The Sun is shining down on the Meadows as Joseph Malik talks about his new record. It’s the perfect weather for the 12” EP released by ever-expanding Edinburgh collective, Out of the Ordinary, and which also happens to be called Meadows. It’s one of the hottest days of the year, and the birds are singing in Malik’s back garden. You can hear them too at the start of Meadows, just before the guitar pattern from Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow era song, Today – played live rather than sampled, with the band’s blessing - eases in the woozily transcendent song launched at a very special gig on home turf next weekend.
Meadows features the twin vocals of former Coco and the Bean chanteuse Rosanne Erskine and Davy Henderson of Fire Engines and The Sexual Objects. Malik may be taking a back seat, but the song’s melting pot of low-slung psychedelic soul, euphoric strings and gospel chorus couldn’t have happened without him.
“It’s an anthem of well-being,” says Malik, who wrote the song after waking up on the Meadows during a period when he was homeless. “I heard the chords of Today, and I knew I wanted that Californian hippy vibe, but still with a tint of Edinburgh and Scottishness. The chorus says ‘I don’t know what to do, but I’ve been here before’, and that’s a unifying anthem. Things can get bad sometimes, and in the modern age just putting ‘like’ on Facebook isn’t enough. Go for a walk with someone, have a cup of tea, and just talk to someone.”
The backbone of Meadows comes from Malik’s long-term collaborators, Proclaimers keyboardist Stevie Christie and guitarist David Donnelly. Also crucial are the string arrangements produced by Chris Greive, trombonist with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and a ubiquitous figure in bands such as NeWt, The Bad Plus and Salsa Celtica. Malik sees Greive as his right-hand man.
“It was a marvellous process of building it up piece by piece,” Greive says of making Meadows. “Being handed something like that with all that beauty in it, I started imagining all the shapes it could be, and the strings had to take it somewhere else.”
Meadows is a trailer of sorts for Out of the Ordinary’s forthcoming album, Stranger Things Have Happened. This takes an after-hours trip through Leith into Edinburgh, and features a huge cast that includes The Bevvy Sisters, former Josef K guitarist Malcolm Ross, Mike Keat of the Cuban Brothers and jazz trumpeter Colin Steele. Younger members of the crew including Zimbabwean vocalist Einstein of Edinburgh reggae band Mellow Chants. Also on board are ex Fire Engine Russell Burn, whose studio hosted much of the album’s recording sessions, while his acting brother Tam Dean Burn channels the spirit of Rabbie Burns by way of Tom Waits and Alex Harvey.
“There’s a crime noir feel to it,” says Malik. “You can hear the cobblestones. You’re there. There’s a daytime/night-time feel to it. It’s got a beginning, a middle and an end, and it’s a great story. It’s not just a record. It’s a statement.”
Meadows and Stranger Things Have Happened are a continuation of Malik’s very personal journey first heard on last year’s Diverse Part 2 album, released under his own name. Fired by a will to survive beyond heartbreak, drug and alcohol problems, homelessness and mental health issues, Malik used music to find some kind of redemption. A packed-out launch show featured many of the players on Meadows and Stranger Things Have Happened.
“It felt amazing,” Malik says of his first gig since 2008. “I couldn’t have done it without everyone who came, but also the band who stayed with me, because we’re one big collective now. I’m a massive Marvel comic books fan, and I see our mission being like The Avengers or something, to win the city back from the cabal of developers, Edinburgh University and the Council who are ripping the ass out of this city.”
Producing two albums over the last twelve months was a life-saver for Malik.
“Music was the only thing keeping me alive,” he says. “Stevie Christie always said before he went off on tour, keep him busy, because if I didn’t stay busy, I’d probably be dead.”
Diverse Part 2 was Malik’s first record for more than a decade. Before that, he had been one half of hip-hop duo Blacka’nized, and was at the forefront of a burgeoning nu-jazz and hip-hop scene. The core of this was the East Coast Project, founded as a collective of kindred spirits much as Malik has done with Out of the Ordinary.
A compilation, East Coast Project – A Journey Through the Sound of Edinburgh, showcased a scene that revolved around Lizzard Lounge, the legendary club night promoted by Malik at the much missed Café Graffiti venue. This era in the capital’s musical life has been all but airbrushed out of the history books.
Once Malik moved in front of the microphone, his debut album, Diverse, released in 2002, shifted 80,000 copies. When the music industry went into freefall, however, Malik ducked out of view.
Today, things have come full circle. This isn’t just in terms of Malik’s own musical output, but his presence as a catalyst, with Out of the Ordinary now spanning three generations of artists.
“The band are so big now it will take more than two gigs to explain who we are,” says Malik. “This one is to introduce Meadows, but we’ll be doing another one in October. We’re going to reinvent what Scottish music can be. Whether it’s soul, gospel, techno, jazz, folk, it can be anything.”
Joseph Malik Blues and Soul Sunday, The Argyle and Cellar Bar, tomorrow, 3-5pm. Out of the Ordinary presents Meadows at the Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, July 13. Meadows by Out of the Ordinary is available on Ramrock Records. Stranger Things Have Happened by Out of the Ordinary will be available shortly on Ramrock Records.
The Herald, July 6th 2019