Two decades ago New Yorkers Fun Lovin’ Criminals gatecrashed a UK Britpop party seemingly in full swing, their debut treating the listener to a heady blend of rock, blues, hip-hop and jazz-funk, a welcome antidote to what had become an increasingly bland array of mod-lite bands, determined to flog to death every last drop of repackaged 1960s Cool Britannia.
The album in question was ‘Come Find Yourself’, released in February 1996 spending most of the rest of the year in the UK album charts. It also spawned 3 memorable top 30 singles, the swamp blues of ‘The Fun Lovin’ Criminal’, ‘Scooby Snacks’ with its Tarrantino samples not to mention the wise guy cool ‘King of New York’. All sound as fresh today as when they were cut, good news for Huey Morgan, Brian Leiser (AKA DJ Fast) and Frank Benbini, lining-up a series of 20th anniversary live shows, starting in the UK with a date at Leeds O2 Academy on 4th February, where they plan to play Come Find Yourself in its entirety for the first time. There’s also a new special boxed set hitting the shelves, 3 CDs containing a host of extras including instrumentals, BBC sessions and out-takes curated from the original recordings.
Naturally the band members excited to be undertaking such a retrospective as the ever erudite DJ Fast explained when chatting about this new FLC venture. “We’re in our 40s now, and we’d been reminiscing about being in New York in our early 20s with no responsibilities, a much easier time and thought to ourselves “It’s going to be 20 years old soon, this record, why don’t we go out and do something for it?” Around the same time, this label Demon spoke to us about reissuing the album….that’s basically what they do. When we spoke to them, they asked us what we could give the fans that they haven’t already got and I said, ‘We’ve got to give them the instrumentals.’”
Tracking down these recordings proved no easy task, as Fast laments “It took two years to find where all our master tapes were because EMI folded in North America and they ended up at Abbey Road, plus there were about 250 of them for Demon to go through. It’s something we hadn’t heard for 20 years and the fans have never heard a full instrumental of ‘Come Find Yourself,” adding, “Hip-Hop artists are known to release instrumental versions of their albums but for us it was a big thing because, when Huey and I wrote them we would put it on Walkmans and go ride our bikes around New York listening to the instrumentals going ‘This shit is awesome’ and getting inspiration for the lyrics.”
Explaining how the new shows will run, Fast clarified “We want to do two sets, It just seems like the right thing to do, the fans are looking forward to it, we love doing shows and we’ve been playing that album for 20 years, every show we do we play at least 6 songs of that album so it will be good to go out and play the full album from start to finish, take a little break then come back and do all the other songs that people like hearing.”
When asked if the increase in full album sets played live helps preserve the medium as an art form Fast agrees, also admitting to remaining old school. “I prefer vinyl, I got my turntable back about a year ago and it’s just great to be able to physically put something on something, put the needle on it and actually listen to it. Nowadays a lot of bands just do a bunch of singles then put out a record with all the songs people already have, there’s nothing really new. Back in the day there was actually a thought process to doing an album. We never really had concepts for our record like Pink Floyd, but at the same time, we wrote all our music and lyrics in a specific period, to us [the album helps] relive those really great times when we were writing and recording it, when we all lived close to each other in New York.”
Despite a bunch of fine records under their belt, it’s on stage where FLC feel most at home. “We still love performing, from touring the past 20 years we’ve realised that’s where it’s at……playing your music real loud….. We’re just blessed and grateful that we can still do that.” Commenting on the band’s relative lack of success in their native homeland, Fast rues missed opportunities but remains upbeat. “The album actually did quite well in the U.S. In America, EMI the label that signed us, folded after the first year and right around the time we played with U2 for 3 weeks in stadiums. We never got to go back to all those towns and play in small clubs, building the foundation like we did in Europe. Also we didn’t really have any festivals in America in the 90s. Looking back on 20 years one thing I hope we can do is get out and do some shows in the States because we feel bad for all those fans in North and South America, obviously we’re going to concentrate on the places that have supported us most but we’ll see what happens.’
On the subject of ending the band’s hiatus from recording new material, Fast is quietly optimistic. “For the past 5 years everyone in the band has been doing other things, Frank and I have a reggae band called Radio Riddler, Huey has a radio show and I do a lot of deejaying. Luckily we have a new manager who has a farm out in Frome, and there’s a great room we can go to in the summer, spend 3 or 4 days doing stuff and I know we’ll come up with some ideas which then will make us excited to do more, let’s see how it goes.”
DJ Fast was chatting to Mike Price
Fun Lovin Criminals official