BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Martin Harley Band - Drum rolls and green rooms

Our first encounter with the Martin Harley Band was six or seven years ago, late at night, at a festival. The Larmer Tree was shutting down for the night, all the stages had closed down, the last of the revellers were off to bed and we were sat watching the food stalls closing up trying to squeeze what we could out of what was left of the night. Just as we were coming to the conclusion the night was over, three buskers turned up with a guitar, double bass and a cocktail drum kit. For the next hour we were served up a healthy portion of delta blues that made sure we went to bed happy.

Little did we know, this impromptu busking session would be the first of many gigs we would catch and that the Iguana CD collection would soon have to find a new section for the MHB.

Fast forward to 2011 and we are in very different circumstances – the plush and arty surroundings of The Courtyard in Hereford, where the latest incarnation of the Martin Harley Band are to entertain the local bohemians. We arrive early to interview the band are invited into the green room to chill with the warm and friendly Martin.

We talk of slide guitars, living in cars, surfing in Australia, touring by bicycle, playing the highest gig in the world, touring Mali, chilling in Barbados, stoner rock, independent record labels and playing the Rive Cottage for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He is down to earth and ego free. While we do the best to squeeze as much as possible out of a night, he is squeezing as much as possible out of life – and doing a pretty good job of it.

Then its time for the show. I use the word ‘show’ deliberately. The bar and the auditorium are separate – with no drinks allowed while watching the band - mobile phones must be switched off and the seating is ‘cinema’ or ‘theatre’ style. There is even a planned intermission. A ‘gig’, this is not.

This sort of set up is probably the most sterile way of seeing a band and in the past we have refused to put up with this sort of thing. It’s unnatural – like sitting down to watch football. However, it does tend to focus one’s attention on the stage and when you do that, the MHB reward you with a finely balanced serving of roots, blues, soul and jazz.

Sat down, often with his slide guitar on his lap, Martin and his band are able to create a relaxed and intimate atmosphere. Most of the songs are personal tales and the audience are invited into the world of carefree globe trotting with a surfboard in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.

Between numbers we get chat and an interaction between band and audience that adds to the intimacy of the event. I have to grudgingly admit that the fact that everyone is sat politely adds to this atmosphere.

We get a selection of numbers from throughout the bands back catalogue and as the show progresses some of the more rebellious audience members get up and shake their thang in the isles.

Whilst it is the Martin Harley Band, the rest of the band are not exactly extras. Pete Swatton occasionally ditches the drums to play the balalaika (yes, a drummer that is also a musician) and Jay Carter has a rest from propping up his double bass to play guitar. Both add backing vocals throughout and the chemistry between the three makes the band much more than the sum of its parts.

Finally we get a version of Voodoo Chile that is both a nod to Martin’s love of heavier sounds and a demonstration of what can be done with a slide guitar. Even tea loving buskers can be a power trio when they put their mind to it.

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Creation Records - the movie

If you grew up in the 1980s and early 90s, liked guitar music, read the Melody Maker or the NME (ah – the good old days, when the NME was a publication worth reading) or paid the slightest bit of attention to what was going on beyond the mainstream; then you knew about Creation Records.

They certainly weren’t the first indie label, they probably weren’t the best (although that is open to debate), but they were definitely one of the most successful. Many of the bands on their roster would never become household names or get day time airplay, but with few exceptions they all had a devoted cult following.

With an A&R policy of signing bands that were good, as opposed to potential money makers, there was always a danger that catastrophe was only around the corner. But somehow Alan McGee, founding director, had the fortune of signing many of the era’s defining bands. Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, House of Love, Sugar, Super Fury Animals, My Bloody Valentine and eventually the colossus that would become Oasis, were all products of the Creation label.

Upside down, the story of the label, features interviews – both contemporary and archive – with all the movers and shakers in the Creation story. We also get live footage from the days when Indie actually meant Independent, rather than a style of guitar music.

Run, on the whole, by amateur music fans who just wanted to have fun, get laid and take lots of drugs, they achieved success despite – rather than because of – their passion for music and no time for compromise. Based in a nondescript office in north London, day to day life was more like a 24 hour party than a business and new bands were generally stumbled upon when out on the pull.

This warts and all documentary skips through the history of the label, from the formation, the early releases and the growing successes; through the glory years as the mainstream embraced the underground and Tony Blair embraced Brit Pop, to financial melt down, drug excess and the realisation – as Oasis played Knebworth – that the removal from the real world that comes with mega stardom aint all fun.

Tonight, as the film gets it’s welsh premier in Cardiff’s Chapter Arts, McGee drops in for a Q&A session. He comes over as a passionate music lover that has been through the industry ringer and come out older, wiser and with his feet re-planted firmly on terra-firmer. He is entertaining, witty and contented with his lot, having now settled in Hay on Wye.

As the evening closes, we top it off with free drinks in the foyer – no need to withdraw from the highlife completely!


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