Exclusive Interview With Martin Metcalfe (The Filthy Tongues, Isa & The Filthy Tongues, Angelfish, Goodbye Mr MacKenzie)

Isa & The Filthy Tongues and The Filthy Tongues have recorded some of the finest indie music in the past decade.

“Addiction” (CR1012, Circular Records, 2006), “Dark Passenger” (Tetra 017, neontetramusic, 2010) and “Live” (Blokshok, 2010) are three excellent albums which have never quite received the wider recognition that they so richly deserve, but that hasn’t swayed Martin Metcalfe and the other Filthy Tongues – Derek Kelly (drums), Fin Wilson (bass) – from continuing to make and play great music, whilst Stacey Chavis concentrates on her yoga studio business in Edinburgh, The Yoga Room.

The Yoga Room

If you had ever wandered what Martin has been up to over the years, just check out his LinkedIn profile for a brief synopsis…and BTW, how many musicians do you know who have bothered to set-up profiles on LinkedIn?

Here is what Martin has to say on LinkedIn about his career so far:

  • Martin Metcalfe – Performer/Writer in Uk top 30 alternative rock band GOODBYE MR. MACKENZIE & USA band – ANGELFISH (Shirley Manson vocals).
  • 1980’s Signed to EMI Records – Signed to Virgin Publishing, Capitol Records (worldwide)
  • 1990’s – Radioactive Records (Gary Kurfirst’s label) – Mucho Loco Publishing. MCA Records –
  • Formed own record label With Derek Kelly and Sandy MccLean (from Fast Records)- BLOKSHOK RECORDS in 1994 (released 3LPs 4 singles on that label ) –
  • Producing / recording THE SKIDS LIVE in 2010 – ISA & THE FILTHY TONGUES (3CD/LPs)2006 -20011. Currently recording a solo CD/LP and working on further film music projects.
  • Toured with BLONDIE and the RAMONES in the 1990’s. Played live with the Skids (October 2010). Performed live with SHIRLEY MANSON for 11 years.
  • Created music for Richard Jobson’s 2009 feature film NEW TOWN KILLERS & Co – Wrote the Theme song for that movie with RICHARD JOBSON.
  • Recorded 7 studio LP’s in various configurations, 3 Live LPs…Toured live all over Europe and the USA.Recorded Lps in Munich ,Berlin, New York, Glasgow & Edinburgh.
  • Worked with producers Chris Franz & Tina Weymouth (TALKING HEADS) Reinhold Mac – QUEEN’S producer!!!!! (he recorded Led Zeppelin & The Rolling Stones too!!).
  • Studied digital multimedia and visual arts at HND level.
  • Good with Photoshop – Pro Tools and a paintbrush.
  • Specialties:Music Composition, Lyric Composition, Web development, Video production, Fine Art.

A very impressive CV we are sure you will agree!

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Martin Metcalfe
Martin Metcalfe

In February of this year Martin and the other Filthy Tongues premiered “Scenes” at Audio in Glasgow (a show put on by our buddies at STG Promotions, Gerry Corr and Allan McGlynn) with their former music journalist, post punk rocker and poet friend – now Associate Professor of English at Tokyo’s Meiji Gakuin University – Paul Hullah.

Radical Independent Music recently caught up with Martin as The Filthy Tongues prepare to release their latest album:

Our copies of “Addiction”, “Dark Passenger” and “Live” are literally worn out.  During your career you’ve been involved with a number of labels – Precious Organisation, Clandestine, Capitol, Parlophone, Radioactive, Circular, Neon Tetra and your own Blokshok Records.  What’s the plan for the new album and when do you expect it to be released?

We’re putting the finishing touches to the recording so we’re really hoping for an October release. This will be a BLOKSHOK records release.

Like yourself there are a number of Scottish indie musicians who are also artists.  Steven Lindsay (ex-Big Dish), Brian McFie (ex-Big Dish, Scimitars and currently Lola In Slacks) and Edwyn Collins (ex-Orange Juice) spring to mind.  Ask Brian if he is primarily a musician or artist and he will say it depends on the time of day, but intrinsically he is both.  The guys mentioned were all at Glasgow School of Art, whilst you did Graphic Design.  What are the synergies between creating and playing music and painting and drawing, that makes someone who starts doing one, want to do the other?  Do you view yourself as a musician first and foremost or as an artist?

It’s a surprise to find this out although I suppose Big John (GBMM’s guitarist) did a year at Glasgow Art College before deciding it was ‘pish’ and also now that I think of it Jimmy O’Neal (The Silencers) was a really good painter. I loved his work.

I think I started to realize that there were a great many singer-painters when I saw a documentary about Captain Beefheart. One of his band said that all he did now was paint and that sounded idyllic. Just painting all day in some New Mexico desert.

I’ve had a bit of art training but didn’t go all the way with a degree. I’ve got enough debt. I was a scribbler/ painter in primary school and did art at secondary.

I didn’t pick up the guitar until I was 14 so I suppose I’m an artist first but that side of my character lay undeveloped for decades and it’s only in the last 4 years I looked at painting again.

Then when I did a bit of college they told me art these days was about expressing your-self in multiple ways and why didn’t I use my music.

This Post-Post Modernist world is pretty confusing especially for the tutors (laughs). I think we’re kind of back at square one and I’d agree that art needs to re-modernise.

Anyway I try not to worry about what is and isn’t art and just do stuff that makes me feel good.

Everybody has different stuff that makes them feel good. Just ask Charles Manson what makes him feel good compared to what Pam Ayres enjoys and you’ll find there is a difference (maybe).

“Scenes” is a magnificent artefact which combined your art with Paul Hullah’s poetry and The Filthy Tongues music in quite a unique way.  Did Paul specifically write the poems to match your pastels or did he select verses he had already created which you both felt matched the art?

We came to an agreement on a time-period for the works and then sent images & poetry back and forward.

He said some of the paintings triggered memories of our time together in Edinburgh in the 80’s and so that process went on for a few months until we had enough work to fill our book. The poems aren’t literal depictions of the art or vice-versa as we mixed and matched them a bit like that ‘cut-up’ technique of William Burroughs. Then Kelly knocked up the electro stuff which fitted that era perfectly. The electro music was a happy accident but works beautifully with the spoken poetry.

We understand that the music element to “Scenes” came quite late in the process when you and Paul were looking for a publisher and it was a publisher who suggested you write and record music to accompany it?  How did that come about?

He didn’t quite say write new material for it …he just said ‘there has to be music!!!’ Once he cottoned on to myself and Paul’s enthusiasm for that particular era. We were singing a Skids song at the meeting with Tarlochen at Word-Power (the publisher).

The world premiere live performance of “Scenes” at Audio in Glasgow back in February was breathtaking for those of us fortunate to be invited to that secret gig. Paul’s poetry wove itself effortlessly in to your, Derek’s and Fin’s music, backdropped by Derek’s video imagery.  Did that take a lot of rehearsal to pull off or was it relatively easy given how long you, Derek and Fin have played together and the length of time you have known Paul?

Well we put a fair bit of work in there. Probably more than it seemed as the musical backdrops were largely improvised but we had to pay attention to where Paul was in his performance so we could make the music responsive to the poetry. Also he changed his approach a bit from the recordings which were more ‘Radio 4’ in his delivery. Live he felt these had to be a more passionate approach.

“BusShelter (Cpt.Kidd mix), the collaboration with Richard Jobson on the “Dark Passenger” album, could almost have been a precursor for your current collaboration with Paul.  It’s been described as a “rant” rather than poetry, but it seems to us it worked in a very similar way?

We were always interested in spoken word. If you go back to the first Isa & The Filthy Tongues LP there’s a spoken track called ‘Dreamcatcher’. It’s my favorite track on the LP and of course Richard being an actor and a truly fantastic public speaker/ orator was too much of a great opportunity to miss.

He wrote ‘Bus Shelter’ in around half an hour when I was with him mixing New Town Killers in London. Then he came up to the recording room and reeled it off in one take without a warm up or run through. Jaw dropping and totally impressive. We always talked about doing a spoken word recording with Richard but it’s hard (especially for him) to fit everything in.

Not many people know there is a connection between Jimmy Page and Martin Metcalfe.  You both had/have an interest in witchcraft and at one stage when Stacey Chavis first came on the scene, the band was going to be called Isobel Gowdie & The Filthy Tongues after the legendary Scottish witch, but was later shortened to Isa & The Filthy Tongues.  Are you really Edinburgh’s answer to Aleister Crowley?

Absolutely not. I’m not superstitious in the slightest. Sorry to disappoint but I don’t practice witchcraft at home!

I do believe that there is some kind of universal ‘force’ to tap into but I believe there will be a scientific explanation for that one day. In the mean time God or the Devil are just placeholder names for it.

With the witch stuff, I always had an interest in that kind of thing. My mother used to tell me when I was very young that the witches were just wise women and they were persecuted. When I read up on it more thoroughly the consensus is that the ‘witch-craze’ from around 1550 till around 1700 was a top down affair.

It’s always useful for the powers that be to create fear and scapegoats to retain their power. That whole period there was a massive power shift caused by IT (information technology) – the printing press. Where ordinary people had access to facts about what the elites were up to.

We’re at the dawn of a new IT age and I believe scapegoating and fear-mongering will escalate.

Beware of the controllers of information. Especially the keepers of the old systems communications – TV, radio,cinema and the newspapers. Their owners have a lot to lose from us gaining insight into their movements and banking behavior. The new witches are Islam, whistleblowers and ‘conspiracy theorists’.

You have developed a unique and instantly recognisable guitar sound, which with Fin and Derek’s driving rhythm section, makes The Filthy Tongues instantly recognisable.  In Goodbye Mr MacKenzie you were the lead singer and front man, whilst Big John Duncan wielded the axe.  Does your guitar playing go as far back to 1984 and your first band, Teenage Dog Orgy, or was it something you decided to get in to later in your career?

I was a guitarist first. I played guitar in my first bands going all the way back to our debut gig in my pals living room Easter holidays 1978.

We played Blitzkrieg Bop, Suzy is a Headbanger, Bodies, White Riot, Pretty Vacant, Quick Joey Small, Let’s Dance (Ramones version) maybe God Save The Queen and a few of our own songs. Can’t remember if we got an encore.

There seems to have been a remarkable transformation in the Scottish indie music scene since the 1970s and 1980s where bands and musicians no longer have to relocate to London to be successful.  You’re originally from Bathgate and have been living in Edinburgh for a number of years.  Is it possible to thrive as a successful indie band and remain based in Scotland?

Both myself and Kelly are from Bathgate.

Well looking back on it we should probably have moved to London. Big John said that’s why The Exploited did well because you were around all the media at parties and gigs. The media can see you are for real.

Apparently Jimmy Pursey (Sham 69) was never out of the NME office pushing himself down their throats.

You wouldn’t think of that as ‘networking’ in those days but that’s partly why they did well. Self promotion.

London is a bubble. Anyone from outside has to work twice as hard to get ahead. Creation records was based in London. That was the only way to get ahead then and I’m not in the know about ‘the business’ anymore to know if that’s changed.

We were actually very stubborn about not going to London and playing that game. Maybe we were wrong. We’ll never know.

As residents of Auld Reekie we’re not very happy with Edinburgh City Council’s lack of support for the music scene and live venues in the city.  What’s your view?  Do local councils have  a role to play?

What I hear is that Edinburgh Local council have their hands tied with a local by-law which states that only one complaint is required to shut down a venue, whereas in London and Glasgow there must be several complaints. It must have been from it’s Tory council days…maybe in the 1950’s or 60’s?? I don’t know. Anyway it would be really difficult to reverse that law I imagine as most people want quiet around their homes.

I also saw a rant on Facebook that said the Picturehouse just wasn’t making money as a venue and we (Edinburghers) get what we deserve. 
I signed the petition to keep the Picturehouse but it failed to make a difference.

A new venue could be built. They could have done that with Ocean Terminal when that was being constructed I suppose.

What can you do???

Edinburgh is fundamentally a conservative town and they’re not alone in not getting that music/arts generate income and jobs.

The Tories are on an art-dump at the moment. Perhaps that’s more to do with mind control though. If people start thinking creatively they’ll work out that the government is corrupt and then they’ll be out of a job or even get locked up.

It’s time to get creative.

Finally, what are you listening to at the moment, who would you say have been the biggest musical influences on you and any possibility of a musical reunion with Stacey and a new Isa & The Filthy Tongues album any time soon?

No reunion planned with I&tFT, Stacey’s way too busy with the Edinburgh Yoga Room.

There are several other things on the boil at the moment.

The Filthy Tongues LP & playing in Japan in December.

Also I’m hoping to play and exhibit in San Francisco this year but that could prove more tricky.

We have some other things planned but nothing else is finalized.

Music-wise?… I’m not hearing much that is really setting me on fire at the moment.

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire blew me away around 2011/12 (I came to it late). That LP is a masterpiece.

Bands that I love come along once in a blue moon and then it’s usually only for one or two LPs. The Joy Formidable’s first mini-LP was great; The Yeah Yeah Yeahs first two LPs; The Kills first & third LPs; The Raveonettes first two LPs.

Give me some suggestions!

Cheers Martin and we can’t wait to get our hands on the new album in October!

In the meantime pop-pickers, here is “Crewcut”….and remember, you can never have enough vinyl.

One thought on “Exclusive Interview With Martin Metcalfe (The Filthy Tongues, Isa & The Filthy Tongues, Angelfish, Goodbye Mr MacKenzie)

  1. Neill says:

    Saw Martin last night at the HAC in Irvine..wee venue which holds about 100 people. Hadnt see him perform since the 80’s.Brilliant gig, and what a nice bloke.

    Like

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