Reiser joined GoGo Penguin around the same time as Blacka. Each, in their own way, impacted greatly on GoGo Penguin's sound. "When there are three people in a group and you change one person it's going to affect everything dramatically," says Turner. "When Nick joined it felt like the last piece of the puzzle. We seemed to start writing more as a group and improvising more as a group."
With a new bassist and sound engineer on board the music was bound to go to new places. The band saw the transition as a new beginning, hence the title of the second album, v2.0
the second version. That album was co-produced by Reiser, who also co-produced A Humdrum Star
with Brendan Williams.
"Joe's absolutely essential," says Illingworth. "We get to a gig and it can be any sort of venue and we know it's going to be okay because Joe is there. We can be quite loud and quite full on but we can also play really quietly and it can be really difficult to manage that dynamic range but Joe gets it. We know when we play like a punk band Joe can handle that. It's good to have him there, definitely." Blacka agrees. "Joe's a really important part of it. He's got more so the more we've gone on. I don't think another sound engineer would be able to step into his shoes now."
Listening to A Humdrum Star
there's perhaps no radical departure from Man Made Object
(Blue Note Records, 2016), but rather a subtle evolution in GoGo Penguin's sounda refining of the processes. "We weren't actively going out to make it significantly different," says Blacka. "The only thing we were trying to strive for was stepping up. I think we sound more like a band than we did. Now I think we sound like a much tighter unit really."
There have been, however, important differences in the approach to the music this time around. "We road-tested a lot of the material in London at a bar called Echoes," says Blacka, "which is run by the London-based promoters Soundcrash. It was the first time we've had the luxury to do this. It was a bit stressful to play so much new material that wasn't quite ready in front of an audience but it was also a lot of fun and the response from the crowd was great."
Significantly, A Humdrum Star
is the first GoGo Penguin album to be entirely recorded in Manchester. "It was important this time around," Blacka expands, "mainly because we've spent so much time on the road over the past four years. When we recorded v2.0
we were excited to go away and stay in a residential studio for the first time but now we're excited to be back home. It means that we can all go home for some sleep after a long day in the studio and recharge. The main thing that has changed is that we now have the luxury of a little more time in the studio. v2.0
was made in three days but this time around we had a couple of weeks, which made the process a lot more comfortable."
The studio where GoGo Penguin recorded A Humdrum Star
was Low Four, part of the old Granada Studios where The Beatles recorded its first ever TV performance, in 1962. Joy Division also did its first ever live TV appearance here on Tony Wilson's show. "We were amazed at the size and space of it," Blacka relates. "There is also so much history in that building. It was a pretty easy decision for us to record there. For many reasons it felt like the right call."
The city of Manchester, which has spawned a plethora of iconic bands like The Hollies, Van der Graaf Generator, Joy Division, New Order, The Fall, Buzzcocks, The Smiths, The Chemical Brothers, Oasis and The Stone Roses, has been an important catalyst for GoGo Penguin. "Manchester has a rich musical history," acknowledges Illingworth. "What's nice is that there are no borders to it; everything overlaps. I studied classical piano and got to meet guys on the jazz scene and I played in bands that were more rock oriented. Manchester's great for that. You get ideas and inspiration from all over the place, rather than sticking yourself into one little square box where you have to follow the rules."
It's precisely GoGo Penguin's openness to all music and its refusal to conform to other people's notions of conventionfor example, what it means to be a jazz trio in 2018that makes its music so vital. Electronica and dance-floor rhythms permeate A Humdrum Star
, but the shadows of Brian Eno and Philip Glass also fall over the music at times. Blacka's energetic bass veers between pulsating electronica-type rhythms and bustling Charles Mingus-esque lines. On the epic "Reactor," the spirit of the Esbjörn Svensson Trio looms large.