Ahead of the release of their debut album and its coinciding headline show, the four-piece jazz collective talk us through their journey so far.

Photography by Mark Sethi

Photography by Mark Sethi

South London collective Speakers Corner Quartet are true stalwarts of the industry. Intertwined with community, they began as the house band for the legendary Brixton spoken word and hip hop night Speakers Corner back in 2006, and since then have laid down quintessential foundations for artists to thrive, providing musical backing and guidance. Across their distinguished career, they’ve worked with a wide range of seminal musicians, from Sampha to Lianne La Havas and the late great MF DOOM.

17 years down the line, and the collective are gearing up to release their debut album, Further Out Than The Edge. Set to be unveiled tomorrow (2nd June), the 13-pronged album sees the band dive into their impressive connections to concoct an all-star list of features. The LP sees contributions from the aforementioned Sampha, Léa Sen, Kae Tempest, Coby Sey and many other incredible artists.

On release day tomorrow, the four-piece will be found mesmerising audiences at the Roundhouse, London. The show is part of The Last Word Festival, the two-week long festival celebrating the power of words and the nation’s most vital voices. The highly anticipated festival offers an enthralling lineup of narratives and viewpoints presented by some of the most essential voices from across the UK.

A headline slot looks set to be full of superb music, surprise guests and all round good vibes! Grab your last minute tickets here.

Ahead of the album release and its coinciding headline show, Speakers Corner Quartet talk to Wonderland about their journey to this point, the UK jazz scene, the importance of community, and their long-awaited debut album.

Talk us through the origins of Speakers Corner Quartet?
On 6/12/06, DJ Snuff put together a house band for the legendary open mic night Speakers Corner at Brixton Jamm, the band was supposed to play for the MCs in the cypher. The first gig there were loads of musicians, it then whittled it down the four remaining musicians – Kwake Bass, Biscuit, Tom Yardley, and Kareem Dayes. We did the house band thing for a while, but about a year later we started writing stuff in different time signatures, using 12 tone scales, different writing techniques, and that’s where the material started coming from. We went on to support The Roots, Herbie Hancock, Ornette Colman, and at that time we were playing loads of gigs, from beach parties on the southbank, squat raves, all the festivals in 2008. And we were also doing a lot of busking around London.

What are all your roles in the group?
Peter Bennie plays upright and electric bass. Biscuit plays alto and C flute as well as producing and arranging, resident curry chef. Raven Bush plays violin and bass violin as well as synths, and mixes a lot of the music. Kwake plays drums, samplers, and is involved as strategist, producer.

How would you define your essence as a collective?
Ethereal. We are a group of close friends. The reason why we took so long to do our first record is because we’re focussed on being friends.When we play we’re channeling higher energy together as a whole. That’s where all the ideas come from, jamming together, and refining the ideas from the jam.

UK jazz is thriving right now, why do you think it’s appealing to a wider audience?
We’ve always thought there’d be a time when instrumental music would make a resurgence. With all of the artists that are coming through the Uk jazz scene, there’s some great players and formidable composition going on.

Your list of collabs is impressive! What artists have stood out to you down the years?
All of these artists have stood out to all of us, and that’s why they’re on the record. They’re our friends, and collaborators through the years. Some of which are established artists, and some are upcoming artists we believe in, and will see doing big things in the future. Everyone equally are the people we want to be working with.

You guys are wicked at cultivating a sense of community, why do you think this is important in the music scene?
It’s all about a community between musicians. And The Room Studios offers a true community for players, artists and producers, in an industry where people’s agendas aren’t as transparent as they might appear. It is important for players and the actual creatives to take control of the art, we need to have our own network, and keep that strong. It’s really what it’s about.

We can’t wait for the new album! What’s been the creative process with the project?
In 2016 we recorded four jam sessions on four weekends over June and July. Where we’d set up on a friday night and pack down on a sunday, we’d record jams with violins, bass, flute and synths. Biscuit took away the jams and started sampling them and arranging ideas. We went back into the studio in December and recorded drums. Biscuit then worked on arranging and producing the ideas further. Biscuit would make big sample banks of a hundred or two hundred small snippets of recordings. This was done for all the instruments individually using the multitracks, sometimes loops of all instruments would make the foundation of the grooves, sometimes loops of individual instruments would be the initial ideas a whole track would stem from. In 2017 Biscuit ended up in hospital, and production took a forefront for him because he couldn’t play flute. In Dilla fashion he was in hospital making beats, he made ⅔ ideas a day over the next year, studies on the same samples,the best of which became the basis for the tracks on the album.This process continued over the next couple years, with biscuit making beats with particular artists such as Sampha or Tirzah in mind. When those artists started writing to the tracks, the next part of the process happened, with arranging the tracks. Regarding finishing, the record was mixed at Raven’s studio in Margate, as well as additional bits at The Room. Much of the record was remotely with biscuit requesting recordings from the other band members, that he would chop and arrange back in Cornwall.

After being in the industry for such a long time, why did now feel like the right time to release your debut?
Friendship, time and life are the only things that can inspire true sincere creativity. We have always been playing, writing and creating. I think recently (since the pandemic) we have tried to collaborate with the artists on the record to create this work and solidify the band’s sound and story into a tangible product for public consumption. Also we feel that it’s just the right time for this kind of project.

What are you trying to achieve with the album?
To make a record with our friends that tells a story sincerely.

What can we expect from your upcoming The Last Word/ Roundhouse launch for the album?
A massive line up of established and up and coming international artists all of which have been long term friends of the project. It’s a showcase of the album with some amazing extra features and surprise guests.

How are you feeling about performing at the iconic Roundhouse venue?
Absolutely rhapsodic, we can’t wait. As you said It’s an iconic venue where a lot of our heroes have played. It’s an honour to share the stage with so many inspirational artists

What else is to come from you?
More records instrumental and with features, film scoring, robot orchestra.(robbie the robot)