McKenzie & Gardiner are a certified OG funkster duo from back in the day known by serious cratediggers, rare groove and boogie fans across the world. Best known for their boogie classic 12” single “From Time” in 1983, they released a 2013 digital album “Songs From Time – The Lost Demos” which contained tracks from the 1980s including “Hold On Tight”, “We’ve Got To Make It Right”, “Let’s Face It It’s Over” and the original “From Time (Groove Version)” which has been championed by luminaries such as Dâm-Funk.
Now making new music again, we caught up with them recently to hear their story and their future plans, starting with their two 7” single releases released in November 2021 from Avant Garde Records and CQQL Records.
PS: You have released two 7” singles in November to a fantastic response. Can you tell us more about these releases ?
MG: We have a saying in UK that you can wait forever for a bus, and then two come along at once…that’s how it feels with our two 7” singles We feel incredible lucky to be approached by two authentic passionate labels who we greatly admire and respect for these two exciting projects.
With Avant Garde Records run by Albin (Boogie 80) and Nickee B, we released a brand new recording of one of our most popular tracks from the Lost Demo album “Hold On Tight” featuring the original singer Shelley Hicks – which comes with a superb Nickee B remix ! Side A is what we call our “OG Redux” version – we used lockdown 2021 to get back together and record the track from scratch, and then invited Shelley to sing with us again. We think we’ve never sounded better. Side B is the same new Shelley vocal given a stripped down punchy vibrant remix from French boogie maestro Nickee B who recorded brand new keyboard parts too. So you get two different flavours of a favourite song from respected artists and producers. It’s the perfect feel-good boogie combination to celebrate the end of 2021. We’re really proud to collaborate with super-talented Nickee B, who we have admired for many years.
With CQQL Records run by Randy Ellis, we released a 7” containing two favourites from our existing catalogue. Side A is our comeback single from last year “Got o Get Away 2020” which has only been released digitally so far. Side B is the original “From Time (Vocal Edit)” from 1983 which had only a tiny 7” release at the time, so it is really hard to find. The test pressing of “Got To Get Away 2020” sounds fantastic and we’re stoked to get this song onto wax for the first time.
Both 7” singles were released in November and had Limited Edition pressings – and get this….they both sold out immediately !! This is way above any expectations we and the labels had. It feels incredible to have both our brand new music and our back catalogue doing so well and appealing to funk and boogie fans across the world. Thank you to everyone that’s listened, shared, purchased and reached out on social – you’re all #MGFunkateers !!
PS: For those who may not know about your background, can you tell us the story of how you started making music together as Mckenzie & Gardiner ?
MG: Sure. We’re two lifelong friends who grew up together in Southall, West London, UK. Our families lived round the corner from each other, and we went to the same schools from when we were 4 or 5 until 18. We’ve always liked the same things, playing football together, listening to music and hanging out. Our mutual love of soul, funk and jazz inspired us to form a 7-piece band The Class of ’78 at school playing our own songs and arrangements. Another member was schoolmate and singer Shelley Obermuller (now Shelley Hicks), the singer of “Hold On Tight”. We were still teenagers, and the two of us worked part-time in whatever jobs we could and saved for 18 months to pay for our first three demos in 1980. Two of those early songs “Chessmates” and “Trekkin’” .
We played live as The Class of ’78 for 3 years, before deciding to become a duo called Mckenzie & Gardiner . We wrote a new bunch of songs, and worked and saved some more to pay for our first four demos as a duo in early 1983. We played everything between us except for bass which was played by our friend Tony Small (writer and bassist on Roy Hamilton’s “Take Your Time” and “Turn Up The Music”). These first four songs can all be found on the “Songs From Time–Lost Demos” album.
Soon after, Blues & Soul magazine and Streetwave Records ran a competition offering a prize of free studio time to attract new British funk/soul bands. We knew there was tough competition, so we made a plan to give our demo cassette to Streetwave owner Morgan Khan directly. We found out he was going to be at an awards night at a London club, and we went to see him with our cassette in our pockets. He was in the VIP area all night and we couldn’t get near him, so we waited for an opportunity to follow him to the toilets to ambush him and give him our cassette Our direct approach worked because a few days later he phoned and told us we had won a free day in their studio !
In May 1983 we used this free studio time to record a demo of a new song we had written which is now known as “From Time (Groove Version)” played by us two with Tony Small on bass. Soon after, Morgan Khan phoned us to say he wanted to re-record the song in a different style produced by Joe Williams, and release it as a single under our names. We were delighted as we didn’t expect that at all.
PS: What do you think about the demo compared to the final single ?
MG : “From Time (Groove Version)” had a different style to what became the final commercial single “From Time (Vocal Version)”. Our demo was more mellow, a little slower, with male vocals only, and had an overall feel and flavour that was inspired by Slave’s “Watching You” and Cashmere’s “Do It Anyway You Wanna”. We were very new to the studio of course, and had much to learn but we tried to get that feel in the arrangement. For the commercial single, Streetwave Records wanted to make it more upbeat with more of a typical sophisticated Britfunk/Britsoul sound. They brought in producer Joe Williams, who had just cut two successful singles for Savanah (“I Can’t Turn Away” and “Never Let You Go”) which we loved. The combination of Joe and us resulted in the single that many years later became an official rare groove, and is probably the reason anyone has heard our music today.
PS: Who played on the single of ”From Time” ?
MG : Clive plays most of the keyboards including grand piano. The bass and lead synth parts are played by Pete “Stepper” Hinds from Light Of The World, who was like Britfunk royalty to us ! Earl sings the lead vocal, and the fantastic female voice is Jaki Graham, who went on to have many hit singles for EMI, some as duets with David Grant. Backing vocals were by us with Jaki. Bass was played by John McKenzie (no relation) who later played with the Eurythmics, The Pretenders, Alison Moyet, Lionel Richie and many more. Guitar was by renowned session musician JJ Belle who later played with the Pet Shop Boys, Tina Turner, Madonna, George Michael and Grace Jones. The single was mixed at Odyssey Studios by ‘mixmaster’ Dave Ford, best known for his work with PWL and Stock, Aitken & Waterman. Everything except the drum machine (programmed by Joe Williams) was played live. You can find all the credits here.
PS: What happened when the single was released ?
MG : “From Time” was the first release on a new Streetwave label imprint called “The Sound of London”. We guess it was a test release as it’s the only one on that label. We got great support from local, national and pirate radio – people seemed happy to hear a new British duo who sounded a little different. Radio play included BBC’s Radio 1 and Capital, and we had favourable reviews in Black Echoes and Record Mirror. We had to chance to promote with radio interviews and personal appearances at events like Capital Radio’s “The Best Disco in Town”. Streetwave gave us £200 each to buy some clothes which we spent at Reiss in the Kings Road. Just a few weeks later the single had come and gone, and we had finished working with Streetwave Records. We will always be grateful for the learning opportunity and the amazing adventure. We have memories to last a lifetime plus we had our ‘treasures’….our Lost Demos!
PS: Why do you think the “From Time” single became so popular 20 years later ?
MG : There weren’t many pressed in 1983, so it soon became difficult to find. We were contacted around 2005 by Edwin Ruiter from a website for vinyl collectors called DanceClassics, and he told us that our single was an official rare groove and was selling for US$ 200 ! We were really surprised. In 2008, Ed interviewed us for his website, and the song started to appear on some French CD boogie/funk compilations. in 2011, the 12” single was re-released by Boogie Times and sold out quickly. So there was clearly a demand, especially in Europe, and collectors and boogie fans began to get in touch and ask about our other music. We are very grateful to Ed (Danceclassics) and Phil (Boogie Times) for sharing our music at this time, as this is why we’re here talking to you today. Many records are rare…but they only fetch good prices if collectors are willing to pay for them. It is recognition that the music was good, and that it really rewarding to us as writers and as performers.
PS: So how did the “From Time” single lead into The Lost Demos album ?
MG : After the Boogie Times re-released the “From Time” 12” in 2011, we had many requests asking to hear our other music. We had our precious ‘treasures’, our unreleased demos, which Clive had kept safe all these years. We weren’t sure that they were good enough for people to hear as they weren’t finished and still works-in-progress – but we shared them on Soundcloud and Facebook and the reaction was really positive. Way above our expectations.
Clive decided to get the demos mastered by funk/soul specialist Tony Massera, and in 2013 we released the “Songs From Time – The Lost Demos” digital album on Clive’s label Headstretch Records. This contained 12 tracks, with 10 of them recorded in 1983 including our first four demos, “From Time (Groove Version)” and 5 more demos recorded at Streetwave Records Studio over that summer. We also added our first ever recording as a duo, the original version of “Got To Get Away” recorded in a friend’s bedroom in 1981 – and the mellow “In The Mood For Love (When We Go)” from 1987 which was the last music we recorded together until 2020.
Our digital album reached a new audience on streaming services, and we were fortunate enough to be championed sometimes by the wonderful Dâm-Funk, which introduced us to more people. He is a legend, and one-of-a-kind. We have the highest respect for him as a musician, pioneer and person.
In 2014, Saph Records released an 8-track limited edition vinyl version of the Lost Demos album which sold out quickly and is still in high demand. Then in 2020, we added three more demos to make an Extended Version of the digital album, now with 15 tracks.
The Lost Demos album would never have happened without people finding, requesting and liking our music and contacting Clive on social media and this is very humbling and magical for us. With 80 million or more songs to choose from online, it’s amazing that a few people around the world choose to play some Mckenzie & Gardiner funk in their musical lives. We sincerely cherish and appreciate it, and thank all #MGFunkateers !
PS: You have released two 7” singles in November to a fantastic response. What’s next ?
MG : We’re looking forward to hearing what people think of the two 7” vinyl releases. Clive looks after our social accounts and you’re welcome to reach out and let us know. These two singles are the perfect bridge from our music-making of the past into our new music-making today and tomorrow. “Got To Get Away 2020” and “Hold On Tight” (OG Redux)” mark the start of our new chapter, and we have lots of ideas and songs for 2022 and beyond which we look forward to bringing to you. We can promise you some new songs that no-one has heard before – plus some more reduxes and collaborations too. Also, you can expect some more back catalogue releases from CQQL Records. So there’s lots of excitement about this new chapter. We make music that we love and which reflects our unique combination and perspectives. If a few people are interested in coming on the musical journey with us, we are very happy indeed and we count our many blessings.
PS: Sounds perfect. Where can people find you ?
MG: Our music is available on all digital music services. If you use Spotify, please follow us. Also, on Bandcamp you can buy our three previous digital releases (19 tracks) as a “digital discography” for only US$9/€7.84.
On our YouTube channel, see all our videos, and follow us to get updated on new lyric videos and #shorts
Thank you to Prime Source for all the tremendous work you do across the funk/boogie community. We’re proud to be a small part if it. Peace, Health n Funk to all !!!
Listen to McKenzie & Gardiner’s interview on Studio Funk