John McLaggan, reluctant hero, and member of the quasi-plausible crime-fighting duo Tomato/Tomato, admits that it’s hard not to compare his involvement in the eight-piece super-group WTFunk to the Justice League; saxophones or no, they’re the benchmark for super-groups.
“But that somehow puts me in some kind of role of responsibility and if you remember my super power (invisibility), that’s not what I’m looking for.” With the full understanding that with great responsibility comes great power (or whatever), fellow sax player Greg Marks is more enthusiastic about taking up the mantle, “You can be Aquaman. How’s that?”
“Nobody needs to be Aquaman”
-Universally Acknowledged Truth
“We’ve been a group for three years, a super-group for three and a half,” explains key-tickler/singer Huey Lord.
The group came together in March of 2011, not as you would expect: hand-picked by George Clinton and blasted with gamma-rays while traveling aboard The Mothership, but with just a couple of phone calls.
“It happened very very quickly, which you wouldn’t picture happening in Saint John,” says drummer Mark Reid, “Huey and I met one day and talked about the idea, and right off the bat, he said he had a vocalist and a guitarist who were definitely interested.”
They quickly fleshed-out their line-up when local indie music magnate Chuck Teed, directed them to bassist Will Savage, and saxophone player John McLaggan, “I called John and he said, ‘I’m in, and I might have a trumpet and a trombone that might want to jump in as well.’ I think Hewy and I met on Monday, and by Friday we had an eight-piece band.”
The feat of pulling together an eight-piece band inside of a week might be a small miracle, but no doubt it also speaks volumes about the amount of local talent available.
“We had been in touch with Greg Belyea, who, at the time, was part of Peppers; a lot of people know him as a venue owner/operator and he deals a lot with the bands in the city. When he heard that this is what we had going, he wanted to book us right away. We had a gig before we even started practicing,” says Reid.
Immediately landing a much coveted weekly gig on Saint John’s Boardwalk proved to be a great incentive, and they quickly grew both their repertoire and their fan base.
“It takes a long time to get a repertoire for a group this large; for our first gigs, we would have to repeat tunes and just pray that people weren’t around in the third set. They were, but didn’t seem to care. I remember having to do a lot of that and working hard to phase that out by the end of the summer,” says McLaggan.
While they’re guaranteed a crowd as they rock Saint John’s waterfront, inevitably they’re more comfortable on a larger stage, often playing events, weddings, and festivals, “We like to play the bars because it’s our ticket to play larger events; It’s our calling card. Just finding the right bar to play is a bit of a struggle,” says guitarist Stu MacDougall. “But you’d be surprised what we’ve squeezed ourselves into,” adds bassist Will Savage.
“We’re a party band; we try to get people up on the dance floor and keep them there. It’s a lot of high energy.” – Mark Reid
It should also be mentioned that they have an army. Specifically, Will Savage, perhaps the most likely to undergo his own subplot of dissent and open revolt against the champions of funk, has a camp of followers, “I have my own army. They follow my every command. You’ve just got to make friends, and then you give them beer, and then you give them a group name, and then you can command them to do stuff.”
“They’re known as Willgrims,” explains Will. They turn out en mass to local shows in support of their bass wielding commander, “Hands down Will gets the loudest cheer,” says MacDougall; “Smatterings of applause, and then an eruption,” adds McLaggan.
“That’s sort of a bar thing that started at Peppers early on. If we’re playing at Peppers or O’Learys, the Willgrims will always make a Willgrimmage; Always three quarters of a bar gig will be Willgrims. It’s not like that at weddings, #Willgrims,” says Reid, foolishly invoking their hashtag, unwary of the inevitable Rise of The Willgrims.
WTFunk will be hosting their third annual New Years Eve event at the Lions Community Club in Quispamsis. Past years at Rothesay’s Bill Maguire Centre have proven successful enough to require a larger venue and ticket sales have already surpassed previous years, promising a great kick-off to 2015.
“Last New Years Eve, one of the people in the audience got vertigo from dancing. I was like, ‘That’s awesome… for us’,” says lead vocalist Nichi McInroy. “It wasn’t great for her,” Lord quickly replies, but the super-group promises that waivers will be more stringent in the future.
WTFunk’s members are Nichi McInroy (vocals), Huey Lord (back-up vocals/keys), Stu MacDougall (guitar), Will Savage (bass), Rob Dutton (trumpet), Greg Marks (baritone sax), John McLaggan (tenor sax), and Mark Reid (drums). Tickets for the New Years Eve celebrations at Quispamsis’s Lions Club, where they will undoubtedly tear the roof off the mother, can be purchased at Peddler’s Creek in Rothesay, and Mister Music in Saint John.
“That’s the old roller rink, right?”
“We’re thinking about having skates at the door.”
“We’re thinking roller skates and champagne might not go over well.”
“I think vertigo is the least of our worries.”