HAMISH STUART admits it’s still a little strange that the music he made over 40 years ago is still relevant today.
One of the original members of Average White Band (AWB), he was with the band from their formation in 1972 to 1982, enjoying incredible success in the UK and US.
Now working on a number of projects, including producing and performing with Edinburgh funk band James Brown is Annie (JBiA), he says that if you’d told him 40 years ago the AWB songs would still be around, he’d have just laughed.
“I thought about it when I was writing a song called Too Hip that’s on the last record I did with [fellow former AWB members] Molly Duncan and Steve Ferrone as The 360 Band,” he says.
“It was really about when we started out and we were sitting in a room in a house with the windows covered with blankets so we wouldn’t disturb the neighbours in LA while writing.”
Those songs would become the likes of Pick Up The Pieces, which was a huge hit in the pop charts when released in 1975.
The band had formed in London in 1972 from six Scots who were passionate about soul music.
Compared to Scotland, soul music wasn’t such a big thing down south, so the band manufactured their own scene for the music they loved.
The phrase “not bad for an average white band” seemed to keep cropping up between them when they played tracks that were based on the sound of black musicians in the States.
A slot supporting Eric Clapton in 1973 proved very fruitful, and ended with them making the transatlantic move and hitting gold by signing with Atlantic Records and working with producer Arif Mardin.
They worked through the pain of the death of drummer Robbie McIntosh in 1974 to earn headline shows and hit records.
Overall, they racked up nine hot 100 singles, five US top-thirty albums and three Grammy nominations.
And today the music made in their heyday is still inspiring others, with AWB the 15th most sampled band in history – the likes of Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and Fatboy Slim borrowing their melodies.
Hamish adds: “If you’d said 40 years ago to us that this music would still be around and relevant 40 years from now we’d have laughed!
“It’s quite extraordinary to be on that end of it when you know we were broke, practically living on top of each other, and working all day to create that music.
“It’s wonderful that it’s lasted and I feel blessed.”
Hamish, perhaps modestly, apportions some of AWB’s success to chance – but mostly to the people involved in making their classic funk sound.
“It was the perfect bunch of people just at the right time,” he says. “I think there’s a certain element of luck in meeting the right people at the right time and all the other things that go towards making success.
“We got lucky with getting a record deal quite quickly, a couple of concerts that really put us out on the marketplace, but most of all it’s the personnel. Being lucky enough to work together.”
While some become weary over a lengthy career, the love of performing and making music hasn’t waned for Hamish, who recently appeared on BBC documentary Rip It Up.
Working with JBiA, he’s been helping them out on stage and in the studio as they release a new album.
He also teamed up with Blue Rose Code for a night of ‘Caledonian Soul’, as well as several other projects.
When asked if he still gets the same feeling when walking out on stage as he did when he was starting out, it’s a resounding yes.
“Oh absolutely,” he says. “I’m the same when I go in the studio too, I love making records.
“But playing live is instant, records you make and never get the feeling about what people make of it until it’s out.
“When you step on stage, play the first song and you’re off. It’s instant feedback. That’s what’s great about playing live.”
JBiA have credited Hamish with imparting his wisdom onto them and making them a more well-rounded band.
But what’s the biggest thing Hamish has learned in his time in the music industry?
“In the studio not to spend too much time spinning wheels and going over and over something. Just run. Leave it and come back to it later,” he says.
“We learned that the hard way on the Cut the Cake record. We couldn’t get one track, Schoolboy Crush, we tried all night and it wasn’t happening.
“I think we did 32 takes of it and by two in the morning we said, let’s just go home. We came in the next morning and got it on the run through.
“I think it’s best to back off when you haven’t got it inside the first four or five takes. I think that goes with every part of it, the vocals, backing track, if you don’t get them quickly then come back to it later.”
As well as his AWB hits, Hamish has worked with a number of iconic artists including Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan.
“I love working with other people, collaborating and doing different things,” he says.
“When AWB finished, when the band broke up in 1983, I’d already been working with Chaka Khan and George Benson.
“I really enjoyed working with other people outside of the band – although the band never took second place.
“It was always the most important thing but it was great to be able to go and work with other people and just create and play music and continue to try and do that as often as possible.”
JBiA had a great time working with Hamish, and he was the first one in the studio in the morning and the last out at night.
“We had a lot of fun,” he says. “It was nice getting involved early on when they were starting to write the songs. You can see things from every gem of an idea all the way through to the end. That’s one of the fun things about making records, being involved from the get go.”
Hamish lent a hand with guitar and vocals, and also contributed the song Sandcastles – which he ended up taking lead vocals on because nobody else volunteered!
“I didn’t really want to impose myself on the record in a playing sense,” he says. “I ended up playing guitar on a couple of things just because I was there!”
Hamish adds: “I understand the dynamic of a band very well, because I’ve been in bands all my life. You have to include everybody, you can’t be talking to one person all the time.
“Once we got into the studio it was nice to work with everybody and find out what their strengths were and how their involvement works inside the group.
“It’s like managing a football team in a small scale. Finding everyone’s strengths and playing to it.”
James Brown is Annie release their album on September 15, with a number of shows alongside Hamish scheduled for September. Find out more at https://jbia.bandcamp.com/
Here are some great tracks that have been performed, penned or produced by Hamish
Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces
Perhaps the band’s most famous hit, it even provoked James Brown’s JBs band to write a song in response called Pick Up The Pieces One by One, under the namethe Above Average Black Band.
Average White Band – Let’s Go Round Again
Chaka Khan – I’m Every Woman
Hamish plays and provides backing vocals on this iconic track.
Paul McCartney – Ebony & Ivory (live)
Hamish takes the vocals on the version of the song on McCartney’s Tripping The Live Fantastic.
George Benson – Love Will Come Again
The song was written by Hamish and famed producer Arif Mardin.
Diana Ross – Cross My Heart
A collaboration between Hamish and Sharon Robinson.
The Temptations – I Got Your Number
A second joint-effort between Hamish and Sharon.