Usually the old adage is "what happens on tour stays on tour", but a few weeks ago I got the call to join the inaugural Crew Love tour, and put my experience out there in the public domain. When you get the offer to join Soul Clap and their buddies on a whirlwind tour - four gigs in four cities over four days - you can't say no.
Crew Love is a concept headed by Boston's infallible funksters Soul Clap, along with their good friends and frequent collaborators Wolf + Lamb, out of New York. Also involved are several close friends and talented artists, Tanner Ross, No Regular Play, Pillow Talk, Slow Hands, Navid Izadi and Nick Monaco.
The ethos is a simple one; to gather up a tight-knit collective to make music together, exchange ideas, party together and generally have a fucking awesome time. With such a strong roster, it's a concept that has become an instant success with fans worldwide, and I was salivating at the prospect of witnessing the full gang in action in the chosen four: Manchester, Paris, Amsterdam and my hometown, London.
In my naïvety, I had pictured a traditional English double decker trundling through Europe with nowhere to sleep or hang out: just a bunch of us sat around in a permanent night bus (nightmare) situation. I was wrong. The beast was named the Jumbocrusier and last inhabited by One Direction, so it was better equipped than pretty much every flat I've paid too much for in London; a lounge downstairs with a small kitchen, two TVs and a table with benches. Up the illuminated stairs there was a small toilet half-way and then, on the top deck, were sleeping quarters. They held enough space to sleep 16 - and then another lounge. It had an air of sleaze about it. I loved it. We all did.
I spent three years living and working in Manchester in my early 20s, and the clubs there have never failed to impress me, so I knew Sankeys was bound to go off. Word soon reached us that the show was nearly sold out and local heads were already queuing up, so with Charlie and Zev setting things up downstairs, Tanner got the upstairs (Spektrum) warmed up with tracks including Wolf + Lamb's latest signings Life On Planets, a duo from Baltimore. As the club packed out, Nick Monaco one of the crew's youngest members, performed his live show for the very first time.
As well as playing tracks from his new album he also sang, which he compared to stripping off in front of an audience. He truly laid his soul bare and although he admitted to having a slight feeling of trepidation, he cruised through it like a champion - and in his baby pink denim jacket and a hat he picked up from a flea market in the States. "I think a pimp must have retired and given away all his accessories," he says to me. He's probably right. It ooozes pimp flavour.
After Nick, Navid Izadi also unveiled his new live show; so fresh that he finished up three of his tracks while waiting for Mr Monaco to close up his set. Downstairs, Pillow Talk and No Regular Play also turned in live performances to the Sankeys faithful. One of the nights highlights came upstairs, when one particularly "mad-fer-it" lad in front of the booth took his shoes off, and started doing dance moves with them during Slow Hands. So, of course, Tanner, Navid and myself joined him by taking our own shoes off, high-fiveing him with them. Standard.
By the end of the night the club was still packed downstairs, as Eli and Gadi dropped classic after classic on the crowd. At one point Eli turns to me and says, "It still surprises me that we sell out clubs like this." I guess it's that modest attitude that keeps them hungry and grounded. "Never lose that!", I tell him.
Straight from Sankeys we jump on to the bus and head off on a 14-hour drive to Paris. A few of the guys hit the hay while the rest of us jam downstairs and continue the party. Navid gets deep, prompted by me, and enlightens me on subjects such as connectivity and the dark side of hypnotism, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), which is used in a lot of advertising and media. He's a product of the new generation; switched on, talented, intelligent and a highly entertaining character who brings that gentleman flavour to every situation he's involved in.
Speeding down the motorway with the curtains closed we carry on drinking and cracking jokes, buzzing from the reception at Sankeys and exchanging stories about what we'd seen during the night. It turns out that, at one point the shoeless man left his shoes on the mixer upstairs and went to the bar in his socks. As time went on, we noticed sunlight creeping through the curtains. Somebody opened them, and we witnessed one of the most stunning sunrises I've ever seen. Mist settled over rolling countryside, the sun a bright yellow and orange. It may not be very rock 'n' roll, but we all sat there in awe.
On to the ferry next, and a chance of fresh sea air. As we leave the white cliffs off Dover, I chat with the guys about the experiences of Paris which, so far, have been less than satisfactory. Everyone seems concerned that the French capital will be the low point of the trip, with virtually none of them ever having had a good time there.
En route to France, we discuss the tour video. Zev shows us a brilliant clip he's had made especially through a website called fiverr.com. On this site, people offer a myriad of 'services' for just $5. This particular 'job' that Zev finished was a woman who will make a video claiming she got pregnant after a one-night stand with your friend. You just need to supply her with the friend's name and a photo (optional), which she can show on her phone. Brilliant. There's also a chubby woman who will pole dance whuile holding a sign with whatever message you want written on it.
Ideas like this obviously help to build the brand, helping to spread their name by going viral, but it's always done with a sense of fun - not a false, cutthroat business-led mentality. As well as the video, the crew have an illuminated sign which is on display at each gig, personalising the space. There are also Soul Clap and Crew Love stickers, which fans end up covered with, and a pack of playing cards with all the members illustrated as different members of the circus.
We arrive in Paris late evening and park up right outside the club, Zig Zag, in the posh Champs-Élysées area of the city. Over dinner, fears about how the evening might pan out are soon forgotten, and the crew reveal more of their sensitive side when the subject of negative press comes up.
One particular writer has clearly struck a chord with the crew thanks to his personal vendetta. His constant digs at the crew have not gone unnoticed, and Eli and Tanner seem to have taken his snipes to heart - which is understandable. As I said to them, "constructive criticism is one thing, but writing negative things that have no substance or purpose other than to upset the artists is pointless." I've always made a point of being positive and writing about things I like. I don't see the point in wasting energy on listening to music I don't like, and then moaning about it.
I'm also privy to the crew's future endeavours thanks to Gadi, who fills me in their blossoming relationship with old school heads like Louie Vega and Mr.V: artists they idolise, and are now hanging out with. Louie has already remixed Nick Monaco's 'Sample Your Soul' and likewise, Soul Clap have formed a bond with George Clinton, the legendary funketeer with whom they've already recorded material. George and his crew turned up at the crew's recent Boiler Room at The Marcy in New York, after they played elsewhere in the Big Apple.
Whenever they mention the project, they're like kids. Whilst making connections with old school innovators, the crew also dedicate a large percentage of time and energy on developing young artists. Gadi comes to life when he discusses the album he's made with Nick Monaco, which is about as far removed from Masters At Work as one could imagine, focusing instead on a post-punk aesthetic. Maayan Nidam is also bringing the punk flavour to Wolf + Lamb with her band signing an album to the label.
Theres tonnes more on the way. Nick Monaco's solo album, a Crew Love album due in September, Life On Planets' debut EP, and his sub-label Double Standard is coming back too, with some rigorous releases penciled in.
"I'm not one of these guys who plans to release music at the 'right time'. I prefer to just put it out there as soon as I can, I don't see the point in waiting. Just get it out there," says Gadi. Here's someone who's belief in music is so strong, he refuses to change his tact for the sake of record sales or taking advantage of current trends. Far from being calculated, he follows his heart, and works on impulse. If anything he's going against the grain - possibly to his detriment - but he's unfazed. It's an admirable quality, something rare in our increasingly money-orientated business.
He then makes a heartfelt statement that really cements his passion: "I'll be doing this for the rest of my life," he says to Nick Monaco, so vehemently you can almost see the energy flowing. I count myself lucky to be present during moments like this. It's a side to the artists that not many get to see.
Gadi's influence on the whole set up is strong. Other members explain to me that one of the rules he lives by is that you have to have a long standing history with him before you can join the crew. Not just anyone - hot or not - can be down with the crew. It takes years of building trust and friendship before you're welcomed into the fold. This is the way it should be, and what creates such a strong bond within Crew Love.
After dinner it's time to prepare for Zig Zag. One of Soul Clap's childhood friends is in town. She lives in France now, and tells a sweet story about being at Eli's place when she was 12 years old, witnessing him play his very first record. "Now they're superstars!", she says excitedly. In Manchester, Hot Creations star Rob James popped in to say hello after a gig in the city. In Paris, their childhood friend came along for the ride. Later, Tone Of Arc also showed up to say hey.
The moment was upon us. Outside Zig Zag a long queue full of Parisians was forming. The signs were positive. Inside, we were met with a noisy, packed club, full of energy. After recent fears it was a relief to witness, and it stayed that way all night. Every performance was on point, and Tanner Ross played the tune of the night with Kerri Chandler's 'Atmospheric Beats', which sent the crowd into overdrive.
From Zig Zag we head straight back to the bus and off to DGTL Festival in Amsterdam, where Crew Love had their own stage.
With it's combination of liberal attitudes and musical appreciation, Amsterdam is one of those places that never lets you down when it comes to parties. The sun was shining on the festival site, and the crew was buoyant after Paris, so expectations were high. Their tent was rarely empty, and was packed out when night fell. I get to spend time with Greg Paulus from No Regular Play: a trumpet player, vocalist, producer and all round ridiculously talented guy. He's been playing trumpet for almost 20 years, and has lent his talents to projects with Matthew Dear and indie band Beirut. He grew up with his partner in NRP, Nick DeBruyn, and the way they work together is so organic that you can tell they've known each other for a long time.
In Amsterdam they have a night off, but the previous two nights performances blew me away. Bringing an instrument into a club setting might sound odd to some, but it brings a dimension that really stirs emotions. It's something that there should be more of - although one house music elder statesman was apparently overheard saying, "horns have no place in house music" during one of Greg's show. How wrong he is.
When in Amsterdam, it's par for the course to indulge in the local vegetation. I think everybody was as high as hell, which was hilarious – especially when I turned to Tanner Ross and asked when he'd be in London next, forgetting in my hash-induced stupor that we'd be there the very next day.
Another day party, though this time we're greeted by the trusty British weather. It's cloudy and raining, but fortunately the newly opened Studio 338 has a covered terrace. Formerly known as the House & Terrace, Studio 338's recent refurbishment has seen a brand spanking new Void sound system installed, it's looking damn fine. Knowing like I do, I envisage that the party will be busy with many of the people in attendance probably on the third night out that weekend, after it was Bank Holiday Easter.
A few of the crew have partners back home, but are on the road constantly. Coping with that lifestyle is never easy, but they seem to have a handle on it. Eli is hoping to be able to bring his wife along with him a lot more in future, planning to tag mini-breaks on to the end of foreign gigs after she graduates. This is something they've already experimented with: bringing their partners on tour with them to Australia, and the Far East at the end of last year.
This is another aspect of their lives that keeps them grounded and focused, yet while the members of the crew with partners hold it down, the single guys have no shortage of love. One of the Crew was christened "Sister Act", after having a threesome with sisters.
Downstairs the club is filling up, Nick Monaco warms up with a lovely daytime set blending reggae and smooth grooves to get the crowd buoyant, Charlie and Eli follow up with a more house-focused set which leads neatly into the live performances. Before we know it, night has fallen and Studio 338 is stacked with bodies. The crowd are as good as any we've seen all weekend and every set goes down a storm.
As the night comes to an end, so too does the tour - but not before the after-party. The bus has long gone, so we take taxis to a location in Hackney Wick. Navid, Ryan from Pillow Talk and I experience one of the best cab rides ever with Dapo, the jazz loving driver, who gives his own names to all the tunes on the CD he plays us: "I call this one 'Fill In The Gaps'".
As we sit around in the plush east London apartment, watching the sun rise through the floor-to-ceiling windows, it's time to look back on an awesome four days; the most rigorous and and fun-filled weekend I've had this year. Crew Love is true love. Thanks for having me.
Soul Clap presents Dancing On The Charles Vol. 2 is out on May 26th on Soul Clap Records
You can follow Marcus Barnes on Twitter here: @mgoldenbarnes