Thanks for giving me a bit of your time, I know you boys are busy
S: Nah it’s sound, it’s nice to finally talk to you as well.
T: I was just about to hoover the stairs as well, so you’ve done us a big favour there, Michael!
If it’s cool to go back to the beginning and how you got involved in music, and how you guys met each other?
T: Yeah definitely, Smoove was in the industry well before me.
S: I was basically quite lucky, i was in a band, well the guys in the band were about 10 years older than me and they had a bit of experience, so when I got signed which was when I was about 19, which was incredibly young back then, I didn’t know what I was doing. I learned from the guys around me. Then that progressed; different labels, I did some solo stuff and ended up signed to Acid Jazz. When I was kind of wanting to leave Acid Jazz after so many years, I met John through his wife-to-be, Nicola, who wanted me to record some demos for John’s group at the time called the Stevie’s. So I did that and then invited him to sing on one or two tracks, one thing led to another and here we are.
T: 12 years later and we’re still chinning each other every day. Aye!
I read somwhere that you heard John singing in the garage next door, was that a bit of a piss take then?
S: No, no! Half of it’s true, half of it’s made up. Porter, who’s the keyboardist in the band lived next door to me mate, who I was in the Stevie’s with and he kept saying “Smoove you gotta check this kids voice out, he sings in the garage every day” And that’s what I did.
T: I loved writing songs. I used to get a crate o’ lager, some smokes and that would be me until two in the morning. I’d get in the garage at eight in the evening and leave at two in the morning and if we couldn’t remember the song the next week, it wasn’t worth having, that was the rule.
S: What’s funny though, that’s still not how we met, when Mike finally came round my house and met Johnny he put two and two together and got seven and went “Ohhh, my god that’s him from the garage!” And that was it, it were quite funny. Initially John didn’t like the look of Mike, he was like “he was ‘horrible!”
T: Bear in mind I had worked on building sites since I was 16, I didn’t meet a lot of people with bowl haircuts and he was really in me face as well. So I didn’t like him for the first couple days and now he’s me favourite person in the world, what an idiot I was.
Haha! It’s just the way it goes sometimes innit, first impressions and all that?
T: Exactly, exactly. I take it all back, I love the guy
You quickly formed a band after that didn’t you? Mike’s still a big part of that I’m guessing?
S: Mike was already working with me when I was with Acid Jazz, he was laying down keys and playing synth-bass on some of the old productions and remixes I was working on so I knew Mike anyway. To be honest I never invited him into the band, I just couldn’t get rid of him, he was always there.
T: He’s like the dog you found and gave some food to and they just love you forever! He’s one of life’s good guys, y’know? And so he was the original member of Smoove & Turrell. It was me, Smoove and Mike. We did our first ever gig together in this basement bar in Newcastle, I think there were three people there and that was us!
S: The thing that pulled us together, the sort of moment when it went ‘click’ was the moment we got asked to play the BBC. We didn’t even have a proper band, we were like “right, we need to put something together here.” So we grabbed a bass player, who was a friend and ‘Ozzy’, who was also a friend and a drummer; he was in a rap group I was in years ago called Rubberneck. Then, Athel, who’s the drummer’s brother, and that was it. We had this performance to do and I think it was the Craig Charles show, years ago, 11 years ago. We were excited but also petrified but we pulled it off actually, y’know, all things considered.
S: That was the spark for us thinking “We need to start a live band” and the record company was saying to us “Ah you don’t need seven people man, just strip it down to four people and get in a car and go round the country.” And I was like “Nah! It’s seven or it’s none.” And they said it was ridiculous, but I was right yet again. Well actually, it’s a six piece.
When you say record company, are you talking about the lovely Jalepeno Records?
T: Yeah, big Trev! The great thing with Jalapeño though is the that the staff very rarely change. It’s not like a major label where you’ve got like this dude one week and an arsehole the next week.
S: Nah, you got arseholes all the time! Haha! Only joking.
T: You’ve got a great group of people, who deeply care about the record and deeply care about the artists who are on the labels. So, It’s perfect for us cos very loyal blokes from the north and I don’t think we could have put up with that sort of major label swapping and changing and the bulshit that comes along with it, y’know?
S: They give us total freedom and any artist wants that, but they’re also there to give artists that extra push if they do need it. It’s a great label for that . . and also, the number one thing is that they pay us on time!
That’s what it’s all about mate, you gotta keep it rollin’ haven’t you? I think ultimately they’re all friends aren’t they?
S: Yeah totally.
Your sound is such a good fit for Jalapeño and what they do there
S: We were just talking about this the other day, when we got the deal there. We got the first record and we pitched it out through an agent and within an hour we had loads of labels wanting to sign us, all independent but all abroad. I really wanted something in the UK, not that it makes that much difference ‘cos we don’t actually see them that often but Jalapeño were the ones who were literally breaking the door down for it, so it was sort of y’know, like they lucked to be the ones and I had already heard of them through Skewiff and what they did in the past.
T: Kraak & Smaak were already signed to them at the time. I’d heard of them from way back when they started so I was really familiar with them, so it just seemed really obvious to be honest.
And it’s worked out fine by the looks of things, it’s six albums, actually seven albums now is it?
T: Exactly! Twelve years later, seven album releases all together
So, moving on now to the new album and with regards to the way your sounds has developed, you were classed as a funk and soul band but you seem to have shaken that now with this new record?
S: That was the idea really, you can’t keep making the same album. We’re known as funk and soul but me, John and the band are very diverse, as you’ve heard on our radio show it’s very eclectic, that’s what we’re into, that’s our influence. The disco has run deep for me since I was twelve. It was just shaking it all up, there was a sort of pivotal moment where we were all DJing. I was DJing and John was singing some sort of improvised stuff. We were doing shows in the UK – and especially abroad – where they couldn’t afford the full band so, there was a moment where we suddenly looked at each other and went “Why don’t we do this on the album?” That kind of energy. That was definitely a huge influence, stretching things out and not necessarily having the structured songs we’re used to.
T: We still kept the soul of what Smoove & Turrell is, without rehashing stuff we’d already done. I think giving Mike a lot more free reign and plus, Neil Harland, who’s the bassist, he’s in ‘Above and beyond’, so he knows dance music in and out and he was a massive help on this album. The guitarist, Lloyd, he wasn’t precious about this kind of guitar thing where you have to have a solo, Lloyd, is quite happy with just finding a beautiful sound and sticking with it. So that made that little jump to the left that we did easier, cos everyone was wanting to do it.
S: And we spent two years jumping really. It was a shock to the label more than anyone.
T: They weren’t sure at all, cos they’d heard a song here and a song there and they were going “Do you think this is the right way? Do you honestly wanna go down this route?” Trevor never really got it, until he heard the album in it’s entirety and he went “It’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard!”. Off the back of that we had the hope that the album was gonna do well. We couldn’t understand how well it was gonna do until we saw the sales, and obviously when we got number one in the dance charts and into the top 40. We never, ever had that happen before so we knew we were onto something and were making records right.
Yeah it’s worked out really well, it’s an absolutely cracking album. Has Craig Charles disowned you now then?
S: Ahh, yeah completely, haha! Nah, y’know we’re friends with Craig, so even if we made an album he didn’t like, he’d still keep in touch with us. He’s a great guy really, one of life’s good guys.
T: He has been supporting it, with singles like “Do it” which was much more of a disco tip, he’s been supporting that loads on his show on radio two and on six music as well. He’s always behind us though. He’s there for life, is Craig.
It’s such a shame not being able to go out and tour this, obviously at the moment so many people are suffering in the music industry, how have you guys kept it together without actually going out and touring? What’s been your mindset?
S: We did rehearse the stuff before the lockdown and we had it sounding really good and the gauge of when stuff is sounding really good is when you’re getting to the end of a song and Mike’s just going “FUCKING GET IN! GET IN!” Then it’s always like “Wow, yeah this is gonna go down a storm.” We never really got the chance to do it, just recently we did one gig to about a hundred people. That was amazing, that was a real sort of release, but, the boys need to play, it’s in their blood, it’s in their DNA, if they don’t play, they lose their minds. And they lose their money as well.
T: That’s the hardest thing, when two people are running a sort of tight crew of lads who are loved, it’s hard on us, we’re not making money, but it’s even harder on them. I don’t know, it’s just a terrible situation that we’re in at the minute. It’s a joke, it’s affecting so many people around us, even the vans we hire, the drivers, the sounds engineers, the guys who do the lighting, it goes on and on and on. The actual knock on effect is incredible. We’re at the sort of pinnacle of it, y’know the more it spreads out to the people, even the students working in bars on low wages, haven’t even got that coming in. It’s a disaster really.
It is, you could be ballet dancers gents, you just don’t know it yet!
S: Yeah I’ve actually just started retraining!
T: You’d think that the music industry isn’t a big export but it’s one of the biggest exports that Britain has. It brings in billions of pounds and it also brings in billions of pounds for the government in this country as well but they’re so short sighted.
S: I think the thing is; they actually want rid of it, if you remember the trouble that went on with Madam JoJo’s years ago, they just want rid of that nightlife and it was nothing to do with the seediness of Madam JoJo or anything like that, or the fight. They just want rid of night life culture completely, so they can sell it for properties and they want that up and down the country, y’know?
T: The level of corruption in this country is at a point that I’ve never seen in my lifetime, and I lived through the Thatcher years, this corruption is incredible, and it’s barefaced as well.
You know, i think people just aren’t surprised anymore and they’re just becoming apathetic to what’s going on around them. The governemnt keep pushing and pushing and the more people are exposed to it, the less of a fuss they make
S: I think what you’ve got to do now is just turn the telly off because the silence is better than the day-to-day mundanity. It’s just depressing. I don’t really get depressed but it’s bad.
T: I’ve had to stop watching news, I’ve had to totally step back from what’s happening because there’s nothing I can do about it, I’m one person. The only thing we can do is work together as a whole, as a country, and have a proper enquiry into where all this money’s gone. Y’know, like when a new government comes in. An enquiry has to happen cos it’s just a disgrace!
Yeah, it’s hard to know where to start really isn’t it. Let’s get back to the music and you guys regarding lockdown. Obviously it’s been a big shock to everyone but I speak to so many musicians and artists and as hard as it is you have to step up, and artists have stepped up in their droves to create incredible music, live streams etc. It’s been such an essential release for people, especially in lockdown with everyone looking for daily entertainment. You guys stepped up with your rather brilliant radio show which I know you’ve been doing TWR for a while, but you’ve turned that into a Friday night tear up it seems?
S: Yeah, hahaha! We used to pre-record the show on a Wednesday afternoon and it’d go out on a Wednesday night. Anyway, before the covid thing, John suggested we do it live one time and I did one DJ thing myself which went really well on a site on Facebook somewhere. It was just a one-off and I just started thinking “Well, we should just do it really” cos we’d seen loads online but they were done really badly, with just a speaker and that and it were a terrible sound.
T: It took us a bit longer to do because we wanted to get it right. We wanted to get the sounds right more than anything else, the video was a secondary thing for us it was but now ‘Northern Coal Experience’ has become a digital social club! People login from America, from Australia, from all over the world, from all over the UK and they’re opening a can of beer together and listening to great tracks, and they speak to each other as if we’re not even there anymore y’know? They’ve become friends. People have literally become best mates because of this show.
S: Some people have started saying Friday night is their new favourite night during lockdown, it’s the highlight of the week, the one thing they’ve got to look forward to. They get dressed up, it’s a bit like “What’s going on?!”
T: It’s a digital social club basically it’s “I’ll see you at the CIU”
S: We’ll never stop that because it’s what we do and it’s an expression of art. Even if it doesn’t get released you still do it, I mean it will get released but . .
T: I’ll make sure it gets released!
S: Years ago when the digital age started and you had piracy and all that and the next thing that came along was the likes of Spotify changing all the rules again, it was like you can’t fight the beast, you just have to learn to work with it. Luckily for us the vinyl sales went up again a few years ago. Although, we haven’t shifted any in our usual ways from gigs because obviously we’re not there but the label had sold out, so they’ve been asking us for stock from my house to send back, it’s crazy.
T: Yeah, the album basically sold out within the first month so we had to send all our stuff back down, which sold out again, so Trevor’s having to repress.
How great it is that people are locked away at home and they’re learning instruments and learning how to produce music and DJing, so that flip side of the negative is incredible
T: Yeah course, how beautiful is that, how beautiful is that, that we’re gonna have thousands of people, who might not even make it, but they’re making it for themselves cos they’re learning.
S: All the lyrics are gonna be the same though “Covid-19 I’m stuck in the house, I’ve nothing to doooo”
Hahaa! Yeah, instrumental music only folks please!
This next record then, I guess the only path on from such a great album release is a remix package
S: Yeah, well we kind of dabbled in remixes on some albums before and then it got to the point on some of the albums where we thought “There’s not much point in remixing this, it’s just waste of money” We re-visited that idea on ‘Stratos Bleu’ cos it essentially was a dance album. We thought it deserved to be remixed. We already knew 50% who we wanted to remix it, we had a chat with the record label and before we knew it we had a full list and the stems were being sent off.
T: It was crazy, basically we gave the album to whoever we wanted to remix and said “You can choose any track”. There wasn’t one person who said they didn’t fancy remixing it, everyone came back and said, they wanted to be on it. That was including the likes of, Ashley Beedle, who’s a close friend, but big stars like Ray Mang, Fouk, Hot Toddy.
S: Obviously, it was a dance music album but, Steve Cobby, sent that chill remix of ‘Elgin Towers’ and when we got all the other mixes in and they sat together it was exactly what the album needed, it was almost like they’d all spoken to each other and co-ordinated it! “Perfect so you’ll do that style, I’ll do this style, yeah?” Hahaa! And the great thing about it is, it hasn’t actually overshadowed the original album, it’s just like part two, in some ways, it’s just enhanced it massively.
T: We couldn’t be more proud of everyone that’s worked on it. The band, who wrote the album to everyone who’s remixed because everyone’s added something quite beautiful to be honest.
Yeah it’s a cracker. It’s hard to pick a favourite but i think Cobby’s remix for me. The plaudits for ‘Stratos Bleu’ and the remix album run worldwide it seems
T: Yeah it’s crazy, I mean we’re doing radio interviews in Australia, that’s how far it’s reached, there’s people in Japan having their photos taken with the Stratos Bleu cover. It’s a mental thing to happen but it really has caught people’s imagination.
S: We actually got album of the day as well, on 6 Music and then presenters have been doing individual plays, Lauren Laverne, picked it and then off the back of that it was just people who really loved the album doing individual plays on BBC Radio two and on Radio 6, so we got a bumper deal. I couldn’t believe it really, it was just like a dream come true and then the record label at the time asked if they should delay the release and we were like “Naah, what’s the point, just let it go” obviously with what’s going on, then we got the call, we were number one. We were like “What?! How did that happen?”
It’s a difficult one isn’t it, everyone’s releasing music and I suppose things can get lost and swallowed up and disappear into the ether but yours has done the opposite, you shot straight up to the top spot
S: I think it definitely comes down to building your fan base up. We toured for ten years but really hard for the last four years, we were in the van nearly every other day. Travelling all the time.
T: Which is what we love as a band, so that’s been the toughest thing this year, not being on the road, and that’s not because I don’t wanna be with me family, I love me kids, I love me wife, but at the same time, I feel a bit useless now that I’m not on the road and I’m not bringing in the money that I was when we were touring, it’s really tough. It means we’re really lucky both our partners have got good jobs, they’re teachers but it’s that thing as well, if we hadn’t have done that early work on tours, we wouldn’t have had the results off the back of this album, no way. It’s our fan base, it’s as simple as that. They’re great, they’re our family. It’s quite strange, no matter where you go, you’ll meet a Smoove & Turrell fan, they’re quite similar people.
S: John remembers all the names, I don’t know how he does it. I just call them all mate!
T: Aye, i used to be in sales!
So are you guys in a position where you can still record? Have you got studios you can work in?
T: Yeah yeah, we’ve got our own studio and me and Smoove live in the same street. Not just that, all the guys in the band have all got their own little set up, so Neil records for ‘Above and Beyond’ and all sorts of other projects; Ozzy, he’s got his drums set up, Mike’s got his studio with his thousands of keyboards and none of them work, it’s more like a museum! Lloyd’s even set up his little studio in his house. It’s really small but it’s exactly what he needs to record, so it’s perfect really, if they’re not allowed to come round, they can still send us the stuff and we can say what we’ve got in mind and they send us stuff. That’s how it’s been working for this next one. We’ve already started writing a new album.
I was gonna ask what’s next? That’s underway then?
T: Yeah it’s underway, studio album number seven.
S: It’s gonna be more of the same madness. Stratos Red! Hahaha!
Winning formula fellas, you can’t change that now! I mean ultimately it’s still familiar isn’t it, you’ve still got your style of production, you’ve still got your voice on there, John, so people recognise it as Smoove & Turrell, even though you prouduced a different album
T: Ultimately, I didn’t wanna do an album where, I mean, I love Roisin Murphy and how she looks at dance music, where she’ll take a total house track and still put Roisin into it, and I wanted to basically copy what she’d done because for me she’s a pure hero, I absolutely love everything that she’s ever done. I didn’t wanna lose the John Turrell-ness from Smoove & Turrell, going into dance music, I still wanted to keep the lyricism and the actual feel of what those songs are about in the tracks, y’know? I think that was the best thing for Smoove & Turrell fans as well cos they could relate straight away to Smoove & Turrell, even though I’d jumped to the left.
Well it would appear that you and Roisin have released two of the biggest dance albums of the year as it transpires
T: Yeah, unbelievable and it’s lovely to be in the same company as her, she’s a national treasure.
S: No pressure for the next one then.
Haha! Maybe you can get her to collaborate!
T: I wouldn’t be able to sing with Roisin in the room, I’d lose me head.
How do you guys approach what you do next? I know the longer this goes on, the more difficult it gets for everybody within the music industry – and further afield of course – but it just seems the music industry is the one being squeezed and not getting the help it needs. How do you guys approach this now, how will you navigate the next six months? Hopefully, we’re looking at April next year when we can get the clubs back open
S: I think realistically, even if they open up in April there’s gonna be the same restrictions we’ve got now which makes it virtually impossible. In my head, we’re looking at about a year until anything is back to what we used to have.
T: We’ve gotta play it by ear and you do have to look at different ways of doing things and we will be doing another stream with a live band. Hopefully we’ll get some sort of vaccine and life can get back to normal and we can all go head-long into hedonism for a year! In the mean time, we’re just gonna bury our head in music, that’s the best way to do it. Learn and write, and get better and get a cracking album hopefully. And look at it like it’s a long break away from the tour.
Those first parties back are gonna be something special aren’t they?
T: Ah god! I can’t wait for that day. The biggest drug in the world is being on stage, nothing touches it and being without it has been tough for the past year. I can’t wait to get back on that stage and feel that feeling again.
S: I can’t wait to be in a night club and hear ‘E.P’ played through massive speakers!
T: Rayka’s remix!
S: Yeah, Rayka’s remix, just jumping around, i’ll be crying listening to that.
Ultimately, i think you guys just keep doing what you do because people need you to do that with the situation as it is
T: Thanks bro, next time we’re down your neck o’ the woods be sure to get in touch and we’ll have a pint!
S: It’s be a pleasure to speak to you Michael. Cheers, thanks.
Stratos Blue & Stratos Bleu Remixed are out now on Jalapeno Records.