International Jazz Day 2019 & Illicit Grooves

After the confirmation back in January that The Return of the Illicit Groove would once again be an official partner for #JazzDay in 2019 we can now publish our list of events running from Friday the 26th of April to #JazzDay to itself on Tuesday the 30th.

Working with venues, Starpoint Radio and using The Illicit Grooves Radio Showour Facebook group & page and social media we will be adding to the rich mix of global events happening in celebration of #JazzDay 2019.

Organised by UNESCO and the  Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz #JazzDay has celebrated with a global gala concert every year since 2013.  This year’s concert will be in the host city of Sydney, Australia following previous hostings in New Orleans, Istanbul, Osaka, Paris, Washington DC, Havana & St Petersburg.  Next year sees Cape Town as its home for 2020.

Deep Thrills vol 6 cover

In celebration of these cities and their roles in #JazzDay we have put together a Deep Thrills Mean Something #AcrossTheTracks mix which will be played on The Illicit Grooves Radio Show this Friday 26th and then available as a podcast on the show’s Soundcloud archive on Saturday 27th.



Having been in Havana for the 2017 global concert it is such a pleasure and honour that The Return of the Illicit Groove is able to play a part in this global event and we look forward to being involved again in Cape Town in 2020.

jazz day 19 cover


DJ events
Friday 26th April – Illicit Grooves at Terroir Tapas every Friday from 7pm
Sunday 28th April – Illicit Grooves & Vinyl Sunday International Jazz Day Special

Radio Show & Podcast
Friday 26th of April – The Illicit Grooves Radio Show broadcast live on Starpoint Radio 11pm-1am (GMT)
Saturday 27th April – The radio show podcast/listen again available on Soundcloud via The Return of the Illicit Groove from 1pm (GMT)
Sunday 28th April – #DeepThrillsMeanSomething : JazzDay Host Cities mix available on Soundcloud via The Return of the Illicit Groove from 6pm (GMT)

Tuesday 30th April
Official Jazz Day Concert screening live from Sydney available via at 3pm (GMT)




Cape Town International Jazz Festival 2019: An Illicit Grooves Report

#CTIJF209 Friday 29th-Saturday 30th March 2019

Cape Town International Conference Centre (CTICC)

To begin to fully understand this festival, its line-up and its organisation one first has to place it in the context of Cape Town as a city.

An outward looking port city, Cape Town is a diverse mix of cultures and styles, a young population but one where age is just another ingredient in the melting pot of flavours. It is a city where locally owned businesses and street level entrepreneurship sit comfortably alongside glass fronted household names and financial giants. It is a city where on speaking to anyone for the first time, regardless of age or cultural background, a code of respect, courtesy and manners is strictly observed. On meeting for a second time is then to be treated as an old friend and by the 3rd meeting expect to be called brother, uncle and on occasion for me, comrade. It is a city where on my first day here I learned how to say thank you in seven different languages.

From a journalists point of view the organisation of the Jazz Festival was clear to see with timed press conferences by the artists all running to schedule (no mean feat there alone) and a quick an efficient registration and accreditation procedure and a media liaison crew brilliantly run by Carenza, Thandileke, Shineeq and their colleagues. Prior to the event I went into the venue to watch the setting up and spoke to production manager Amelia. Again, the efficiency and professionalism of all involved was clearly in evidence.

From a punter’s point of view the quick queuing times for entry, for service at the cashless bars and the signage for finding ones way around the five stages and the clearly printed event guide and timetable were only matched by well briefed personnel. From security guards to event ambassadors and media liaison efficiency, fun and enjoyment were the watchwords.

So what of the music of the festival itself? Well the line up, across the 5 stages within the CTICC complex combined the local with the national and international. Superstars of music shared the bill with new and upcoming acts, underground acts and the mainstream met with the avant garde like the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. A line-up which featured the Roma Flamenco of The Gypsy Kings, the bass heavy jazz-funk and fusion of Richard Bona, the township militancy of Soweto’s BCUC and the LDN sounds from Nubya Garcia, Alfa Mist and Moses Boyd.

Opening with a free concert on the Wednesday in Cape Town’s Market and closing with an after-party event in the nearby township of Langa and via the educational programs associated with the festival local Capetonians were front and centre of those welcome at the festival. The marketing and programming also ensuring an international flavour in the audience as it was on the stages. In terms of the diversity of programming, the partnerships with local and national government agencies and businesses this festival is something from which other city and town based jazz festivals could learn.

With the natural laws of physics and timetable clashes preventing me from seeing every act that I wanted to what follows is really an impression of those I did see but written from a music fan’s perspective more than from that of a hard nosed music hack. I’m writing this now with the aide memoir of notes I made at the time of seeing each performance and will attempt to keep the emotional responses I felt then.

The two acts I saw in the huge Kippie’s stage arena could not have been more different in genre and styles but both created an atmosphere of excitement and joyous fun in their very differing styles. The Gypsy Kings played loud and with energy, unencumbered by the need to be radio friendly, let rip with highly percussive and heavy latin rhythm versions of their well known hits from the last 3 decades. Indeed, their rendition of crowd favourite Bambalaya bordered on the Latin House vibe which would not have been out of place in a Nu Yorican or Salsoul set. Richard Bona, on the other hand, delighted the crowd with his fusion of West African rhythms and Jazz-Funk fusion. A band which included two Cubans on drums and percussion and an Frenchman and Neopolitan on keys and lead guitar respectively, ran through many of Bona‘s hits and also a crowd stopping version of Jaco Pistorious‘ ‘Tin Town. Brilliant stuff and, of course, Bona‘s bass playing was something out of the genius level.


The acts I was able to experience on outside Mannenberg stage was a mix of multi-instrumental musicianship and a use of technology as well as a mixing of styles. On this stage I saw and dance to BCUC, Moonchochild, FKJ and Corey Henry & the Funk Apostles.

BCUC (Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness) is a Soweto based act which mixes poetry and rap with live music courtesy of a seven piece line-up who ,mix indigenous beats with hip-hop and Punk influences. My own reaction to seeing BCUC is best summed up by what the band says ‘We draw from the blues, funk and psychedelia. We are from Soweto and people are crazy and animated. We are just us, doing our thing like we always do. With the amount of drums and drive that comes from our relentless bass lines one cannot help but get carried away.’ Carried away indeed, I was.


Moonchild is a three piece band from LA, California. Augmented by drummer Efa Etoroma on drums for this event the line-up of Amber Navran on vocals, sax and clarinet, Max Bryx on keys, sax and clarinet and Andris Mattson on keys, trumpet and flugelhorn combines pop-funk and neo-soul. It comes as a a pleasant but understandable surprise to find out that Moonchild has played alongside Kamasi Washington and opened for Stevie Wonder. The performance at CTIJF had me after a couple of tracks. The multiculti make-up of the audience of mainly Twentysomething South Africans who were singing along word for word and cogniscent of every rythmic, melodic and mood change in the set reminded me of being in a late 80s/early 90s London venue watching one of the acid jazz bands around at the time. Very accessible Jazzy and soulful dance music and a mixed crowd who knew what they liked. A lovely energy and great musicianship.


FKJ (French Kiwi Juice) was an unbelievable performance. A one man band using percussion, keys and a variety of horns with a sampler. Parisian FKJ (real name Vincent Fenton) is rather similar to the current LDN musicians of the moment (Moses Boyd, Joe Armon-Jones, Cassie Kinoshi etc) in that he wears all his musical influences on his sleeve, or rather on his stage. With a partly improvised set he can, and did, create a hip-hop or DnB drum break live, sample it and then add instrumental parts to layer the track before then blowing a horn solo over what he has has created. This is so much more than just being clever, this is the creative process in the raw and excellent musicianship to boot. It is also fantastic jazz driven dance music and, once again, I did dance.


Closing the Mannenberg stage on Saturday night and the final act of the whole festival was Corey Henry & the Funk Apostles. Chatting to a group of young Capetonians near the front of the stage prior to his coming on I was asked if I knew Corey Henry and I posited the suggestion that this was the moment when they would all lose their elegance and would throw everything into dancing. By the time the band had finished the crowd was in some kind of rapture. Combining funk with soul and gospel this set was over far too soon and anyone who is at any festival with Corey Henry and the Funk Apostles on the bill needs to see them to believe just how good and how uplifting this band is. Brilliant stuff.

corey henry

It was also good to see that along with acts from pan-Afrika, USA and continental Europe there was also a strong LDN presence with an added twist of collaboration with African musicians too.

On the Moses Lolelekwa stage I saw both Nubya Garcia and Alfa Mist bring the house down. Alfa Mist‘s set was received by an appreciative crowd who showed that appreciation with a standing ovation at the end. A brilliant line-up of Kaya Thomas-Dyke on bass (and superb vocals on one track), Peter Adam-Hill on drums, Jamie Leeming on guitar and John Woodham on trumpet as well as Alfa Mist on keys and vocals created a show in which all musicians on that stage were given room to show their individual virtuosities within an excellent group performance. As I said, a standing ovation at the end and well deserved. I spoke to a Xhosa woman after the set and she asked me where Alfa Mist was from, ‘East London’, I replied. ‘Ach, so he is South African then’, she smiled. ‘No, east London in London, UK, not the Eastern Cape.’ ‘Oh, well he is very good and he should come and live here where it’s warmer.’ At this she smiled at me again, looked at my stein of Castle Lager and said ‘and so should you, you can drink that everyday here.’

alfa mist

On the same stage the night before, Nubya Garcia achieved a similar reaction with a superb set which also incorporated the vocal and poetry skills of Siyabonga Mhleli. A band with Joe Armon-Jones on keys and Nubya Garcia on sax is always going to be the business and with Sam Jones on drums and Dan Casimir on bass the business was what it was. Again, the biggest compliment that the crowd could give other than the regular rounds of applause was how many left their seats (myself included) to go and dance at the sides of the auditorium.


Also worth noting on this stage were the Swiss/South African collab combo The Mill and, from Jo’burg, The Reza Khota Quartet.  I will certainly be researching these two acts for inclusion on the playlists of The Illicit Grooves Radio Show.

But back to the LDN presence, and my personal highlight of the festival, Moses Boyd’s collaboration rePercussions, live on the Bassline stage late on the Friday night. Featuring Moses Boyd on drums, producer DJ Lag, guitarist Tiago Correia-Paulo, singer/songwriter Nonku Phiri and trumpeter & composer Mnadla Mlangeni, rePercussions created a cross-cultural hour of full on dance music featuring club genres from the UK, South Africa and Mozambique. Gqom, Township House, Cape House, Drum and Bass, Hip-Hop, Funk and, of course, Jazz were all present in this joyful mix of dance music brilliance. I tweeted at the time that my kness would not forgive me for how hard I was dancing to rePercussions but, you know, my knees screaming like sirens was a small price to pay for how good this set was. Also, so great to see Nubya garcia, Joe Armon-Jones and the rest of Nubya’s band all in the crowd supporting their fellow Tomorow’s Warrior Moses Boyd. As I said, this set from rePercussions was the highlight amongst highlights at this festival.


Also worth noting that the Bassline stage was generally a South African affair in its programming and included a contestant from the RSA version of Pop Idol, the brilliant Durban singer Shekinah. She drew a huge crowd to this 2nd of the outside stages and I have to say she, and her band, were brilliant. An RnB infused soul set which included some phat beats and a great vocal presence. I’ve always found RnB far too overproduced and bling bling clean for my raw tastes but a great singer is an even greater singer live and Shekhinah was great.


If I have any critiques of this festival it would be to create a bigger area at the front of the Molelekwa stage for people to stand and dance. I would also look again at the Rosie’s stage which was a ticketed and fully seated auditorium which felt a little too exclusive. I understand the desire to not have people wandering in and out of certain performances but it was a little unwelcoming.

Would I recommend this festival? Yes. Will I go again? Yes.

Who would be on The Return of the Illicit Groove dream line-up for this festival

Ezra Collective, Idris Ackamoor & the Pyramids, Shamrock Guitor, Simphiwe Dana, SEED Ensemble, Joe Armon-Jones, Nerija, Cymande, Esperanza Spalding and Rodriguez are just a few of the acts I noted down as being perfect for this event.  Maybe, just maybe, eh? 

With Cape Town also hosting the International Jazz Day Concert in 2020 then next year looks like another trip to South Africa for The Return of the Illicit Groove.

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Scott Walker, the influence & the Influenced.

I was saddened to hear the news of Scott Walker’s death this morning. He was an artist who explored and experimented with music in a way which belied his original incarnation as a 1960s teen heart throb and pop act with The Walker brothers.

However, for me his magic was as a storytelling singer, a troubador, a chanteur. In my other life as a performing poet it is the storytellers who grab my attention on stage and Scott Walker did just that. In his deep baritone voice and his choice of songs and songwriters he told those stories of Vietnam War vets, of sailors in Amsterdam, of Knights challenging the Devil to a game of chess, of love, of loss, of triumph and all ‘in a kick arse way’.

scott in shades

The mix I have put together as tribute to Scott Walker includes a track from his great influence Jaques Brel and from two of those who openly cite Walker as their influence; David Bowie and Marc Almond.


On a personal note I have also included my absolute favourite Scott Walker track ‘The Old Man’s Back Again’. A track I was made aware of by one of my oldest friends, Kevin Buckley. Kevin and I, along with our mate John Davey were into The Face, Kraftwerk, Bowie, Airto and Fourth World, Talking Heads as kids in our late Primary and Secondary school days. This particular Scott Walker track was on one of those DJ curated ‘Late Night Tales’ compilations from sometime in the early 2000s, in this case mixed by French band Air.

Kevin played it to both John and I on seperate occassions and for me it became one of those tracks which made me understand how much and why music is so important to me. It also became a track which my then 9 year old son and his mate learned word for word as it soundtracked a week’s holiday in France.

scott 4

I hope you enjoy this mix, it is a very personal tribute and focuses on the Scott 4 album when I could have easily cast the net wider. It also focuses on Scott walker, his influence and his influenced in the role of storyteller, troubador and chanteur. Oh, and anyone whose real name is Engels is ok with me too.

Scott Walker 1943 – 2019



Scott walker Kick ass

Roy Ayers – Silver Vibrations: An Illicit Grooves Review

Roy Ayers – Silver Vibrations

Re-Issued on BBE Music

Release date: 22nd March


A major reason why we include the Favourite Re-Issue category in The Return of the Illicit Groove Annual Poll and Awards is to support indie record labels such as BBE Music, AOTN, Outernational Sounds and others in releasing high quality re-issues which are affordable. Originally released in the Uk in 1983 Silver Vibrations now has a rarity value which is fetching ridiculously high prices on the 2nd hand collectors market.

Musically this album is definitely one to have in the collection. It shares several tracks with the US only 1983 release Lots of Love with an additional four tracks which are unique to Silver Vibrations.

Overall there are echoes of Stevie Wonder in this album, Chicago pays homage to a chord progression from Stevie’s Too High and there is vocal reminiscence of Stevie on Smiling With Our Eyes.

The extended version of Chicago brilliantly opens the album and reminds us of why Roy Ayers is such a seminal artist. As with the title track it is a real floor filler track, tailor made for dancing but also eminently listenable to as examples of how Ayers was able to cross Jazz, with Disco and Funk.

His vibe playing on Silver Vibrations and the instrumental Lots of Love is Roy at his best as a vibesman and, along with Keep On Moving shows great arrangements especially with strings. DC City is an unashamed message to the African American majority city of Washington DC and has a languid feel to it not unlike that of Everybody Loves The Sunshine. Indeed this album is something of a bridge as it links Roy’s classic late 70s work to the output to come in the 80s. This is no better illustrated than by the final track Good, Good Music. A track that combines jazz-funk slap bass with infectious percussion, call and response vocal interplay with a strong female backing and is just a track designed to link Jazz-Funk to the acid jazz and rare groove scenes.

Roy ayers cropped

As a DJ and radio broadcaster on The Illicit Grooves Radio Show I can say that all seven tracks on Silver Vibrations are destined for playlists whether on the radio or at gigs. But for me the stand-out track is Good, Good Music.

As the Summer festival season approaches Roy Ayers has already been announced as an act for events across Europe, I will be seeing him and I will be hoping to hear tracks from this album. If you find yourself at any event featuring an Illicit Grooves DJ set you definitely will hear music from this album.

Roy ayers and me 300dpi

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Reflecting on playing Illicit Grooves at Spiritland & that sound system

So, this is not a review, but a reflection of The Return of the Illicit Groove set I played over 5 hours last Saturday (2nd March 2019) at Spiritland in Kings Cross and on that legendary sound system.

I’ve always loved long sets and playing from 3pm-8pm was an ideal opportunity to go #AcrossTheTracks and really explore #GroovesForTheGlobalLeftfield.  The set opened with Grace Jones – Art Groupie and closed with The Pointer Sisters – Don’t It Drive You Crazy and in between included jazz dance, latin rythms, Brazillian vibes, Soul, rare groove, Drum n Bass and reggae.

Gig flyer

I have to admit that I am so looking forward to hearing the playback of the set once it is up on the Spiritland social media and website. The atmosphere was marvellous throughout and the reactions from customers and staff were more than positive so I’m intrigued to hear it back.


Courtesy of Mark Blee from Ease Your Mind and Ray Pittson from The Fish Party there is photographic evidence of some of the music I played with tracks from Snowboy (the brilliant The Triple Bluff), Candido (Candido’s Funk), Ahmad Jamal (the awesome Illicit Groove favourite Yellow Felllow), two different versions of Working Week’s Venceramos, the Leroy Hutsonesque Morning Spring by The Copeland Davis Group, a brilliant reggae version of Cymande’s The Message by Tinga Stewart, various tracks from the Jeff the Fish’s MJDC compilation Modern Jazz Dance Classics Vol. 1, the brilliant My Dreams from London Elektricity featuring the sublime vocals of Robert Owens, both sides of the new 7″ from Ruby Rushton  and various B-sides from 7″ by Mr Bloe, Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, Isaac Hayes and Bruce Ruffin.

with mark blee

So, what of that soundsystem.  Well, I have to be honest it is awesome.  People sat right by the speakers were able to talk normally without shouting yet at no point in the venue could you not hear the music, that’s how clear and warm the sound is.  The bass lines on the London Elektricity, the Tinga Stewart and the Bruce Ruffin tracks in particular, filled the room with something like a luxurious sound bath.  Those iconic big brass knobs of the rotary mixer are great to use and had something of a Hammer House of Horror mad scientist’s laboratory look and feel about them.

Spiritland mixer

Thanks to Miche for boooking The Return of the Illicit Groove in for the debut set, obviously looking forward to the next time.  Also worth saying how brilliant the staff are at Spiritland, very interested in the music as well as really good at their jobs.  The two managers on that day , Josh and the wonderful V, looked after us very nicely indeed and it was gratifying to hear from V how much she enjoyed the set.  I also love love that my first cup of coffee included a lovely and subtle reminder of who I was and why I was there.

DJ coffee

Just as further reflection, I have played some lovely gigs in my life; warming up for Incognito at Canvas in Bournemouth, the three gigs I played in one magical weekend in Belgrade, a four hour set at the BBE Audiolounge and various others all spring to mind and this first time DJIng at Spiritland is definitely another memory made.

Oh, and I definitely recommend the Braybrooke Keller Lager, bloody lovely.

Beer at Spiritland

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Brand New Heavies live at Canvas & why the Acid Jazz bands are still important now

Back in the early 90s when The Return of the Illicit Groove first started as a reflection of the Jazz dance, Rare Groove and Acid House scenes which had come in the mid to late 80s, four record labels encapsulated a UK live music scene with homegrown and overseas artists and bands ; Acid Jazz, FFRR, 4th&Broadway and Talking Loud.

These labels crossed genres with their out put of new music, re-releases and live acts which contributed to a scene that became tagged as Acid Jazz.  Along with the Rebirth of the Cool compilation albums on 4th&Broadway re-discovered Soul artists such as Terry Callier, sat alongside re-issued tracks from Chicago and Gil Scott-Heron, Jazz influenced Hip-Hop from Gang Starr, the Pharcyde and The Dream Warriors and a host of British borne bands such as the Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai, The Young Disciples, Bryan Powell, Galliano, Diana Rrown & Barrie K. Sharp, Snowboy and The James Taylor Quartet amongst others.

One of those bands, the Brand New Heavies, is now on tour and will be playing at the excellent live venue of Canvas in Bournemouth, UK, EU on Thursday, July 11th.  But be warned, less than 50 tickets remain.  So click this link and get in quick.

BNH elephant

Formed in Ealing, West London in 1985 with the core members Andrew Levy and Simon Bartholemew, The Brand New Heavies have also featured Jan Kincaid, now of MF Robots, in its ranks along side a succession of brilliant and noted lead singers.  Current lead singer Angela Ricci preceded by fantastic artistic women such as Siedah Garrett, N’Dea Davenport and Carleen Anderson.



Known for collaborations with other acts and artists including live performances with A Tribe Called Quest’s  Q-Tip and MC Serch from 3rd Bass led to the Heavies producing the brilliant live instrument/Hip-Hop cross over album The Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1 to add to a canon of albums that has ranged from the 1990 FFRR release The Brand New Heavies to Sweet Freaks on earMusic in 2014.

BNH Heavy rhyme

Still a stunning live act on the festival circuit it must be said that seeing them in an intimate live venue such as Canvas is an opportunity not to be missed.

Get your tickets here and in the meantime, to get yourself in the mood take a listen to the #AcrossTheTracks mixes below courtesy of The Illicit Grooves Radio Show archive.

However far in the past this scene goes back it must still be noted that along with the more Jazz orientated acts like the Jazz Warriors, Jazz Defektors and Jazz Renegades plus Ronny Jordan, Max Beesley, Cleveland Watkiss and Orphy Robinson it is likely that the NU-Jazz/LDN Jazz scene of today is partly a product of these influences from the recent past.

DJs, labels, broadcasters, journalists, magazine publishers, promoters and venue owners who all played such an important part in creating the 90s scene from which The Brand New Heavies sprang are now playing their parts in promoting, recording and mentoring acts such as Nerija, Cassie Kinoshi, Nubya Garcia, Joe Armon-Jones and others.  Names such as  Gilles Peterson of Brownswood and We Out HereGary Crosby and Janine Irons from the Tomorrow’s Warriors music charity, Paul Bradshaw from Straight No Chaser magazine and Janine from Another Sunday At Dingwalls are just some of the people from back then who are ensuring the new generation from now will leave as big a legacy and have the same longevity as those brilliant bands from the late 80s and early 90s have.

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Monk Re-Issues on Prestige

2018 was a great year for Jazz Re-Issues and ‘lost’ albums.

John Coltrane’s Both Directions At Once and Charles Mingus’ Strata Concert not only featuring heavily in The Illicit Grooves Awards 2018 but finding their way onto shortlists for awards such as the Jazz FM nominations and featuring on the shortlists for contributors to Jazzwise and other magazines.

monk and rollins

Thelonius Monk is the latest of the Jazz great s to have his back catalogue re-packaged and re-issued with Prestige Records having released a box set five of his 10″ albums recorded between 1952 & 1954.  With liner notes written by Monk biographer Robin DG Kelley and original artwork these recordings are both an aural and visual time capsule to Monk’s early works.

You can read more about this release here and also link to a playlist featuring the complete tracklisting.