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Black Music & Jazz Review Magazine June 1978

At Tension

Is there such a thing as black British soul music? Hi Tension think so. Chris May finds out why...

hi tension1978 juneSettle down now, settle down. Form your little fairy ring. Good. is everybody sitting comfortably? Then I'll...Samantha!

What do little girls never do? Well Robert was being very very silly then wasn't he dear? No, I don't want to hear what he said it was for. i said no Samantha...
is everybody funking comfortably now? Then I'll begin again.

Once upon a time (1975), in a land far far away to the north (Cricklewood), there were eight big children who found a secret box full of magical musical instruments. And they began to play them...

  But let's stop being so boringly fax 'n' info about Hi-Tension, cos their music is actually one colossal heap of steaming fun. Hi-Tension are brothers David and Ken Joseph (keyboards and bass), brothers Paul and Patrick McLean (lead guitar and alto), Paul Phillips (rhythm guitar), Jeffrey Guishard (timbale's, percussion), Leroy Williams (congos) and David Reid (drums).

  They'd all hung around together during school days and formed their first group, Hott Wax, in 1976. Hott wax was basically a semi-pro school group, and when term ended in the summer of'76 and the eight lads stepped out into the wide world Hott Wax split, briefly, into three fractions. The McLean brothers joined a local funk outfit called the MLights; Guishard, Williams and Reid formed a similar unit named feedback; and the Joseph brothers and Phillips carried on as Hott Wax, taking on the name Hi-Tension round about January 1977.

Note: Chris got this part wrong, See Bio , should have said The McLean brothers, (MLights) with Paul McLean playing Trumpet. (Feedback) Guishard, Williams and Reid. Jeff Guishard on Guitar, joined Hott Wax to later become Hi-Tension, there was no split.

"See we'd built up such a rapport over the years together at school that it was inevitable we'd get back together again," David Joseph explained. "We all had the same tastes in music - Rufus Thomas, Earth Wind and Fire, the Commodores, Herbie Hancock - and it didn't take us long to find out that we made the best sounds when we were all onstage in the same band."

Now the biggest all-black funk band in the UK, a year ago Hi-Tension were largely unknown, and spent most of'77 doing cover versions of EW&F and Commodores in London discos like the Q and Upstairs At Ronnie's. "We usually played other people's records" cos we had to relate to the people and they didn't know us as a heavy band in our own right then, like we didn't have any release of our own. Now its different. We've always been writing and now we can get up there and do our own funky thing."

Raw Energy

But that's jumping ahead of the story a little. Round about the middle of the last year Kofi Ayivor of Osibisa heard the band and was so excited by their raw energy that he put up his own money and took the band into the studios to cut six demo tapes of their original material. A good friend of Island boss Chris Blackwell, Kofi then took the tapes round to the label.
Blackwell was equally enthusiastic, a contract was drawn up and Hi Tension returned to the studios to recut the demo tape of "Hi Tension". released as a 12in limited edition on March 3 this year the side was an immediate smash - without the benefit of any hype, though the group's appearance on the execrable BBC2 Blackcurrant show obviously helped get their name across. The record broke in the discos, a 7in version followed and the rest, to coin a phrase, is history.

This month Hi Tension return to the studios to cut an album. I asked David to give us a preview of what we can expect to hear. "We want the backing tracks to be just like American funk sound - but Island are a bit worried that if we do that we're gonna get lost in terms of our identity. But we believe that our vocal style is so distinctively British that we'll never get lost wherever we go. 'Cos we sing a lot different from the Americans, we sing like the Britons we are, and that will always identify us. Like you can always tell Earth Wind & Fire, you can always tell the Commodores, all these guys play good music but it's not until they start singing that you can say (David smacks his palms together) Ah' Commodores!' So it's the same for us, we just want the recording sound to be much tighter.
Lyrically there's no concept really, we just write songs that we feel-from the heart rather than from the mind. Some are happy, some are sad, some are about girls, some are about the world in general. It's not political, "Cos unlike the reggae bands we've found the business here pretty cool." Which is quite an understatement coming from a band with the average age of 20 and whose first release was on most of Britain's heaviest funk jock's playlists within a week. While you're waiting for the album you can snatch a taste live, 'cos after a three months spell off the road getting their direction solid Hi-Tension are back on the road.