WITH some 15 members, Fat Suit are a band who live up to their name with a big body of musicians.
Drawn from past and present Glasgow music students, the all instrumental band embraces, pop, folk, jazz and classical influences.
This weekend, as they mark the launch of debut album Kambr, they head north to the record’s birthplace, stopping off along the way to help the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore celebrate its fourth birthday and hold a workshop with Tain Royal Academy pupils, along with shows in Inverness and Tain.
Saxophonist Scott Murphy introduced the band.
What are the challenges and what are the joys of having such a large ensemble?
We all met through studying at either the University of Strathclyde’s Applied Music course or the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s Jazz Degree with a similar desire to play an eclectic mix of musical styles in a large ensemble. Several members actually used the band on their final honours recital. With having so many different potential sounds, timbres and individual qualities, one of the most thrilling aspects of being in a band like Fat Suit is composing and arranging for the group.
Everyone adds so much to their own parts that the collective sound is always much better than any single person’s imaginings! The most difficult challenge for the band is trying to organise times to rehearse and gig — having 15 professional musicians in a band means almost every single night of the year is taken up by at least one member playing already!
You recorded your debut album in the Highlands, which seems a long way to go for a Glasgow-based band. Why there?
We actually recorded our debut album in a house quite close to Alness and the idea to do it began as a flippant joke in a rehearsal before our first gig back in March. We just took it too far and before we knew it we’d transported 18 people, 23 instruments, a recording studio and six cars almost 200 miles to do something which was inevitably fraught with problems!
Thankfully we had a such a competent engineering team in Gus Stirrat and Fraser Jackson that, even-although they were onto "Plan Z" by the time we got round to recording, we’ve ended up with an album which sounds as though it could’ve been recorded in one of Scotland’s top recording studios. Our trombonist, Alister More, and one of our fiddlers, Laura Wilkie, are from the area and Alister’s family very kindly took the 18 of us in for three days and heroically put us up in their house (named "Kambr" where we’ve taken the title of our CD from) with above-and-beyond levels of hospitality! Barbara and Willie and the unsung heroes of this record!
You are also doing a workshop with pupils at Tain Royal Academy while you're up here. What will you be doing with them?
Every member of Fat Suit is involved in teaching in one way or another as it’s almost a necessity for today’s professional musician. When the prospect of a tour arrived we took the opportunity to add some educational work into the week with open hands and hope to inspire musical development within all of the schools we’re visiting.
We’ll be mainly focussing on the group dynamic and how to really listen to what everyone around you is doing to improve the sound and performance of the whole band. Through various games, exercises and interactive examples we all aim to leave a lasting positive impression on any student attending our workshops.
You were a late addition to the bill at Belladrum this year. How did you enjoy your festival experience?
Belladrum came about because I’d cheekily tagged on a date at Inverness’s Hootananny’s the final night we were in Alness recording in July.
Promoter Steve Robertson gave us a shot on a summery Tuesday night and must’ve been happy to have booked us because he offered us the final space on Belladrum’s 2013 bill the morning after the gig. Being in the right place at the right time doesn’t even cover that stroke of luck for us!
As Fat Suit, Bella was our first festival and will remain one of the most special we’ll ever do. The atmosphere, people and audience (we were surprised and delighted to play in a tent packed with about 200 people in the middle of the day) were a truly wonderful experience.
I have to ask: why the name?
The name came out of our debut gig in a place called Mono in Glasgow — after we’d explained the size and instrumentation of the group to the manager there he replied with "Jeezo, that’s a large outfit". From there one of our guitarists, Andrew Cowan, made the small leap from "large outfit" to "fat suit" and we had our name!
Who in the band has the weirdest non-musical hobby?
Alex Sharples, one of our trumpeters, likes to keep his impressive chest hair impeccably neat. Laura our fiddler is very adept at breaking phones. Mark Scobbie, our drummer, enjoys a diet built mainly on cheese based confectionary. Martyn Hodge, our percussionist, enjoys magic tricks (especially vanishing ones). Take your pick!
• Fat Suit’s debut album Kambr is released on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby. The band will have a limited number of physical copies on tour for their shows at Aviemore’s Old Bridge Inn fourth birthday celebrations on Saturday 14th December, Hootananny’s Ceilidh Bar in Inverness on Sunday and The Saint in Tain on Monday.
How do 15 musicians turn a Highland home into a recording studio?
Watch here to answer the question.