Formed around 1992 by Tim Whelan (aka Alex Kasiek), Hamilton Lee (aka Hamid Mantu ) and Count Dubulah (Nick Page) after Whelan and Lee's previous new wave outfit Furniture disintegrated whilst recording their third album, TGU began life as a music collective who specialised in a fusion of western and eastern musical styles and a deliberately anonymous approach to image using multiple pseudonyms and obscure credits to further muddy the water. They have since recorded seven albums (excluding remix albums or collections), their latest Moonshout winning the BBC Radio 3 Award for World Music - they also have numerous production credits to their name and their recent collaboration with Real World act The Imagined Village, won them a Radio 2 Folk Award. Founder member Tim Whelan agreed to answer some questions and so TM-O's Andy Basire kicked off by quizzing him on his days with his Pre-TGU band Furniture, did he remember those days with any fondness?
Tim Welan: "Not really. Particularly as the album we made for Stiff Records, The Wrong People, which included our hit 'Brilliant Mind' was buried under a load of legal nonsense years back, and has not been able to be re-issued, which it deserves to be.... You can hear a lot of pre-echoes of what's going on today in it. We saw the worst excesses of the 1980s music business in that band and it leaves a permanent bad taste in the mouth."
Total Music: Do you feel that the '90s dance scene actively encouraged your sort of experimentalism and fusion?
Tim Whelan: "Absolutely. When we put out 'Temple Head' it was pretty well out on its own, with only the Future Sound of London, Shut up and Dance and the Nation tribe working on anything similar. By the time the first album, Dream of 100 Nations came out, the dance scene had become really open and diverse and it was a great time for us. In between Furniture and TGU, me and Hami were in a band called Transmitters, some of whom later morphed into Loop Guru."
Total Music: Nation Records was a wonderful, if erratic label, how important were they to your early years, and why did you ultimately have to move on?
Tim Whelan: “'Temple Head' was a studio project for Nation Records made without a line-up. So TGU was actually born out of the label. That's how we met Natacha Atlas, Inder Goldfinger and Neil Sparkes. In the early days there was a real family vibe to the label with everyone playing on each others records. There came a point by the late '90s where that was all over. Much of what we'd all set out to do had been achieved and everyone moved on."
Total Music: You don't seem to have been very lucky with record labels, was this the impetus behind starting your own label Mule Satellite?
Tim Whelan: "If you look at almost any band who've been going as long as we have, you won't find a record label behind them. You'll find a good distributor, but in general they'll be doing it themselves. Even if they appear to be on a major label they wont be, Simple Minds for example."
Total Music: You recently won the Radio 3 world music award, how do you feel about the whole genre-fication of music wherein western pop music is just music but everything else has to have a spurious, and often meaningless, label?
Tim Whelan: "We're always happy to have anyone show us some respect and so I wouldn't want to split hairs about the definitions. Our official position is that journalists are paid to think about the definitions and we're paid to make the music!"
Total Music: Who is in the current TGU line-up (is TUUP still with you), and do you still remain in contact with Old TGU members like Dubulah and Neil Sparkes?
Tim Whelan: "Well TUUP is always somewhere interesting, wherever he may be from one day to the next. Let's see now, Hamid ManTu, Sheema Mukherjee, G Man, Krupa, Rav, Matt Tweed, Doreen Thobekilie, Rise FM... Is that enough to be going on with? [It's also a] Good time to mention [Dubulah and Neil Sparkes] as they've both made excellent albums this year, Dubulahs' Dub Colossus in a Town called Abbis with a brilliant group of Ethiopian musicians, and Neil with Sam, ex of Loop Guru under the name Loungeclash with Dread Time Story. Last time I was in London I was in Dubulahs local pub until I don't know what bloody time."
Total Music: You have done a lot of production work with old TGU vocalist Natacha Atlas and many others What do you consider the best TGU helmed production projects?
Tim Whelan: " Diaspora and Gedida by Natacha Atlas, the Hakim remix project made in Cairo, and the work we've done on The Imagined Village. I'm also going to plug our most recent release on Mule Satellite, a bellydance burlesque garage band project called Beach Bellydance Babylon, made with Aly Minyawi from Natacha's band."
Total Music: What was it about Moonshout that reconnected you with a wider audience?
Tim Whelan: “Our previous album, Impossible Broadcasting was very much made for our audience at the time and sort of reconnected us with a lot of people in Britain, where we hadn't worked much for years. But putting out the album ourselves was a learning curve. With Moonshout we made an album aimed at a wider audience, got in good distribution, a live agent and press promotions and generally created more of a splash. It feels like the confidence in the music spilled out into how we presented ourselves, in every way."
Moonshout is out now on Mule Satellite, and a free download of 'Emotional Yoyo' from the aforementioned album, as well as a remix of ‘Dancehall Operator’ by Tayo is available from www.TGUdownloads.com