This year is the 25th anniversary of one of Britain’s most innovative and ground-breaking record labels: Acid Jazz. Headed by the avuncular eccentric and talented Eddie Pillar, his label has reflected the multicultural musical aspect of Britain from its inception in 1987.
He spearheaded the rare groove and acid jazz scene, unearthing the Brand New Heavies, Galliano and the James Taylor Quartet along the way; he also reactivated the career of revered soul jazz singer Terry Callier.
Eddie also signed Jamiroquai whom he heard for the first time on a cassette demo singing along to a Brand New Heavies track. He initially thought Jay Kay was female and instantly signed him/her to a three album deal. He had discovered a massive worldwide selling act, it was a dream come true.
He would be the first person to tell you how difficult it has been running a small independent label for a quarter of a century, up against the mighty clout of the big labels, along with illegal downloading and the worst recession we have experienced.
Ed is Britain’s answer to Motown boss Berry Gordy – granted, on a slightly smaller scale, but nonetheless there are similarities. His label brought Mod back into vogue, its logo is totally Brit cool and, more impressively, his imprint became a genre all of its own.
Sticking a rather rigid middle finger up to the major labels, who over the years have offered him millions to buy out this wonderful little empire, he never crumpled. Cast iron resilience I would call it, damn foolishness others would say.
Pillar should be given an award for his services to the music industry. In the face of all this adversity his label still puts out music that no other company would touch and that’s what makes Ed and Acid Jazz unique.
He recently uncovered Manchester’s The Janice Graham Band and East Londoners Dexters, both signing to his label. The music business needs more of his type. He still wants to unearth the next big thing, find the next Jamiroquai, find the next great Mod group, because he has that self belief that somewhere out there is something radical and totally fresh that will fit like a glove on to his Acid Jazz hand.
The new album on his cherished label by Matt Berry called Kill the Wolf is just that. The actor/musician, and the big butch voice of Absolute Radio, has released a record that is totally mesmerising, textured and sounds like the English countryside in the autumn. It’s an English prog rock album that should be filed along side The Nice, Ozric Tentacles and Caravan.
He has virtually played all the instruments himself which makes this long player all the more compelling. When we met to discuss his latest work, he said:
“I try and play as many instruments as I possibly can. It’s not me showing off, it was just out of necessity. I began playing the Hammond organ as a kid and as I didn’t know any other musicians, I just learnt how to play all my own instruments. It’s as simple as that. I can’t play the flute or the oboe, so I’m going to start learning how to play them soon.”
As a fan of the Hammond organ and funk and soul, I suggest it must be a delight to be signed to Eddie Pillar’s Acid Jazz label. Matt replies, “He’s a Svengali-type figure, who often gets overlooked. He was the one who got me into funk and the Hammond sound because at the time there very little of that type of music available. He was responsible for its re-emergence and if it wasn’t for Ed I wouldn’t have heard all that stuff.”
Matt is also an actor and you might have seen him in The Mighty Boosh playing the eccentric Dixon Bainbridge or in the IT Crowd starring as the dramatically arrogant Douglas Reynholm.
He is a busy chap and is about to appear in the new Vic and Bob sitcom and his own new project, Toast of London, which is due to be aired on Channel 4 in October.
“I play an actor called Stephen Toast and it’s about all the terrible things that happen in his life. Everybody is horrible to him and he has no sense of humour, so hopefully people will empathise with him.”
You could say Matt is a plate spinner and a very good one at that. But if push came to shove, which career path would he choose outright — musician or actor?
“I like to do both. I don’t dream about comedy but I do dream about guitars.”
Listen to Pete Mitchell on Absolute Radio at 10pm Saturday night absoluteradio.co.uk/listen