‘It feels good to finally have a solo record out – it should have come out years ago…’

Sophia Bye Bye

UK singer-songwriter Sophia Marshall has just released her first solo album, Bye Bye. Formerly one half of Americana duo The HaveNots, from Leicester, Sophia decided to go it alone in 2015.

Bye Bye is a strong, confident and varied debut record – from the killer, radio-friendly guitar pop of Losing You, to the gorgeous, late-night, organ-soaked country of  Flares, the jaunty, ’50s rockabilly of Missing Piecethe edgy and disturbing, trip-hop-tinged Hey Al, Woah! and the sea shanty Drunken Sailor.

I spoke to Sophia to find out how the album came together…

Q & A

Hello Sophia, but I should really say ‘Bye Bye’… How does it feel to have your first solo album out there? Was it scary going it alone?

Sophia Marshall: It feels good to finally have a solo record out – I feel like it should have come out years ago. It’s actually not too scary going it alone, as, funnily enough, I have managed to surround myself with even more influential musicians and confidants, which is very different from previously being in a duo.

Are you pleased with the record? 

SM: I’m really pleased with it, considering it was mostly done on a shoestring, pulling in favours. I like to think we did well. And I’m proud to have worked with some wonderful musician friends, including Andy Jenkinson, who produced the album. He breathes life into my ideas. And lets me try silly things.

Did you have a big pool of songs to dip into? How did you decide which ones made the final cut? It’s quite an eclectic album – pop, country, rockabilly, a sea shanty and even a bit of trip-hop…

SM: At first, the songs were recorded fairly sporadically. I only really wanted to get polished versions of some old songs down. There was no real deadline set initially, but. at the start of 2017, I decided it needed to be completed and officially released. Conveniently, I was inspired to write some new songs, which were added to the list.

Where was the album recorded and what was the process like? Was it an enjoyable record to make?

SM:It was partly recorded at Andy’s home studio, definitely all mixed there, and partly recorded at The Paddocks Studios, [in Melton Mowbray] – a place I once lived and worked.

Normally, I demo the songs on my own before taking them to the band, or sometimes just Andy, to see how they can be developed. It’s the people who make the process enjoyable. It was great working on my own material, but, at the end of the day, the people around me inspired and encouraged me, which is a real blessing.

Let’s talk about some of the songs. Losing You is a big, guitar pop tune – very instant and infectious. Where did that track come from? It sounds like your shot at getting on the Radio 2 playlist…

SM: That’s a fair comment. Radio 2 airplay would be splendid. Losing You was actually on the never released, third HaveNots album, Weakender.

Liam Dullaghan [from The HaveNots] and I wrote the song in a slow, acoustic fashion, but I had wanted to pump some indie-pop/ folk-rock life into it for a long time. My new bandmates helped me to do exactly that. I also added the middle eight, which I guess came from some Britpop musical influences of my teenage years.

“Flares was written by candlelight, under the influence of red wine, on an acoustic guitar”

Flares is one of my favourite songs on the album. What can you tell me about that track?

SM: What can I tell you about Flares? It was written by candlelight, under the influence of red wine, on an acoustic guitar, in a house I had been in for less than a year, after a huge chapter of my life had ended. I was finally switching my focus from looking backwards to looking forwards.

When we came to record it, I had been listening to Frazey Ford’s Indian Ocean. Obviously I had listened to it non-stop when Sarah [Marshall – Sophie’s sister] and I were backing vocalists for her on that first album tour of the UK, but it wasn’t until about a year later the album stopped feeling like homework and I could enjoy it for all that it was. So I think there’s a sprinkle of Frazey in Flares.

Missing Piece is very ’50s/ rockabilly-country. Where did that track come from? 

SM: It was originally written in the same vein as a Camera Obscura song called Fifth In Line to the Throne – a lot slower and ballad-like, but I think this changed around the same time I decided to shake up Losing You. I guess I was fed up with the melancholy sound of things for a while. It’s about the realisation that you don’t actually mean all that much to a person who had once made you feel like a huge and special part of their life.

Hey Al, Woah? is one of the darker songs on the album – arguably the darkest. It features the lines: “You can’t go around saying shit like that to girls”, and “you should know no means no”…

Where’s that track coming from lyrically and musically? It’s very personal – a disturbing and edgy song, with shades of ’90s trip-hop. It has echoes of Martina Topley-Bird, who sang with Tricky…

SM: It was a very late addition to the album – a very new song. I spent a lot of time with a songwriter who loved Portishead. I think the feel of Hey Al… comes from that, but, lyrically, it was inspired by a person who I had exhausted my every effort of politely saying ‘no’ to. I’m not easily intimidated, but the psychological disturbance got to me – something snapped. I started worrying that the next girl may find his approach threatening…

Earlier this year, you played live in the basement of The Green Note in Camden, supporting  US singer-songwriter Chris Mills – you did two nights in a row. I went to both shows – they were great. Chris has been a big help and influence on your career, hasn’t he? He worked with you in The HaveNots. Aren’t there some unreleased songs from the recording sessions you did with Chris?

SM: Chris has always been a great help and, indeed, a great influence on me, musically. There is a whole album of HaveNots songs still unreleased, which Chris Mills produced.

Losing You, as I mentioned earlier, was one of them, and, actually, also Beauty Sleep, which I used on my album. I just didn’t want those songs to go to waste after all the hard work Chris and the team in Chicago had put into them. But even before that, Chris had helped Liam and I get over to tour America and release our first album Bad Pennies over there, too. Chris has a great heart and is a great songwriter.

Full Band Promo Pic

How did you launch your new album? Didn’t you do a six-hour, live-streamed house concert tour of the Midlands? How was that? You’ve been touring with Case Hardin, too. What was that like?

SM: I did more than a six-hour tour! It was more like 12 hours and it was a great, Challenge Anneka-style adventure. Pulling up at my old music college where I met Liam, racing off to a coffee shop near where I live now, and then over to a music shop in Nottingham, where I have a habit of drooling over all the acoustic guitars.

Then we started running behind schedule, when another Leicester venue performance at Firebug was late, which made us late for our Melton Mowbray appearance, to the point where the venue’s owners apologised, but said they couldn’t put us on, as the main band had arrived. But, as we walked off, people who had been waiting ran after us and managed to set up a last-minute gig at a bar down the road. Then we stopped to eat and catch our breath before an intimate. live-streamed performance of Flares, while we waited for the Simon and Garfunkel tribute band to finish at The Musician, so we could serenade people out the back of the bus while they left the gig.

We had a handful of shows with Case Hardin and Samantha Parton and Jolie Holland (The Be Good Tanyas), who were all so nice to catch up with again after years of being out of the scene myself. We also opened for The Sadies in Bristol and we had a sold-out show with Eilen Jewell.

What music – new and old – are you currently listening to?

SM: I’ve been enjoying the Samantha Parton and Jolie Holland album Wildflower Blues. The title track is my favourite. I also made a point of revisiting the Tom Petty album Wildflowers, which I thought was a good one to follow that. Also Mountaintop Junkshop, who are from my hometown.

Finally, what are your plans for 2018?

SM: I’ll be catching up with admin, checking the festivals and, hopefully, starting work on some new material. We have gigs in March 2018 and I’m working on a monthly, free download EP, having a bit of fun with some pop songs.

Bye bye, Sophia…

Sophia Marshall’s album Bye Bye is out now: http://www.sophiamarshall.co.uk/

 

Acton baby

Showcasing a new full band sound, Case Hardin’s latest album Colours Simple is a collection of kicked around, country-rock songs populated by prostitutes, drinkers, lost souls and losers.

I invited the group’s singer-songwriter, Pete Gow, down the pub to tell me more…

CaseHardinPromo-20150608-0169

 

Colours Simple – the superb new album from West London alt-country act Case Hardin – is a record that sounds like it’s been on a late night drinking session in the heart of the city, hung out in some casinos and massage parlours, talking to the lost and lonely, and then staggered off home in the wee small hours, as the sun rises over Acton.

To find out more about the record, I met up with the band’s singer-songwriter and frontman Pete Gow in a North London boozer…

I want to talk about the stunning, eight-minute album opener Poets Corner, which sounds like something Springsteen would’ve written if he’d lived in Acton, rather then New Jersey…

Like a lot of this album, it has a big, full band sound – there’s some serious rock guitar from Jim Maving in places…

Pete Gow: As it was coming together in my head, I couldn’t get away from that backstreets feel. I wanted to write something in a longer form and I’d decided it was going to be more of a guitar-based record…

Poets Corner is old school Springsteen and I knew I wanted that Phil Spector ‘bom-bom-bom’.

The title Poets Corner comes from the name of a place near where you live in Acton, West London. There’s an area called the Poets Corner Community Garden, where one freezing cold January afternoon you sat on a bench and turned some of your songs into this album… Can you elaborate on that?

Poets Corner is also mentioned on another track on the album – High Rollers. What’s so special about that place?

PG: I write for an album. If we’re going to do a new record, I will go off and write for three months. I’ve usually also got one or two songs hanging around… I don’t write all the time, or carry a notebook around.

But on this occasion [after making the last Case Hardin album PM ] I just carried on writing – I’d just moved to West London and I was writing without consequence. I didn’t think I was writing for another record, as we’d just recorded one, but the songs just kept on coming.

Poets Corner – the place – is nothing and it’s everything. It’s tiny – it’s where two houses intersect. It’s jam-packed full of plants and there’s a mural that the local school kids painted. It’s a piece of communal ground and there’s something quite quaint about it…

So, is this album your Acton baby?

PG: I guess it is [he laughs].

CaseHardinPromo-20150608-0127

It sounds like a record that has been hanging out in bars, visited some gambling dens, stayed up all night talking to some lost and lonely characters and then walked home in the early hours of the morning…

PG: It feels like a city album, because I moved into one. I lived in Berkshire before. The writing of Colours Simple coincided with my move to London. I was absorbing stuff and hanging out in different places.

Before I moved to Acton, I lived in Brixton for six months. The song The Streets Are Where The Bars Are (The Bars Are Where The Girls Will Be) was written in Brixton, where I felt wide-eyed and touristy. It was a welcome to the jungle kind of thing.

That track is a good, old-fashioned rock and roll song, isn’t it?

PG: It’s just a good night out – I can’t remember how much of it is made up and how much of it actually happened.

Which is usually the sign of a good night out, to be fair…

There are lots of stories and characters in your lyrics. How many of them are based on real life and how many of them are fiction?

PG: Some of it is made up…. but for a song like Champeen [off the PM album] I had to take a journalistic approach and do some research, so there’s some kind of factual correctness.

High Rollers [on the new album] is an extension of the Guy Clark, Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt story song, but with a Nick Cave twist to it – everything always goes wrong.

The album’s liner notes, which were written by journalist Mark Phillips (the senior foreign correspondent for CBS News), mention your day job as a TV news producer.

He writes that you keep your two lives separate, because you’re happier playing songs about imaginary bad women who’ve done your wrong, rather than bad people who caused actual death and destruction… But do any of the things that you see in your day job end up in your songs?

PG: I don’t travel as much as I used to, but some of the work I’ve done in the past would’ve been an easy route into political writing, but that’s not something that I’d ever wanted to do – I don’t have a huge amount of confidence in my own politics. I’ve used those experiences – it would’ve been negligent as a writer not to – but they come out in a more visual sense.

Cheap Streaks From A Bottle – the first single from the album – features The Reservoir Dogs brass section. It’s rollicking country-soul. What were you going for with that track?

PG: The record was recorded at [producer] Chris Clarke’s Reservoir Studios in North London. He’s the bass player in Danny & The Champions of the World and he’s been a record producer for many new years. He’s one of the cornerstones of the North London music circuit and he was in The Rockingbirds.

He came up with the idea of brass for that song. We knew there was something missing. If you like Case Hardin’s first three albums, then Cheap Streaks From A Bottle and Poets Corner are worth your ten pounds to see where we can take it… We try and branch out.

There are also some classic, ‘traditional’ stripped-down Case Hardin country songs on the new album – High Rollers, with Hana Piranha’s violin – and A Mention In Dispatches, which also features Hana…

PG: Both of those tracks could have sat on our PM record.

Fiction Writer is one of my favourite songs on the new album. It reminds me of some of those great early Ryan Adams tracks, circa Heartbreaker and Gold, when he was making his best solo stuff, rather than wasting his time doing soft rock or Taylor Swift covers…

PG: I’ll take that as a comparison – right up to – and including his album 29 – Ryan Adams was kind of the key figure that prompted me to go and write something, or, if I was in the process of writing, to try and write better.

Jesus Christ Tomorrow Morning has a real raw, ragged, country-rock sound. It sounds like a song that’s been lived-in and kicked around…

PG: It’s one of those songs that I’d had a hook for a long time ago, but I’d never liked the lyric. I found it in an old lyric book and I rewrote it. It comes in at just under two and a half minutes and if it didn’t have ‘Jesus Christ’ in it six times, it might even be a single…

There are some wonderful lines in Another Toytown Morning – the closing track on the album.

I particularly love the phrase, ‘open up these scars with pedal steel guitars – lost to the lonesome and high’. 

It’s as if you’ve summed up country music in a nutshell.

There’s some great imagery: ‘an airless room and a bottle of wine, a turntable and some old Patsy Cline….’

Tennessee Williams’ ghost puts in an appearance, too…

PG: That’s why we all do this – because we can be driven to tears by sticking on an old Patsy Cline record. I’m sure I picked Patsy Cline becomes it rhymes with wine. You try and find a drink that rhymes with Kristofferson…

 

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Colours Simple – the new album from Case Hardin – will be released on Clubhouse Records on September 18.

For more information: http://www.casehardin.com

 

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Goin’ Down South

Gabriel Mesh

South London singer-songwriter/guitarist Gabriel Mesh runs regular Tooting live acoustic music night The Breathing Room and, this month, he’s organised the first ever Tooting Folk and Blues Festival, which takes place on August 8.

I spoke to him to find out more about his mission to bring music to the people…

You started your acoustic folk and blues night, The Breathing Room, in Tooting, South London, three years ago. How did it come about?

Gabriel Mesh: It’s all about bringing music to the people of South London. There exists this ‘Golden Triangle’ of North London – Camden, Islington – it all seemed to be happening up there… I’d always fancied running a place. I’d been playing open mic nights, writing and trying out material and I’d been getting a good response and networking and making friends – it seemed like a good idea.

I stumbled on this place called The Antelope – it’s run by a company called Antic, who take over ailing pubs and reinvent them.

The Breathing Room is a family affair – it’s run by me and my daughter, Ellen, primarily, but my son does some of the mixing and my wife helps out, too. I came up with the name – it’s a place where you can leave your cynicism at the door and breathe in the good vibes of authentic music.

People are now talking reverentially about The Breathing Room – we have such a great sound and we always choose who we think are the best and most worthy players. We specialise in contemporary and traditional acoustic folk and blues, but now and then we push the boundaries.

It’s my residency – I open the show and my daughter is the MC. We’ve had some great, unforgettable evenings of fantastic music. Chaz Thorogood played – he’s making waves and he was at Glastonbury this year and the year before.

It’s reached a stage where people really want to play The Breathing Room – it’s once a month and we only have three acts on. We’re looking at branching out to other venues – I would like to run a blues club. I’ve got my eye on a venue in Balham, which I want to kick off with in the autumn. It would be the Balham Blues Club.

That would be the BBC…

GM: Exactly.

 

 

And this month, you’re staging the first ever Tooting Folk and Blues Festival…

GM: There’s nothing else like it in the area – Clapham is up the road, but it’s become this rarified scene with lots of high-flying sponsors…

We’ve got one stage and all the music is outdoors. There will also be food vendors there and Antic, who run The Antelope, are doing the beer tent.

We approached Wandsworth Council [for funding] and they were very encouraging to begin with – we realised there was money available for community-spirited events – and we put in an application, after jumping through hoops of fires. We waited until the end of June and we got through the first round of talks – but, after the second round, they said ‘sorry’… We weren’t asking for much money. I think it’s a bad decision, but I’m hoping to exercise a little bit of sangfroid next year and show them what we did this year off our own back and ask them for some help.

We’ve got Wizz Jones playing – he’s the elder statesmen of folk and blues and was there when it all started in Soho, in London, in the late ‘50s. He was rubbing shoulders with Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen has covered one of his songs.

How did you get into folk and blues?

GM: When I was at school, I had a maths teacher called Harry who used to come into class with a guitar and play songs by Big Bill Broonzy. I learnt to play – Harry had a huge vinyl collection of blues. It was a journey of exploration. From there, I used to listen to folk and blues icons from the ‘70s – like John Martyn.

Your musical style reminds me of John Martyn at times… Is he a big influence?

GM: Indeed. I also used to listen to Joni Mitchell and then I discovered Ry Cooder – there’s so much…

gabriel album new art

Your debut album, The Circle, is coming out this month…

GM: I’m hoping that I will have copies to sell at the festival – it’s been a long, overdue project. It’s been very difficult – I’m not sure whether I enjoyed the recording process, as I’m too much of a perfectionist. But part of me was thinking, ‘for God’s sake – just do it and get it out’.

I ended up recording it live – directly to analogue tape – in Soup Studio in Limehouse, East London. There’s a lovely guy I met there called Sam Beer, who’s a guitarist in his own right.

I see this album as a bit of an experiment – I don’t know how people will react to it. Most of the time I get a positive reaction – people are interested in my music and fascinated by my guitar style.

I’m not what you’d call a prolific writer – I have to force the songs out… A great song doesn’t have to contain lots of fancy words. There’s a slide guitarist I really like called Bob Brozman. When he talked about the blues, he said that you didn’t need to write it down – you just had to sing it. It’s all about singing the blues…

 

Tooting Folk and Blues Festival

Twitter: @TootingFolkFest

More info here

The Breathing Room takes place every month at The Antelope, 76 Mitcham Rd, London SW17 9NG.

Its third birthday party will be on September 20, featuring music from US duo Lost Hollow and Gabriel Mesh.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBreathingRoomTooting