Chipping Away with Speakers Corner Quartet
The band reflect on their evolution as they dissect the narrative which lead them from their early days to the release of an album which features collaborations with close friends.
Speakers Corner Quartet was first founded in 2006 as the house band for the legendary Brixton-based spoken word
and Hip-Hop session, Speakers Corner. The series was one of the most prominent and important in UK Hip-Hop at the time and the band would play alongside the likes of Roots Manuva, Rodney P, Congo Natty, Lowkey, Akala and a plethora of others on the regular.
Hosted in Brixton, the sessions were focussed around MC’s, spoken word and poetry – broadening the landscape of UK Hip-Hop and underground culture at the time. As ‘parties’ the events became well known and acclaimed for their accessibility and versatile approach – showcasing a musical subculture in a way which brought together artists and fans alike to form a unique community.
Given the nature of these events it is no surprise that the group made a lot of friends along the way – friends who would later go on to collaborate and create music with them.
Next month will mark the release of the first album from the band – an album which has been long in the making having been the result of many sessions and collaborations across many years.
It’s titled “Further Out Than The Edge” and features a number of guests including Sampha, Kae Tempest, Tirzah, Coby Sey, Joe Armon-Jones, Léa Sen, Eska, Confucius MC, LEILAH, James Massiah, Tawiah, Lafawndah, Trustfall, Lil Silva & John Glacier.
The quartet is made up of Biscuit on flute, Kwake Bass on drums & percussion, Raven Bush on violin, and Peter Bennie on bass. We spoke to them alongside some collaborators to discuss the record.
Explain the origins behind the group for those who might not be in the know?
Biscuit: “6th December 2006 was the first time Speakers Corner Quartet came together. Speakers Corner was a community. We had all the rappers come through: Skinny Man, Jehst, Confucious MC. The first night we ran, loads of musicians turned out and we just jammed all night and it ended up being three of us: a drummer, bassist, and flute. Raven Bush on violin joined in 2010. We first jammed with Pete (Bennie) in 2011 and he officially joined in 2012. Since then, it’s been the four of us. It felt natural playing together.”
Can you describe some of the formative experiences which took place at those parties at the beginning? Why were those moments important?
Biscuit: “We would turn up and we would play for hours, improvising hip hop beats for MCs to rap over. One of my favourite performances was Dirty Good at Speakers Corner. And it was just a vibe at the time. It was such a movement.”
Hip Hop has changed a lot conceptually since those days, why was it important to focus on the past as much the present when producing this record?
Biscuit: “The first records I was buying were Ice T. How much has it changed conceptually? It’s still people talking real stuff on beats. Just because beats don’t sound the same as they used to. I mean, I’m thankful for the Grizelda lot that have come through doing what they’re doing and doing really well.”
Kwake Bass: It’s a creative spectrum. We’re on the outskirts as this like instrumental Hip Hop / crossover. We all have our love of hip-hop. We may not be really part of it, but we have something to say that is “hip-hop adjacent”.”
Why did you seek to work with such a versatile array of collaborators?
Biscuit: “They’re all our friends. They’re our mates, our family. A lot of the beats were being constructed out of the jams or of other recording sessions, but the wide array really is because they’re all our peripheral friends, isn’t it? You know, Geronimo Blues with Kae Tempest has been in the making since 2017.”
Pete Bennie: “At no point did we really have a conversation about the artists that would be on the record. It’s just about who’s around close to us, so it was more organic than intentionally “choosing” a style that we were going for with this record.”
Kae Tempest is perhaps one of the most notable artists featured on the record, the relationship shared between the group and them has been solid and built in the foundations of the early Speakers Corner events as Kae reflects.
“I always knew that this would happen and that your album would come out. I’m so excited, knowing what the whole world is gonna’ do when they hear this. It’s years in the making…”
Musically speaking you’ve all been in a multitude of projects, why was now the time to revitalise the Quartet and release an album?
Biscuit: “We never went anywhere. We were playing all the time and making music. We wanted to give people an experience that you could only have in the room. The time was just finally right.”
Kwake Bass: “We’ve crafted a nice position to now be able to do what we want to do on our own terms. That can take 15 years. Well, not to put a time on it – but it does take a long time to get to that place. And then working out – what are your terms?Had it not been for lockdown and starting to work with Raj (Chaudhuri)…”
Biscuit: “Different catalysts for making things happen.”
Kwake Bass: “You just got to have faith. Because we’ll always be playing. When we was touring with people like Kae, Sampha, etc – anytime people would ask me “what are you doing?”. I always said – I have my band. Quietly confident. Just quietly chipping away at it.”
Coby Sey is another artist featured on the album, he too reflects on the nature of the community lead spirit which drives forward the creativity in the music.
“For me, Speakers Corner Quartet represents fellowship and the importance of organic fellowship to happen in a pace that makes sense to those involved. Within fellowship, trust is built which allows for genuine connections and collaborations to happen which can’t be forced. Their record’s been many years in the making and I think this album really encapsulates the connections other artists and I all have with Speakers Corner Quartet and each other for at least 10 plus years. It’s a very organic thing and they have all been manifestations of the respect and love we have for each other.”
Describe some of the challenges you had making the record?
Biscuit: “Obviously a lot happened in the midst of making the album over the last few years: the pandemic, people dying, people being born. I had sepsis in 2017 and ended up in hospital and I couldn’t use my hand. That’s what makes it like a marker of time and life more than anything else because everything in life has happened in the making of this. It’s the time it’s supposed to be for the record to come out. Coming with the edits of the ideas chopped from improvised jams, and then doing Barbican after lockdown and then changing the music around after that gig. A lot has happened – life wise.”
Of what are you most proud musically?
Biscuit: “This record…”
Speakers Corner Quartet will play at The Roundhouse on the 2nd of June. Details HERE.