It was Sheasby who chose their name while reading an issue of the Beastie Boys short-lived Grand Royal magazine, caught by the headline of an article about Sly & The Family Stone drummer Andy Newmark. “It looked good written down,” he recalls, “and at the time I knew how hard it might be finding the right musicians for what we wanted, but that whatever happened it would always be that foundation of me and Neil. So it felt very apt.” Changing line-ups and tweaking their sound throughout the noughties, their commitment and perseverance was finally rewarded in 2011 when Stone Foundation found a fresh admirer in John Bradbury, drummer with The Specials who duly invited them to support the 2-Tone icons on a UK arena tour. “By the time it had finished we’d made new fans all around the country,” says Sheasby. “That was a big stepping stone.”
Weller originally approached Stone Foundation to add ideas to one of his own demo ideas but was so impressed by the results he beckoned them to his Black Barn studio in Surrey. “A very surreal moment,” says Jones. “We went in his studio and by the end of the day we had about six or seven things. Paul turned to us and said, ‘I think you’ve got a record here, lads.’ When we asked if we could do the rest with him, he said yes straight away. It wasn’t planned, it just happened. It was incredible to see Paul at work, someone you’ve looked up to all your life, putting so much into our album. He totally immersed himself beside us, the whole way, singing, playing and producing.”
The spontaneous studio chemistry is tangible throughout Street Rituals, the opening Back In The Game setting the tone both in terms of ambience – a buoyant coalescence of strings, horns and soulful rhythm sending Godspeed to the vocal relay of Jones and Weller – and its lyrical themes of community and positivity in the face of social struggle. “That song is like the story of Stone Foundation,” explains Jones. “I was speaking to Paul about the long path we’d been down and how hard it had been. The second verse is really him telling us not to give up. It’s us acknowledging that resilient spirit that’s kept us goin
Bookending its latter trio of guest appearances are the title track, opening with ambient street sounds recorded on Jones’ walkabout in Birmingham (Midlands, though it may as well be Alabama), and the anthemic finale Simplify The Situation, a last call to “wake up everybody” to a soul jazz fanfare spurred by Nile Rodgers-esque guitar. “We really wanted the album to encapsulate that mood of walking through a city,” says Jones, citing Coventry’s Foleshill Road as a personal topographic touchstone. “If you walk down that street you see every element of society, white, Asian, Caribbean, it’s a real melting point, and that’s what Street Rituals is all about.”
For Weller, working with Stone Foundation has been “a privilege”. “I think they’ve made a great bit of work with a strong message, one you don’t hear much about these days,” says Weller. “A very mature, very accomplished album and I’m glad to have been part of it.” Strong, mature and accomplished, Street Rituals is the proudest testament yet to the unbreakable soul brotherhood of Sheasby and Jones. Never has their Stone Foundation sounded more solid.
Neil Sheasby – Bass Guitar
Phillip K. Ford – The drums.
Ian Arnold – The Hammond organ, Wurlitzer, Piano
Rob Newton – Congas , Percussion
Steve Trigg – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Dave Boraston – Trumpet, Flugelhorn
Anthony Gaylard – Tenor Sax, Flute
Paul Speare – Baritone
That they love music of all hues is made clear not only by their compositions but by their relentless checking of people such as Georgie Fame and Dexys, the Holy Stevie Trinty of Wonder, Marriott and Winwood, their love of deep soul, rare soul, psychedelia, Graham Parker and Donny Hathaway, Bobby Womack and David Axelrod, and now add on a million more names.