Tom Wilkinson*

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Behind the Scenes of "Circles Baby" with The Soul Movers

Inspired by a global lockdown, The Soul Movers have emerged with a song that fuses disco, soul, workout clips, and an appearance from the OG Wiggles lineup.

“If disco can’t lift spirits, I don’t know what can.” That’s what Lizzie Mack, vocalist of The Soul Movers, says of the group’s exuberant new track.

Set to officially release on Friday, the new single is dubbed “Circles Baby” and features all the hallmarks of a classic disco anthem, infused with the soulful strains that only the beloved Sydney outfit can offer up.

Arriving at a time when the world needs music more than ever, both Mack and bandmate (and former red Wiggle) Murray Cook explain that the song’s impetus came about when the world began to move into its current state back in March.

“We sort of put it together in the depths of the first lockdown, and I know everyone was having trouble, and there were some real mental health issues for everyone,” Cook explains. “We just thought, let’s try to lift. the spirits a bit – our own and everyone else’s.”

As Mack recalls, The Soul Movers found inspiration for their new single on the most appropriate Friday the 13th ever, when in the middle of March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison imposed COVID-inspired restrictions on gatherings, causing their planned appearance at Melbourne’s Meatstock to be cancelled.

“I actually wrote the lyrics for that song sitting in a hotel room in Brunswick, because we flew down and found out that the 45,000 strong, sold-out festival was cancelled,” she explained. “Our first question was, what happened to the brisket?

“We found out on the plane, and we had actually planned to do some rehearsal down at Bakehouse Studios, because we love those guys. We were writing material for our next album, and it hit. I call it ‘The Day the Music Died’. And we thought, ‘Oh well, let’s book Bakehouse for two days and get some work done.’

“The morning of March the 15th, I got up early and said, ‘We need some lyrics for this.’ We had a little hook, and I just smashed out the lyrics. They really haven’t changed, maybe just a couple of words. It was just my feelings about what was happening in the world; it was upside down, right side up, and no one really knows what was going on.”

With the group now armed with a killer song written for the times they found themselves in, the next step was to pair it with an equally eye-catching music video. First teased last month, the final product is an energetic workout video which sees the group joined by Cook’s former bandmates in The Wiggles.

Though Cook left the group in 2012 along with Jeff Fatt and Greg Page, the original lineup (including Anthony Field, who is still in the current iteration of the outfit) have reunited onstage from time to time. Notably, their January reunion concert made headlines after Page was hospitalised immediately following the gig with what was revealed to be a heart attack.

Photo by Tom Wilkinson

Thankfully, Page made a full recovery, and was well enough to take on a high-energy leading role in the clip when filming began back in late June. As the group explain though, the inspiration for the video’s format came about quite naturally when the song itself began present itself as being perfectly suited for a workout video.

“The idea for the video came when we realised that it felt like a workout clip,” Mack explains. “When you’re putting together a song that is designed to make people feel happy… that’s how the song started coming out. It was the same again at Bakehouse the next day, when I went in with the words and I sort of had the bassline going on in my head. I just felt that it had to be throbbing all the way through.

“Then, there was some breakdowns that I wanted to do, with the line “Spinnin’ high“, and all that sort of stuff. Then I realised, ‘This stuff works! The power of the diamond disco beat!’ It makes people move, it makes people dance.

“Then I went, ‘Holy shit, the girls from the OG Wiggles concert in January that I just loved…’ Y’know, these original Wiggles dancers who are now in their 30s and 40s, I had never seen someone dance with so much joy and love, and expression, and joy of movement, basically.

“I just went, ‘I need those fabulous chicks in the video. If I put this song, and those girls together – and hey, let’s see how Greg is going – then I think we’ve got the snap, crackle, and pop.'”

Photo by Tom Wilkinson

“The girls in the video, they were dancers that we used in The Wiggles when they were 17, 18, and some went on tour with us for a lot of years, so we knew them all quite well,” Cook added. “So it was a reunion of sorts.

“Then, we approached Greg to do the inspirational voice-over, Richard Simmons kind of role, and he’s really a natural for that kind of stuff. He just came up with a lot of it, and when he came into the studio, we all just had big smiles on our faces.

“With the actual video, I asked Jeff and Anthony if they’d come along for the day. We’re like brothers, and it’s nice to have your brothers on board with you and your new band. They’re all really supportive. It was really a meeting of two worlds – my two worlds.”

Since leaving The Wiggles close to a decade ago, Cook’s main focus has been that of The Soul Movers and the world of rock music. Even once you add in some surprising appearances along the way (most notably in DZ Deathrays‘ “Like People” film clip), he explains that it wasn’t exactly too strange to mix the two worlds in which he’s spent all of his time.

“After I stopped working with The Wiggles, I did want to move away from it,” he explains. “I can’t deny it, because everyone knows me from The Wiggles, but I went a bit more into the rock world.

“I feel like The Soul Movers is pretty well established, and we’ve just had so much interest from the old Wiggles fans. Like, the 20-somethings have been coming along to the shows, often just out of curiosity because they want to see what I’m doing, but then they really love the band. So we just thought the clip would be a very good little present for them as well.”

Of course, when it comes to a clip which takes on the visage of a workout video, there’s always a few inherent challenges. After all, it could be done in a soon-to-be-dated style, á la Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”, it could be done with a more modern lean, such as Dua Lipa’s “Let’s Get Physical”, or it could mock the entire concept, such as how TISM did with “Whatareya?”

For The Soul Movers though, the entire thing was approached with their tongues firmly in cheek, and curated with the same level of fun that The Wiggles added into their work back in the day.

“I guess we took the Wiggles approach a little bit,” Cook explains. “When I was in The Wiggles, we used to do a lot of dancing, but I used to just say we were inspired amateurs.

“We weren’t very slick dancers, we just let the other professionals do that. So we’ve kind of done that again. Anthony didn’t really know much of the choreography before we started, he won’t mind me saying that. We also had Leanne Halloran – who was The Wiggles’ choreographer for many years – she actually choreographed it. So we kind of approached it the same way we would approach Wiggles videos.”

“Leanne does the moves at the boys the whole time they’re doing their moves,” Mack adds. “Because they’ve been doing it for like 30 years, they just look at her and do the mirror.

“I thought, ‘How the hell do they learn all that choreography?’ It’s Leanne, that’s the secret. So I knew we had to get Leanne on it right away.

“Jeff’s number one dream in life was to get the Karate Kid death-kick move into one of The Wiggles’ clips, but they just wouldn’t let him. I was like, ‘Go for it, Jeff.’ So the very last thing he does in the disco scene is the Karate Kid kick. So apart from the clip being awesome, it was giving Jeff his number one dream, and making his dream come true was amazing.”

Photo by Tom Wilkinson

While the group had a solid idea of how things were set to look, they were also accompanied by the talents of producer Glenn Abbott. A constant figure of the Australian music scene for well over two decades, Abbott’s work has been heard far and wide, notably as a member of groups such as Machine Gun Fellatio, Super Massive, and The Bryan FerrySexual Experience.

“I think The Soul Movers had me in mind to produce this track because I been working on the Gold Coast in a band called the Disco Disciples,” Abbott explains. “In the Disco Disciples, I am the Music Director, drummer, and also program up the whole show. The band was also aware of some of my latest releases I had with Super Massive, and from my earlier work with Machine Gun Fellatio.

“I first got involved with the band about a year and a half ago as the band was on the search for a funk/soul drummer and I had been recommended to them,” he adds. “Lizzie sent me a message and sent me a whole bunch songs to learn.

“I think I had one rehearsal and a whole lot of gigs were booked and we started gigging. I only played with the band for about three months because I live in Queensland the distance became a bit of a hassle for both parties. But it got them through a period when they needed someone and didn’t need to cancel any shows.”

Photo by Tom Wilkinson

For Abbott, though, being involved in a song such as this is an exciting one. Whether it be from admiring the group’s prolific hard work, to helping bring out the over-the-top disco style of the track, it provided a chance for the music to do exactly what it intended to.

“The band seem to be putting heaven and earth behind the song to be a successful release, and rightfully so. It’s a good song and would appeal to anyone who likes good ol’ retro music to dance to,” he explains. “It’s fun, joyous, happy, uplifting, up tempo and does what music is supposed to do and bring people together.

“The band had a concept about doing the film clip with the OG Wiggles and having a Richard Simmons style workout for the clip. Richard Simmons was a very over the top kind of guy and loved his disco music, so I wanted to bring that element of over the top disco spliced with the sound that The Soul Movers are known for.

“I must say, I thought I had gone a bit too far with those over the top elements and felt a tad nervous that they would hear it and say, ‘What the f… is this?’ Luckily they totally loved it.

“But I threw all the elements that classic disco needs – stabbing horns, lush string runs, funky percussion, four on the floor thumpin’ drums, solid basslines, fat synths, and Diana Ross backing vocals. Naturally Lizzie, Murray, and Marko [Simec, keyboards] gave me a great base to work from with the vocals, guitars, and keys they sent me.”

Of course, blending both disco and soul can be a dangerous stylistic choice. After all, while the genres are noted for their similarities, they’re theoretically quite different on paper. As Abbott explains though, there were barely any challenges involved in ensuring that “Circles Baby” managed to blur the lines between genres while embracing the exuberance of both.

“Normally I would say it can be difficult, because they are pretty different styles really. But I think it really worked out well,” he notes. “It still unmistakably sounds like The Soul Movers, and I wanted to keep the long time fans happy and that they’ll love the new track and embrace it with open arms.

“But the main thing that had to change between the two styles was the rhythm track, bass and drum track, that really defines the difference of the two genres. But in this case I think it worked really well and soul and disco didn’t just shake hands with each other but gave a big ol’ bear hug cuddle and embraced each other.”

Photo by Tom Wilkinson

While the video for “Circles Baby” is out now, and the single is officially released on Friday, July 24th, The Soul Movers are set to celebrate the release of their track by hitting the stage again this weekend – albeit in a socially-distanced manner.

With two shows planned to take place at The Brass Monkey in Cronulla on Saturday, Cook says he’s eager to get back amongst the people, while fans are likely looking forward to experiencing the group which Glenn A Baker once described as “one of the most exciting live bands in the land”.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Cook notes. “Obviously they’ve got limits on the numbers, so we’re doing two sittings. They’ve got a screen there so we’ll show the clip.

“So it’s a launch for the single, with a movie-sized screen there. It is a bit like Footloose though because no one is allowed to dance.

“We did a drive-in gig a couple of weeks ago up in Brisbane, and it’s all part of the rich tapestry of gig life these days. Musicians have to play, and we want to get out there as much as you can. So if the opportunity arises, that’s what you do.”

The Soul Movers’ “Circles Baby” is released on July 24th via ABC Music/UMA, while the official film clip is out now. The group will also be performing at Cronulla’s Brass Monkey on Saturday, July 25th, with tickets to their early show and late show available via Oztix.