Kalima + Swamp Children \ Biography
Formed in Manchester in 1980, avant-funk outfit Swamp Children would mutate into acclaimed latin jazz outfit Kalima, recording four albums between 1986 and 2002, most of them released on Factory Records.
The original line-up of Swamp Children comprised Ann Quigley (vocals), Tony Quigley (sax and bass), John Kirkham (guitar), Ceri Evans (keyboards and bass), Cliff Saffer (sax) and Martin Moscrop (drums). For six months the new outfit practised at a rehearsal space shared with fellow post-punk funkers A Certain Ratio and Joy Division/New Order. Ages ranged from 16 to 19. John Kirkham alone boasted any real prior experience, having played with Jayne Casey in Pink Military, and auditioned for Ludus. The Swamp Children moniker was also applied to a one-off fanzine, largely the work of art student Ann.
From the outset Swamp Children shared DNA with ACR. Martin Moscrop was a founder member of Ratio, while Ann provided artwork for their single Flight and debut album To Each... Although the close association with ACR led some to assume that Swamp Children were simply a splinter group, the new band pursued a more overt latin and jazz tinged direction, at the same time adopting a post-punk attitude towards making music, influenced by the records they were listening to at the time: Miles Davis, Brazilian jazz fusion and heavy funk dancefloor sides.
The band made their live debut at Manchester's infamous Beach Club in May 1980. Thanks to a double-booking blunder another support band turned up and were turned away, having travelled all the way from Dublin for a string of British dates. The name of the unlucky band was U2...
Invited to record for Factory, Swamp Children recorded Boy in March 1981 at Cabaret Voltaire's Western Works studio in Sheffield. The track was co-produced by Ratio frontman Simon Topping and Stephen Mallinder of the Cabs, and was somewhat experimental. In June Topping produced two more tracks in Manchester, and the debut 12" EP Little Voices appeared on Factory (Fac 49) in October to generally good reviews. Another track, Flesh, again produced by Topping, was cut in July and donated to Belgian sister label Les Disques du Crépuscule for an eclectic compilation, The Fruit of the Original Sin.
In July the band appeared at a Crépuscule showcase at hip London venue Heaven, along with Marine, Richard Jobson, Repetition and Eric Random. In NME, Leyla Sanai enjoyed their 'truly authentic mixture of all that's acceptable in Nouveau Fun(k): Martha Tilson haircuts, a set quota of familiar cacophony, a certain (largish) ratio of influence to originality', though Chris Burkham was more dismissive in Sounds, calling the band 'pretty babies' who needed to 'grow up soon'. Michel Duval of Crépuscule did not agree, and invited the band to cut a single for Factory Benelux. The result was the 12" Taste What's Rhythm, recorded in March 1982 and featuring a small hours tune of touching, tender resignation to love in You've Got Me Beat. A live version of this track from a show at The Haçienda on 29 June 1982 also appeared on the Factory Outing video.
During 1981 a 'new jazz' scene developed in the UK, with groups such as Weekend, Animal Nightlife, French Impressionists and Carmel forming a disparate vanguard. Meanwhile up in Manchester Swamp Children, ACR and the Jazz Defektors hung at Fevers, Legends and Berlin, three nightclubs where DJs Hewan Clarke and Colin Curtis introduced cool grooves to an intimate, knowing few. Even though most of the band had only picked up their instruments a short while earlier, they found their own tracks dropped into the mix, and in turn began to refine their own chops. A similar scene also bloomed in London, thanks to likeminded DJs such as Paul Murphy and Gilles Peterson.
By the time the band recorded debut album So Hot in August 1982 they had developed a distinctive sound of their own, less abrasive than fellow (free) jazz-informed Mancunians Ludus and Biting Tongues, although sometimes ideas outstripped musical ability. Standout tracks from this early period include Samba Zippy, El Figaro and Secret Whispers. Indeed the album received a Five Star rating in the Virgin Rock Yearbook for 1982, and was praised as 'one of the best records of the year' by Frank Worral in Melody Maker, who detected 'a shimmering kaleidoscopic brightness' as well as 'silky panache' and 'superb execution.' Also in August, the band played a London showcase at the ICA as part of a season of 'new jazz' billed as The Joy of Mooching.
During 1981 and 1982 the unmerited unpopularity of Factory with the music press in the UK did little to assist Swamp Children, and the label found it hard to market and promote a latinesque bossa group, who were now picking up favourable notices in papers such as Blue and Soul and Echoes. Indeed the band faced something of an identity crisis, for as the music became more sophisticated, and as they hit their twenties, their chosen moniker was no longer a comfortable fit. Despite having established a profile, therefore, it was decided to become Kalima, a name borrowed from a track on the 1978 Elvin Jones album Remembrance.
The original quintet were now joined by percussionist Chris Manis along with two long term guest musicians, Andrew Connell on piano and keyboards and Jeremy Kerr on bass and vibes. The addition of Connell and Kerr meant that Kalima now included all of A Certain Ratio bar Donald Johnson, while Tony Quigley would be absorbed into ACR by the beginning of 1985. This convenient arrangement gave Kalima an enviable head start, while allowing the Ratios to explore their jazz chops within Kalima, and at the same time produce a harder, noisier sound in ACR.
Kalima's first single appeared on Factory (Fac 87) in January 1984 and signposted the direction the new band would take. The double a-side matched a smoky cover of The Smiling Hour, inspired by the Sarah Vaughn standard, and a languid bossa nova original, Fly Away, whose 7/8 time signature would become something of a Kalima trademark. Radio airplay would remain a perennial problem for Kalima, but the band gigged far and wide, appearing at the Bass Clef, Wag, WOMAD, Bracknell Jazz Festival and a prestigious London date at Ronnie Scott's. All were unusual destinations for a Factory outfit, but perfect for 'new breed' hipsters who quickly warmed to their capable blending of cool Fifties west coast jazz and latin fusion grooves.
A Certain Ratio having re-emerged with Life's a Scream in 1984, the second Kalima record finally appeared in October 1985. The EP Four Songs (Fac 127) featured latin-tinged Land of Dreams, the scattish Sparkle, a moody So Sad and (best of all) vibrant swing number Trickery. Debut album Night Time Shadows followed in July 1986 (Fact 155) and offered a tighter, sexier, more dance-orientated sound than before. Stand-out tracks among the nine songs included the sensual ballad After Hours, the Latin bounce of Start the Melody and frantic drummy instrumental In Time.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end. By 1986 Kalima were an eight piece band, plus manager, and becoming difficult to sustain financially, and even schedule. When ACR had toured America in the summer of 1985 the remaining band members were obliged to to perform a more experimental, acoustic sets as the Kalima Quartet. Worse still, after ACR completed their long-delayed fourth album Force, busy Andy Connell found himself part of a bona fide chart band, Swing Out Sister. The original line-up of Kalima released one more single, Whispered Words (Fac 147) in April 1986, but that autumn Connell withdrew from both ACR and Kalima, and was followed by Kerr and Moscrop soon afterwards. At the same time savvy Kalima manager Nathan McGough departed to take charge of the Happy Mondays, with the result that Kalima was left with only half a band and no management. Ann recalls: 'The departure of Martin, Jez, Andy, Chris and Nathan marked the end of an innocent era, and the band were never the same. But not in a negative way.'
Briefly joined by Martin Hennin on bass, Kalima toured in Hungary, then recorded a new single in February 1987. Weird Feelings (Fac 187) also featured guest Khairie Ghadal on trumpet and flugel horn. Martin Hennin and Cliff Saffer then gave notice, but happily Kalima afterwards settled on a stable line-up featuring bassist Warren Sharples, David Higgins on drums and Andy Boothman on percussion, with Matthew Taylor and Bernard Moss augmenting Tony on horns. New management also arrived in the form of Robin McMillan.
Thus a new chapter opened for Kalima: new styles and influences, more percussion, more brass, and finally the chance to emerge from the shadow of ACR. The result was second album Kalima!, recorded at the end of the year with New Order engineer Michael Johnson producing. By now the band were becoming increasingly popular in Japan and the Far East, as well as on the so-called 'acid jazz' scene closer to home. Indeed Kalima became a regular fixture at Gilles Peterson's Sunday afternoon sessions at London club Dingwalls, on one memorable occasion being joined onstage by Pee Wee Ellis and Haji Akbar, both players from the James Brown horn section, as well as meeting Flora Purim and Airto Monera.
Kalima released an impressive Best Of compilation in Flyaway in 1989, but eventually found themselves out of step with prevailing 'Madchester' fashions, and instead focused their energies on London, sharing bills with luminaries such as Roy Ayres and Arturro Sandoval. In a sympathetic review of a Wag Club show, Dele Fadele of NME wrote that 'the greatest misconception about Kalima is that they're jazzy, conjuring up images of fez-capped groovers, going through cooler-than-thou routines. They're actually indefinable, flitting through a feast of genres with consummate ease.'
Third album Feeling Fine was recorded at the end of 1989 with Tim Oliver producing. Once more the line-up had changed, with a new drummer (Ian Kelly) and percussionist (Andy Boothman), but the latin vibe remained as strong as ever. Entirely self-written, Feeling Fine boasted a new commercial edge, drew good reviews, and was considered their strongest set since Night Time Shadows three years earlier. The band also scored a modest club hit with a 12" featuring two radical remixes of Shine, one by Tim Oliver and the other courtesy of Gilles Peterson and Patrick Forge. Warmly embraced by Jazz FM, and rated highly by Blues and Soul magazine, the tracks are still dropped by DJs today, and feature as extras on the expanded 2005 edition of Feeling Fine.
Despite these small successes, Kalima still found themselves struggling against the odds. Warren Sharples left, to be replaced on live dates by Peter Condor. Flushed with Mondays and Madchester cash, in September 1990 Factory Records relocated from their original office on Palatine Road to smart but costly new premises in the city centre. New faces appeared, and just as had Kalima lost their initial innocence with the departure of Martin, Jez, Andy and Ceri in 1986, the core trio of Ann, John and Tony now found that their label too had undergone a sea change. Feeling Fine sold well enough as a niche album, but didn't trouble the mainstream, and as Tony Wilson candidly admitted in the sleevenotes for the Palatine retrospective, the band: 'Never got the credit. Blame the company.'
Following a show at the Boardwalk with pop/funk hopefuls Ashley and Jackson, Ann and John elected take a sabbatical from music, while Tony continued to play in A Certain Ratio. Factory collapsed at the end of 1992, but happily Kalima returned with a fourth album, In Spirit, on their own Kin label in 2002, promoted with a handful of gigs as a trio. Since then the group has remained inactive, though their recorded legacy continues to reach new listeners thanks to CD reissues of their estimable back catalogue, and compilations such as Factory: Communications 1978-1992 (Warners) and Fac.Dance (Strut)
Revised September 2011