Five Alarm Funk’s chief operating officer of props and the band’s menagerie adds many playful touches to the horn-powered band’s performances.-Image credit: Barb Brouwer

Feeding festival fine funk and fun

Five Alarm Funk blows the lid off Roots and Blues barn stage

If Canada had a minister of fun, Ricki Valentine would certainly be a contender.

Five Alarm Funk’s chief cowbell ringer is enthusiastically in charge of the band’s menagerie of stuffed animals and other props.

We have lots of different props,” he says, pulling a small, red squeeze box out of his bag of tricks.

Valentine says the band has built such a strong musical foundation over the past 14 years it is now adding fun props to enhance the visual tone of the shows.

“We want to make it the best visual experience too,” he says with a wide grin. “This is the most fun we’ve had. We live in a fantasy world, a perfect storm of creativity.”

And visual it is.

Valentine, who makes many of his own props, has recently fashioned a lighted hat that, like a neon billboard, flashes “Five Alarm Funk,” and “Never quit on your dreams.”

Thrilled to be allowed to let his creativity run wild, he is currently working on a similar “sign board” to wear on his chest.

“We’re working hard to engage people,” he says, of the band’s often uproarious antics that never overshadow the considerable musical talent.

If Sunday night’s loudly appreciative audience at the Roots and Blues Barn Stage is any indication, Five Alarm Funk is a master of engagement.

The Vancouver-based band has released six acclaimed albums, the most recent being Sweat, which gets right to the roots of what Five Alarm Funk is all about: epic, intense arrangements, heavy groove and a ton of fun.

Helping Valentine deliver the band’s highly entertaining mix of Gypsy-rock, Afro-funk, Latin, ska and punk are lead vocalist and drummer Tayo Branston, guitarists Gabe Boothroyd and Oliver Gibson, bass player Jason Smith, Tom Towers on congas, Eli Bennett on saxophone and Kent Wallace on trumpet.

Six of the current band members have been with the Funk for more than a decade and five have been onboard since the beginning.

There have been a few “significant challenges and changes” in the lineup over the years, says Valentine, noting the result has been a new maturity in how the band operates.

“Right now, we’re tight and we know how to communicate well,” he says of the group that has become a cohesive family, that creates new music in a collaborative process.

Impressed by older strumming students in high school, Valentine acquired his first guitar in Grade 8 and has since picked up saxophone and ukulele.

While his stage act, outfits and Facebook posts may sometimes be outrageous, the underlying message is one of compassion and kindness.

“It’s always about best friends and making dreams come true,” he says on a serious note. “It’s always genuine with support for diversity and equality for everyone.”

This is Five Alarm Funk’s fourth appearance at Roots and Blues and, like the vast majority of artists, Valentine is high on the festival and how well artists are treated.

“They gave us the opportunity for one of our first headline appearances,” he says, noting the band now tours extensively across Canada and the U.S. “They treated us like pros when we weren’t yet.”