lucdarling asked: PLEASE GIVE ME ALL YOUR JEZ KERR FEELS.
All right, then, let’s talk about Jez Kerr.
I’d say that Jez is the world’s greatest living bassist, and the thing is, that’s pretty much true. I mean, sure, he’s tied for that position with Bruce Foxton and Pino Palladino, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s up there on the top tier, and there’s no one for miles below the three of them. So there’s that, to begin with: Jez Kerr is (one of) the world’s greatest living bassist(s).
No, seriously, the way he plays, he’s got this amazing, bright, over-driven sound (think Bruce Foxton of The Jam, but lighter) and an insane amount of speed and skill (think John Entwistle of The Who, except not dead), and the thing that matters most, I think, is that Jez isn’t just a bassist, he’s a musician. If he isn’t playing, he’s writing, he’s arranging, he’s adapting, he’s recording; Jez doesn’t just play music, he creates it, he is music.
And he’s also the frontman for A Certain Ratio now, so as well as playing bass, he’s the lead singer, and he’s brilliant at that, as well. If you haven’t heard the band’s more recent material, or if you haven’t heard his other band (The Family Bizarre), or if you haven’t heard his solo work… start with his SoundCloud, here, where he uploads original work and covers and tributes whenever the mood strikes him, and they are always gorgeous. Because Jez Kerr.
His current work is just the tip of the iceberg, though. He’s been with A Certain Ratio since the genesis of post-punk and Madchester, since the mid-1970s, when he started as bassist and backing vocalist before moving to the frontman position in the early ’80s. With them, he not only shaped British post-punk and funk, but also the American dance scene; the band became a fixture of New York clubs when they first recorded locally and played live, then later returned to tour with other Manchester bands like New Order. (Actually, the story of A Certain Ratio itself is pretty cool, because essentially, it’s “four talented lads liked the same music, made a band, accidentally acquired a drummer, went from post-punk to funk to dance and Latin and electronic and house and soul and anything they felt like.” Oddly enough, one of the things that set the band apart from their peers when they began was that they all knew how to play their instruments – not a necessary feature of most of the punk and post-punk scene, particularly the bands inspired by the Lesser Free Trade Hall gig.)
He’s also done all kinds of other things – worked at the Post Office, done a degree in music technology, taught (briefly, before deciding he didn’t have the talent or the patience for it), scored television commercials, played all over the world, and scratched out a living any way he could while making music, because he says you can’t make money from music, or, at least, he can’t. “In any case,” he says, “money shouldn’t be what drives you… making music should be about having fun.”
Then again, Jez also says things like “we weren’t technically brilliant” (about A Certain Ratio, and while that may be true in the mean, it’s certainly not true about him), “when you think you know what you’re doing, maybe that’s the time to give up” (and everything Jez does is rooted in that, in the idea that you experiment, you play, you free-fall, you do what you care about, and if the music is any good, it comes from that honesty, not from technical skill), and he’s open and up-front and matter-of-fact. That, I think, is the core of Jez’s character, that he’s always truthful about what he does and why. He admits that he’s been bitter about not making enough money to put food on the table (but also that you acknowledge it and move on, because holding onto that bitterness kills the music); he admits that he’s had times when he was signed to big labels and spending all sorts of money and thinking he was great (but also that those were the times when he was most unhappy, and that figuring out why he wanted to be making music and following that was what saved him); he admits that he’s been in the position of having to fight over money and administrative stuff (but also that he loves the band more than any of that, and that they’ve gotten through all of that together because what matters most to all of them is getting together and making music). He talks about being able to walk into a room and create something good with his bandmates even though they rarely socialize outside the music; he talks about sharing a place with guitarist Peter Terrell and growing close; he talks about being obsessed with sound and experimentation and having a band that’s willing to go the distance for each other, trying out what everyone’s feeling.
But it isn’t only that. It isn’t only the music (and with Jez, the music is everything). It’s that Jez is a real, ordinary person, and just odd enough and just obsessed enough and just mad enough that he’s – not just as a musician, but as a human being – brilliant. Like riding around Manchester on his bicycle because for years it was the only mode of transportation he could afford. Like making ridiculous jokes about photographs and illustrations and the bastions of British culture. Like recording himself playing random music just because he feels like it and then throwing it onto the Internet because why not? Like running his own Twitter (unlike most celebrities out there) and dropping such high-brow comments as, “Got a new kitchen light, feel weird when i go in there”
Jez cares more deeply about his music, about music in general, than just about anyone I’ve ever been lucky enough to encounter. He cares more deeply about what he does and about what he believes in and about his own plain-spoken honesty than anyone you’ll find out there with one-tenth of his talent or one-tenth of his modesty. He’s brilliant, sure, and talented, and all that other stuff, but the best thing about Jez Kerr is that he’s real.