Alan: Where do you come from and where did
you grow up?
Mark: I was born in St
Helens but I grew up in a small town called Prescott.
Alan: Did you come from
a musical family?
Mark: My brother was quite
musical, he was a guitarist and he played in a Liverpool-based band
called Black. 'Wonderful Life', was a hit that they had, or
something like that. He introduced me to the heavier metal scene
because he used to listen to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and I just sort
of picked up his taste really. My older brother was a big Motown fan so
that music was always rattling round the house.
Alan: Did you always
want to become a musician or be involved in the music business?
Mark: In hindsight I would
have loved to have been earlier but I didn’t come to music until quite
late. Obviously I listened to the radio, I’ve always gone to see live
bands at big stadiums and theatres or even small pubs locally. Knocking
around with bikers and the bikers scene you have a tendency to go and
see the heavy metal groups so I got involved that way as a spectator but
not as a player. I came to drumming very late in life.
Alan: You play in a
band, tell me about them and where did you first meet?
Mark: The first band I had
was Stealer, that was created around 1996 and it was following a
climbing accident. I used to go to Monroes Bar Workington and I was on
their mailshot and I got a mailshot shortly after the accident which
coincided with the guy in Carlisle who did all the surgery on me saying
that I needed to get more movement in my foot and if I didn’t he would
bring me back in and put a bolt in it so there would be no sideways
movement. So the flier said, “Come and Learn to Play the Bass Drum or
Guitar at a Class on Saturday morning” So I started drumming with a
guy called Dave Thompson who ran the class at the time and he showed me
the rudiments. Something clicked and I really liked it so I begged,
borrowed and stole bits of drum kit to make up a full kit and then we
had a jam session in 1996 in The Grey Goat Cockermouth. There were five
of us and we named ourselves shortly after that after watching a band
called The Score who dedicated a song to me called “Stealer”. Since
then I've been involved with a band called “The Answer", a West Cumbria
based band and we opened Maryport Blues Festival 2005. With Stealer we
played Colne Great British R&B Festival on the British Stage, then at
Burnley Blues Festival in the Lesser Mechanics as it was then, and
obviously the circuit around Maryport since the start of the Festival
when Hugh Beverton and Paul Sherwin first put it all together.
Mark on drums jamming at Carlisle Blues
Festival 2008 with
Marshall Gill, Sean Webster and Danny Blomeley
Alan: You now MC both
the Maryport and Carlisle Blues Festivals, how did you first get
involved in being the 'Master of Ceremonies' at such great festivals?
Mark: I was 'sand-bagged',
literally! We opened the show in 2005 when the marquee was down on the
harbour side and shortly after it was bandied around if I would be
interested in MC-ing. At the time I was just marshalling and helping
backstage and I said, "Well, let me do some other stuff first" because
they did have guest MCs and I did the Battle of Bands Competition and
the Summer Beer Festival. We provided the gear for Sean Webster to do a
Xmas gig for the Festival Committee and Sandra Walling asked me if I’d
be interested in fronting the festival. I said, “Well, I’m not sure
really because I love playing on the circuit and at the festivals but
let me think about it, and when do you need to know by?” “Before you
put your drums away tonight” she said. I spoke to different people and
they said “It’d be a great opportunity, even if you only do it once” so
I did it, got a good reaction and enjoyed it. There’s a fair bit of
research, and a lot of pressure but you get to stand in the wings and
watch. It might seem like you get to rub shoulders with the rich and
famous but you don’t, you’re just a helper, another volunteer, but it’s
nice to watch at close quarters people you've heard on the radio and CD.
Alan: How do you prepare
for MC-ing a three day festival with so many artists to introduce?
Mark: I liaise very closely
with the festival organiser, we have meetings, we get to host some of
the local radio shows as guests. You’ve got to do some reading on the
internet if you don’t know the artist but when you’ve followed somebody
for years like John Amor or Robert Cray you don’t need to do as much as
the research is ingrained. But when you don’t know somebody very well,
the sleeve notes on CDs are useful or their websites. You just need to
cherry pick and go for areas of interest so that people might think,
“Oh, that’s a nice fact, I didn't know that”. But sometimes I don’t get
it right! I’ve had a couple of cock-ups with pronunciation. I had Dana
Fuchs .... there have been quite a few. You do get heckled and harassed
but it’s all part and parcel of it. I love doing the MC-ing and I love
helping on the stage as I'm a drum technician. It’s good being close to
the bands and you get all sorts of snippets of information such as what
they’re working on, who they’ve been touring with, what their plans
are. Managers or agents won’t necessarily tell you, but artists do.
That insider knowledge is superb, it makes it fresh and it doesn’t make
it look like you’ve just taken it off the website. Working with the
artists as a drummer you create that little bit of a contact and it’s
surprising how many artists turn up with different bands. The drummer
who worked with Paul Carrack and who worked with Ian Anderson, then
there's Alex Reeves, the drummer who works with Paddy Milner and Marcus
Bonfanti; a great drummer. These people who do all these other things
with other bands to pay the bills. So, MC-ing is a privileged position
and it's a great honour to do it.
Alan: Given the number
and wide range of artists you've introduced, you must have some
interesting moments to tell?
Mark: You see an artist in a
totally different light. For example did you see the Paul Carrack
documentary? Now what you see is what you get, Paul Carrack is just
like he was on TV as he is in the wings and on the stage. He gets
nervous before he goes on just like everyone else, he’s a kind man,
smiling eyes and just wants to be part of the group. There are others
who brush you aside, won’t give you eye contact and it can be quite
demeaning because you are there to help, you arn't there to pry, you are
there as a volunteer and sometimes I don't think they understand this.
Not all the artists seem to realise that without the volunteers these
events aren’t going to happen, whether they are young bands on the way
up looking for somewhere to play or the old guys on the way down who are
falling off the rockface but looking to keep earning the rent. For an
anecdote, there are so many, personally, it's the people who recognise
what you're doing; Paul Carrack was one of those who thanked everybody.
For me, I remember Booker T Jones, whose had a phenomenal career. At the
end of the night when all the sound crew were gathered together winding
down he made a deliberate effort to come out into the midst of us all
and said “I would like to thank you all for your efforts this evening
and he went round to each and every one of us and shook our hands. It
was so personal, so human. I do find generally the older artists are far
Alan: Thank you very much
Mark and see you at Carlisle.
Mark: Yes, just tap me on
the shoulder and we'll have a couple of pints......!!!!
Blues Interviews List
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