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Licence to Thrill…An Interview with the Mustard and Blood Band

Posted on 31 May 2016

Following their acclaimed, sell-out performances recreating The Band‘s The Last Waltz concert at the Belgrade a few years ago, the Mustard and Blood band return to the B2 auditorium with three very special live, shows this June.

Shaking (and stirring) up Coventry’s music scene since 2003 – one gig at a time – The Mustard and Blood band is a collective of over 17 local musicians, led by full-time art teacher and semi-professional musician, Johnny Nicholds.

From the unmistakable sound of James Bond to the cult hits of Quentin Tarantino’s countless movie soundtracks, this highly original festival runs in the Belgrade’s B2 auditorium for three nights only from Thurs 16 – Sat 18 June.

Ahead of the festival, we caught up with Johnny to find out more about the band’s origins, its off-beat musical style and what attracted them to take on the soundtracks of two of modern cinema’s greatest icons, John Barry and Quentin Tarantino!

Who are Mustard and Blood and how did the idea for the band come about?

Mustard and Blood is a collective of performers, all of whom come from very different musical backgrounds and styles. The group is made up of both professional and semi-professional musicians, teachers, administrators, caretakers…everyone really!

I suppose the idea for Mustard and Blood originated from me and my friends wanting to start something that wouldn’t just feel like a conventional ‘gig’. Every band that we were around at the time seemed to have one, white male singer, an electric guitar, a bass and a drummer…that wasn’t us. We were an acoustic band. We used to do a lot of work involving harmonies. Over time, we thought – with all of these artists who could sing harmonies – why don’t we have our own choir. We also had a lot of people who could play woodwind really well so we started to build up the foundations of a small orchestra.

Now, depending on performances, there’s between 17 and 23 of us on stage at any one time.

Where does the name of the band originate from?

The name Mustard and Blood actually came from one of my song lyrics, ‘Mustard and Blood should not mix, but they will mix’.

When we first got together, we had two groups of people in the band ‘The Rock Lot’ and ‘The Acoustic Lot’ who never met and who never spoke to one another. That was really the idea behind the group – the idea of these two completely disparate soundscapes and disciplines coming together to produce something magical.

Since 2003, we’ve been putting on nights of themed music around the city. We nested down in the Albany Pub in Earlsdon and made it our home. Every third or fourth Tuesday a month, we take our instruments and plug into their PA and give them a gig.

In recent years, we’ve hosted a night of ‘biblical’ proportions which explored the dark side of the bible through some of its best-known stories. We also did a Tom Waits night and a Nick Cave night which went down really well with audience. Most recently, we performed as part of Coventry Cathedral’s outdoor festival ‘Dusk’ which was an incredible experience for us.

Our ethos is all about giving the audience more than just a gig. It’s about giving them something that was more akin to a theatrical experience which makes the Belgrade an ideal space to perform it.

You will be performing three shows this June at the Belgrade, ‘Bring Out The Gimp’, a celebration of the soundtracks of Quentin Tarantino, Francophile; an evening of French chanson and Shaken Not Stirred, a musical journey through the music of James Bond & John Barry. What inspired you to take on these three very different gigs?

Ever since having my children, I’ve been out of music for a while. Then, one night my friends Gee Vaughan and Lucy Anne Sale got chatting about Quentin Tarantino.

Although he’s also an extremely talented director, Tarantino is very much a DJ for us. He chooses his songs so beautifully, so painstakingly. That’s an art form in itself. They are as much a part of the experience as anything you see on screen.

Whilst we’re by no means a covers band, we were really keen to take on some of the songs featured in his films and put them together with a flourish of our own. They’re not exact copies, they’re renderings…they’ve been ‘Mustard and Blood-ed’ essentially.

We’ve tried to choose the set in a way that will please the Tarantino devotees but also give audiences a flavour of something new. Die-hard fans can expect to find more than their fair share of cult classics like Miserlou, Stuck In The Middle With You, Let’s Stay Together, Long Time Women, Jungle Boogie, Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) and Son Of A Preacher Man to name a few. But we’ve also tried to work in some lesser known gems that people might not instantly associate with Tarantino like Chick Habit, Little Green Bag by The George Baker Selection and Jeepster from Tarantino’s 2007 Grindhouse.

Tarantino’s soundtracks are so diverse in terms of genre and style, it’s been a real joy getting to grips with the music and putting our own stamp on it. Jackie Brown for example, has some fantastic soul numbers in it. A lot of us are folk musicians by default. We hadn’t really experimented with soul so this was a really exciting departure for everybody.

When we did our first night of Tarantino stuff, we really got the bug so – after a few drinks one night at around two in the morning, Gee and Ryan our guitarist suggested we should try doing James Bond. When I say Bond, I mean the music of John Barry specifically and other artists whose tracks have appeared within the film franchise over the years.

I originally thought symphonic music was a step too far for us but, six months later and here we are – about two songs away from having a full set.

John Barry very much invented the ‘Bond sound’ – as heard in songs like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, that sweeping mix of brass, jazz melodies and strings. In that sense, he really paved the way for many of the genre’s more recent hits – songs like Tomorrow Never Dies, Sky Fall and Another Way To Die. As with ‘Bring Out The Gimp’, we’ve tried to put our own spin on some recognizable Bond classics as well as hits from Barry’s wider cinematic back-catalogue including Midnight Cowboy, We Have All The Time in the World and Theme from the Persuaders.

And an evening of French chanson? Was this something of a passion project for you?

Francophile, the third concert in the series, came about from listening to a lot of Scott Walker. One of his most successful projects was a series of Jaque Brel covers which he had translated. I listened to those and I was just taken away really.

I couldn’t believe that from loving punk and folk that I was suddenly into what was essentially Music Hall. As I followed that root, I met up with Edif Piaf through songs like La Vie en Rose and La Mer. Then there’s Serge Gainsbourg of course, whose musical output is so eclectic it’s practically impossible to define.

The French ‘chanson’ style, for me, captures a real sense of fun. Songs like Je T’aime…Moi non plus and Comic Strip – there’s a buoyancy and a playfulness there that’s just infectious. As well as that, there’s something symphonic about a lot of the music…Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, Ne Me Quitte Pas and Heaven a Mercy, they capture so much drama, and in only two minutes.

I just fell in love with it and continue to fall in love with it to this day.

What are you most looking forward to about playing in B2?

B2 itself is a wonderful space and to be able to perform in that theatre setting, which isn’t too big or intimidating, makes it perfect for what we want to do.

We want to deliver a gig, as we’ve said, but really it’s a show with theatrical parts, with props and lighting. You can’t really put your props out in the average pub or venue as easily.

Performing in a space like B2, we can play with the subtlety and dynamic of sound and visuals in a way that wouldn’t be possible elsewhere. Plus everybody can see us – everybody has an optimum view of the band!

If you had to choose a favourite track from ‘Bring Out the Gimp’, ‘Francophile’ and ‘Shaken, Not Stirred’, what would they be and why?

For Tarantino, it would be Chick Habit because, whilst it doesn’t take too many members of the band to perform, it produces a really big, clean sound and it’s probably the least well known of the Tarantino numbers. From ‘Francophile’, I’d go for Je Suis Le Poinconneur des Lilas which is a Serge Gainsbourg song which shot him to fame in 1958. From Bond, I’d go for ‘Thunderball’, providing I can reach the last note…

What can audiences expect from a night with Mustard and Blood?

I think it’s fair to say that, with all of our gigs, whatever the space, the audience become part of the band. You can’t hide how much fun we’re having on stage and we don’t try to.

When I’m performing, I feel incredibly lucky to work with some of my best friends and to make such magic on stage which will never be heard that way again. Even if we’re playing the same song another night, you’ll never hear it quite that way a second time.

That’s the beauty of live performance!

Bring out the Gimp – music from the films of Quentin Tarantino runs on Thursday 16 June, 8pm & Saturday 18 June, 2.15pm. Francophile – an evening of French chanson music runs on Friday 17 June, 8pm and Shaken not Stirred – the music of James Bond & John Barry runs on Saturday 18 June, 8pm in B2. For further details and tickets, call the Belgrade Box Office on 024 7655 3055 or visit www.belgrade.co.uk

This article first appeared via the Coventry Telegraph on 25 May 2016. You can view the original article here.

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