Parlour Talk are Scoutleader Deed and DJ Sir Beanz OBE, two Bristolians with a passion for hip hop and a sense of how pompous and cliched the genre has become now that it's a bona fide market sector all of its own. Before forming Parlour Talk in 1995, both Deed and Beanz were members of the Transcript Carriers crew, which started in about 1990 and put out a couple of 12-inch singles in a "hard, traditionally British" style (Deed). Parlour Talk, despite its Victorian overtones and the imagery of gossipping servants it evokes, comes from the studio (The Parlour) in which Deed concocted the debut album "Padlocked Tonic", a couple of singles and tracks on the compilations "Totally Wired 15" and "Club Culture", all for the Acid Jazz label.
In our review, Robots.. described "Padlocked Tonic" as straddling the gap between the Wurzels and the Beastie Boys. The raps are delivered in a broad West Country accent with a crisp sense of humour, a wild flair for juxtaposition, quirky rhymes, jack-in-the-box logic and, frankly, a whole heap of opaque nonsense while the beats are hard and fast, the samples varied and the cutting correct. Deed and Beanz consistently take the piss out of both themselves and the tired old standards of hip hop. Staples like "wave your hands in the air, like you just don't care" and "all the laydeez in the house say ho" are treated with withering sarcasm and the sort of self-promotion, unrelenting bragging and cursing that is almost uubiquitous in rapping today are eschewed. The result is as fresh as "3 Feet High and Rising" was ten years ago, with the added bonus of a raft of references from British culture (no 40s, blunts, drive-bys or Oldsmobiles here) and narratives that detail the minutiae of everyday life (Breville toasters, Hi-de-Hi and catching some chap "laying tadpoles" in your sister.)
The album is a pretty funny record, but it's also very obviously a hip hop record. Does either of those things take priority over the other?
Deed: I'd say, since me and Beanz have been into hip hop since 1983 and have been making hip hop for 10 years, that's just the style that we've developed, really. A lot of people picked up on the humorous aspects of it, but we don't see it as any more funny than the early Big Daddy Kane records---he's been saying silly stuff for years.
Jim: But there's a list of people who've done terrible comedy hip hop. People like Roland Rat, Morris Minor and the Majors, The Fat Boys...
D: ...the thing is that that's just a kind of gimmick...
J: Well that's right, but aren't you worried that you'll be perceived as a kind of novelty act?
Beanz: Not in the slightest.
D: We're offended to be grouped with something like that. The main thing we've tried to do is get some variety. There are tunes which you can nod your head to and there's some real dark stuff on there as well. The lyrics are just whatever gets written down and what gets said, they're not set out to be humorous or anything like that. I mean, there's obviously MCs who are serious, but you can always find stuff that's funny...
B: De La Soul's first album had its funny bits...
J: ...but they were treated almost like a novelty act...
B: ...but they were a bit more extreme. They played on the flower power thing whereas we're just being ourselves, having a laugh but not trying to use that as an image. We're just enjoying ourselves.
Who are your hip hop heroes then?
D: Mine's Public Enemy. My biggest influence on a production level, certainly.
J: Are you still a fan of Public Enemy now? I found that after the first couple of albums I began to lose interest.
D: Yeah, I haven't got their latest stuff. I was into the production techniques first of all. The way that they make music from just real tiny bits of tracks, just making some noisy stuff. We haven't really done that ourselves on the album because in the period when it was made we were just experimenting with different styles.
On "C'mon down" you talk about scratching in the old days. Is that a pointer back to Transcript Carriers?
D: Yeah, that was a referent to an old Transcript tune. We just re-did it for the people who know.
J: The thing that I like about it is that it takes a hip hop staple---the MC and the DJ interacting---but twists it so that instead of the MC just egging the DJ on to faster scratching or more complex mixing or something, you're actually berating him for being crap.
B: When we did that years ago, at a gig in Bristol... messing around, I went to punch Deed around the face but I actually did punch him straight in the face. He wasn't very happy for the rest of the gig. I thought it was funny...
J: There's obviously some other bits of hip hop tradition that you find a bit tired or ridiculous, like the "Everybody in the house say ho" thing at the start of "Old, New and Blue."
D: They're all fundamental basics of hip hop but over in this country as a couple of white kids from out in the sticks you can't do the same as the Americans do. They've developed because of their surroundings and I think that MCs over here need to do the same thing. To get up on stage and start rapping in your normal voice but then between your tunes to start going "Yeah, big up.." and all that sort of thing, if that's not how you talk then you just seem a bit of a lemon really. We did a gig in Leicester the other night and when we did that thing with "everybody say ho" they all shouted it and we told them not to shout anything else. Well, we usually get them to shout "bollocks," that works pretty well.
So it was conscious decision to rap in your own accent and make all the references parochial?
D: Yeah. Not as a sort of set-out plan, though. When I started rapping, the first thing I did was listen to people like KRS-1, Big Daddy, Rakim and those sort of people, taking their flows and that. Then, I've worked with 10 or so different MCs in the last decade and I've just picked up something from all the people I've worked with. I'm not going to say that one day I decided "Oh yeah, I'm going to do this," it just developed from working with other good MCs and getting some common ground. You can't sound American if you're not American. It's a futile effort.
Do you think that in trying to be yourself, you're more true to the ideal of hip hop than people who copy superficialities like the accent?
D: I think it just makes it more interesting. Like London Posse are really interesting because they're Cockney lads and I love to listen to them. I'm not saying it's a novelty, but it's refreshing...
Does it worry you that, in the tradition of British hip hop, you're not going to easily make it in America?
B: Not really no. I don't think anybody really has...well, nobody's kept it going. It's not that nobody's good enough it's just that they've got their own scene and there's just so much going on that why would they even bother [with British stuff]. Not all of them are like that, of course...
J: Yeah, but it's a real shame. Your album is quality material but it probably won't even be looked at because they'll put it on and you'll get this burring accent talking about Paul Daniels and Jeremy Clarkson or whatever...
D: ...I think, if anything, it might work the other way. The American MCs we've met who've come over here are far more impressed when they see a local rapper just getting up and rapping how they talk than when they see someone get on stage and say "Yeah! I'm representin'.." and all that. They turn off to that because, at the end of the day, you can't sell the Americans a weak imitation of what they do. So there's probably more chance of them being into something that's totally different from what they do. But, I think they have a bit of trouble with irony and that...and in the Parlour Talk stuff there's a lot of taking the piss out of ourselves---which seems to be a British thing anyway. That's just a style though...we really think we're fucking amazing. Let's not be under any doubts about this, I really do think I'm the don, y'know. But all hip hop comes from that, I think. You've got to think you're the best otherwise you're not going to do anything.
Were you tempted to get guest rappers on the album like a lot of UK producers seem to be doing at the moment?
B: The album is basically Deed's work anyway, I just did the cuts. When it was completed, I'd only just started producing. So, the answer is no, really. For myself, I produce other people outside of Parlour Talk, people like Def Tex, Numbskulls and that. The first record was "Beanz presents."
Why does "Summertime" crop up so much on the album?
D: That "Able Semen" tune was the first one that came out on the Acid Jazz compilation and that, and tunes like "The Price You Paid," were taken from original 4-track tunes that we did which have just been put through the mixing desk again. And when we did them, we did "Subliminal Persuasion" which was to be, originally, something which preceded "Able Semen" so we used a different version of "Summertime" but then we turned it around, but so many people don't even click...anyone with an ounce of musical sense would obviously hear it...no real special reason though.
J: I'm disappointed by that, I've been looking for the message in the album. Perhaps you'll have to make one up.
D: Hmm, there's no real reason why we do the things we do. It's just an urge to make hip hop that people want to listen to. We've learned from the first stuff I ever put out in 1991, which got absolutely fucking slated, that if people keep dissing you so much, then you just keep moving on. So, obviously, if people like this album, then we're fucked. There'll be no reason for us to carry on.
What is "Padlocked Tonic"?
D: The padlock on the album sleeve is the lock from the front of the studio. If you look inside the sleeve you'll see the stuff going on inside the studio, which is me and Beanz and the other MCs and DJs on the album and the tonic is just whetever we've come up with within that place. So nothing...
J: ...yeah, no mystery again. You need to adopt more mysterious personalities.
D: We should, but we're too honest. We just tell people what we are...which is wankers! [laughs]
Why did the album take so long to come out?
D: It was scheduled for September 1997 but Acid Jazz had distribution problems and put nothing out for a year or so and then when they got BMG behind them, things have started picking back up again. I don't think they held it back for any deliberate reasons, I think it was just not having the capabilities to do it justice.
J: What did you do for the two years while you were waiting for it to come out? Have you got an archive of two year's worth of tunes ready to go?
D: Not really [laughs] Basically, as Beanz was explaining earlier on, there's the stuff he's been doing on Hombre records in the meantime with other rappers, and we've been working with the other crew on the album, Undivided Attention, and we've just got our first 12 come out with that. There's a freestyle crew called Velocirappers and various solo projects...and having babies. We've been busy.
J: So you weren't sitting around saying "when's the album coming out? when's the album coming out?"
D: Well, there was some of that but it wasn't as if the band was doing anything else in that period anyway. We didn't want to do any more until we'd found out precisely how badly we'd been slated for what we'd already done, y'know. Once the judgements are in, we start again.
What have the reactions been like, then?
D: We've had a lot of very good reaction which is quite frightening...
J: ...Acid Jazz'll want another one exactly the same in 6 months...
D: ...I don't think so.
J: But if they're backed by BMG now, a major label...
D: Yeah, but that's only on the distribution side. As a label, they've let us do whatever we want. They haven't questioned anything. In fact the only thing they've done is chosen the next 12 which is going to be "C'mon Down" in May. So, unless they suddenly go Nazi on us and start telling us what to do...well, that wouldn't happen anyway 'cos we'd just piss off. We're not worried about it. We could give up all that side of it tomorrow because we've been making music for years just for our mates on tapes and we could quite easily go back to doing that.
J: Have you got day jobs as well?
D: Erm...various occupations...
J: Now that's a bit more mysterious, I like that!
D: [laughs] yeah!
Do you anticipate doing another Parlour Talk album after this single?
D: Yeah, yeah we do. We're looking at starting to record it at the end of the year. We'll spend the next few months getting tunes together. Obviously, we've been making beats and I've been writing lyrics and he's been trying to learn how to scratch decently...
D: ...so it's just a case of pulling it all together and trying to string an album together.
J: Does it take a long time to write an album's worth of lyrics? Your stuff is very dense so there's a lot of words on the record.
D: They generally all come from different places. Like "Vacation," Beanz brought round the instrumental of that and I quite literally wrote all the lyrics in an afternoon, but other songs take a long time...I've got bucketloads of paper everywhere and more notebooks than I care to count.
Are you going to be playing live to promote the album?
D: We're in the middle of a bit of a tour which got off to a shaky start. We played Leeds and Leicester recently and we're playing in Bath tonight then we're off to Germany for a couple of gigs.
J: How do you do it live? With DAT or what?
D: Just decks and a mike. We've got our own instrumentals pressed up.
J: Playing the track on one and scratching on the other?
D: No, doubling them up, going back and forth between each copy. Live, we don't want to exactly recreate the record. Even if it's just Beanz doubling up two segments of a tune and elaborating on it, we're leaving ourselves a bit of space to improvise.
J: I'm really pleased to hear that 'cos I saw Run DMC play at the Birmingham Hummingbird around the time of "Raising Hell" and you could tell that they were just rapping over their record. Whenever it skipped, they'd have to wait until they could find their place and carry on. That really let me down about hip hop and Run DMC in particular.
D: Yeah. [chuckles] LL Cool J used to do the same thing. The worst one was Rakim. We saw Rakim doing "I Know You Got Soul" and he wasn't even rapping over the top of it, he was just plain miming with his fist holding the mic and covering his mouth! Very sickening.
B: He did it on "Eric B For President" as well.
J: The thing that made it much worse for me was that we'd just seen Hijack play as well and they were obviously doing everything live. The DJ, at one point, stopped the gig and did the 1812 overture in scratching on his turntable.
B: They did that gig at Brixton with Ice T where, everyone I know who saw it, said that they took out Ice T hands down.
J: I've only ever seen Ice T play with Bodycount
B: I've never seen him at all, although he did play in Bristol recently...
J: ...well, I wouldn't go and see him again. I like the first Bodycount record, but he was just too into the cliches and wanting the audience to worship him. It was a metal gig so the audience was almost totally white but he still did all that "throw your hands in the air" stuff and stood on the edge of the stage for adoration. You think you've got a lot of respect for people, but they just turn out to be dicks...
D: [laughing] there's an awful lot of them about.
Back to the point, though. You said the tour got off to a shaky start. Why was that?
B: Lack of rehearsal and circumstances, really. We didn't have time to rehearse and we didn't have show discs, we only had acetates...Considering, it went really well...
D: Personal problems as well, lead to the first couple of gigs being missed. Family problems..
J: ...I'd heard that you'd missed a couple of gigs and I was wondering if that was anything to do with you being pissed off with Acid Jazz, but having talked to you, it obviously isn't?
D: No, it's more just a few things getting on top...but all that's sorted now.
That's more mysterious too...Just one more question: have you both got big fat gold chains?
B: [laughing] Yeah, I've got a pair of pink Pumas, a fat gold chain, a Kappa tracksuit and a big furry Kangol. Oh yeah, and a gold tooth on the way.
D: I've got a duffell jacket with solid platinum peg buttons. I couldn't afford a chain after that. It's got my name embroidered in Gucci pattern on the back of it.
J: Are you really a Scoutleader?
D: Erm...no. It's from years ago...
Beanz: ...he used to walk around with the outfit on...
D: I've got the badge for rhyming and production and that. Nah, we used to drive around in a Scout bus which you used to be able to hire for ten quid a night to get to our gigs and it came from that.
Jim: So you're not up on stage wearing a beret then?
D: Nothing quite so crap...
Unsurprising really as there's nothing remotely crap about Parlour Talk. Contact the band at PO Box 125, Bristol, BS16 5YL.
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