WEEKEND PLAYERS opening for GROOVE ARMADA at the Opera House (780 Queen East), Friday (April 18). Sold out. 416-466-0313. Rating: NNNNN
Weekend Players, the mellow downtempo side project of Andy Cato from Groove Armada with vocalist Rachel Foster, looked poised to fill that mellow electronic void.
Their debut album, Pursuit Of Happiness, has a bit of the oceanic quality of early Massive Attack, with glimpses of a mellow deep house influence, and it's more than a bit reminiscent of Sade.
Foster denies having listened to much Sade, but they do share a similar history. They're both UK-based vocalists who grew up listening to a lot of American soul. In Foster's case, though, her immersion in American culture came out of living in the Middle East as a child.
"I lived in Iran from the age of two until 12. I grew up hearing disco and soul because we were living 20 miles from an American army base, so that's what our TV antenna picked up. We didn't get to hear much about England, so when we moved back here it was quite a shock. Luckily, I found a little record shop that carried American imports.
"I was only a kid, but I'd save my money and buy northern soul. Unfortunately, I ended up selling all my records when I was 18 to put a down payment on a flat, and that's one of the biggest regrets in my life," Foster explains.
Foster is dismayed at the current Mideast situation, and having grown up in the area understands that imposing Western ideals in a region with so much history will be tougher than the U.S. is willing to admit.
"It makes me feel sick. I feel all forms of war are bad. I am very anxious about it spreading around the region. The Middle East has always been so vastly different from the West. I remember as a kid thinking that people didn't really get it on either side. We had to leave Iran because of the revolution, but I can understand why they wanted the Western world out of there. They'd had enough of being told what to do."
Weekend Players came to the attention of many in the UK through their first single, 21st Century, which is much more house-influenced than the bulk of the album. Instead of following up with more club-oriented singles, they came out with an album much slower and mellower than a first impression would have suggested.
"A friend of ours turned 21st Century into a white label, and then Pete Tong started playing it on Radio 1, so the record labels got interested and wanted a single from us. We said we'd rather do an album, because it was already a year and a half after we'd recorded the first songs.
"Live, we want to make people dance. We pretty much reproduce the album, changing the arrangements a little bit to extend some sections. A lot of the album is on the chilled-out, downtempo side, but a song like Pursuit Of Happiness we play live quite differently. We play it much more uptempo than on the album. That's actually how that song originally was, but Andy, with his studio magic, decided he wanted to hear it as a downtempo tune."