ABOUT ME – THE LONGER STORY!
EARLY DAYS: It was as nature intended that I should be born with one arm. Born an Essex boy in Harlow in the mid ’60s I used to amuse my parents strutting around holding a toy tennis racket turned upside down to represent a microphone as I sang along to Beatles records! Thus a star was born!
Although music didn’t really kick off for me until I was 7 when I’d managed to compose my first ‘song’ on the piano using two fingers playing up and down the keys representing the story in my head of a spaceman taking off in his spaceship, experiencing a serious malfunction and then ending up drifting powerless into space forever. My version of ‘Space Oddity’? probably, but it had no lyrics it was just the notes that painted the pictures and told the story in my head! For the first time I’d realised music could convey emotions, tell a story, paint a picture and so a valuable lesson had been learned!
I loved The Beatles so much that I realised I had to play guitar so around the same time, when I was 7, I laid my parents’ classical guitar on the floor and tried to play with my feet, then my hand & a foot all to no avail – after all Paul McCartney never played with his feet! (Did he?). Reluctantly I gave up struggling to find a way to play guitar with one hand ….for now.
SONGWRITING: I started writing songs that I heard in my head when I was about 10. I fantasised I was in a Beatles-esque ’60s band called The Stars and imagined songs from their albums, singing them to myself (God I must’ve been a lonely child!) and eventually writing lyrics down with an indication of what the song was in my head (e.g. “jaunty rock” etc) so later I could remember and re-sing it. By the time I was 12 I had written around 50 of these songs mostly obvious copy-cat songs of Beatles, Stones & Who songs!
BASS & RECORDING: Eventually, through sheer frustration and dogged determination, when I was about 14 I found a way to play guitar one handed by playing right handed guitars (upside down – strung normally) bass-style from listening and copying Paul McCartney’s bass lines from Sgt Pepper. From these humble beginnings I began to learn bass licks and then guitar chords and strumming and finally fingerpicking (of sorts) using my thumb to pick & strum and 3 fingers of the same hand to fret with. Whilst this was physically limiting (I’ve never been able to play barre chords & hence Hendrix/Blues lead riffs) it opened up the possibilities for me as a songwriter and I began to record the ideas in my head! For my 16th birthday I bought myself a cheap bass guitar and amp & began practising. I started to record the song ideas I had using a pair of headphones as a microphone (sticking them into the mic sockets of a hi-fi cassette deck) recording onto cassette, then playing back that cassette on a small tape player and adding another instrument or vocal live recording onto a second cassette in the cassette deck. Through this ‘bounce’ process I could build layers of sound and began to learn to strum guitar discovering chords by accident to accompany the bass lines I’d recorded adding vocals and harmonies. The results were often painful to the ear and suffered sound degradation with each ‘bounce’ but I was gradually improving my guitar skills and my harmonies whilst realising the songs in my head.
When I managed to get a job, when I was 20, I saved up and bought myself a much needed 4 track recorder (Yamaha Portasound) and a drum machine and synth (the wonderful Korg Poly 800 MkII) and began knocking out some cheesy ’80s songs (in the style of the Pet Shop Boys & Peter Gabriel). I even went to guitar classes in the evening with talented folk star/tutor Roger Sutcliffe where I learnt many blues licks and styles and which opened up a whole new door to the world of Blues for me!
LONDON & BANDS: At 22, I moved to London where the distractions of city life meant I neglected music for a while and after falling in & out of love several painful times I eventually turned my back on love and threw myself into music forming a band called The Poppyheads where I played guitar and shared lead vocals with fellow bandmate Mark Pesch, sadly no longer with us. The band changed personnel many times with myself & Mark at the root as chief songwriters. In 1992, we were joined by female drummer/singer Jackie Romeu and became The Unknown, the Violet Overtones, Kinda Wundaful (what a name!) and then Paintbox. Eventually in 1996 Mark left the group to go to live in Japan. Myself & Jackie carried on as a duo for a while.
Eventually, under the new banner of Slinki Malinki and together with lead singer & front man extraordinaire Hamish Galloway and keyboard player Imogen Prince, we began to be managed by Jackie’s old friend and legendary Producer, Gus Dudgeon. Gus started to give us our first real break and things went well for a while. Imogen left for Spain and was eventually replaced by Rob Peaple. Gus was determined to make the band successful & pulled us tight and produced a demo for us; and slowly it looked like things could happen for us. Then tragedy struck when Gus and his wife, Sheila, were killed in a car accident in 2002! For a while the band continued but without Gus and with no deal looking likely eventually belief and inspiration dried up in the band and myself & Jackie dissolved the band & went duo again.
For a time, myself & Jackie were kind of an art-style duo with a mix of dance, latin and pop songs where I went back to acoustic guitar to accompany her. Inevitably we realised we needed a band to represent the pop songs we were writing when performing and formed Nelson Romeu with keyboardist Rafael Piamolini, Alex Ribchester (drums) & Josh Taylor (bass) – later to become Supersmiler when Alex & Josh were replaced by Andy Pearce (bass) and Jamie Burgess (drums).
GOING SOLO: Then in 2009 I played my first solo gig at the Boiler room, Guildford supporting my friends Reed Maxfield. It was the first time I had ever performed alone and at first I felt naked! No backing band to support me or to turn to. However it felt great and I felt a freedom I’d never felt before. Meanwhile things weren’t so great with the band, there was frustration at playing the same ‘Pay to Play’ gigs in London which I always despised & general lack of commitment seeping in. Eventually after months of deliberation I made the brave decision to leave the band and go solo – brave because if they had gone on without me and found worldwide fame I’d have had to eat my own trousers! But they didn’t. The band sadly disbanded and I began my solo musical direction.
Since 2010 I have played many gigs and festivals in the Farnham & Guildford area predominantly (thanks to the likes of Vic Cracknell and other local musicians holding ‘Open Mic’ & ‘Guest’ nights) and in London and, indeed, around England as well as abroad in Romania & Kosovo. Being able to write a song ‘on a Saturday’ and perform it myself live a week later has given me enormous artistic freedom! Developing a blues ballad style and discovering my solo voice which has improved both my guitar playing and my singing style. Each year I have tried to increase my achievements from the previous year. In 2014 I played the main stage at Weyfest and at Pewsey Music Festivals and showcased on Eagle Radio.
I also began playing more blues, first as a duo with blues harpist Phil Thorpe then added Paul Stone on cajon. More recently we have added the talents of Kevin Rowe on bass to make it a Blues band and have released an album of mostly original blues songs with a few covers on “Out of the Blues” .
I have also released 2 solo albums “In from the Cold” and ‘Out In The Sun” both on CD and digitally distributed by Amazon & i-Tunes.
Having set up a non-profit making musicians co-operative called ‘Blue Trouser Records’ together with like minded local musicians we have been ‘signing’ local musical talent with the view that many mouths sing louder than one in order to promote and nurture unsigned talent!
I look forward to bigger and better things in the future!
Mark (April 2017)Please follow me on Social Media