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Vancouver's Five Alarm Funk Makes Big Smoke Happen

Updated: May 20, 2023

-By Scott Roos

Vancouver funksters Five Alarm Funk, as stated in a previous news release by NSMZ, were literally the last artists to play our much beloved EA Rawlinson Centre For the Arts back in February. At least that was until Belle Plaine played the EARC to a modest crowd of 66 music starved patrons on Sept. 25th (with 18 tuning in on the livestream). But now that we’re out of our Covid cocoons here in P.A. has anything changed for the guys in Five Alarm Funk? We connected with vocalist/drummer Tayo Branston to see how things have been going since the quarantine happened.

“(The last show) We played (was) March 11th at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River, BC. We've played that venue about 3 or 4 times now. We know the organizers and crew quite well and love the community, so it's been a great place to reminisce about over this past while. We were onstage when we got the initial info about the effects COVID would have on gatherings so we went no holds barred and left everything on the stage that night,” recounts Branston, “We haven’t been able to perform for a live audience since then but tons of our bookings from this year are being pushed to dates in the future that seem feasible. We've done some great livestream virtual events like London Sunfest, Burning Man, and a Commodore Ballroom performance, but our time right now is mostly writing, rehearsing and preparing ourselves for the return of live music.”

Since that last live in front of an audience show in March, the band has also released their seventh full length, Big Smoke, on June 26th via Ropeadope SUR Records. It was a record they had in the can before COVID hit with the band anticipating the natural touring cycle that would take place that unfortunately didn’t come to fruition. All that aside, Big Smoke is a “banger” chock full of the funktastic grooves that the band has become known for for the 17 years they have been in the business. It even includes a guest slot featuring legendary bassist Bootsy Collins vocals on “We Play the Funk”.

“(The members of Five Alarm Funk) all grew up on different music but we all had a love and passion for funk and heavy groove oriented music,” reminisces Branston, “As a unit we'd go out and catch Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra shows, Tower of Power, and even caught James Brown live right before he passed. For me, Funk music makes you get up off your butt, feel good and leave your troubles at the door. It's a genre I've always loved so it's a huge honor playing it with an incredible unit of musicians... feels like family.”

The end result of this passion and drive for excellence that the band has undertaken in their live shows over the years is Big Smoke. It’s hard to capture a band with so much energy in a live environment in the dusty confines of a studio but the experience and professionalism of Five Alarm Funk definitely shines brightly on this latest outing.

“AHHHHH BIG SMOKE! Our finest recorded work to date. I love this record so much, it really embodies everything the band lives for. Fun, exciting and explosive!” emphasizes Branston.

While the band is in a holding pattern eagerly anticipating live shows, Branston does recognize the need for a pivot. He understands the importance of music education and also the push for the music industry as a whole to move forward in spite of the adverse circumstances we are in with the pandemic in full tilt.

“Music education, just like any education is absolutely essential. For the next generations to come up with the knowledge and passion to succeed as musicians, (music education is) crucial for the world of entertainment,” clarifies Branston, “It’s been great to see online sessions really taking off. Many of my friends and colleagues have pivoted to online platforms with positive results. I think the pandemic has forced people into creative solutions for keeping busy and maintaining positive habits. I believe it was Gibson Guitars who just did a press release on how their sales have skyrocketed since the pandemic began. So it's uplifting to know that even amidst our current situation, creativity is blossoming and really providing people young and old with a sense of hope.”

It’s this message of hope that will serve to guide us as we continue to riff in a world that is far from the “normal” that we expect. With releases like Big Smoke flying in he face of COVID19 and a strong urge to keep going with music in spite of adversity, the music industry may not be in as dire straits as many might think. Support artists like Five Alarm Funk. Get to those venues when it’s safe to do so. Pay for those live streams. Stay safe and take care of each other.

*pics of Five Alarm Funk courtesy of Cara Stelmaschuk and the EA Rawlinson Centre for the Arts

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