be the chance of us getting our music placed with an independent record label. That in turn will help raise our profile and lead to more work in the UK and Europe.

How do you see the 'live' music scene at the moment for a 'traditional' R&B fusion group like you?

The ‘live’ music scene is very different from when I first started out gigging with bands. We are talking about a time when Hip Hop and House music were in their infancy. There was a thriving pub scene and these gigs enabled you to build a reputation and get seen by record company A and R people. This was the pathway to getting a deal.  Nowadays there are still a lot of pubs that put on live music but they tend to be free admission venues and they do not provide much of platform for new talent with something to say in their music.  When Ricky Cool and the In Crowd first started we made use of this circuit to help build a following for the band but there comes a point, if you are serious about progressing the band, when these gigs become counter productive and you have to leave the circuit behind. This is the stage we are at now. Getting gigs is not easy when you are self promoting, as we are at the moment. This is particularly true when you are trying to play in new areas of the country and make inroads into Europe.

Any plans to physically take your music outside of the UK?

Most definitely. We do have a festival gig in Germany lined up for 2018 and we hope that this will bring us to the attention of some European promoters. Again, if all works out with the new recording projects, this may help us get more work abroad.

Which famous musicians/ performers have inspired you?

There are so many that to whittle it down to a few is difficult. However names that stick out are: Elvis Presley (early years), Little Richard, Louis Jordan, Ry Cooder, Sonny Boy Williamson, The Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Bob Marley, 

Is there an artist out there that you would like to work with?

I was most impressed with Arika Kane. A great soul voice and someone who I’m sure we could do a good job for, providing accompaniment. We have, this year, collaborated with a great singer from Birmingham, Judy Blu. She is very versatile and is making quite a name for herself, mainly locally, at the moment.  We were working with her at a fundraiser in honour of a great Midlands singer/songwriter, Jim Hickman, who died from a heart attack earlier this year. Jim and I worked together in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.

Anything that you care to add as the interview closes?

After many years of being in the music business I am really pleased to be part of a band that allows me, possibly more than ever before, to explore my creativity and musicianship. It’s great to feel that after all this time I still have something to offer and the determination to develop, with the band, as far as possible.

For further information regarding Ricky Cool & The In-Crowd:

http://www.rickycoolandtheincrowd.co.uk/
https://www.reverbnation.com/rpk/rickycoolandtheincrowd

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