Friday, June 19, 2015

Living the Blues - Marcus Malone interview

When I caught up with Marcus Malone for a chat it was at the end of a long couple of days for him and his band, having set off from London at dark o’clock the previous morning, before playing a couple of shows in Glasgow and Ardrossan.  Marcus wasn’t long off the stage from their Ardrossan set, reviewed a couple of weeks ago in these virtual pages, but how had the Glasgow Blues Club gig gone?
That was good,” he says, “that was hot – at the Record Factory, a good crowd, put on by George Lindsay.  He has a band in Glasgow, and I called him up to see if he could help me out with a gig, because we were coming up here to do Ardrossan, and he said you called at the right moment, he was just starting up a club there.  A lot of people came out to support it, we did a good show, and sold a lot of CDs, so everybody’s good and that’s really neat!”
Speaking of CDs, there had been mention recently about Marcus getting a new album out in the autumn, following on from 2014’s Stand or Fall, so I asked him how it was shaping up.  But he had a surprise to offer in response.
“Well, I think we may end up doing a live album,” he says, “because I don’t have one, and everywhere we go, people are asking, ‘Do you have a live album, do you have a live album?’  We’ve recorded the music for another regular album, but I think the live album might happen first.  So we’re going to be recording at a gig we have coming up in Chislehurst in about a month’s time – we’ll record a few gigs, we’ve got a great guy who mixes, and we’ll see how it goes.
Marcus goes for it
A new studio album is indeed making progress though, he says.  “That’s going well.  I’m mixing a bit of it – that’s the same band that did the Stand or Fall album.  When we did the Stand or Fall album we had about six cuts left over, so it’s basically a continuation – kind of ‘Part 2 Stand or Fall’, and it’s gonna be called Better Man.  It’s the same musicians, and we’re recording about eight new songs.  That’s going well, so it could go either way with the live album, but they’ll be in quick succession.”
Any tracks you’re particularly enthusiastic about?
“Yeah, you heard ‘em tonight – ‘Feeling Bad Blues’ and ‘House of Blues’.  Then we’ve got some more – don’t know if they’re gonna work or not, I’ve been playing with ‘em – but they’re kind of like Otis Redding, kind of short, three minute songs and they got that 60s kinda energy to ‘em.  So – it might work!”
Noting that his 2011 album Let the Sunshine In has a lighter, funkier feel than Stand or Fall, or 2007’s Hurricane, I wondered how an album might develop its own vibe during the process of being made.
“I don’t really get up in the morning and say I’m gonna write that,” Marcus offers.  “I just kind of get an idea for a song, and as it develops that’s the way it goes.  Like I said with these new songs I’ve been writing I’ve just been coming up with this Otis Redding vibe, they’re like really high-powered soul songs.
“But Let the Sunshine In, a lot of people said the writing on that they liked it better than Stand or Fall, but with Stand or Fall the concept of the album from beginning to end is better, ‘cause it feels like ‘this is a blues rock album’, whereas Sunshine feels a bit more scattered.”
Noting that some of the songs on Stand or Fall had different instrumentation, female backing vocals or other production flourishes, I asked what it was then like to strip them back again for live work with a straightforward guitar/bass/drums set-up.
“Well, a song’s a song, it’s a good song,” says Marcus.  “I mean we actually do those songs where we play venues where we do acoustic – where I play acoustic, we have two acoustics – the same songs can be broken down to just two people.  Then we play some songs where we might have bass, we might have a harmonica player come along, but it’s all acoustic.  A song’s a song – I think people go for the voice mainly, it’s the main melody.  All those other things are good around it – it’s like,” he laughs, “y’know, dessert!”
I mention the tendency among some blues artists to have more of a rotating cast of sidemen than a regular band, but if anything Marcus feels that lately he’s been moving towards the latter approach.
“Lately it has been, for the last couple of years, with Chris (Nugent, on drums) and Sean (Nolan, on guitar).  Mine is original music, so I almost have to have, really, a close-knit band.”
Having seen them play a couple of times now, I suggested that Marcus is pretty generous as a guitar player, not someone determined to have the limelight when it comes to soloing.  That raises a chuckle.
“Well, I don’t consider myself a Hendrix or something, but I do like to play – given the opportunity I will go for it!” he says, laughing.
On the vocal front, Marcus has now and then been compared to Paul Rodgers, and occasionally there are similarities, if no more than that.  But it seemed a bit ironic, I thought, that a black guy from Detroit gets compared to a British white guy who was inspired by the likes of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, and Motown.  Marcus laughs loudly at that observation.
Doubled down on guitar - Marcus and Sean Nolan
“I’m influenced by the same people!  To me, realistically I don’t sound anything like him – if he were here, singing this stuff, you’d realise I don’t sound anything like him.  I have a similar ‘feel’ as he does, a soulful feel, and I happen to be doing rock music, so that’s the closest thing that people can think of.”
And as a guitarist does he have any particular influences?
“I listen to a lot of different people, I listen to obvious people like Hendrix, soul players that played behind James Brown on the funky things.  I mean, you know, I listen to a lot of different things.  BB was also one of my favourite guitarists and I was fortunate to meet and open up for him at the Albert Hall.  A great guy and will definitely be missed.  And you can’t love Hendrix without appreciating Buddy Guy.”
Mentioning that from time to time he likes to drop the odd Lizzy-ish guitar harmony into a song, I wondered if that came from anywhere in particular.
That’s something I’ve always done, since the late 70s and the original Marcus band,” he says, referring to the heavy metal band he formed in the States.  “If you listen to that album you’ll hear like, triple harmonies – it’s always been there.  I used to have two guitars, at one point I had three back in the late 70s, and I used to hum the lines and they would play ‘em – so I’ve been doing that for ages!”
Latching on to Marcus’s Detroit background, I dropped his fellow Detroiter Ted Nugent into the conversation.  There’s a whiff of his ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ about the riff to ‘Can’t Stop’, I reckon.  Marcus is well tickled by the notion.
“Oh Teddy, yeah!  Okay – well actually Sean wrote the music to that, but I’m sure he’s not familiar with Ted Nugent,” he says, laughing – I thought it was more Aerosmith!  But I know Ted Nugent.  It’s funny how I met him, ‘cause he stole one of my drummers.  And then he picked me up once hitch-hiking – it was about 5.30 in the morning, I was on my way to Ann Arbor, that’s where he’s from as well.”
And from Detroit back in the day it was then back to the present.  Kaz Hawkins and her Band O’Men could be heard taking to the stage in the Ardrossan Civic Centre, and it was time for us to wrap up, and for Marcus and his band to get some down time ahead of their next gig in Warrington the following night.  The road, as they say, never ends.

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