“Inside looking out, outside looking in”
Within 6 words on the title track of their new album Outside Looking In, soul band Stone Foundation neatly sum up their own place in the world of music. Established, but never the establishment. 10 studio albums in, but still feeling like the underdog. Acclaimed collaborations with Paul Weller, Melba Moore, Peter Capaldi, Mick Talbot, Steve White, William Bell, Bettye LaVette, Nolan Porter, Graham Parker and so many more, but always standing on their own feet.
Outside Looking In is simultaneously a fresh start for the band and a continuation of their long-held approach. With 3 consecutive Top 40 albums under their belt, a refusal to make the same record twice is evident in the house piano of Echoes of Joy, the choirs of Soon You’ll Return and the heavy groove of Stylin’.
It’s the latest in a career of bold moves. Starting out in 1998 with the chance meeting of Neil Jones (guitar, vocals) and Neil Sheasby (bass), the band spent many years on the circuit with changing lineups and varying musical styles. Collaborations with soul legends such as Nolan Porter followed and eventually in 2011 they were given the first of many big opportunities when they opened for The Specials on their sold out arena tour.
2 albums later (and now with a settled 8-piece lineup), they attracted the attention of Paul Weller who produced and appeared on 2017’s Street Rituals (their first release on 100% Records). Contributors to the album included soul legends William Bell and Bettye LaVette. The touring cycle for Street Rituals included memorable gigs at the Royal Albert Hall (opening for Paul), Glastonbury and a sold out headline performance at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Charting at #25 (UK), Street Rituals was described as the “soul album of the year” by Blues & Soul Magazine. The record also yielded 2 7” singles which charted at #1 on the Vinyl Singles Chart
Barely stopping for breath, in 2018 “Everybody, Anyone” followed. Collaborations with Kathryn Williams and Hamish Stuart featured, as did the first track featuring appearances from all 3 Style Councillors Paul Weller, Mick Talbot and Steve White for some 3 decades. The album had a harder, funkier sound than its predecessor and charted at #30 (UK). Live highlights featured a date at the Roundhouse with Mavis Staples and the 24-date UK tour included a sold out headline gig at London’s famous Electric Ballroom.
Changing style once again, 2020’s “Is Love Enough?” featured more of a neo-soul sound. Stand-out collaborations included soul newcomers Durand Jones and Laville, as well as a spoken word meditation from legendary Doctor Who actor Peter Capaldi. Despite promotional opportunities being disrupted throughout the pandemic, the band pioneered the concept of the online gig with their first such event taking place in early April 2020 well before the words “global livestream” became mainstream! The album was released to great acclaim and became the band’s third consecutive Top 40 record charting at #39 (UK).
It is an exciting time for the band as they head towards their 25th year together. Most other artists would delay the release of new material until they had finally had the chance to tour their previous album. Not Stone Foundation. Unable to stand still, the announcement of their 10th studio album “Outside Looking In” coincides with 2 repeatedly-postponed dates at London’s legendary 100 Club in support of “Is Love Enough?”. That fact alone tells you all you need to know about Stone Foundation’s work ethic. A 21 date UK tour will follow throughout winter 2021
After so many years, is it really an issue being Outside Looking In? They’d have it no other way.