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Fabulous Red Diesel Photo by John Sutton, official photographer for the band

Soaring high: Fabulous Red Diesel

Local band, Fabulous Red Diesel are a fusion of kooky jazz and hearty soul, creating a perfect background for vocals that will make any listener melt. The band has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, offering top quality, professional, unique musicianship – and word of their ability to enchant an audience is spreading across the county and the country. Our next chance to see them is at The Rye Jazz Festival. HOT’s Zelly Restorick spoke to lead singer, Kat Lee-Ryan and Wil Lee-Ryan.

My ears and eyes were first captured by the music of Fabulous Red Diesel when they performed many years ago at The Roomz in St Leonards. Since then, they have evolved from being a generous-spirited, much-loved pub band to supporting The James Taylor Quartet, being the band chosen to promote the Rye Jazz Festival – and celebrating a song played on Jazz FM.

The band harmoniously combines the talents of Kat Lee-Ryan(aka Miss Kitty on vocals, keyboard, flute, songwriter), Wil Lee-Ryan (aka Duke Boom – drums), Bea Gullick (aka Miss Bea Have – double bass, trumpet and tuba) and Simon Dobell (aka Rabbi Jaffa Delicious – guitar, trumpet).

Either through a connection with Jazz FM’s Jeff Young or through some magic worked by the PR company supporting the band, the song ‘Butterfly Mind’ was played on Jazz FM for 6 weeks earlier this year. An absolute high point.

“We were releasing a new album – and we’d sent Jeff Young an MP3 – at his request”, said Kat. Then he sent us an email that one of our songs was on the Jazz FM ‘C’ Play List… later, it was on their ‘B’ Play List – for a week.” Kat described keeping a regular ear tuned to Jazz FM, waiting for the band’s song to play. “When it came on, I nearly fell-over. Wil and I were helping out at an allotment – and I heard our song playing on my phone in my pocket. We were so excited, running around, a massive adrenaline rush.”

Kat Lee-Ryan is a singer, songwriter and musician. All the band’s songs have been written by her. Had she always been a poet, lyricist and musician? “Yes – when I was young, it was a little bit boring… we had to make our own fun. I used to either play outside with two other kids, one at each end of our street – and if they weren’t around, I spent time in the back office where my Dad’s business was based, where there was an upright piano. I used to read a Robert Louis Stephenson poetry book – and I’d  set the words to music… I just liked doing it, it was fun. I’d get it wrong lots of times – but lovely when I got it right. And I’ve always liked performing – when I left school, I was a backing singer in a working men’s club band – then bands like ‘Elisa and the Druids’ – I’ve always been doing this.

“Rye Jazz Festival… that was the biggest reality hit”, adds Wil. “People really started to take us seriously. It made a big difference to us as musicians. We were being looked at differently one year – and then the next year, we were the poster band and the TV band for the festival – and this made me feel personally that we’d turned a corner. It was nice.”

Kat Lee-Ryan in action Photo by John Sutton, official photographer for the band

“We’ve been going there every year”, adds Kat. “We’re their street band this year and we’re really excited to be performing on Saturday night at Butter Market in Rye on 28 August at 6pm).

“And we’re performing at the Brighton Fringe Festival and twice for free in Hastings, pop-up style on 14 August at Broomgrove Estate in Ore – and 11 Sept at the Stade as part of Coastal Currents. Both are free of charge. We’re playing on a solar-powered stage, which we’re planning to do more of next year.”

“We will be in Wales at AberJazz in Fishguard – we’ve never been over there before and we want to edge over to those sort of gigs – as they’re fun and they’re ticketed gigs. The ticketed thing is new for us, as people buy tickets and come along wanting to see something they’ve invested in. When we play somewhere for free, like in a pub, you can be dismissed as ‘a pub band’ by promotors who don’t know you. It sounds unfair, but unfortunately it’s true.”

“Plus, we now have ‘Sparkly Bird’,” which is a musical performance involving dancers and an aerilist, based on Kat’s sister’s life and her struggle with her health mentally and emotionally). “That’s when the ticketing thing started to occur: we went ticket-only – and people did buy tickets – which was fabulous after we’d been playing for free so much of the time.”

And once away from the pub scene, “the band got to play music that we couldn’t play anywhere else. We had a lot of songs that people had never heard. In a pub you need to play up-tempo dance tunes, which is fun, but also meant our other tunes never got played. We wondered if people would pay to see us – and they did!”

The band thoroughly enjoyed their return to the stage with their first gig recently in a little stone amphitheatre at Frome Festival, where they’d wanted to play for years. Like many bands, they’d been booked for lots of gigs, all cancelled due to Covid measures.

However, they succeeded in producing a new album: The Queensbury House Sessions.

Fabulous Red Diesel’s latest album Photo by John Sutton, official photographer for the band

“The video for Nellie Gale was done in Covid times, with the local Green Party candidate for our area in the main role. We messaged our fans and friends to take part, everyone dressed up… it was such a fun day. Jakk Roud – he’s a local videographer, grime artist, DJ, producer, sound engineer and rapper – he shot the video in the Greek Orthodox Church on Magdeleine Road, set-up like a 30s nightclub. Jakk is 25, really hard working, has done all of our videos and will do more for us. He shot ‘Sparkly Bird’, the show… editing 12 hours of shooting. We have a lot of confidence in him – he does a really good job.

“Nellie Gale is about my great grandmother, who was a windmill dancer. Not right timing for the Windmill Theatre, as she wouldn’t have been the right age, but other theatres were doing the same thing. I feel a connection with her, imagining her seeing me mucking about on stage.”

Whilst endeavouring to keep their financial heads above the water, the band is also very  concerned about people not being excluded from the musical experience. “Even £12 a ticket excludes a lot of people. We try to bring music and theatre to people who don’t normally go to the theatre – not on their budget. We’re fund raising for this at the moment. A lot of people just don’t know what’s out there – we offer them at least a chance to experience what it’s like, whether they like us or not.

“We always wanted to do something that wasn’t so expensive, meaning it’s too prohibitive for people to come along. If you haven’t got money, you’re left with what’s on offer – TV, cover bands.

Fabulous Red Diesel’s Wil Lee-Ryan Photo by John Sutton, official photographer for the band

“I wanted to see something original and live when I was younger, but I was broke – and I could only see something for free… like the Stade Saturdays, which I loved. We didn’t have the money to take Wil, me and our daughters to the theatre and we’re not the only ones in that boat.”

Kat feels strongly that music is beyond any concept of class. She taught piano in a school in Heathfield for 3 years: “You can’t tell what someone’s going to like musically, based on how much they earn, their class, etc. When it comes to what makes you musically tick, class and any societal divisions are irrelevant. All those things that divide people don’t give you any clue about what music someone else is going to like… you need to offer them a huge range to choose from. So it’s about accessibility.

What’s the Lee-Ryan connection with Hastings? “We moved down to help with The Roomz Cafe and Music Bar when it opened, when the kids were small. We had lots of friends in Hastings and connections – and we always wanted to live by the sea – and our first proper date was here: 4 months pregnant, 30 years old, sitting around in Hastings like a couple of kids. We loved – and love – it here. We could cope with the change and transition, as we had friends – and we never wanted to go back. On a hot day, we literally walk across to the beach… it never gets tired.”

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Posted 00:22 Saturday, Aug 14, 2021 In: Music & Sound

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