Amp, Fiddler, interview, Freer, Jon, Mundovibe
“Conversations are the dynamic for change in our lives”
Meeting Mr. Joseph ‘Amp’ Fiddler is a truly life-enriching experience. The patience, friendliness and warmth of a man who has spent so long in the shadows of his contemporaries is a stark contrast to the egotistical self-importance shown by some who make it to the big-time. Amp is one of a kind, and the type of person to make a lasting impression on you, from just one brief conversation. Amp is one of those people who stand out in a crowd. His distinctive looks and unique dress sense has been immortalised by Mitch Bwoy’s portraits that adorn Amp’s releases on the Genuine imprint.
On record, his jams exude the type of hot buttered soul with a funky-ass swagger reminiscent of those falsetto favouring soul brothers and ghetto funkateers who originally made the ‘Motown’ famous in the ‘60’s. Alongside his band of merry troubadours, his larger-than-life persona makes his live performances electrifying. One reason for the infectious nature of his performances can be traced to how he honed his craft on the live circuit supporting successful groups such as Jamiroquai and The Brand New Heavies. He also gained insight as a session musician, adding his own inimitable style to compositions by the likes of The Artist Formerly Known As Prince and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Refreshingly he still feels the pulse of the underground, embodied by his collaborations with the reclusive KDJ and a cross the water hook up with Manchester’s siblingless Only Child.
On a recent visit to the UK, I caught up with Amp on the Sheffield date of a tour to promote his debut solo album. I questioned him on a variety of issues relating to his music and started by asking him about the importance of his home ‘Camp Amp’ studio set-up in fostering a vibrancy and palpable excitement that is so apparent in his music. Amp feels that for him it is the natural way to do things, as he has always had a studio at home. It is important because it lets his musicians and engineers relax, as there’s not the type of strict budget-geared schedule that operates in commercial studios. Also, it can help the creative process flow easier and by Amp’s own admission is “lots of fun”.
While rehearsing for their gig in Sheffield, Amp took on the role of a teacher. A true expert in his field, he was the focal point for his talented accompanying band. The spirited and incredibly skilful displays by his live ensemble, which includes one-time Innerzone Orchestra man Paul Randolph and the angelically toned vocalist Stephane McKay, suggests they could easily follow Amp and become solo stars in their own right. Mr. Fiddler is as eager to see it happen as anyone else “If they want it, I see it for them”. Through tirelessly visiting their repertoire pre-performance, everything is finely tuned to perfection. Amp feels that his live group understand his musical dreams and goals and this is important for the obvious on-stage dynamism of their performances. It is an obviously a close-knit set up from the fact he likens it to a “family affair”.
It feels like there’s a neo-soul revolution going on in Detroit. This is typified by the “Detroit Soul” compilation released on Unisex, which showcases a diverse range of artists from the city. Musicians and vocalists appearing on this collection include Amp himself, Anetria Wright, a dazzling vocalist who appears on his “Waltz Of The Ghetto Fly” LP and other patrons of the city’s historically aware emotive soul values. Some of these artists have almost simultaneously broken into the mainstream, whilst others are raising their profiles on the underground scene. I asked Amp what his thoughts were on this subject. Agreeing with this portrayal of a soul renaissance, he name checks Dwele and Kim Hill as two leading city lights. For him, the musical tradition of the city runs deep; “Detroit has always been known for soul, it’s time for us to step up” as “We live in Motown”. I delved deeper, quizzing Amp further on his hometown. Despite seeing a great deal of the world through extensive touring, he has kept returning to Detroit. I asked him how important the city was to him and why. The “urban setting, vibrations” and heritage of the industrial city has had a large influence on him. He feels the fact that people in Detroit are very critical when it comes to music “keeps me on my toes”. He believes the city has been blessed with “too much talent” and therefore only the super- gifted artists make it.
Amp likens touring and recording with a variety of musical masters such as George Clinton to that of school. He feels he has “learned something from everyone”, as they have all brought something different to the musical equation. Working with these greats has helped him concentrate and realise his own musical vision. If he could work with anyone in the future, it would be Prince or Sly Stone. On the subject of his inspirations, Amp revealed that anyone who he hears “that is really good” inspires him, “regardless of the type of music”. He feels it “helps me grow”, and despite the fact that “with all genres there’s some bad stuff”, there’s “always someone coming along” with the goods.
To Amp, music is “life itself”. “The vibrations it gives me; makes me happy and keeps me going”. Understandably, it is one of the most important things in his life. He came from a family of musicians, and he feels music is something he can never give less than 100% to. His family are obviously very important in his life and he felt as the youngest of five, a responsibility to support them. Amp says he is a spiritual person, who was raised as a Catholic, but prefers not to follow a religious doctrine. His affection for mankind is obvious from the lyrics of his tracks, and Amp feels he must “give prayer and thanks” for what he has achieved so far.
I asked Mr. Fiddler what inspires his lyrics. “Conversations are the dynamic for change in our lives” and talking to his friends has influenced the words he has penned recently. By “flipping these words and ideas”, he can “give people a different outlook on life”. The crossover potential of his music is seemingly endless, as it is so easy to connect with. His debut album has a timeless quality and was obviously made with a great deal of love and care. This is a contrast to the disposable nature of many sales geared long players. I asked him whether the fact he could touch so many people with his music, without having to change his style one iota, excited him. Amp says “I would love to reach more people”, however he understands he must “stay grounded” and keep his faith in the music, preferring not to let the media hype surrounding him have a detrimental effect. This uncompromising attitude stems from the fact he has “been in the game too long” and has “seen and done it all before”. He knows other people who have fallen by the wayside, by attempting to make their music appealing to commercial markets.
Thankfully Amp believes that being authentic and reflecting your “heart and soul” is paramount. This is an appropriate attitude, considering the name of his UK label is Genuine. His “Superficial” and “Love & War” EPs shot Amp into the public eye in Europe whilst the exceptionally well received “I’m Doing Fine” collaboration with KDJ tested more underground waters. He was not surprised by how well the releases on Genuine were received, as he “saw beyond their vision”. This comes down to Amp’s ideology more than anything else. He feels he has achieved more in life by “asking for the unreasonable”. Instead of just striving to achieve something one step down the line, Amp believes you should “ask for more to get what you want”.
This positive outlook has no doubt stood him in good stead to keep on pushing his music career, despite the fact he has spent the majority of his years helping others out. The way forward according to the Amp philosophy is to be confident and “believe what you say is”. I asked him if he can explain why his career has sky rocketed now. He feels that finally “the time was perfect” for him to take centre stage. However, he does not just attribute this to his skills improving, but feels a greater force is important, because “everything happens in divine order”. On the subject of future musical offerings, there are some Camp Amp productions on the way. The next Amp Fiddler album is also in the pipeline, which he feels they’ll “do differently”.
No one can begrudge the success to such a deserving fellow. He spent nearly a careers worth of time as an understudy, but Amp is now a star in his own right!