When Fat Suit hit the road, it is no small event. The rumbustiously creative Glasgow-based jazz-folk fusion collective is currently on a Scottish tour with the multi-octaved singer-songwriter Angus Munro, with whom it has just released an EP, Rubix.
As a recent well-received appearance at the London Jazz Festival and a major tour of Europe last year have demonstrated, the young band is honing both the logistics involved in touring as well as its musical creativity and coherence.
The band has also outgrown its formative inspiration from the US funk-jazzers Snarky Puppy, and although Fat Suit can indeed be very funky indeed, with drum and synth-driven grooves, muscular electric guitars and snappy brass, it’s tempered by serene drifts of violin and shot through with some nicely considered solos. Munro’s soulful vocals bring another element – not least in an exuberant Michael Jackson set, but their relationship goes back to the early days after Fat Suit was formed in 2012, initially for a one-off gig, by students from Strathclyde University’s Applied Music degree course, as founder-guitarist, Dorian Cloudsley, explains.
“Angus has a ridiculous voice, the largest range I’ve heard,” says the 25-year-old Cloudsley. “He was a few years ahead of us Strathclyde, and we’d seen his final recital during out first year and it was outrageous.” So when the band was asked to perform a more party-orientated set for a venue in Aviemore, it recruited Munro. “We did the Michael Jackson medley and one or two other pieces, and we’d always had it in the back of our minds that we’d like do something collaborative in the future.”
A band whose ranks include finalists of both the Young Scottish Traditional Musician of the Year (fiddler Mhairi Marwick) and Young Scottish Jazz counterpart (Mark Scobie) will inevitably attract the faithful or the merely curious from all areas, but performing at London Jazz Festival before a highly jazz-savvy audience last month proved a gratifying if somewhat hectic litmus test for the band.
Playing in the South Bank Centre’s Clore Ballroom, with very little time to set up for their slot made it a fairly frantic experience, says Cloudsley: ““We left at five in the morning to drive down. There were other big bands on and very limited change-over time, so it was very intense.
“But it has to have been our biggest audience and it felt amazing. It was a jazz audience, clapping solos and being really enthusiastic.”
There were stresses of a different sort last year during a European tour which included the Ukraine. While many hours away from the war zone, there were still apprehensions and one gig, in Lutsk, was cancelled because local soldiers had just been killed in the conflict. The Scots musicians were nonetheless made warmly welcome. “The organisation involved was called Art Jazz Co-operation and their slogan was “Make Jazz Not War, so they were very pleased to have us come across the border.”
Their band’s yet to be titled third album, due for release early next year, is sounding “really brilliant “, according to Cloudsley. “We’re all really excited about how it turned out.” And if that dozen-plus, vigorously Protean line-up wasn’t enough, a further squad of guests was recruited for the recording, including a string octet, two marimba players and others: “Adam Sutherland played an amazing violin solo on one track, and Megan Henderson of Breabach contributed some vocals.”
With a core group of composers including saxophonist Scott Murphy, drummer Scobie, fiddler Marwick and keyboard player Craig McMahon, as well as himself, Cloudsley finds it difficult to pinpoint current influences – “but there’s clearly a modern folk influence from the likes of Lau, and an electronic music influence. We definitely now have a far wider scope than just jazz and Snarky Puppy.”
• Fat Suit and Angus Munro play the Mash House, Edinburgh, on 18 December and Cottiers Theatre, Glasgow on 20 December For details see www.fat-suit.co.uk