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Slinky Machine

Slinky Machine, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 07/03/2024.

by Ian Mann

March 12, 2024


A triumph both for the enterprising promoter and for the band. The fact that Slinky Machine sold their entire stock of CDs was testament to the quality of their performance.

Slinky Machine, Music Spoken Here, The Marr’s Bar, Worcester, 07/03/2024.

John Robertson – guitar, Pete Earle – electric bass, Ian Kindred – keyboards, Cameron MacDougall – drums, Caio Mamberti – percussion

After missing the last two Music Spoken Here events at The Marr’s Bar (Plague Doctors Cure All, David Preston Mµ Trio) due to flooding I was delighted that the rain had temporarily abated and that I was able to make a return to the venue to see Slinky Machine, a fusion based group based in the South West of England.

Seasoned session veterans John Robertson (guitar) and Pete Earle (electric bass) made their names on the London and Oxford music scenes respectively but in seeking to ‘escape to the country’ both ended up in the idyllic surroundings of Lyme Regis in Dorset. Despite playing commercial music for a living Robertson and Earle grew up loving the music of John Coltrane, electric era Miles Davis, John McLaughlin & the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Marcus Miller, Billy Cobham, Steps Ahead, and the now comparatively less remembered Vital Information, a fusion group led by drummer Steve Smith and featuring bassist Jeff Andrews, one of Earle’s bass heroes.
An aside – I remember enjoying an excellent performance from Vital Information on the concert programme at Brecon Jazz Festival back in the 1990s.

Lyme Regis might not be the obvious location in which to base an all instrumental band playing a complex style of jazz fusion but on moving to the town Robertson quickly found a musical ally when he was pointed in the direction of Ian Kindred, a musician with a house more akin to a keyboard emporium and a love of the same kind of “weird music”. A ‘kindred spirit’ indeed.

Robertson and Kindred founded Slinky Machine, working with a number of different, younger bassists and drummers. On first moving to the town Earle heard a version of the band playing Billy Cobham’s “Red Baron” at a local festival and soon found himself part of the line up.

In addition to playing covers of Cobham and Steps Ahead tunes the band members also began to write their own material and recorded their debut album, “Choose Your Froot” in 2019. This featured a line up of Robertson, Earle and Kindred plus drummer Jack Revy and guest percussionist Miles Bould.

Inevitably the Covid pandemic stalled Slinky Machine’s progress and the album was eventually released in 2022, with the band continuing to gig periodically around the South West. It was at the Sound Cellar venue in Poole where they were seen by Dave Fuller of Music Spoken Here, who was highly impressed and immediately determined to bring them to Worcester.

Footage of Slinky Machine on MSH’s social media outlets seemed to have created a bit of a buzz about the band, and this, combined with the improved weather conditions, facilitated the presence of a pretty sizeable, and very supportive audience at the Marr’s Bar.

The Worcester gig saw the core axis of Robertson, Kindred and Earle joined by Cameron MacDougall, the band’s original drummer, who is now based in Bristol and is currently a member of the trio King Heron, a band who have often shared a bill with Slinky Machine.

They were also joined for the first time by guest percussionist Caio Mamberti, a Brazilian musician who is currently based in France but is intending to move to the UK. He slotted in perfectly with Slinky Machine and quickly struck up an excellent rapport with MacDougall.

Over the course of two high energy sets Slinky Machine delivered a number of original tunes from their debut album alongside covers of classic fusion material from the likes of Billy Cobham, Steps Ahead, Jeff Beck and Snarky Puppy.

The combination of MacDougall’s drums and Mamberti’s percussion introduced “Lymaks”, a tune that appears on the 2017 album “Batch” by the four piece band Forq, a side project of Snarky Puppy founder, bassist and leader Michael League. Bass, guitar and keys were subsequently added, with Kindred standing behind a towering rack of keyboards that incorporated instruments variously manufactured by Roland, Hammond and Moog. Featured soloists were Robertson on guitar and Kindred on organ, with the band teasing us with a tantalising glimpse of Stevie Wonder’s “Another Star” towards the close, an acknowledgement of the fact that guest percussionist Mamberti has been a member of Wonder’s band.

“Pools”, written by the late, great Don Grolnick for Steps Ahead is the only cover on Slinky Machine’s debut album. Tonight’s rendition saw Earle move from four string to five string bass as he shared the solos with Robertson on guitar and Kindred on synth. Interestingly the same tune was also performed by the FNUK sextet during their January 2024 visit to the Marr’s Bar.

Slinky’s own tunes did more than just hold their own with the fusion classics. A case in point was “Malmo”, the opening track from the group’s album, ushered in by drums, percussion and five string electric bass, with Earle again a featured soloist. Robertson’s sustain heavy guitar solo sometimes reminded me of the great Frank Gambale (Vital Information, Chick Corea’s Elektric Band). Kindred’s impressive keyboard arsenal added an impressive, quasi-orchestral breadth of colour and texture to the Slinky Machine sound as he skilfully combined the sounds of his various instruments, with synth sounds predominating during his solo here.

Also from the album “Gabriel” acted as something of a drum and percussion feature for MacDougall and Mamberti, who both impressed throughout the course of the evening. The only disappointment for me was that from my vantage point Mamberti was partially obscured by Kindred’s mountain of keyboards and I couldn’t see his contribution too well. This was a shame as all percussionists are highly visual performers. However I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his playing as he fitted in seamlessly with his bandmates, bringing an extra layer of colour and sophistication to some already pretty complex music.

The sly funk of Billy Cobham’s “Red Baron” is a particular favourite for the band and is the piece that first helped to usher Earle into the fold. Tonight’s version included a searing guitar solo from Robertson and the squelchy, positively filthy sounds of Kindred’s keyboards.

An excellent first set concluded with the original tune “Nota Bene”, another piece sourced from the debut album. This was introduced by the sounds of guitar and keys, with Robertson soaring above Kindred’s synthesised keyboard washes. The addition of the full band led to further solos from Earle on five string electric bass and Kindred on keyboards.

No doubt encouraged by the hugely positive audience reaction to the first set Slinky Machine elected to kick off the second half with the original composition “Lightbulb”. This featured Earle on his beloved 1963 Fiesta Red Fender Precision bass, this classic four stringed instrument instigating a funky groove that helped to fuel solos from Robertson on guitar and Kindred on organ, with Earle himself also featuring as a soloist.

Earle reverted to the five string, a product of the Sadowsky NYC Custom Shop,  for another album track, the Dave Brubeck inspired band original “Becks Bru”. The Brubeck influence was only really discernible in the tune’s title and time signature – it was in five, as you may already have deduced. Robertson described this composition as being “difficult” to play, but despite its complexities this was a piece that was readily accessible for the listener and which included a soaring guitar solo from Robertson.

Even more accessible to many was the group’s interpretation of the song “Human Nature”, written by Steve Porcaro and John Bettis and famously a hit for Michael Jackson. Unsurprisingly Slinky Machine’s interpretation was inspired by Miles Davis’ famous cover version on his 1985 album “You’re Under Arrest”. This was another piece to be ushered in by the duo of Robertson and Kindred, both of whom were later to feature as soloists as the music took on a truly anthemic quality, courtesy of a soaring guitar solo from Robertson and a layered keyboard solo that embraced both synthesiser and organ sounds.

Kindred and Robertson also impressed on “Sixes and Sevens”, an original tune that features on the album and lists its varying time signatures in its title.

It’s kind of heart warming to know that the all instrumental band Snarky Puppy have already sold out the 2000 seater Big Top at the forthcoming Cheltenham Jazz Festival. It’s also disappointing, but only because I haven’t got a ticket! Part of Snarky’s huge public appeal is that they’re capable of writing banging tunes like “Lingus”,  from their 2014 album release “We Like It Here”. With its pulsing rhythms and powerful guitar and keyboard solos this was arguably the best received tune of the night.

The album track “TV Knights” saw Earle leading off the solos on five string bass, followed by Robertson on guitar and Kindred on organ.

The band’s excellent performance, particularly in a barnstorming second set, generated a great reaction from the Marr’s Bar crowd and after some discussion the band elected to encore with the Billy Cobham composition “Stratus”, a tune also covered by Jeff Beck. Slinky dedicated their rendition to Beck’s memory, with an angular arrangement containing Robertson’s Beck inspired guitar soloing and Kindred’s multiple keyboard sounds, these incorporating electric piano, synth and organ,  with the last of these predominating during his solo.

Dave Fuller’s decision to invite Slinky Machine to the Midlands had paid off in spades and the night was a triumph for the enterprising promoter and for the band. The fact that Slinky Machine sold their entire stock of CDs was testament to the quality of their performance. They also endeared themselves to the crowd by mingling freely with the audience and were genuinely nice chaps.

One of Robertson’s main gigs is playing guitar with The Selecter, alongside vocalist Pauline Black. Nothing wrong with that, I count myself as a 2 Tone fan, but like his colleagues he relishes the challenge of playing more complicated, technically demanding music and Slinky Machine provides that outlet. The delight that the band members take in playing this music, both their own and that of others, is palpable. It’s not always easy for them to find live performance opportunities on a scene dominated by pop and rock covers bands and tribute acts so a gig like tonight’s was greatly appreciated by both the band and their grateful audience.

Although I was unable to obtain a copy of the album on the night I’m grateful to the band for forwarding me a copy of “Choose Your Froot” in the post. I’m pleased to confirm that Slinky Machine also sound excellent in the home listening environment and would recommend the recording as an album that is well worth seeking out.

Every item present on the album was played tonight, with “Pools” the only cover on a recording that also features seven group originals. The full track listing is;

1. Malmo

2. Gabriel

3. Lightbulb

4. Becks Bru

5. Pools

6. Nota Bene

7. TV Knights

8. Sixes and Sevens

“Choose Your Froot” is available here;

See also the Slinky Machine Facebook page;


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