INTERVIEW/PREVIEW: Dave Manington (Riff Raff’s new album Challenger Deep released 11 May, and touring)

Dave Manington
Photo credit: Cat Munro

There’s a gently self-deprecating edge to the name of bassist DAVE MANINGTON’s sextet, Riff Raff. It’s nowhere near a rabble and it’s certainly the opposite of trashy. Peter Bacon explores the band’s burgeoning interactive riches, as revealed on new album Challenger Deep (Loop), with its leader.

LondonJazz News: It’s five years since Riff Raff’s first album, Hullabaloo, but the band (with Brigitte Beraha on vocals, Tomas Challenger on saxophone, Ivo Neame on piano, Rob Updegraff on guitar and Tim Giles on drums) hasn’t been idle in the intervening years, has it? Does the new album Challenger Deep (released 11 May) feel like a substantial move onwards from Hullabaloo?

Dave Manington: The band has developed and tightened up as a live unit and I feel I’ve developed a lot as a writer too. Texturally this album is more electric in feel with Ivo playing Rhodes and Mellotron instead of piano and accordian. It’s also richer, with everyone contributing creatively and in subtle ways throughout. To me it feels like the music is much wider stylistically and influence-wise on this album, it’s more complicated in places, more abstract in others, and I’m very proud of how it’s turned out musically.
Dave Manington's Riff Raff
Photo credit: Cat Munro

LJN: The close understanding between the band members is clear from Challenger Deep. I understand some of you go back a really long way?

DM: One of the most important things for me is to develop a band sound and understanding, creating a unified band identity that comes from not changing personnel. Each member of the band has a lot more individual input and freedom than they might normally have. Rob, Tim and I have a great understanding as we were at school together, grew up together and have been playing together for over 20 years as a rhythm section so the creative rapport we have together is at the heart of the band. I’ve been playing with Ivo for over 10 years now, and Tom and Brigitte for nearly as long so we all have a great understanding and shared musical direction. We’ve all played together in different projects as well over the years, I’ve been in other bands with all of them so there’s a lot of shared experience and knowledge there.

LJN: This must assist you in developing the music in a certain way – I’m thinking of the freedom it gives you...

DM: Well it helps to be able to hear how the music will sound when a certain musician plays it. It also helps to be able to trust them to know how much licence they have to play around with the written music but still deliver the core material with clarity.

LJN: How do you go about tackling new material – do you run it in live and then adapt in the studio, or does the studio come first? And how much is strict composition, and how much spontaneously created?

DM: With this album I planned two years in advance, so we could rehearse and play the music in beforehand. I then organized a UK tour (spring 2017) where we played the new material every night. We went straight from the tour into the studio and recorded this album. I think you can really hear how comfortable and confident everyone sounds on every tune. Often things happen the other way around – you’ll record some new music with a band and then you’ll tour it. By the end of the tour the music is 100 times better and has developed a lot from the album versions. This time I wanted to capture the band at the end of the tour when it was really kicking off! There’s plenty of music on the album that grew as the tour progressed, especially the endings of tunes. Most of the endings are spontaneous and by the time we recorded some of the end sections had morphed into some of the best bits on the album and are nearly as long as the written material again.

LJN: Norma Winstone’s work in the Kenny Wheeler band would seem to be a direct antecedent of Brigitte Beraha’s wordless vocals in tandem with Tom Challenger’s saxophone or Rob Updegraff’s guitar. Would that assumption be correct?

DM: Norma is definitely an inspiration still for us all and there’s also lots of contemporary singers around the world doing similar things now. I’m not thinking about that music much when I write though. I’ll just write as if it’s a two-horn frontline pairing, Brigitte is so strong she can sing anything you’d write for a horn player. Other tunes were obviously more in a melodic-song style and Brigitte has written fantastic lyrics to four of my songs on this album.

LJN: What other bands or musicians – or what areas of music – have influenced you? 

DM: My influences range widely, there’s only two types of music as they say – good and bad.  I think you can hear a lot of different influences in Riff Raff’s music, some from jazz and some from classical music, various world/folk music and alternative rock/pop. Personal favourites – a long list! Here is a potted version. Jazz – Wayne Shorter, Charlie Haden, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Weather Report, Brad Mehldau, Django Bates, John Taylor. Rock/singer-songwriter – Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bjork. Classical – Vaughan-Williams, Stravinsky. I listen to a lot of folk and world music as well.

 LJN: Riff Raff is doing a quartet of gigs to tie in with the album launch. What can gig-goers expect to hear? The album in live performance? Something else entirely?

DM: On the upcoming gigs we’ll be playing mostly material from the new album, then I’ll be starting to write some new music to gradually introduce into the set over the autumn. (pp)

Challenger Deep is released on Loop Records on 11 May 2018.

Dave Manington’s Riff Raff plays the following dates:

11 May: Birmingham, Birmingham Jazz at 1000 Trades  
12 May: London, The Vortex - ALBUM LAUNCH
16 May: Sheffield, Jazz At The Lescar 
14 June: Poole, The soundcellar

LINK: Dave Manington's website

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