Champagne and Grits

Little Axe

Released 20 September 2004

  1. People Grinning In Your Face
  2. Finger On The Trigger
  3. Mean Things
  4. The Way I See It
  5. Walk On Water
  6. Go Away Devil
  7. Say My Name
  8. Take Me Back To The Country
  9. All In The Same Boat
  10. Living And Sleeping In A Dangerous Time
  11. Will I Ever Get Back Home Again?
  12. Cloud
  13. Sinners

Liner notes

In 2004 Skip and his team found a new home at Real World Records and created Champagne & Grits (featuring Shara Nelson and Chris Difford Of Squeeze).

This new album was, according to producer Adrian Sherwood, “a far more song-based album by comparison to Hard Grind. It’s warm but it’s got a lot of minor keys in it, which I like and keep the music connected to the blues.” But the methodology remains unchanged – though hugely facilitated by the exponential growth over the past decade of studio technology better suited to the sonic harvesting of the blues’ past.

How does it work? What are the so-called “dub-blues” made of? How are they made?

“What I do is cheat,” says McDonald, laughing. “No. Not really. But before I begin work on an album I listen to a lot of old music – and I mean a lot. I might focus on one person and try to get into as much stuff as they’ve done. I concentrate so hard I get heavy vibes, so the hairs on my neck stand up. And when I’m in there, I’ll take a sample – it can be a vocal sample or an orchestral one, a piece of Mozart or a field recording of a chain gang – and I’ll time-stretch ’em and tune ’em and get everything fitting together, and that process gives me a few ideas what what to do with a bassline, a beat and a guitar part. But it’s the vibe that counts: the vibe coming from the original recording, the feeling of the individual, whether it’s Leadbelly, Son House, the Wolf or whoever, and the intensity of what they’re trying to say…”

This is the art of time-surfing, Little Axe-style. It’s a process that begins in the deep past in the unfettered self-expression of an individual soul, finds new animation in the emotions of Skip McDonald and then achieves a state of formal realisation in the hands of “the crew”: music so massive and of the moment that you could touch it.

As to Champagne and Grits, it was a piece of work that took three years. On this album if it feels as if there is less sampling than before, then it’s because there was more writing.

Chris Difford, of Squeeze, turned up to pen lyrics for and sing “All in the Same Boat”. Shara Nelson co-wrote and sings on “Say My Name.” There are striking vocal performances by Bernard Fowler, Ghetto Priest and Junior Delgado. Underpinning everything is the Little Axe rhythm unit – and deep echoes from the past. As Sherwood puts it: “You spend a long time going into yourself trying to get it right, to capture the air of field recordings in our own space.”

“Well,” sighs Skip, “it’s been a progression, I’ve gotta say that. I’m an endangered species – I come from the era when people had to play; it wasn’t enough just to look good then: you had to play. And now I’ve learned all about hard-disc recording, Pro-Tools, Logic and this and that and I’m progressing, like a good old ship – Battleship Skip.”

Listen

Reviews

  • Little Axe is essentially Skip McDonald, one-time stalwart of the Sugarhill Gang house band, aided and abetted by the legendary Keith LeBlanc and Doug Wimbish with Adrian Sherwood on production duties. This excursion into the heart of dub blues is, as always, immensely listenable. Music Week (UK)
  • Skip McDonald paid his dues long ago. The Sugarhill Gang guitarist helped define hip-hop on classics like "The Message" and "Rapper's Delight". A decade back he headed to the blues, linking with On-U producer extraordinaire Adrian Sherwood to explore the dub side of soul. His fourth such project, Champagne & Grits, is the least Jamaicanized, most song-based record yet. Guests Junior Delgado and Ghetto Priest add a a bit of island life to McDonald's emotive guitar, but when Massive Attack vocalist Shara Nelson begs you to "Say My Name", you'll truly know what longing is all about. XLR8R (USA)
  • Featuring in critic Chris Rubin's Top Ten Albums of 2004 list in Rolling Stone: Little Axe, Champagne and Grits (Real World): Just your average blues album -- if the band was from Mars. Very spacey stuff. Rolling Stone (USA)

Further Listening

  • Stone Cold Ohio

    Little Axe

    Released 09 October 2006

    Stone Cold Ohio is 15 tracks of future blues - dubbed-out, dark, and smokey. It includes covers of songs by Skip James, Allen Toussaint, and Mos Def man Will Calhoun. Ohio traces a line from African chants, Afro-American field songs, blues, gospel, soul, funk and dub, and takes it on into the 21st Century.
  • Bought For A Dollar, Sold For A Dime

    Little Axe

    Released 01 June 2010

    A melting pot of addictive rhythms, soulful vocals, pinches of dub and funk, reggae and gospel and oh-so-subtle samples and innovative electronics. ‘Bought For A Dollar Sold For A Dime’ is underpinned by Skip McDonald's shimmering blues guitar licks, conjuring a space where the dirt roads of the Deep South meet the shiny lanes of the Information Superhighway.

Further reading

Bokanté announce European dates in early 2019

The American-based world music supergroup will tour the UK, including a gig at Celtic Connections.

Real World music featured on BBC Two’s Mediterranean with Simon Reeve

Simon Reeve embarks on a journey around the Mediterranean, soundtracked by music from Real World.

Track of the Day: ‘In The Sun’ by Joseph Arthur

A look back on Arthur's most popular song, which featured on 2000's Come To Where I'm From.

A look back on Geoffrey Oryema’s 1993 video for ‘The River’

Marking the 25th anniversary of Beat The Border, the official video for 'The River' is now online.