FRANK BENBINI – DRUMMER IN FUN LOVIN’ CRIMINALS – IS ALSO HALF OF PRODUCTION OUTFIT RADIO RIDDLER. THE DUO RECENTLY RELEASED A REGGAE VERSION OF PRINCE’S 1984 ALBUM PURPLE RAIN, AND ARE CURRENTLY OUT ON THE ROAD AS SUPPORT TO ALI CAMPBELL, ‘THE LEGENDARY VOICE OF UB40’…
Campbell appears on Radio Riddler’s PURPLE REGGAE (singing the classic PURPLE RAIN itself) alongside several other guests – including Sinead O’Connor, who scored (very) big in 1990 with her stunning version of Prince’s NOTHING COMPARES 2 U, Suggs (who hails his own take on LET’S GO CRAZY as “a piece of genius”), Beverley Knight, Citizen Cope, Deborah Bonham and The Slits singer Hollie Cook. The album is a labour of love that’s been five years in the making, inbetween the duo’s remixes for the likes of Coldplay and Lily Allen. Initially convinced the idea of a reggae tribute to their musical hero (check Benbini’s tattoo) couldn’t work, the duo were pleasantly surprised with early efforts and the project snowballed from there. In this Q&A with The Mouth Magazine, Benbini talks about the album and reveals that Prince has provided the soundtrack to his life…
THE IDEA OF TAKING PRINCE SONGS AND PUTTING THEM THROUGH YOUR ‘REGGAE FILTER’ – IT SEEMS STRANGE, BUT IT WORKS… BUT AS THESE SONGS ARE SO INGRAINED IN PEOPLE NOW, WERE THERE PARTICULAR THINGS YOU FELT YOU HAD TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT?
Good question. I cannot stress the amount of care and thought that went into this project, unlike a lot of re-working of iconic albums which can be done in such a disrespectful way. The attention to detail can be woeful. When it comes to the music, and Prince… anybody that knows me in the industry – and in Prince’s camp – will tell you that you’re dealing with a super fan and admirer. My biggest musical influence. With my music partner Fast being such an expert on the production side of things, we went to great lengths to keep to the same page as Prince. When it came to things like string sounds, keyboard sounds, drum machines, arrangements, even the key of songs, it was all taken very seriously. It wasn’t until a good proportion of the tracking was down that I was really convinced, as mine and Fast’s quality control level is stupid high.
WAS THERE A LINE YOU FELT YOU COULDN’T CROSS, IN TERMS OF STAYING RESPECTFUL TO PRINCE’S ART?
The one conscious line I didn’t want to cross was trying to emulate any of the guitar solos as that would have been suicide. There is just no point – I believe Prince is one of the greatest guitarists ever. So what I wanted was brass to fill that roll of guitar solos, which was a bit of a huge task at the time for our trombone player Jay. Playing the PURPLE RAIN solo on a wind instrument… well, that separates the men from the boys. So, yes, nothing but respect has been shown to this amazing album – this piece of art – that Prince wrote.
DO YOU THINK PRINCE’S CHARACTER IS AS IMPORTANT AS HIS ART?
His art is his character. They go hand in hand. It’s the blend of the two that makes him a superstar.
DO YOU KNOW IF PRINCE HIMSELF HAS HEARD ANY OF THIS, OR WHAT HE THINKS OF IT?
Prince is aware of it. He’s well documented for not liking his music being covered… but I’m still on the mission of meeting up with him in a studio with a killer sound system and playing it to him. I’m sure he’ll hear the level of musicianship that has gone into it, and that it’s a tribute to him and his songs that I grew up on.
WHAT’S YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF HIM?
My first memory of Prince is the WHEN DOVES CRY video. He’s in a bath, flashes of the PURPLE RAIN movie, beautiful girls… and just a truly amazing song. It made quite an impact on the 13-year-old me! It’s one of the best songs I’ve heard to date.
AGREED! FOR ME, A COUPLE OF MAJOR HIGHLIGHTS ARE WHEN DOVES CRY AND SEXY MOTHERFUCKER – FROM ONE EXTREME TO THE OTHER, REALLY. ON THE ONE HAND (WHEN DOVES CRY) YOU HAVE THIS INTENSE BROODING, AND ON THE OTHER (SEXY MF), YOU HAVE THIS HILARIOUS… PARODY, ALMOST. LIKE, A JAMES BROWN THING GOING ON. A TRULY GREAT GROOVE. ARE THERE PARTICULAR BITS THAT REALLY STAND OUT LIKE THAT FOR YOU?
I find something truly badass in everything Prince does. I loved the stuff from when he first dropped his music in 1979 – and I love the stuff now with 3rdeyegirl. I love the funk / rock and the love songs. Then you put the showmanship and the bad pimp fashion on top of all that… He just kills everyone… It just equals a genius. He’s like a modern day Mozart… Standout moments for me: PURPLE RAIN. Why? Greatest soundtrack ever… I grew up on that album. It’s the soundtrack to my life. And then LOVE SEXY and SIGN O’ THE TIMES. Why? Those two records underlined for me that I wanted to be an entertainer – that I wanted to be doing what he was doing. Prince is the reason I started playing music. I was super-fond of those times in my life.
LOTS OF ARTISTS ARE INVOLVED WITH THIS PROJECT – CITIZEN COPE, SUGGS, BEVERLEY KNIGHT, ALI CAMPBELL… A NAME THAT STANDS OUT IS SINEAD O’CONNOR… SHE TAKES ON I WOULD DIE 4 U ON THE PURPLE REGGAE ALBUM, AND SHE’S ACTUALLY DABBLED WITH REGGAE QUITE EXTENSIVELY ON HER OWN ALBUMS IN RECENT YEARS… BUT I GUESS THE PRINCE CONNECTION HERE IS THAT SHE COVERED NOTHING COMPARES 2 U?
Yes, of course, in my mind Sinead O’Connor had that international number one hit single with the Prince-penned song NOTHING COMPARES 2 U… but it was the reggae thing that drew her in.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH HER? …AND WITH THE OTHER GUESTS?
Sinead was amazing in the studio. So cool to work with. It was a very intimate session – just her in the studio. Very peaceful. Ali Campbell was just sick to work with and he has been a big, big supporter of the record. We’re now out touring with Ali as part of the UB40 world tour, so that’s a big highlight. All of the guests were fantastic – big fans of Prince. Doing this has been something we’ll never forget, working with such amazing artists…
WHAT’S GOING ON WITH FUN LOVIN’ CRIMINALS THESE DAYS? I SAW YOU AT A FESTIVAL A COUPLE OF YEARS BACK. YOU GUYS CAN STILL, AS THEY SAY, ‘KICK IT’…
Yeah. We still can put it down. We’ve played thirteen festivals this year… And we put out a live DVD at the beginning of the year, for which we did a sell out tour. So… a little time away from that means when we next get on that horse, it will be fresh again.
… SO WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR THE RADIO RIDDLER ALBUM?
… To tour with the Riddler live band and to put Prince’s beautiful songs in front of live audiences around the world in the Radio Riddler reggae style…
ARE THERE OTHER ARTISTS WHOSE WORK YOU FEEL MIGHT DESERVE THE RADIO RIDDLER TREATMENT?
We are thinking about other artists… but we’ve been writing our own album so we’ll work more on that at the end of next year.