INTERVIEW Archipelago | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image by Alan Thoburn

Sometimes band interviews don’t go as well as they could do. You might get hamstrung by faulty technology, find yourself struggling with a hungover guitarist or simply find a band with so little to say that anything even resembling a coherent sentence is manna from heaven. Sitting down in their Gateshead practise room however, the three members of Archipelago – Faye MacCalman on reeds, John Pope on bass and Christian Alderson on drums – are every bit as dynamic and collaborative as their music, the trio throwing ideas and anecdotes around that build up into a unified front whilst remaining true to the individual personalities on display.

Although the three members had previously played together as part of Phil Begg’s The Midnight Doctors project – “we all played on the first album, but never met as it was a studio project where [Begg] assembled all the parts”, Alderson notes – Archipelago’s real origins came about because of MacCalman’s own work. “I had to put together a band for my university recital,” MacCalman explains, “and I needed some people who prepared to do things that weren’t just standards. It was a quartet with Pete Currie on piano, but then he was in the process of moving away to Ireland, so then we became a trio. We were at a point where we weren’t sure whether or not it was going to continue, but then we decided to keep going as a trio but to change the sound from what we’d been doing – we were more acoustic jazz, John was on upright bass and we were doing Wayne Shorter stuff – bass – into something else. I was only just getting into writing my own pieces as I’d never composed before, but then I wrote a couple of things for us which we realised we liked the most.”

in my mind it allows us to tell a story, but to fill in the blanks and to re-tell it.

Indeed, Archipelago’s work is as far away from a classicist run-through of the Great American Songbook as you can get whilst keeping a foot within the world of modern and experimental jazz. Their debut EP, I, already showcased an ambitious band that married their shared pasts in improvisation and jazz but infused it with deep grooves and an almost garage-rock sensibility. As the band tell me, their new debut album takes their explorative sound even further, finding the band taking on both their most intense and technical work yet whilst also exploring ambiance and Neu!-esque repetition, with MacCalman’s inventive compositions providing the anchor. “I find it quite exciting to be bridging the gap between improvisation and these set melodies that are telling a story,” MacCalman notes, “and in my mind it allows us to tell a story, but to fill in the blanks and to re-tell it.” Pope adds to this, stating the importance of “keeping that element of discovery alive, so that when we play it, we don’t feel like we’re coming in to nail something tricky, but that when we play it this time, what else are we going to find out about it?”

With a co-headline gig with London duo Ripshaw Catfish booked at The Black Swan on Tuesday 30th May and a busy summer schedule lined up (aided by the help of Northern Line scheme for new artists), make sure you find some time to join Archipelago in their journey of discovery.

Archipelago play The Black Swan with Ripshaw Catfish on Tuesday 30th May.

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