Long before establishing itself as one of the UK’s finest funk and soul labels, Brighton-based Jalapeno Records’ original incarnation was forged in a few of the city’s most fabled venues. “We all met here in the heady days of The Zap, The Escape, The Jazz Bop and all the other great stuff that was happening in Brighton in the early 90s,” says boss Trevor McNamee, whose experience at BMG, Polydor and Jive left him perfectly placed to start Jalapeno with label partners Elliot Ireland and Alex Rizzo in 2001.
“Alas, employment opportunities were a little thin on the ground in Brighton back then, so we all lived in London from the mid-90s through the noughties. But once the digital revolution struck and being in London was not so important in music, we moved the label back here. I have too many happy memories of clubs and gigs in Brighton.
“There was The Zap – particularly the Tonka nights by the now-legendary DJ Harvey. The Frock & Jacket bar and DJ Andy Crock were also highlights from my first Brighton stint. And seeing artists like Michael Kiwanuka in a beautiful venue like Brighton Dome. We’ve also had our own Jalapeno Bop nights which we hold with the lovely people at The Old Market. We’ve had some amazing nights there – bringing Monophonics over from the US for their first Brighton show is a particularly fond memory.”
McNamee has met people in the US who assume that the label is a huge operation, but the realities of having a four-man team have occasionally produced feats of dedication. “I have an ethos of not asking bands to do things I wouldn’t do myself,” he explains, trying to “meddle as little as possible” with records while placing his faith in the artists to have near-total creative freedom.
“So I have ended up driving tour buses across Europe with very little sleep when funds wouldn’t stretch to a tour manager and driver. We sign artists based on whether we dig them, rather than whether we think they will sell huge numbers. It’s always nice when they do make money, though. Seeing our artists getting serious support on national radio in the UK and around the world or getting chart success after years of building a fanbase organically makes the long haul worthwhile.”
That success has now resulted in a new digital and vinyl compilation. “Strangely, 2020 was quite a good year for the label,” says McNamee. “We decided early on just to keep going and release everything that was scheduled. For the most part, that worked out and sometimes was to our advantage. We’ve had a number one album in the official dance chart (Smoove & Turrell’s ‘Stratos Bleu’) and an A-list on 6 Music, so we mustn’t grumble.
“The big downside has been seeing all our friends and colleagues, whose livelihoods rely on the live side of the business, struggling so hard. Reaching 20 years in any business is an achievement. But in one that has changed as many times as this industry has, still being here and keeping us and our artists from having to do proper jobs feels special. I had a lot of experience working at major labels, but Jalapeno has offered me the chance to do what I do for the love of it, and that’s never really changed.”
Two Decades Of Funk Fire: Trevor McNamee on Jalapeno’s hottest tracks
Smoove & Turrell – ‘Slow Down’ / ‘You Could’ve Been A Lady’
Trevor McNamee: “It’s very difficult to narrow down a six-album career to a couple of tracks, but these are records that really pushed the band’s career forward and also showcase singer John Turrell’s voice and Smoove’s production perfectly. ‘Slow Down’ was playlisted on Radio 2 in the UK and 3FM in Holland – both of which helped their career forward immensely.
Craig Charles was the first person to really pick up on these guys at radio and his support was pivotal in their career. Their Friday night Northern Coal Experience started as a radio show – and still is – but has become a Friday night livestream institution for their devoted fans. They are warm, talented human beings who also happen to be very funny when they’ve had a drink.”
Kraak & Smaak – ‘Squeeze Me’ / ‘Money In The Bag’
TM: “Again, very hard to narrow a five-album run to a couple of tracks, but these two tracks from their first and second album really helped the label grow. ‘Boogie Angst’, their debut album, sold more than 50,000 physical copies and helped put Jalapeno on the international map.
Getting Ben Westbeech to guest on ‘Squeeze Me’ was a coup and this single’s success led to a licensing deal with Ultra in the US, where they remain very popular. They now run their own Boogie Angst label, which for its first 50 releases was run out of Jalapeno HQ.”
The Allergies – ‘Rock Rock’ / ‘Felony’
TM: “The Allergies were signed to the label in 2015. The prolific Bristolians had long been making a name for themselves with their 45-only vinyl sets, skilled turntablism and a string of spicy hit singles. Since their inception, they have made it their mission to reshape funky vintage sounds for the modern dancefloor.
Four huge party-starting studio albums, countless cult-classic 7″ vinyl releases and continuous support from national broadcasters all over the globe have solidified their position at the top table for funk, soul and hip hop. They are amazing producers, but see themselves just as importantly as performers, so having all their shows cancelled last year was a blow.
Felony was a big deal in 2020, getting onto the A-list at Radio 6 Music and helping us all through a tough lockdown. ‘Rock Rock’ was one of the first tracks showcasing a very fruitful writing partnership with Andy Cooper (from LA rappers Ugly Duckling). He is an amazing rapper and now tours with the Allergies regularly as the frontman of their live show. He put together an outstanding video for the track on a tiny budget.”
Dr Rubberfunk – ‘Northern Comfort’
TM: “We chased Simon for a good few years until he joined Jalapeno Records. He is very well respected in the industry, where he previously worked as a radio plugger. As well as his own two albums for us, he produced most of Alexia Coley’s debut as well as discovering Izo FitzRoy and producing her debut, ‘Skyline’.”
Izo FitzRoy – ‘I Want Magic’ (Dimitri From Paris Radio Edit)
TM: “Dr Rubberfunk was brought into the family and ‘Skyline’ was nearly recorded when we first heard it. We knew it was the start of something beautiful. International support was strong, including LA’s tastemaker, KCRW. Shawn Lee and Dimitri from Paris both produced tracks for her second album, released rather unfortunately on Friday the 13th of March 2020, just as lockdown was announced.
A sell-out European tour was put on hold but despite this she has been building her support on radio in the UK and Europe and Radio 2 flew her to Ibiza to perform this track.”
Ephemerals – ‘You Made Us Change’
TM: “A fearless band who were constantly changing – none of their four albums sounded like the previous ones but there was always progression in the mind of Hillman Mondegreen, their songwriter. Her meaningful lyrics delivered in the soul growl of frontman Wolfgang Valbrun made a killer combination.
‘You Made Us Change’ was one of the standout tracks on their debut, ‘Nothing Is Easy’, and went on to become a top-40 European airplay record, and it was A-listed at Radio 1 when it was reworked by French producer Kungs into ‘I Feel So Bad’. They had already self-released ‘Nothing Is Easy’ on Bandcamp and they asked me if I would like to put out a 7″ from it. After a few listens, I was hooked and ended up managing the band and even touring with them.”
Skeewiff – ‘Soul Bossanova’ (7” Edit) / ‘Triumph Stag’
TM: “The daddies who started Jalapeno and whose music it was built on. Their exotica and library-influenced take on funk and breakbeats sounded like no one else at the time and gained them a stalwart following. After three albums and a greatest hits on Jalapeno Records, they now have their own library company, Pedigree Cuts, which allows them to do what they love – making music all day long.
In the late 90s they were signed to Ministry of Sound, who toured them heavily as a live act. Eventually, the cost got too high and Ministry dropped them. Part of the deal was a return of any unreleased masters and they even returned 1,000 unreleased white label 12″s of a track called ‘Mucho Mambo’, which happily went on to hit the top of the charts in most countries around the world.
After that, Jalapeno was formed mainly so they could release on a label who wouldn’t make them tour. This cover of ‘Soul Bossanova’ is a beauty and ‘Triumph Stag’ features the keys of library legend Alan Hawkshaw – a real ‘apprentices meet the master’ moment.”
IKON – ‘The Dove’
TM: “The more chilled alter-ego of Skeewiff, this IKON record was the first one I worked at Jalapeno to get widespread Radio 1 support from Pete Tong through Annie Nightingale to Mary Anne Hobbs. Something about it just caught the imagination. It samples the legendary Italian singer Rita Pavone. BMG Italia recently licensed it back for her greatest hits compilation to close the circle.”
Radio Trip – ‘Hashish’ (feat. Boom Pan)
TM: “Israeli DJs and producers Radio Trip were also part of live band The Apples. Their music can only be described as what would happen when your favourite DJ does all their crate digging in middle eastern bazaars. The whole album was amazing, but ‘Hashish’ has become a cult record, selling out several 7” runs and being used in multiple films.”
Gizelle Smith – ‘STAY’
TM: “Gizelle is one of our most recent signings and we were always fans of hers since her debut album, fronting Hamburg soul band The Mocambos. A slight figure in real life, but a stick of dynamite on stage where you can tell she is at her happiest.
She is the daughter to soul royalty because her father was the guitarist for the Four Tops, although she didn’t mention that until we had been working together a long time. She will be dropping her second Jalapeno album in 2021. This track, featuring Eric Boss, was one of our favourites from her album.”
Alexia Coley – ‘Drive Me Wild’
TM: “We discovered Alexia at the Big Chill festival, where she had won a competition to play. She was new to us but if you asked anyone in the West London jazz, blues and soul scene they certainly knew who she was. She had regular sets at the infamous Mau Mau venue in Ladbroke Grove. ‘Drive Me Wild’ was one of four songs she had already recorded when we first met and showed us how good her album was going to be.”
Aldo Vanucci – ‘You’re All Show’ (feat. Kylie Auldist)
TM: “Aldo is rightly lauded as Plymouth’s 14th best DJ. He also has a residency at Hi Ibiza, but he doesn’t mention that as much. He has one of the finest address books in the industry and persuaded the wonderful Kylie Auldist, who performs with The Bamboos and Cookin’ On 3 Burners, to sing on this track.
This was before she become the most played singer on Radio Worldwide when Kungs sampled her voice for his mega smash, ‘This Girl’ in 2016. Never one to rush things, he finally released his debut album with us in 2018 – about six years after he delivered this beauty.”
Soopasoul – ‘If it Ain’t Funky Back It Up’
TM: “Soopasoul only ever made one album for us but it was a cracker. Having made a serious name as a hardcore producer in Manchester, he retreated from that scene, moved to Cornwall with a guitar and a VW camper and rekindled his love of soul.
We self-released his Soopasoul records and casually got in touch to ask which James Brown record he was sampling on ‘Soopasoul Theme’ as we didn’t recognise it. He said, ‘F*** off, that’s not James Brown – it’s me.’ And so we signed him.”
Basement Freaks – ‘Hit The Flame’
TM: “Basement Freaks is powered by the production of DJ and producer George Fotiadis. He’s an energetic and prodigious producer. He does one thing simply and well – makes records that drop on the dancefloor. He’s now three albums deep with us – it’s great to have this tune on a 7”.”
Featurecast – ‘Evil Eye’ (feat. Greg Blackman)
TM: “A producer from the breaks scene who really appealed to us. Although he can and does drop tunes more banging than an outside lavvy door, we encouraged him to focus on the funkier side of what he does – with some stunning results.”
Beekeepers – ‘Apiculture’
TM: “This one-album band was the coming together of Bristol producer and DJs Parker and Boca 45. Both are extremely talented in their own right. This is a widescreen production – one of the most beautiful and moving instrumental pieces we ever released.”
Photos courtesy Jalapeno Records; Sorcha Bridge (Trevor McNamee); Nico Pancorvo (Gizelle Smith); James Hole (Izo FitzRoy); Khali Ackford (The Allergies)