Vote Pedro are a fun-loving Mexican band from the ‘aye, aye isle’ of Wight! Of course. Fun-loving Darren Price tells Tim Hughes what it’s about
It shouldn’t really work... seven blokes from the Isle of Wight, dressed in sombreros and playing good-time pop tunes by Miley Cyrus and Queen, with a spicy Mexican twist. But Vote Pedro are a maraca-shaking festival phenomenon – cranking up the atmosphere wherever they play,
A favourite at Bestival, on their home island, they next month cross the Solent and head up to Oxford for the second instalment of Rob de Banks’ Common People festival in South Park.
“How do seven fully-grown men from the Isle of Wight end up donning sombreros and creating a party?” laughs percussionist Darren Price?
“I suppose I am quite a creative person and spend a fair bit of time coming up with madcap and hair brained ideas. Sometimes to my surprise, however, I stumble across an idea that starts to work – and this was one.”
The eagle-eyed may recognise Darren as being the eccentric sharp-suited washboard player, who has appeared on stage with Oxford vintage jump-jive and jazz band The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band. That also came out of a wild punt. He recalls: “I decided that I wanted to be in a band, without being able to play a conventional musical instrument. So I strapped a washboard to my chest added a couple of tin cans, a cowbell and hooter and went off to join a local blues-skiffle band.
“It was a very enjoyable experience and I loved performing live. After getting quite a bit of attention and questions related to my washboard playing, I started to realise that, although the musical content of a performance is obviously paramount, people enjoyed seeing something different.
“That little washboard earned me a ticket to musical experiences that I never would have imagined, playing with some great bands all over the place, culminating in Stuart Macbeth from the amazing Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band.”
He goes on: “When I first saw his band I was an instant fan and spent my time dancing through their whole set. Little did I know that in a few years’ time, he would be inviting me to join the band to perform at Bestival on my little old washboard.
“We became great friends, playing gigs in London and Oxford.”
When not playing, Darren teaches music to people with learning difficulties. So how did this normally responsible pillar of the community end up playing rock and pop – Latin American style?
“After being in a couple of island-based bands that didn’t quite work out for me, I was left longing to develop a new musical project as I missed performing so much,” he says.
“I was inspired after being invited to a family fiesta Mexican party,” he says. “After tucking into fajitas, chilli and with a belly full of Mexican beer, another madcap idea hit me straight between the eyes. What we were missing is a fun-time mariachi-style band.
“I knew exactly where to start. When I returned to work, I approached a great friend of mine, Jason Budd, who, after leaving his local choir, was also looking for a different musical experience.
“I told him my Mexican idea, and from that day, he started to grow his handle bar moustache, which showed his commitment to the project.
“I swapped my washboard for a real instrument – this time a smart set of timbale drums complete with cow bell, cabbassa and vibra slap – then we started to think of some songs that we could play.”
Their repertoire includes Ring of Fire, Wrecking Ball, Eye of the Tiger and The Wall.
“We invited a fantastic guitarist, Simon Jackson, who has played lead guitar all over the world,” he adds. “We didn’t think he would want to join us so were gobsmacked when Simon said yes and we started to rehearse.”
The next step, he said, was to find a frontman. He didn’t have to look far, signing up his 80-year-old father in law Bryan ‘Arwee’ Greaves.
“I am so lucky to have the best father in law in the world who is also an amazing entertainer,” he says. “He is a percussionist who wows crowds with his unique dance moves when they are least inspecting it.
“Arwee and I have been playing music together for about three years, starting playing skiffle music together. Our early musical highlights included performing with Stuart at Porchester hall in London. We have fond memories of that gig – such as Arwee having to share a dressing room with a nice, young burlesque dancer and his spoons falling apart on the stage.”
He goes on: “When I suggested joining Vote Pedro, he was more than happy to take up the challenge of donning a sombrero and moonwalking his way to mariachi glory.
“We added Paul on the trumpet and Rob on the djembe and started to put our own Mexican twist on well-known songs. And with lots of gold braid, I made our own mariachi garb outfits so that we looked the part.”
Their first gig was on the island, at the popular Bembridge street fair. For Darren, it was the moment of truth as to whether the public would ‘buy’ it or just scratch their heads at the sight of a bunch of blokes who should know better, dressed as bandits.
“We were excited and obviously nervous as we were not sure how it was going to be received,” he says.
“We were quite surprised by the response of the crowd who seemed to be enjoying themselves – not as much as us though, because we were being paid with strong local cider and had had a couple of pints by this time.”
It went down a storm, and their reputation spread – gaining Mexican momentum, with the lads turning out for festivals, gigs, street parties and weddings.
“We have been surprised by how people have reacted to our mariachi madness and are so pleased with how far we have come in a short time,” says Darren.
“The music content is obviously important, but people like to see something different.
“They love the fact that they recognise the tunes that we play and are encouraged to take part and sing along. I very often find myself apologising to the crowd for ruining their favourite songs but they seem to love it.”
For Common People, they will be joined by trumpeter, Aaron Snow, guitarrón player Owen Cambridge and Matt Woodmore on djembe and percussion. The band are guests of gramophone legend Greg Butler from the Shellac Collective.
Darren says: “We are all great friends and have such fun when we are together performing and I am sure that this rubs off on the audience. We just want to have a great big Mexican fuelled mariachi party and spread sunshine wherever we go.
“So if you see us around this summer please come and join us, sing your heart out and help us to spread some Mexican sunshine. Aaaarrriiibbaaaa!”
Vote Pedro play Common People Oxford, South Park, Oxford. The festival runs from May 27-28. For tickets go to oxford.