Harry James Angus talks about his soul-jazz-gospel album project on Greek mythology


Harry James Angus knows all about blending cultures. As a member of the Cat Empire, he’s mixed rock, pop, soul, funk, jazz and a series of other musical styles from all over the world into a delightful musical concoction that has seen audiences flock the band’s performances.

In his parallel career as jazzman extraordinaire, he’s also known to mix things up and not stay stuck in any musical dogma; now the trumpet-playing-singer has put two more ingredients in his cauldron: gospel and Greek mythology.

His latest album, Struggle with Glory’ (released through Vitamin Records) is a collection of jazz-and-soul infused gospel songs, recounting the life and times of ancient Greek gods, demigods and heroes.

“A lot of weird ideas pop into my head all the time,” he says, laughing, “and this was one of them. I knew straight away that this was really going to work. I’ve always loved American gospel music, but I always felt a little bit uncomfortable playing this music that’s really owned by African-Americans and imitating it; it felt like a Blues Brothers kind of thing, and while it’s really fun to go out and do an imitation of John Belushi doing an imitation of an African-American preacher, it is not authentic.

“Because gospel music is based on Bible stories; they have this archetypal thing, where the lyrics are really simple and they are telling a story and have a deep message behind them. So I was looking for something that has the weight of the Bible, but comes from another place.”

He found it, while reading Greek mythology stories to his six-year-old son. “That’s when it hit me that these stories are perfect. You can fit the story in a few lines, but it has something more than just a story.”

Seemingly worlds apart, to his mind, gospel and Greek mythology have more similarities than differences. “They both have, at their roots, something that is really fundamental to human culture; the oral tradition,” he says. “You take something like the Iliad or the Odyssey and people just remembered them for centuries before anyone ever wrote them down.”

“This shows the amazing ability that the human brain has to remember information if it’s put into music or poetry. Gospel music is similar; it’s a different aspect of the oral tradition, it’s the call and response thing that puts people into a trance, but it is also not unlike the Greek chorus in theatre that comes in and offers commentary on the action. It’s all connected. In the end, it’s all a celebration of the oral tradition,” he says summing up the outlook of the album, which he describes as” jazz and soul with beautiful vocal harmonies and lots of vocal shenanigans.”

The first song that he started working on, when he set his mind to it, told the story of Theseus and Minotaur, not coincidentally the first Greek myth that he remembers hearing.

” When I was a kid, we used to drive to Adelaide three or four times a year to visit my father’s family and we had a few cassettes with stories and one of them was ‘Theseus and the Minotaur’ and we listened to it over and over again. What’s really interesting about the story is that from a modern perspective, it raises a ‘nature versus nurture’ type of question: was the Minotaur born a monster, or was he [turned] into a monster because they threw him into a dungeon as soon as he was born?

“In previous times, the answer would be that he was born a monster, because there are monsters in the world. But I call him ‘child in the dark’ , because he was a child when they threw him in the dungeon. There’s the great little apocrypha to the story, when Theseus kills the Minotaur, King Minos thought that it was Theseus who was killed because he heard a human scream, and that’s how he came into the realisation of the human nature of his son.