GoGo Penguin, comprised of Chris Illingworth (piano), Rob Turner (drums) and Nick Blacka (bass), release their fifth album, a self-titled work which will this autumn – pandemics permitting – propel them to the largest venues they’ve played to date. The 2014 Mercury nominees will embark on a rescheduled eight-date tour, including their home town Manchester’s Albert Hall and London’s Brixton Academy. For an outfit whose output is entirely instrumental, it’s no mean feat. But they’re confident they have the material to match expectations.
“In the past, we’d have to get in the studio and finish the album in what felt like three days,” says Turner. “This time, we had six months of writing, and two weeks of recording, so everyone had a lot more time to contribute to each track. There was more experimentation, trying things out and often throwing them away.” “We’ll get up on a festival stage and everyone’ll be dancing,” says Illingworth, recalling a distant time, before lockdown, when festivals and gigs took place and people went to them. “There’ll be people who are out of their mind on whatever, and then people who’re there with their family just dancing with a little kid, old guys, and everybody in between, and we’ll be playing something where there’s distortion on the bass so it sounds like a synth, or Rob’s playing house beats…”
On being asked to recall the albums that have influenced them and their music output most, the trio were keen to split GoGo Penguin’s This Music Made Me three ways…
• Chris Illingworth’s selections
DJ Shadow – Entroducing…
When I was really young I only really got into the music that my parents played in the house (the good stuff that my mum listened to like Led Zeppelin and Jethro Tull, maybe not so much the music my dad listened to, but I’ll forgive him) or the classical music I was learning on piano.
Once I got to secondary school that all changed. I was introduced to so much music by friends and a few teachers and around this time I also started playing around with electronics and computer music. My intro to this was using a couple of basic MIDI keyboards with an Atari ST.
Entroducing….. blew my mind, hearing a record that was completely made electronically with samples and a few bits of gear like an MPC60 but sounded so musical and different to anything I’d heard before. It was great to learn about this at such an early age and it really fuelled my interest in combining electronics into the music I make with an acoustic piano.
Radiohead – OK Computer
I bought this on cassette on a ferry crossing the English Channel going on a school trip to France. All us kids had been given pocket money from our parents for the trip to get some snacks or a souvenir, instead we all just bought records the first chance we got.
I bought this after a recommendation from one of my school mates but only learnt very recently that another one of our mates had told him he was ‘corrupting my mind’ as it wasn’t classical music.
This made me laugh a lot. Damn good job though that these friends did ‘corrupt’ my mind with all this music though otherwise I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be doing what I am today.
Esbjörn Svensson Trio – Good Morning Susie Soho
EST have been a huge inspiration on my music and the direction I ended up going in as a musician. All of their albums are excellent but this was the first of theirs that I heard way back when I was about 16.
I’d played with mates in bands before this point but usually on bass guitar (piano didn’t really suit grunge and metal so well) and it was EST that showed me a way I could be in a band, playing piano, but without pinning myself down to one style or genre.
Yes, they absolutely had one foot firmly in the jazz world but like us they definitely drew ideas from all over the place, combining these influences in their music, and that’s what made their sound so special and unique.
Massive Attack – Mezzanine
My all-time favourite record.
Alongside music, one of my passions has always been graphic design. It was actually my design teacher at school who introduced me to this album (and many others that would remain favourites to this day) and I think both the music and design of this record are incredible – the monochrome stag beetle cover design and an almost neon orange CD inside the case… very cool.
It’s difficult to put into words exactly why I love this album so much but if I could only listen to one album for the rest of my life it would, without a doubt, be this one.
• Nick Blacka’s selections
The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
Perhaps an unexpected choice given the kind of music that we make, but this album was the catalyst for me picking up an instrument.
I first heard this album at the age of 11. I have an older brother and him and all of his mates were big into the Indie/Manchester scene. I was fascinated by this music and, obviously, being the younger sibling, I wanted to be involved in whatever my older brother was getting into. I remember looking at the image on the back cover of this album and imagining playing the guitar or the bass guitar, wondering if I could, maybe, do it.
My brother and his mates had a band and when I first heard them live and the sound of the bass guitar I knew that was it for me. This album was the soundtrack of that time.
Beastie Boys – Check Your Head
When I was still at school, I was staying at a friend’s house and he had this album in his CD collection. I remember being surprised because at the time I associated Beastie Boys with the cheesy frat boy image of ‘Fight For Your Right’, but on the cover of this album I remember thinking that they looked cool.
When we listened to it I was blown away by the funky instrumentals, especially as they would be right next to a hip hop track and then a hardcore punk track. At the time I didn’t know about bands like The Meters, but I was in search of instrumental funk, without even really knowing it at that point.
This album was on regular rotation throughout my teenage years and I still return to it often.
Avishai Cohen – Continuo
I first saw Avishai Cohen perform in Oldham when he was in Chick Corea’s band.
I was a teenager and I loved his playing on that gig. Afterwards, a bass player friend at college told me about his first solo album Adama. It was the first time I’ve heard the double bass being played like that, particularly with the percussive effect on the sides of the instrument, and I loved it.
A few years later, me and my friend Gaz went to see his own band perform at Wakefield Cricket Club, of all places, and I was absolutely blown away by the entire gig. At the time I think he was touring the album At Home, but this album came out very shortly afterwards and it’s probably my favourite.
Radiohead – In Rainbows
For a lot of people OK Computer was the moment that Radiohead came into their consciousness, but for me its predecessor The Bends was always more significant.
For some reason after the release of Hail To The Thief, I lost interest in what the band were doing and I didn’t take too much interest in the release of In Rainbows initially – perhaps because I was heavily into more straight ahead jazz at the time.
When I finally got round to listening to it, I loved this album. It has the perfect balance between the electronica influenced side of what they do and the older guitar based style. Tracks like 15 Step, Jigsaw Falling Into Place and Weird Fishes are easily, for me, some of their best work.
• Rob Turner’s selections
Shostakovich – Symphony No 5
My earliest clear memory of music was when my parents took me to a children’s recorder group. The Timpanist of the senior orchestra that rehearsed in the same building was absent and somehow knowing my interest in drums, the conductor Paul asked if I wanted to have a go.
The piece was Shostakovich Symphony No 5, I remember the frisson being inside an orchestra as it plays, no sound system in the world comes close. It came my moment to shine, the timpani solo at the end. I totally screwed it up and made a fool of myself. I didn’t understand that you had to watch the conductor for the tempo.
Later I would go on to learn a lot from that conductor but it was the emotion and depth of this piece that started my real interest in music. Up until then I didn’t know that with music, a complex psychological experience, it’s emotion and feelings could be captured, preserved and then conveyed to another. Articulated so clearly that you can feel the embers of what they felt.
I wanted to know how and why such a work came to be, I began to learn of the revolution, of his relationship with Stalin, the Pravda article, the threat of death if the piece was deemed objectionable. I learnt how this music once said something that could not be said, to a multitude of people under the very nose of the tyranny trying to suppress it.
In the third movement, which sits almost as a piece in itself I began to hear things like frustration at violence and abuse of power, a personality psychologically folding in on itself, angrily crying out at oppression through gritted teeth, the feeling of resignation and mourning. I heard something retreating to silence, something dying.
This may sound obtuse, but this is more than just some music, or a commodity to be exploited. It’s a monument, a visceral monument capturing something literally unspeakable. It conveys the consequences of the darkest motivations of our psyche and its frightening power to manifest in this world.
Miles Davis – Isle Of Wight
This performance has everything that I love about Jazz. It’s beyond form or categorisation. it’s complex and seems chaotic but that’s a limitation in ourselves not the sound. It’s shamanic and it speaks like an uncompromising guru.
Here Miles Davis takes the experiment of jazz to its final and ultimate conclusion which cannot be articulated in language, the performance is the conclusion.
It’s as if there’s a temporal line from the moment Jo Jones throws a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s feet to this performance, you could call it the Kontakte of Jazz.
Improvising is like surfing, and like surfing you have to have your shit together if you’re going to ride the wave for any length of time. Sometimes the waves are big, sometimes not. You fall a lot but riding the wave with skill and determination is the point of Jazz and its primary discipline is to control the mind and to be fully present in the moment.
For me, the life-long testosterone-driven pursuit of Miles Davis combined with the equally epic individual journeys of his band mates creates a spectacle that evokes a frightening and sobering realisation. That you are here on a rock orbiting a star, which is one of billions and out of silence it emerges and to silence it returns, there is no beginning and there is no end.
Aphex Twin – Richard D James
The club scene of Bolton where I grew up was a squalid and violent hole. The music would be whatever the latest vomit some A+R guy had cooked up whilst on a coke fuelled bender in Camden (If you haven’t read ‘Kill Your Friends’ you should). Later as a student I was too busy studying Classical music and Jazz to get involved with clubbing and so I had little experience of electronic music until my friend Brad played me this record…
I was mesmerised by the alien sounds and spaces, snare rushes and rhythmic precision. Where many drummers will listen to, Tony Williams Buddy Rich etc and try to learn by transcribing they’re playing, I chose this. I would write the patterns and try to play it just like the record… I’ve never managed it.
It opened my mind to totally new ideas in music, to words like frequency modulation and spectral processing, to acid trips and lucid dreaming, to piss-taking randomness and boundless creativity.
It was from this album that I found all the electronic music I now love, it has lead me on a path that would see me play beach parties and festivals and ultimately introduce me to the friends I now treasure as an adult.
GoGoPenguin’s self-titled album is out through Blue Note on 12 June 2020. Tour dates and further information can be found at gogopenguin.co.uk