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Interview: Mafia and Fluxy

Interview: Mafia and Fluxy

Interview: Mafia and Fluxy

By on - Photos by Angus Taylor - 2 comments

"Beres Hammond calls us Harmony House UK!"

Sampler

Leroy "Mafia" Heywood and David "Fluxy" Heywood - out of Tottenham, North London, UK, - are Britain's most famous reggae rhythm section come production team. They grew up around their uncle's Wizard Hi Fi and in the mid 70s formed their school group the Instigators - catching the attention of neighbour and local scene eminence Fatman who helped link them with the best and brightest vocal talent of the day. Their success as a backing band and as rhythm makers for labels like Chris Lane's iconic Fashion imprint snowballed until 1987 when they forged their eponymous label, travelling to Jamaica to record for Sugar Minott and eventually Donovan Germain and Beres Hammond. Lately, the dynamic duo have been touring Africa and the UK with Luciano, playing the One Love Peace Festival with John Holt, and releasing critically acclaimed albums with both veterans like Little Roy and newcomers in Adele Harley. The brothers' impenetrable synergy as a musical unit is matched by their habit of finishing each other's sentences! Angus Taylor met them outside their regular weekly session at West London's Stingray Studio to talk over what has been a varied and truly remarkable career.

Mafia and Fluxy

EARLY DAYS

How did you get into music? Your uncle Ivan had a sound...

Mafia: We had a sound system in the house which we grew up with and he had all the tunes from the ska tunes coming to the rocksteady. Me and Fluxy used to take them - and these were the days of paraffin heaters and lino - and we used to slide on them and use them as skateboards! But growing up listening to all that we knew all the new tunes, so we used to go to school - anybody used to sing a tune and I'd say "I know that tune", you know what I mean? So we had a good knowledge of tunes. We knew who Toots & The Maytals were, Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker, Pioneers, Skatalites, Bob Marley - we grew up listening to all of them.
Fluxy
: We were getting pre-releases from Jamaica and UK releases from his sound system box and would stand on a chair and play them. So the knowledge flowed from there.
M
: Yeah we used to rush home and whoever got to the turntable first, that was his evening sorted!

So it was sound system first before music.

F: Yeah. And then my mother bought him...
M
: ...a guitar for five pounds from a friend of mine. Because we used to go the Tottenham school and there was a school band that used to play in music lessons and I used to say "They wicked". Then I said to my mates "I want to be a producer" and they kind of laughed!

Why a producer?

M: Well at that time we'd met Bunny Lee and people like that, we knew Fatman. We liked the stuff Striker was putting out but we couldn't play any instruments then so when my mum bought me the guitar just before the six weeks holidays I used to put on albums and rehearse and practise off of them until I found it was the bassline I was playing. That was what I picked up. I couldn't do the chords and everything so I was playing the notes of the basslines to all the tunes and I was picking them up quick and learning them fast.

I said to my mates "I want to be a producer" and they kind of laughed!

Timing is quite important performing on a sound system, so was that good early schooling for you as a rhythm section?

F: Yes, absolutely.

So how did you go from that to drums?

F: After Mafia learned to play the bass he said "You're going to have to learn to play the drums you know". So I continued listening to the music and just tapping along. I had a homemade drum kit - some bamboo sticks and a speaker for a snare drum, a bicycle lamp for a hi-hat and an odd shaped microphone we would plug into a speaker and step on so - boom! - it would give me the kick drum! Until later on in life my elder brother bought me a drumkit and we just played along to songs, any tune that was out. Most of the stuff was Bob Marley and Burning Spear and Aggrovators, Bunny Lee stuff - that top three was like that. We also started to play along with funk stuff like Ohio Players and all that.

So we're talking mid 70s now.

F: Right on.

So is that why you called your first band the Instigators - after the Aggrovators?

F: Exactly - because we when we built the band we said we had to have something that ended "T-O-R-S"! So Instigators came out of the bag! Instigators was Mafia & Fluxy on drum and bass, our elder brother Dingle played guitar, Tony Cooper, who's now called Skully played keyboards, the leader sing was Toyin Adekale but it went over to Courtney Bartley who recently passed away, and the guitarist's name was Redeye.

How did you get your names?

M: Back in the day they used to say "Yuh bad on guitar. Yuh bad on bass" so I'd say "Oh, bad, Mafia" - simple as that.
F
: My name came about when we were rehearsing a track in our parents' bedroom. We'd set up for our rehearsal and were about to record a track so I counted them in and did a drumroll and everyone started laughing! I said "What's so funny?" and they said, "Bwoy, that drumroll sounded kinda Fluxy yunno!" and it kinda stuck from there!

SUCCESS

How did you link Fatman?

F: Fatman lived up the road so every minute we were having rehearsals in the house we used to put it on cassette. King Jammys used to stay at Fatman's house so we used to knock on the door and say "Listen to this! Listen to this!" and Jammys would say "Yuh good yunno, but keep practising!" We knew deep down he was saying we weren't really ready yet! But they took it quite serious though until Fatman came to a point where he managed us. We then started to play a residence at a club called the 100 Club in Oxford Street and all the artists from Jamaica like Trinity, Al Campbell, Clint Eastwood, Barrington Levy started to do shows in there and we were the support band. So that was how we got to know artists as well - that was our introduction. The band then grew until we became a backing band as well backing people like Cornell Campbell, Sugar Minott, Johnny Osbourne and all those artists who came over from Jamaica so we were known to those artists and they started saying we should come over to Jamaica. In about 1987 we drew for our Mafia & Fluxy label because we knew artists now and we thought if Sly & Robbie had their Taxi label when they were doing Black Uhuru we could do the same with our Instigators - we were going to call it Mini-Cab label! But then we thought that was a bit too close and went with Mafia & Fluxy.

Tell me about your first music related trip to Jamaica.

M: It was in 1987 when we went to do Maxi Priest in Sunsplash. But because of the backing we knew artists like Sugar Minott and Bunny Lee and they were glad we were out there. So again, me and Fluxy started recording over there - the first time was using Sugar Minott's studio. We laid the first set of tracks with Pablove Black on keyboards who just came and jammed with us and it was really good.

We thought if Sly & Robbie had their Taxi label we were going to call ours Mini-Cab!

How did you start working for Penthouse?

M: We got introduced to Penthouse by an artist by the name of Sugar Burke.
F
: We were at Bunny Lee's house and he said "I'm going to bring you to Penthouse's manager. He needs you guys".
Mafia and FluxyM: But at the same time Germain had a good relationship with John at Dub Vendor so John must have told him that we were coming over as well. The first time we did a session was for Wayne Wonder and it was massive. The studio was packed with people. Everybody wanted to hear these Englishmen's sound so we had to be on it!
F
: Can you imagine like a dancehall! The studio was packed and it was a big studio! There was a load of people watching and we were in one corner on our own. It was like being on a stage! And then the man said "Let me see what you can do. Wayne Wonder, here's the mic. Let's see what's going to happen out of this." You could hear mumbling "Damn English musicians, English man, let's see that they can do".
M
: So Wayne Wonder started singing, I found the chords to the song he wanted to do and Flux started tapping up the beat same time. We whacked it out quick and everyone started tapping their feet and nodding their heads.
F
: And me and Mafia were nudging each other now going "We've got 'em. We've got 'em!" That was our way into Penthouse. After then we didn't look back.

TODAY

You often work with people who are skilled producers themselves. Does it ever become like too many cooks?

F: No, I'd say us ourselves are very good to work with. If we have an input we would say it but we wouldn't drill it in and go "No no no - it should be like that". With most producers they just say "Give me a Mafia & Fluxy feel" or something! They just leave it down to us so then me and Mafia will have a talk and say "Shall we go here? Shall we go there?" Some producers will say we should play it a certain way but we avoid the "too many cooks thing".
M
: It's either that or an artist will sing a song and we build the rhythm behind them. Or someone comes with a series of tunes to lick over.

Do you ever get phased by working with big artists or have you been around it for so long that it doesn't matter anymore?

M: Yeah it is like that but back in the day when we were first doing a tune with Gregory Isaacs...
F
: Wow! That was like "Man"! When we first did Gregory that was like big time phase! But now it's like "Hey"...
M
: ...Bring it on!

You work in all styles from roots with Sip A Cup to One Drop and Dancehall with Frenchie - who you know from Fashion days - to lovers with Adele Harley to R&B.

M: Yeah, we want to expand it even more. We like to experiment and do some fusion stuff as well. For our dancehall style we put a lot of input from the UK club scene and use those kind of Lady Gaga-ish sounds as well. In Jamaica a lot of people are just starting to do that now.

Is there any kind of music that you don't like that you'd never put into your productions at all?

F: (laughs)
M
: (laughing) Everything is a challenge so there isn't really any music we don't like.
F
: Music's music - that's all we know.
M
: So if Take That wanted us to produce them tomorrow - bring it on!

If Take That wanted us to produce them tomorrow - bring it on!

Tell me a bit about the Little Roy album Heat you did earlier this year.

F: You know what? We met up because we were doing a Bob Marley tribute at Jazz Cafe and when we were rehearsing me and Mafia looked at each other and said "He's worth doing an LP with". So we called him over and said "Roy, we're at Stingray on Tuesdays so come down". He came down the following Tuesday when we weren't even expecting him and we laid a track...
M
: Two tracks.
F
: Yeah two tracks. We had such a wicked vibe in there. Everything was live - I set up the drums and everything, Mafia got the notes and Roy would sing. We just clicked and said "Let's go for an album". Live horns, live percussion, everything 100% live. Ideal artist.
M
: Yeah we're on the next one now with him. Same vibe. And we've got one now with the Pioneers.

Are you on Little Roy's Nirvana covers album?

M: I played on that one.
F
: Yeah Mafia played on that one. Roy said he really wants to take his time with our one because he's got the Heat one and he's got the Nirvana one so we can go easy.

He's recorded some of his songs many times - he's quite a perfectionist - but he's been saying he prefers the songs he recorded with you to the way they were recorded back in the day.

F: Yeah, he kept telling me that and I thought "Yeah, right..." but it's nice to hear that. I felt really good about that.
M
: It was nice to work with him and George Dekker of the Pioneers.

And how about your work with Adele? How did that come together?

M: We actually met her on Myspace. I went on her page and said I liked her stuff because two of the rhythms on her page were ones me and Fluxy laid. She'd done one for Pickout and one for Mikey Brooks. So we started talking after that and said "Why don't we get together and do some tracks?" Her voice is great and whatever I throw at her she delivers and she just takes it her own way. I could give her the Satta Amassagana rhythm and she hasn't heard the rhythm before but she likes it and she'll write to it. That's what I like about her. She doesn't come with the same old melodies - she just takes it somewhere else.

Mafia and Fluxy

QUICKFIRE ROUND

Who is your main production inspiration?

F: Bunny Lee, Donovan Germain...
M
: Sly & Robbie.
F
: Obviously Sly & Robbie.

What's the main part of what you do - playing live or in the studio?

M: It very much balances because we're in the studio and we get called away for a tour then we're dying to get back in the studio. If we're in the studio for a while and nothing's going on we're dying to do a tour!

Who is your favourite artist to record with of all time?

F: My personal favourite is Beres. We have a nice vibe when we make songs together. He's got a serious input and he listens. We and Beres went back from Penthouse days and we kind of clicked. We worked with him here there and everywhere. But when he rose up he didn't knock us back or anything. Every time we went to Jamaica he said "Come up to Harmony House. Let's do something tonight now!" The last trip we were producing his artists for him for Harmony House - we're always welcome up there. He calls us Harmony House UK!
M
: Garnett Silk was a good one as well.
F
: And Buju Banton - he is very good to work with in the studio. He has got some nice ideas.

And who do you like touring with?

F: At this present time I would say Luciano.
M
: And we used to tour with Soul II Soul. That was great when we supported James Brown in Germany.
F
: He was cool. He was nice man.

How many tunes would you estimate you have worked on?

F: Pffffttt!
M
: (laughing) Wow!
F
: How many people are there in the world?
M
: I could never name it.
F
: (laughing) That goes unanswered! When we first started I was trying to count and then we got more popular and ran out of zeroes!
M
: There's a whole heap of rhythms we worked on for people like Al Campbell and Jah Shaka that haven't even touched the street yet. We used to play for Al Campbell every Wednesday at our studio in Tottenham [which closed in 2006] - we used to fill up a tape every week.

If Bunny Wailer came here I'd say "Let's do an album right now!"

What projects should we look out for in the future?

M: We've got another Adele album we're working on, another Little Roy album we're working on, the R&B to Reggae series, a Pioneers album, a tribute to Jackie Mittoo album...
F
: We've got some Gregory Isaacs that hasn't been released yet which we need to work on.
M
: We need to catch up on our mixing. We've done a lot of recording but we're behind on that.

Who's still on your list to work with?

F: You know who I would really like to work with? Bunny Wailer. If Bunny came here right now I'd say "Let's do an album right now!"

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Read comments (2)


Posted by beve sinclair on 08.18.2011
I love this interview and love the tracks you chose..

Posted by treacle on 08.24.2011
I loved this too..childhood stories and taking us through the years..excellent questions and once again i didn't want it to end.

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