The big band with big back stories
The current practice of live concerts does not shy away from Fat-Suit, which opens the Scotland Trending series at the Perth Festival of the Arts on Monday, May 24.
Almost since the band formed in 2012, and certainly since the time of their debut album, Kambr, released the following year, Fat-Suit has taken credit for documenting their music on videos.
The first were literally homemade, at a friend’s house in the small Highland town of Tain.
More recently they have progressed to theaters and the location of the Drygate Brewery in their hometown of Glasgow. This is a necessity since their numbers have swelled on recordings from the original 15 to 26 or more, to accommodate string sections and guest singers.
The idea of forming a group of 15 musicians may sound ambitious, but it was an impulsive decision, as Dorian Cloudsley, one of the two Fat-Suit guitarists and the group’s organizer / chief administrator, recalls.
“We were all students, mainly on the applied music course at Strathclyde University, and once a month the course manager would organize late afternoon concerts at Glasgow Town Hall to present the talents of his students, ”he said. “One of those shows had a 20-minute slot vacant, so we filled it up on short notice and now, nine years later, we’re there.”
For this first gig, someone came up with the idea of playing music from the new Snarky Puppy, a big band made up of music students from the University of North Texas.
How Fat-Suit started
Snarky Puppy has since enjoyed major international success, but by 2012 they were performing in relatively small venues and making the sheet music for their debut album available for download.
So, Fat-Suit began as a tribute act to Snarky Puppy. Composition being part of their college curriculum, however, they were all able to bring original music to the group. Early gigs, including one supporting Snarky Puppy themselves in Glasgow, suggested that Fat-Suit might work.
Before long, taking advantage of the summer break between academic terms, they were leaving for their first European tour.
There is a film to be made of such an adventure. In fact, a film was made, featuring the concert in Amsterdam which drew seven people including bar staff, and the office in Germany which hosted the sixteen members of the Fat-Suit travel group in bags. Sleeping.
More seriously, there was the Ukrainian part of the tour which saw a concert canceled at the last minute due to a large number of local casualties suffered in the fighting in Donetsk.
At another point, the group was greeted like heroes for making the effort to travel, in two cars and a van, through this huge country which was at war with Russia.
“The easternmost we went to was still a six hour drive from the capital Kiev, but we never felt unsafe,” Dorian recalls.
Back in the UK, they started playing major events such as the London Jazz Festival, the huge Love Supreme Jazz Weekend and Celtic Connections, winning awards (they won the double – Best Band and Best album at the Scottish Jazz Awards 2017) and album release.
Their last, Waifs & Strays, released at the end of 2019, is their fourth, all self-funded, self-produced and self-proclaimed.
The Covid-19 pandemic has severely limited their activities, but there have been a series of releases, including tracks with Glasgow electro group Tongues and aspiring singer Kitti.
Dundee-born drummer Mark Scobbie also took the opportunity to record an album of his own, with several members of Fat-Suit, producing the much-loved Tomorrow’s Today last August.
For their concert at the Perth Festival, the group will be joined on a song by local singer Beth Malcolm, with whom they released a single just before the Covid-19 pandemic shut everything down, and which appears in the Scotland Trending series la next night.
“We are really delighted to be invited to participate in the festival,” says Dorian.
“It’s a great program and in addition to Beth our old friend and great singer Angus Munro shows up, as do the Snuts and pianist Fergus McCreadie, who has performed with us on occasion.
“All we have to do is remind ourselves how to play our instruments and make sure we recognize each other. It’s been so long since we’ve played together, so we can’t wait to be there.