It has been two years since the Newcastle-upon-Tyne group, Jumbo, first emerged on to the British independent music scene with its eclectic debut album, 'CB Mamas'. Released on a fledgling local label, Bright Orange Biscuit, 'CB Mamas' flits and shifts across a wide variety of musical styles and influences, playfully cramming together several of each into each one of its ten songs. Lavishly praised by critics at the time for its quirky originality, it was hailed by the Guardian newspaper as "the most intriguingly topsy-turvy debut of the year", and drew Jumbo favourable comparisions with a wide range of sources including Burt Bacharach, the Beach Boys, the Beta Band, Yo La Tengo, Pavement, the Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Jane's Addiction and Roxy Music.

The album received extensive radio play, especially in evening slots on Radio 1 and also on the London independent music station, XFM. Jumbo also played five sold out London shows, which were enthusiastically attended by several record label representatives, who were keen to add the group to their roster. Despite suffering some backlash because of its inability to be slotted easily into a genre or a category, it seemed only a matter of time before the band would strike a major deal.

The group, however, more concerned about maintaining quality and control over its work rather than financial incentive, decided to sign to Cargo, a small imprint label belonging to the music distributors of the same name. A second album was scrapped halfway through its recording, and it is only now, after a long period in which it has kept a low profile, that the band, after first releasing a single 'Double Super Buzz' as a one-off project with the Earworm label in June, has returned with a new album, the simply-titled 'Jumbo'.

While equally diverse, 'Jumbo' is in many ways a very different kind of album to 'CB Mamas'. Less pop-orientated and both more electronica-based and instrumental , it is a more focused work. Rather than absorbing several different influences into each track, every one of its thirteen cuts has a specific tone and it has elements of Bowie-style seventies avant-garde rock ; Philip Glass minimalism ; old-fashioned punk ; techno ; cut 'n' paste sampling ; lo-fi psychedelia and even shoeshine gospel.

"People that loved 'CB Mamas' have been totally bemused by this one" Richard Maclean, the group's vocalist and singer admits, talking to Pennyblackmusic in an interview. "We had guessed that that was going to happen, because it's so different."

"A lot of the problem for people in perceiving it is because of the album we did in between" he continues. " We had recorded over half of it. Some of it was done in the studio. Other songs were still demos, There was a lot of interest from managers and labels because it was the follow-up album. The songs were more elaborate, better, but we sat back and realised that it was just an extension of all that we had already done, and decided not to release it. We thought that there was no point in carrying on down that road, and we had a drastic rethink.The new album is much more stripped down. It much more relies on sound, and is much more about capturing a mood."

Jumbo first formed in 1997 when Maclean, who had played in several other Newcastle groups, started advertising in various local record and guitar shops to put together a band. While none of its members had known each other before, the group had by mid 1998 settled into the line-up which was to record 'CB Mamas' and which included, as well as Maclean on vocals, Ben Wilkinson on guitars ; Jon Lee on keyboards and slide guitar ; Steve Marshall on bass and Andrew Hodson on drums.

The five members of the band decided when they began work on 'Jumbo' that they would abandon much of their previous instrumentation, and that they would try to rebuild themselves, effectively as a new group.

"We decided to draw a line on things" Maclean reflects. "We sold a lot of equipment. We got different equipment in, which we were total novices on. It gave us that excitement back again. "

While this increasing emphasis on experimentation was to prove a rewarding and challenging experience for the other four members of the band, it held less meaning for Steve Marshall, who decided to amicably leave the group.

"Steve left about halfway through the recording" says Maclean sympathetically. "In terms of being a rock 'n' roll band where you get together and pull out your instruments and jam, it had become for him less band focused. That was what a band was to him, and I think he really missed that. What we were doing just had no interest for him at all. There wasn't a fall out or anything silly like that. We had just a chat, and he said "I'm just not enjoying this". We were getting away from being guitar-driven, and more and more into electronica and it just wasn't for him."

The album was recorded over a seven month period in Newcastle , sometimes in studios and members' houses, but largely in the band's rehearsal room, a warehouse at the edge of the Tyne River, where the group could work at a leisurely place to capture the sound they wanted. For the recording, the group brought in several digital keyboards manufactured in the early and mid 1980's, a drum machine and also various samplers. Its four remaining members also started to swop instruments around as well.

"Things get a bit fuzzy when I try to remember it all now" Maclean jokes."It all overlapped so much. I played the guitar and lots of keyboards, as well as doing the singing. Ben meanwhile played drums on one track. It just seemed to work really well, and gave them a looser sound. As well as the guitar, he also played a lot of keyboards. Jon, who used to be solely the lap steel and keyboard player, took over the bass playing on most of the album, while Andrew, the drummer, played the mini disc. A lot of the backing tapes were on mini disc. He played them, and then he would record them live, and as well as supplying drums, he also played the keyboards again also."

Since its release at the end of August, 'Jumbo' has been attracting positive reviews, and again has started to steadily pick up airplay on Radio 1, particulary on John Peel's show, and also once more on XFM. It is an album that Maclean still feels totally satisfied with months after completing its recording.

"That experience of us scrapping the second album and then having to rejudge what we felt was right for us has made us create what we feel is a really good album" he says. "We're still happy with it now, which I have never been in the past. After months have passed, I can still listen to it without cringing at any of it."

"From the beginning, we have always wanted to make pop songs, but to really bend them out of shape" he continues. "If there was a formula there though, it's slowly gone. I am getting a little more confused with what we are doing now, but I am much happier that way."

The group is planning to tour Britain soon, and has two dates lined up for later in the year supporting Giant Sand, one in Newcastle, and one in London. Before it starts to play gigs regularly and to tour again , however, Maclean and the other three members of Jumbo will working out how they can best transfer the structural changes that have taken place in the group to the live arena.

"We have only played two gigs since we recorded 'Jumbo' "he laughs "And one was a total success and one was a total nightmare. There was so much swopping around that the gaps between the songs were longer than the songs. We are still testing the waters out there, but I think we are going to get someone to join again, just for live shows."

As well as working on their live set, the group has also begun work on an as-yet-untitled EP, which it hopes to release towards the end of the year. Afterwards it hopes to start work on a third album, which will maybe come out again next year. While it remains to be seen what the result of the sessions on either the EP or the album will bring, not a group to settle into a pattern or into an established formula, Jumbo's next releases will be without doubt as offbeat and as eccentrically diverse as those which have already come before.









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