What are your first musical memories growing up in London?
Marcus: I’ve got quite a few. I remember when I was growing up at my
Mum & Dad’s house, they had this big record player they got given by a
friend of theirs when they first started setting up home. We didn’t have
a TV but we did have this massive record player and my Dad had a killing
collection of records. We had tons of Beatles stuff; Abbey Road and
Sergeant Pepper were the two I remember playing over and over again: a
Janis Joplin album called Pearl; and a couple of Chuck Berry
Cocker’s With a little help from my friends was one of my first
albums. I re-bought it recently and I can still remember every word of
every song. And then my Mum had loads of Joan Baez and Cat Stevens,
Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young – those were the kind of people I grew
up listening to, and still do listen to. I’ve got so many memories of
just sitting there and listening to those records over and over again.
Alan: You’ve got an Italian Dad and an English mother. Were
they musical at all?
Marcus: Yes, my Mum’s guitar is the first guitar I really played on. I
remember that when I was about 15 she brought it down from the loft one
day and said, “Oh, I’d forgotten I had this thing” and that was the
first guitar I’d ever really had a go on. I remember that the strings
were 3 inches away from the neck and felt like the type of wire you used
to cut cheese. She played piano as well and we always had a piano in
the house and she’d have a little play now and then. My Dad was not a
musician but a massive music lover, always had music on and just loved
music. So it was always surrounding me even though we didn’t sit around
and jam by a camp fire. It was still a big part of growing up.
Alan: Did you always want to become a musician?
Marcus: Yes, right from the word go. I started playing trumpet when I
was six and my mum and dad always encouraged me to get a musical
instrument, but a proper one! I started learning the trumpet and I was
playing classical music in a big brass band. I used to love doing
that. From that point I thought I wanted to be a trumpet player but I
definitely wanted to be a musician. That was the only thing I could see
myself doing until I was fifteen and then I picked up a guitar and,
that was exactly what I wanted to be doing. That’s what girls
So did you have any encouragement to be a musician from family or
Marcus: Yes, I was lucky in that people are always telling me that they
were discouraged by family or people at school telling me not to go into
it but everybody I came across really encouraged me, from my primary
music school teacher all through all my music teachers and also my
parents. When I was 18 and just about to go off to uni to study music,
my mum said “So, you’re definitely going to be a musician aren’t you?
You’re not going to be a doctor or a lawyer?” I thought she was going
to be disappointed but when I said, “Yes, that’s what I want to do and
I’m either going to be a very rich musician or a very poor musician
because there’s not really anything in the middle”, she was alright with
it. It was the same with my younger brother because he’s a fantastic
musician as well, he’s a bass player and between us we’ve encouraged
each other to keep on going.
Alan: You went to the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts.
Tell me about your experiences there.
Marcus: It was an alright place. To be honest, and like most things,
you get out of it what you put into it. And what I get out of it was
that I met some amazing musicians and saw a lot of the guitar players
around who were just fantastic players. I’d only been playing for about
3 years when I got there and I realised I really had to up my game and
get with it and do some practice to even be able to jam with these
guys. So that was great and I really worked hard on my guitar playing
and then I wanted to get a blues band and start playing bars. And the
good thing was that we had rehearsal rooms where we could rehearse and
bars all around. The bad side was that when I was doing all that it
wasn’t part of the course and they weren’t flexible enough to try and
mark me on some of the other stuff I was doing. I was making money from
it, I was being a professional musician so that’s where we fell out and
I left. I just thought it was a little bit backwards in the way that
the course was run. But I have other friends who went and did the whole
degree (my bass player and harmonica player did the whole 3 years) and
they’re doing the same thing, so it’s horses for courses.
What first attracted you to the blues?
Marcus: Led Zeppelin. That was one of the big turning points. I
remember there was a kid at school, he was in a band and he had long
hair and I thought he was cool as hell. His band were pretty scrappy
but I really liked them. He said, “I think I know what you’d like. Go
out and buy Zeppelin 4, the Doors' LA Woman and let me know what you
think". I remember buying it at Our Price and putting it on the CD
Player and thinking, “What the hell is this?”. My Dad never played me
anything that heavy and when I heard Black Dog I’d never heard anything
like that before but then I had to work out where that came from. You
know what I mean? Like, how dare they?? Then I started going back
through it and getting into all the blues stuff so it was basically
through my love of Led Zeppelin that I traced back and thought, Who’s
Willie Dixon? Why’s he credited on this when he’s not in the band. I
need to find out who was, who Blind Willie Johnson was. And from then
on there were just so many doors opening. You find one guy then you
find another and you find they’ve done...whatever. It’s just endless.
Alan: Your musical influences are quite varied. Who’s
influenced you the most in your writing and playing?
Marcus: Mmmm, errr, that’s tough because it does change. I get quite
into stuff like I remember hearing Tom Waites about five years ago and
then for the last five years Tom Waites has been the one thing I always
seem to come back to. But I suppose it will come down to guitarists
like Jimmy Paige and George Harrison. They were the two people that I
heard play guitar that made me want to make a sound like that. Jimmy
Paige because it can be so beautiful at times but then it can just be
fireworks, it can be flamboyance, or beautiful blues playing and
incredible licks. Then somebody like George Harrison – I think all of
us could sing all his guitar melodies because they are just that
memorable and beautiful. And as a song writer he’s fantastic and so is
Jimmy Paige so I think I’d always come back to those two because they
were the first people I got into.
I read a review which said you are “a wildly versatile
guitarist who can handle almost anything electric, country or folk-blues
from stomping blues to delicate acoustic finger picking”. Which
style do you enjoy the most?
Marcus: That’s a very nice quote. I don’t think I ever read that
review. That’s brilliant – thank you! Oh, I don’t know. Because I
was doing it solo for so long I really enjoyed the solo songs where I
was doing the slower songs, more finger-picked kind of folky blues song,
but at the moment I’m out with the band a lot and I really enjoy playing
a good old screaming electric guitar. I think of everything you said
there, the stomping blues stuff is the stuff I love the most – you know,
Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, bands like Grey Dee, Big Sugar. Right back
to the early blues where it’s got that groove. At a certain time in
that night when that goes on and you just want to break the place up.
It’s just got that kind of momentum.
Alan: How many guitars do you have?
Marcus: I’ve just recently moved in with my girlfriend and she asked me
what sort of place we were going to be looking for. I said, “Well,
we’ll probably need two bedrooms” and she said “Oh, like for guests?”
“No, I’ve got 15 guitars”. She’d only seen 4 of them because there’s
really only 4 or 5 that I use a lot but I’ve never thrown a guitar away,
never traded one in, never sold one. I’ve got the first Squire Strat I
ever had, first Les Paul, first Les Paul copy. So I’ve got 15, in
fact, no I’ve got 16 because I got a new resonator the other day and now
I’ve got no money!
Alan: Are there any particular songs you play which have special
meaning to you?
Marcus: Yes, I like 'What Good Am I To You' because I think it
sums me up quite well. I’m quite a frustrating person to be friends
with because I’m a bit, well, I’m very flaky when it comes to keeping to
plans, picking up my phone and getting back to people. I just seem to
be half-way between a gig all the time. So I wrote that song to just
kind of apologise to a lot of my mates for hardly ever seeing them but
luckily they are good friends and they understand. So whenever I play
that one, I always think that it’s an apology. 'Sweet Louise' is
always one that gets me because of the subject matter. It’s about a
nightmare girl that I was with for a while and the only way to look at
it was to write a song about it and try to cleanse yourself. And I like
'Hard Times' because it was one of the first songs I wrote and I
thought, “You know what, I like that song and I think I might be good at
this”, so I persevered because of that song. It’s full of lines that
make me laugh because it’s all things my Dad used to say to me when I
was younger and always in playing guitar and always out late at night
playing gigs and he was always telling me, “You can’t just sit around
the house playing guitar, you’ve got to get out there and earn money”.
Now I am out there and earning money he’s a lot happier with me!
What does the blues mean to you?
Marcus: Everything. Everything, it does, honestly. It’s just the way
to get through life I find. You have an argument with someone and you
feel blue. It’s an everyday life thing. I listen to the music and
musically, lyrically, it seems to strike a chord within me and it makes
me feel good and it makes me feel bad. It makes me feel happy and sad.
It’s just a great way to look at life. Everyone always thinks that the
blues is all about losing everything and being sad, but it’s not. It’s
about humour, it’s about triumph over adversity which is what all the
early pioneers of the blues did. I think it’s a beautiful genre of
music. More people need to drop their preconceptions of what they think
the blues is and sit down and listen to a Muddy record and laugh and
Alan: Tell me about the band. When did you get together?
Marcus: The band has kind of grown, well, I don’t like the word
organically but I don’t know another word for it. I started solo and I
always had in mind my flatmate (until a month ago), Scott Wiber, the
bass player, we’d played together for years and years and years, getting
on for 10 years in different set-ups and I always knew that was the guy
I wanted on bass for me. He’s the same, he loves the blues. He’s from
Canada and he introduced me to loads of Canadian music as well so when I
asked him to do it he was really up for it. Alex Reeves, the drummer, I
met when I first moved back to London after living in Liverpool. He was
Paddy Milner’s drummer and I depped a gig in Paddy’s band and got my ass
kicked the entire night by all these incredible musicians! I love the
way he plays, love the way he plays the blues and again we just chatted
and it seemed like we had the same record collection, and again he was
really up for it. Jake Field is the newest addition, he’s the harp
player. I was in a band with Jake in Liverpool when I was about 19, we
were in a New Orleans type funk band thing. I’d been waiting for him to
move back to London and he did it about 6 months ago so as soon as he
did I just snapped him straight up and said, “Please, play in my band.
You are the missing piece of the jigsaw.” So now I’ve got this kicking
four piece. Jake is also a fantastic piano player so he doubles up on
keys. It’s brilliant. We’ve been away for the last four and five days
and it’s just like being out with your mates. It’s like a holiday
sometimes, everybody takes the piss out of each other and you get paid
Alan: Tell me about the making of your new album, 'What Good
Am I To You'.
Marcus: It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been writing the songs pretty
much since I finished 'Hard Times'. I had a little bit of time
because I didn’t tour relentlessly so there was a bit of time for me to
write and I was also doing a lot of session playing out on the road with
different bands and you find yourself with a lot of time just sat there
with the guitar. So I started writing the songs for it with the idea
that I wanted to do a band record. The first record was very stripped
down and I did everything myself so this one had to progress, it had to
be a bigger sound and show that I was going forward. So I wrote a lot
of songs when I was on the road in the States with a guy called Finley
Brown. He’s a fantastic song writer as well and the best thing is that
since 'Hard Times' I’ve been lucky enough to work with some
incredible song writers as their side man so I’ve just been learning off
them. So it was great fun writing the record and then we basically got
in for a week of rehearsals in London, we locked ourselves away for a
week, really honed them down, I got their ideas in there as well because
I didn’t want it to be a one-channel gig. Then we went in the studio in
Tetbury and when we rocked up the guy who was to be our engineer, who I
hadn’t met properly, was wearing mega bit t-shirt and these bright blue
zebra skinned trousers. He was about six stone soaking wet, about 19,
from New Zealand and he said, “Hello Mate. I’m your engineer”. I
thought, “God” and said, “You do know we’re doing a blues album?”
“Yeah, no worries, mate”. So we sat up the whole night listening to
blues records and drinking and got on really well. He was just an
incredible engineer and I honestly don’t think the album would have
sounded as good as it does without him. He was just so up for
experimenting. I’d just say, “Why don’t we try something like this?”
and some more seasoned engineers would have just said, “That doesn’t
work” but he was, “Yeah, let’s try it. Let’s put the bass amp in the
gym and turn it right up and try to get that really echoey horrible
sound”. He was great, always up for it. I had to send him to bed most
nights. We’d start at 10 in the morning and finish at 5 in the morning.
He’d still be at his desk but I’d be saying, “I’ve got to go to bed”.
He was first in, last out and lived off macaroni cheese. It was
fantastic – everybody in the same room. I was lucky enough to get it
mastered again by John Astley who did the Stones, the Who. When I got to
his studio he had masters for Bohemian Rhapsody sat on his piano. I
said, “What’s that”, and he said “Yeah, I’ve had a good week. I’ve just
been re-mastering Bohemian Rhapsody” like it was normal. He’s got all
these big gold discs behind his sofa. He’s just a dude! And he put the
finishing touches on the record – perfect!
Alan: In November you are doing Carlisle Blues Festival again
after you went down so well last time. Are you looking forward to it?
Marcus: I really am. I had a blast last time. I’d never done a gig
like that before and I was a little nervous because I was first on on
the Sunday and I was like a little late addition because I was up there
anyway with Earl Thomas and I think my manager probably blagged Nick
pretty hard to let me on the bill. I didn’t really think anyone would
be there and I’d just be playing as people were walking in. But there
were 200 people there and everyone really seemed to love it. I really
loved it. I had a great time.
Alan: It was really memorable.
Marcus: Thank you man. I won't forget that. I met some really lovely
people and this year I’ll have the band with me and we’re going to
really play stuff for people there. Everyone looked after me really
well at Carlisle and because of that I really can’t wait to get there
and thank everyone by playing a killing show and send everybody home
Alan: We are really looking forward to it. Marcus, thank you very
much indeed. See you in November at Carlisle.
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