Back in may of this year I came across a young, unassuming gentleman by the name of Gene Dudley. Ironically (or not as the story goes), it was in a small record shop just a little North of Crouch End, and after a few clumsy introductions (namely on my part, I had been drinking…), we got chatting. Fast forward a few months later and I find myself sitting at a desk, desperately trying to recall what we actually spoke about. Alas, therefore, I’m a little light on funny anecdotes this time around but that’s certainly not to say that Mr Dudley isn’t memorable. Sitting here, slowly digesting his new album ‘Saturday Shifting’ a week before its official release date, I think it’s also fair to say his music is not of the forgettable kind either.
Thrust into the limelight courtesy of a newly inked deal with UK record label Wah Wah 45s, Gene now finds himself at the forefront of a little promotional campaign, a campaign that has already seen former Fun Lovin’ Criminal (and current BBC 6Music radio don) Huey Morgan describe his first single as ‘something really special’ and has put him in the enviable position of not only holding his début album launch at London’s Jazz Cafe this Saturday (13th July) , but at the very same time sees him warm up for newly rediscovered Haitian pianist, singer/songwriter Henri-Pierre Noël (namely familiar to those that know for his now ‘not so rare’ amazing private press album ‘Piano’).
It’s quite a start for Mr Dudley who two years ago it seems was just another bedroom producer crafting instrumentals for his own listening pleasure, but Gene is, as first noted back when we first met, as level-headed as they come. A self-professed “one man soul/funk head-scratching affair, dreaming it up, then trying to make it exist”, he has on his first attempt created an album that are equal parts established and noteworthy. On ‘Saturday Shifting’ Gene cuts a collection of instrumentals ingrained with the same ingredients as those classic Daptone Records and Truth and Soul singles but with extra exotic flourishes and without a band! Like a modern-day early noughties era Quantic or Bonobo, he blends an eclectic mix of styles to make something ever so nicely enticing to the ear. And those comparisons don’t just end there.
The Man And His Instruments
A multi-instrumentalist with a keen ear for samples, Gene also knows his way around a few bits of musical kit, although, by his own account, his start in making music was “Pretty gradual, I played guitar first – starting at age 11. Was fully in to it from day one. No virtuoso aspirations – just loving being able to do simple things. That blossomed when I joined a band with school mates around 15, then my parents got me a cassette 4 track for my 16th birthday. I soon realised that once you’d recorded the guitar part – you were maxed out, spent with nowhere to go, but yet it didn’t sound finished.” he explains. Soon it became clear that he would need to push the boundaries. “Every other instrument I learned from there. I started tinkering with piano and drums at 16. Fully into them too. Would stay after school and play till I got kicked out, then when I left there, I would stay after college till they kicked me out. Horns I didn’t pick up till a few years into my twenties. I really wanted to make music with them and had this feeling like I’d missed my chance to play.” Digging through YouTube tutorials made by teenagers straight back from their music classes, Gene taught himself the basics of the trumpet and saxophone. “Like it’s as a kid you learn or (do) nothing with them – but then I slapped myself and thought – if a school kid can play it, surely I can. I’m happy knowing the rudimentaries of trumpet and sax – it can get you a long way with the right arrangements.”
Those newly acquired skills set him in good stead to start experimenting, and soon he enough he had enough material recorded to form an album. Approaching Wah Wah 45s seemed like a sensible idea when considering their past catalogue and within a year, the double A side single ‘The Fawcett Negotiation’ dropped digitally this April to some acclaim (and for free!). Looking back now, Gene is enthused about the reception the single has received, and with his full début now on the horizon, “really excited for people to hear the album”. Asked whether he had any words for budding musicians and producers, he shared this bit of wisdom; “The only advice I have is to finish music. “I have too many talented friends with hard drives full of half-finished sketches that may never get heard. Oh and don’t be fooled by shiny modern boxes – buy some eBay junk. Old ribbon mics and spring reverbs make me happy”.
The Gene Dudley Group – The Fawcett Negotiation
Exploring the album a little deeper, it soon becomes clear that in addition to the overt soul and funk flavours, there’s also a little classic jazz, reggae and afrobeat mined to give each track its own carefully crafted identity. Gene talked a little about his writing process, or more to the point, the lack of one. “I just try not to think too much about (it). I’ve been in over-thought ruts before and it’s not a good feeling. The bulk of the album was done in three weeks in my flat. I set out some parameters for myself – mainly sonically and instrumentation wise – then I just cut loose and had fun.” Discussing the diverse palette of sounds on the record, Gene had this to say “I love bits of funk, soul, jazz, reggae, afrobeat, exotica – so I just let them all leak in naturally. Madlib is an inspiration to me – his Yesterday’s New Quintet project is great. You can hear the quick decisions – and the disregard for certain conventions. He’s definitely not using popular music as a yardstick for his productions. He just imagines his own.”
The Live Set Up
So what about ‘The Gene Dudley Group?’ For an album concocted entirely in his own head, the notion of a group of musicians working together behind the scenes is swiftly dismissed (although Ewan Whyte and Tom Jackson do play a solo or two on the record). So how will he translate these songs to a live setting? Having already made appearances this summer at The Garage and XOYO in London, it seems Gene has already got this covered, drafting in a quartet of top musicians to help him out at the last two gigs and he will use the same approach this Saturday. “The live band side of things has really pleased me. It’s been painless to put together and has led to meeting some great players. It’s been exciting to hear my arrangements in 3D around me. We’ve only done a few shows but they’ve all been a blast!”
With the album now wrapped up and set to hit the shelves next Monday, Gene hopes the future’s bright and when pressed about a follow-up, he opens up about how he’d like to progress his sound and his appreciation for Norwegian Wunderkind Todd Terje’s recent run of twelves. “Trying to get this heard by people who are looking for a new record to enjoy is the main goal. Playing live as much as possible. As for a follow-up – we’ll see what oozes out and when” he explains. “Working with a vocalist interests me a lot – so many things would have to be right for it to work so we’ll see what happens. I love instrumental music though. I listen to a fair amount (and) when you need it, it’s there waiting. Sometimes it sets a scene that a vocal track can’t, or a vocal might ruin. Instrumental dance music I pretty much always prefer to stuff where they’ve shoehorned a vocal in or on. I love Todd Terje’s last few releases!”
With that final outburst, I remembered that primarily we run a jazz blog, so I better do my bit of shoehorning. With a love for a bit of trumpet, Gene must have a little jazz gem languishing in his music collection ready to be shared right? So I asked him the golden question… Chet Baker’s ‘It Could Happen To You’ was his response. “It’s hardly hidden but it’s a big favourite! He’s a big trumpet inspiration too – he doesn’t play very high, and he doesn’t do too fancy stuff – but what he does do is just perfect!”. Here it is if you don’t know it, or purely want to share Gene’s moment.
Listen to the full ten-track album below to get a taste of what to expect from Gene’s début and if you dig it why not give his Bandcamp page a whirl to purchase. I’m sure it will do some damage on the more eclectic dancefloors around London Town and beyond, particularly the deeply afro-tinged ‘The Hilo Bay Halfway’.
UPDATE: You can also grab yourself a vinyl copy of the LP courtesy of those great people over at BeatDelete!
Which just leaves me to remind you about this Saturday night. If you’d like to try before you buy and moreover enjoy the sounds of the album in a sonically pleasing live setting, then you can catch Gene and his crew in action at The Jazz Cafe before his Canadian based label mate Henri-Pierre Noël takes centre stage and plays a rare UK show in support of his recently reissued LP, ‘Piano’. You know it makes sense!
Words and interview: Rob Coley (@robcoley)