The Good, The Bad & The Queen Are Nameless

The Good, The Bad & The Queen Are Nameless
Photo: Soren Starbird
Tony Allen is having a soak — or so it appears; over the phone there’s consistent splishing and splashing, and the 66-year-old drummer is in a jovial mood. I ask him if it’s true that this super-group he’s joined actually has no name and he playfully responds, "No name. The name of the record is not the name of the group. He’s singing about ‘the good, the bad and the queen.’ The queen is in the middle of the good and the bad.”

Fair enough. But when I ask him if recording The Good, The Bad & The Queen was any fun, Allen’s mood changes, as if the water suddenly got cold. "Not fun,” says Allen. "When we recorded it for real, it was for real. There was no fun. To me if things are not right I’m not going to leave it. No, I never saw any fun there.”

It’s a little unexpected to hear his reaction, considering the group is stuffed with some of the world’s great musicians. First there’s Allen, who helped invent Afrobeat as Fela Kuti’s drummer/bandleader and has been called "the most important musician of the last 50 years” by Brian Eno. Add to that Paul Simonon, the iconic former bassist for the Clash, Simon Tong, session guitarist for the likes of the Verve, Blur and Gorillaz, Brian "Danger Mouse” Burton behind the boards, and of course, project leader Damon Albarn, the man who led Britpop with Blur and became a cartoon for the Gorillaz.

Perhaps more unexpected than the line-up is the record these five men have created. Instead of some kind of riotous celebration, these seasoned veterans play dubbed out space rock, and TGTB&TQ is a blissed-out brew of torrential reverb and shrewd rhythms that pave the way for Albarn’s dazed croon to unfold a "Dickensian” narrative. In his thick Nigerian accent, Allen attests the five of them simply assembled and this record was the result. "Let’s do music. Let’s just do music as musicians. Everyone knows what it takes to be musicians, so let’s get together and just do music for the public. And that’s what we’ve done. That’s the way I look at it. We go into the studio, we create.”

Clearly it’s not that simple, and Allen does recognise that it was a change from being the musical director for Fela Kuti. "This one is different. It’s a delicate one and I treated it delicately. I never impose myself, that’s how it’s supposed to be. I’m a born musician; I’m very flexible. All my life I’ve been doing this job. So I will do any type of music regardless of where it’s coming from.”

The story of Allen how got involved is a good one. In 2000, Blur released "Music Is My Radar,” a song that featured Albarn warbling: "Tony Allen gets what a boy can do/Really got me dancin’.” Word got to the legendary drummer and he was intrigued. "I don’t know where that was coming from, maybe from instinct, but I knew this guy would be able to relate to whatever I am doing,” Allen says. "He really surprised me as a pop singer. He related to my patterns — it’s not so easy for people to relate to my patterns.”

After Albarn contributed to Allen’s 2002 HomeCooking album, the two began shaping ideas, called some friends and TGTB&TQ was born. "What I was looking for was a crisscross, fusion thing. Sometimes I say why not, man. I listen to different music, and somewhere I feel there could be another way around; music could be this, y’know.”