Maybe the most reviled contemporary Band ever?

Shakatak have been around for some time, almost 25 years to be exact. During that time, they progressed from the classic eighties white-socks genre "Jazzfunk" towards the abysses of Smooth Jazz. As with the other Jazzfunk bands of that time, Mezzoforte, Level 42 and Weather Report they sold gazillions of albums, which were then mostly hidden behind black Ikea racks and only taken out when the guests were gone or everybody was drunk and wanted to dance. Not me! I proudly presented my complete lack of good taste by parading these colourful vinyl covers, making mix tapes for my friends to convert them to the one true church of Jazzfunk. I am probably responsible for a small group of midthirties with a secret stash of vinyl in their attics that only sees the light at easter.

Shakatak formed out of the debris of two defunct bands, Northern Lights and Tracks, and started with the lineup Bill Sharpe (keys), Keith Winter (gtr), Roger Odell (drums), George Anderson (bass), and Jill Saward and Jackie Rawe on vocals. Sharpe, Odell, Anderson and Savage are still recording and touring to this very day, but back to 1980: They released their first single (Bill Sharpe's "Stepping") as a white-label 12" by mailorder from a recordshop in London called Record Shack (hence the band name to honour their first distributor) and were picked up by Polydor records. Their first two singles with Polydor (Brazilian Dawn and Livin' in the UK) from their debut album "Drivin' Hard" both charted in the british top 50, but it was their second album "Night Birds" with the single "Easier said then done" that catapulted them into commercial success. The album charted in the Top 20 and hung around for 17 weeks. The follow up, "Night Birds", was the band's first single to crack the Top 10, and the album of the same name gave them their first gold album, entering at No. 4 and remaining on the charts for about 6 months.

What did they sound like? The first thing you'd notice would be Anderson's extremely groovy pop'n slap bass, probably followed by the clipped, crystal-clear piano solos by Bill Sharpe on his Boesendorfer piano. Saward's voice is quite distinctive and always well embedded in the arrangements and in it's clarity only comparable to Basia (just without the funny accent).

Now their busiest time started: they started touring worldwide, doing 132 shows in 1982 and still had time to record 2 new albums, "Invitations" and "Out of this world". Then came their biggest hit ever : 1984 saw the release of "Down on the street" which gave them a short sweet period of "almost super-stardom". Next was a live album, which in my personal opinion is their best work ever, and a single with Al Jarreau ("Day by Day") but from there on the slow decline towards becoming a niche-band with a limited audience began: They started recording exclusively for their japanese audience and only sporadically released collections of these albums in the U.S. and Europe. Their sound started to change: from the bass driven funk of the eighties, the arrangements started to mellow and by the mid nineties Smooth Jazz was reached.

As mentioned before, they're still around, still composing, still drawing surprisingly large audiences, still releasing albums (by now over 30 !) and still being excellent musicians, but if you want to hear them in their heyday, buy an early compilation album or download some tracks from your favourite P2P service or Itunes.

"Must play" tracks:

  • Nightbirds
  • Invitations
  • Down on the street
  • Easier said than done
  • Dark is the night
  • Watching you, watching me


Sources:
http://www.invitations.de
http://www.shakatak.com/

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