When I’m asked about The AllStars and how we got together, I always just fall back on our standard blurb out of a combination of laziness and practice! It goes something like this:
“Since their creation in the spring of 2004 The AllStars Collective has brought together some of London’s top session musicians, taking the back-room talent responsible for some of the best known music in the world into the spotlight.
Between them, The AllStars have live and recorded credits with many of the world’s biggest artists, including Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, George Michael, Amy Winehouse, Stevie Wonder, The Eurythmics, Madonna, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Chaka Khan, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and many more.
These unsung heroes have been described by the major record labels as a unique concentration of talent and are very much at the core of perpetuating the UK’s reputation as one of the global centres of excellence in popular music.”
But that’s a bit cold and doesn’t really tell the whole story – in fact it really just skims the surface – and the list of credits in reality goes way beyond the big names we picked as headline grabbers and into every corner of the music world – in a way that is both inspiring and mind blowing to me – do you like jazz? Then how about Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke, John McLaughlin and Marion Montgomery on our list – or how about Rock – try Jeff Beck, Glen Hughes, The Waterboys, Eric Clapton, Cher and Tina Turner – or Reggae? Try Ernest Ranglin, Arrow and Jimmy Cliff! Disco or Pop? Try Gloria Gaynor, Kylie Minogue, The Pointer Sisters, Westlife, Robbie Williams, Enrique Iglesias, Mark Ronson and Take That - and I could go on and on – and the stories in the band room do!
The band really started as a call for help – an old friend of mine, Paul Pacifico, called me and asked if I could put a band together to headline the opening night of his new live venture called “Sunday Café”. Paul was working in The City and had become bored of the grey world of suit wearing Masters of the Universe, and had answered the calling of his musical roots (his grandfather was a prominent Big Band sax player of the post war era, and his great aunt was a renowned jazz singer who collaborated over many years with jazz great George Shearing – and not least Paul is a fantastic Blues harmonica player!). I’d been a session sax player in London for many years, and occasionally I’d do one off gigs under my name with a load of my musician friends. We closed out the night for the inaugural Sunday Café to rave reviews – and the event sponsors, UK radio station JazzFM, loved it. They asked us if we would perform for them to promote the station internationally (they were at that time the world’s most listened to internet radio station) under the name “The JazzFM AllStars”. The guys had all had a great gig, and we readily agreed, performing for the first time under this name on March 28th 2004.
Unfortunately, shortly after this, JazzFM was sold to a large corporation, and ditched the name JazzFM (to become SmoothFM) and the concept. Paul and I had loved the gigs, and we thought there was something here – the band had sounded awesome at its’ first two gigs, and we were eager to do it again! We ditched the JazzFM part of the name and became simply “The AllStars”, and went to work at getting gigs.
We decided from the start that the band would be run as a collective, and our aim was to be fair, honest, and to use any profits to make the group grow and prosper and keep its autonomy, and to look after the musicians interests as best we could. It struck a chord (if you’ll pardon the pun), and it pulled the guys together – finally here was an organisation that loved music, and wanted to help it happen and to keep the musicians in work and treated transparently and fairly.
Live, the band is off the hook – and many of the songs we play, we either have guys from the original record playing, or from the touring band of the artist – so we quickly built up a great reputation, and a full diary of gigs – so much so, that by the end of 2005, Paul had to choose between the day job and the ever growing monster the band was becoming. He decided to go for it – and with his sole focus now on promoting The AllStars, the band quickly grew – taking over its own music festival next to London’s famous Tower Bridge, and starting an annual summer long series of free concerts that have become legendary, and starting its own residency in the heart of London’s financial district which has become a magnet for every musician and music lover in town.
In 2006, it was obvious that our next step had to be to start writing and recording – and we set about making what was to become our first album “All About the Music”. The title song seemed to sum it up perfectly – we’d brought together the best musicians we could find, and made the best album we could, funded from our gig fees, and totally as we wanted it. It really was what it said on the tin!
With a little help from our friend Hamish Stuart, who knows a thing or two about making great records (aside from his work with The Average White Band and Paul McCartney, he’s also written and recorded with Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, George Benson and David Sanborn), and the amazing Jocelyn Brown, we came up with an album and a lead single that we could be proud of.
Lacking the funds of a major label, we brought the album out independently in a very low key way – selling it at gigs and through our website and a few independent stores. The reviews have been fantastic, and the album is growing daily by word of mouth – we get orders from the most unexpected places (in one week alone we had orders from Tokyo, Denver, Ohio and Poland, despite having never playing in any of them!).
It would seem that good things will find a home – and I’m very grateful to everyone that has both bought the album, or been to see us live. The world doesn’t have to be a homogenised bland, cynically commercial and corporate place. There are plenty of people out there who love good music made by talented musicians – I’m one of them – and I’m as much a fan of the band and an admirer of their playing as I am a participant! It’s sad that it’s become “old school” to want to see musicians play their hearts out live – with no sequencers or computers to keep it “just like the record”. Music needs musicians, and musicians need an audience. It’s a simple philosophy, but it seems to work!
It’s been a wild ride, thank you to everyone who has made it so memorable, and long may it continue.
Matt Clackett, Sep 2008