Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Marcus Hamblett. I’m a musician first and foremost and I record and perform as a solo artist, as a duo with drummer Tom Heather, and with bands including Sons of Noel and Adrian, Eyes & No Eyes, Emma Gatrill, Rachael Dadd, Rozi Plain and many more on an occasional basis. I earn my bread and butter as a session musician and over the last few years I’ve been fortunate to tour regularly with Alessi’s Ark, Laura Marling, Willy Mason and Bear’s Den. I also produce other people’s music and release music through my label Willkommen Records. We also put on occasional shows in Brighton.
Tell me about your background, music and/otherwise!?
I was born in Manchester, grew up in the middle of country and moved to Bristol when I was thirteen. I came to Brighton to study English Literature at Sussex when I was eighteen and have stayed here since. I’m pretty much self taught but I got a guitar at a young age, then moved on to double bass, brass, drums, picking things up as I went along. My latest obsession is the synthesizer, especially the modular synthesizer. This forms the core of my solo live show at the moment.
What is Willkommen? Is there a particular ethos behind Willkommen?
Willkommen began as a series of live shows centred around the band Shoreline. This band had about a dozen members and pretty much all of them went on to form other bands such as Sons of Noel and Adrian, The Leisure Society and The Miserable Rich. Tom Cowan and I started the label to release music by these bands. This was kind of the first generation and since then everyone has gone in different musical directions and our output is very diverse. We’re proud to have released albums more recently by the likes of Eyes & No Eyes, Kristin McClement and Emma Gatrill. Everyone plays in each other’s band and the central premise has always been community. We used to put on a lot of shows, initially around those first few bands but then welcoming travelling musicians, mostly acoustic, such as James Blackshaw, Jack Rose, Diane Cluck and Richard Dawson. We put on a festival in Stanmer Park for a few years and with a bigger platform we were able to put on some bigger acts like Laura Marling, Anna Calvi, This Is The Kit, Francois & The Atlas Mountains and Sam Amidon. Recently we’ve mostly been putting on more experimental stuff like Damo Suzuki, Matana Roberts and Stara Rzeka. Hopefully we’ll bring the festival back to life one day.
Any highlights so far, as a musician?
I suppose there are obvious ones that sound great on paper like playing the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and playing Sydney Opera House. But these were all just helping to deliver someone else’s music, which I really enjoy, but I got a bigger feeling of pride just reading the reviews of my solo album and feeling so relieved that it wasn’t all a waste of time. Getting to play my own music at Maida Vale for a BBC Session with James Holden and Mark Holub was a real high point. Hearing some of my weirder stuff played on the incredible BBC Radio 3 show Late Junction was humbling because I’ve always loved that show. Playing with some of my heroes like Broken Social Scene and Damo Suzuki was again very humbling. I suppose the main general highlight has been getting to travel and become friends with so many amazing human beings all around the world. The most recent Bear’s Den tour was a really special one, mostly because of the people involved, some of whom I didn’t know before. We had to work (and drink) really hard day after day for several weeks and got to know each other really well and I am now very pleased to call them my friends.
How do you view music, in cultural terms? ie, why do we need it so bad!
There are two main questions there: what is music? and do we need music? Hopefully this answer doesn’t make me sound like the worst parts of a robotic psychopath and a hippie rolled into one… I suppose my definition of music is very open and would include any sound that is aesthetically evaluated. I would say it goes deeper than humanity ‘needing’ music. Our heartbeat is a rhythm, our speech is melodic. Music is completely unavoidable. The intrinsically physical nature of music is something that obviously has an important social function but I would think about this in the same way as food; sometimes food brings people together, sometimes it is evaluated aesthetically, sometimes it is just consumed because it is there. We need food but food would exist if we weren’t around to understand it as food. We don’t need to consume music. It is not essential to supporting life. It is deeper than that, because we are music. If you disagree then check out Alvin Lucier’s Music For Solo Performer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIPU2ynqy2Y) or Charles Spearin’s excellent The Happiness Project album (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfWGgKzXTS4) or put your head against the chest of the person nearest to you.
What plans/projects are in the pipeline?
I’m finishing off a second solo album at the moment. I’ve pestered a couple of exciting guests to contribute and I’m hoping to play it live a bit more over the next few months.
I spent the last few weeks recording one million synthesizers on the new Bear’s Den album which was extremely fun. Also we just finished the third Sons of Noel and Adrian album and the second Emma Gatrill album. We are working on a second Eyes & No Eyes LP and have just about finished a kind of weird concept EP about extinction that should be released before then. Also looking forward to working on upcoming recordings by Kristin McClement and hopefully Animal Magic Tricks and Redwood Red! John Smith and I plan to record some spaghetti western music in his new house in Hove this winter…
Do you live in Brighton and why?
I do live in Brighton. I moved here to study and I guess I stayed because of the people and the music.
If you could see any artist(s) dead or alive tonight, who would that be?
Captain Beefheart probably just pips Ornette Coleman, because I was lucky enough to catch Ornette at his Meltdown festival a few years ago. My ideal gig would probably be an all-dayer or even a weekend long festival with Tortoise headlining and every single project that every single member has been involved with playing the other slots: Brokeback, Chicago Underground, Jeff Parker’s solo and group stuff, Isotope 217, Bumps, Aerial M / Papa M, Pullman. I actually spoke to one of them by email about trying to make something like this happen in Brighton. Maybe one day!
I’ve chosen to do a top ten of songs by Willkommen and Willkommen related bands. To narrow the list down I chose to concentrate on songs that contain those moments of musical perfection that affect a listener physically, making them shiver. I’m not usually a ‘lyrics person’ but often this seems to come down to the perfect combination of words, melody and often vocal performance. It was actually quite an emotional experience researching this list! I revisited lots of incredible music that I haven’t listened to in a while and it conjured a lot of strong memories and made me really proud of my friends.
Shoreline – Shipwrecked
The band that started the whole Willkommen thing. Shoreline was formed by Tom Cowan when he amassed a dozen or so friends to help bring his songs to life. Almost all of them turned out to be incredible songwriters in their own right and branched off to form their own bands. Jacob Richardson formed Sons of Noel and Adrian, Nick Hemming formed The Leisure Society, James de Malplaquet formed The Miserable Rich and Bea Sanjust formed Moonshine Moonshine. Cellist Will Calderbank and violinist Mike Siddell also played in all of those bands.
This song is full of perfect moments, but the shiver moment for me is from around five minutes in where Bea sings the beautifully fractured lines: ‘If I look south I can see across the valleys / if I look at you / if I look at you / if I go south I can meet you by the shoreline / if I look at you / if I wanted…”
Also honorary mention to Seabird https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_W6_rpbk5s
Another incredible vocal performance by Bea, who lives back in Italy now and is getting ready to release a solo album. Follow her here: https://www.facebook.com/beasanjustartistpage
Mary Hampton – Kiss V
Again Mary has made several albums crammed full of incredible songs but I had to pick one… the ‘moment’ is the line “she must never know” later repeated as “he must never know”. This is from the album Folly which has some of the most startling and unique arrangements of any album I’ve heard. Great playing from Alistair Strachan, Jo Burke and Alice Eldridge.
She played a few new songs at a show supporting Tom Brosseau the other day and I’m very excited to hear them once they’ve been recorded.
Great live version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTSj3v8c25w
Kristin McClement – No End To The Drum
I could easily make a list of top ten tracks that make me shiver just by Kristin. I reckon I average four or five shivers each time I see her play live. Most bands get one if they’re really, really good. Kristin’s warm red wine voice, exceptional lyrics and the soft falsetto harmonies provided by band mate Julian Owen are a perfect recipe for shiver induction.
The shiver moment on this one is probably “when we stopped / what a heavenly thing to say / in the absence of an exit / a clear way out” but there are a few. https://kristinmcclement.bandcamp.com/track/no-end-to-the-drum
Also check out Mr Universe from her Pursue The Blues EP (when the backing vocals come in on the line ‘hymns in the trees’) https://kristinmcclement.bandcamp.com/track/mr-universe-2
She has a swollen archive of unreleased classics that will hopefully see the light of day some time soon. One of the best, Windows, is often in her live set and features the first class shiver section, “How can we meet / without the need / to phosphor / turn luminous / I would walk / from this world / to emit light / turn luminous / with you / and didn’t we come close?”
Another of the best is The Ever Present Philosopher, and luckily there’s a fantastic live version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4XN2wsNYOw (shiver moments include the chorus and the closing refrain, “I had to walk away / don’t you judge me.”)
Eyes & No Eyes – Idiot Icarus
It’s hard for me to write about this song because I’m in the band so I’m too close to the music. Drummer Tom Heather and I tend to push songwriter Tristram Bawtree’s songs into more experimental directions but occasionally one appears that is so simple and beautiful that we try our best to leave it alone. This is one of them.
The fragility in Tristram’s voice when he delivers such powerful words is what does it for me: “I’m going up on the mountain / to work out my own set of laws / and when I come down / you’d better watch out / because my heart is harder than yours.” Set amongst cascading pianos (which were recorded at Sydney Opera House).
Tristram also writes and records solo music under the name Shevek: https://www.facebook.com/sheveknoises/
Sons of Noel & Adrian – What Work Could Do For You
Again I can’t gush too much about the music of Sons of Noel and Adrian (SONAA) because I play in the band, but I can talk about how great Jacob Richardson’s songwriting is. I found this track a couple of years ago, 90% finished and abandoned on an old hard drive of Jacob’s. He apparently didn’t think it was worth pursuing. We found a few other gems like this and ended up compiling them with some EP tracks and B-Sides on the releases ‘Your Tunnel That Connects My Arm To A God-Fearing Woman’.
The track features guest vocals by the aforementioned Kristin McClement and gets me when the strings enter along with the lyric, ‘For things they have not worked / we’re going for a new view / what works for me will work for you / we’ll leave together.” There’s a great video of the song set to SONAA bass player Patrick Lawrence dressed as Isambard Kingdom Brunel repeatedly slapping himself around the face with a glove: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKpu-6csrbQ
Special mention should also go to the epic Black Side of the River, which speaks for itself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVa8L62XnGQ (“Row me over on the boat we made together / so we can go to the black side of the river”)
Also the new song Turquoise Purple Pink, which will be on the third SONAA LP proper. I sent it off to be mastered yesterday. Expect a release announcement soon. I think it’s the best song Jacob has ever written. It perfectly evokes that moment where extreme happiness and sadness become the same feeling. Listening back to some other songs Jacob has written like Jellyfish Bloom, Heroine, Inside Olympia… that seems to be what Jacob does best.
Redwood Red – Narcolepsy (unreleased)
Cathy Cardin sings with Sons of Noel and Adrian. But did you know she is also an incredible guitarist, songwriter and geographer? A true renaissance woman. She doesn’t pursue her solo music nearly as much as she should do. This is basically a perfect song and I couldn’t choose a favourite moment. Also it’s unreleased and I can’t find a live video of it so you can’t even listen to it, but I have an old recording and I’ve just dug out the stems from an old hard drive and started mixing it properly so hopefully you will one day soon.
Animal Magic Tricks – Leave Me To Lie Alone In The Ground
Animal Magic Tricks is the project of Frances Donnelly. She’s originally from Bournemouth, lived in Brighton for many years and recently moved to London. Like Cathy, she doesn’t pursue her music nearly as much as she should. She often writes quite classic songs and then shrouds them in noise and imperfection to disguise how amazing they are. This is hands down one of the best songs ever written. It has such a timeless quality, it could have been written three hundred years ago or today. She recorded it for a collaboration with King Creosote and Meursault for Song by Toad Records called Cold Seeds, which takes its name from a brilliant lyric in this song, “I froze when you touched me / I want you so badly / but I must plant in peace / to grow from these cold seeds.” I don’t feel like that version does justice to how good the song is. Laish played it in their live set for years and their version came closer, but I still feel like the Platonic essence of the song is living in a cave somewhere waiting to be fully made flesh.
Cold Seeds version: https://songbytoadrecords.bandcamp.com/track/leave-me-to-lie-alone-in-the-ground
Laish version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikdEcZWCWNA
Woodpecker Wooliams – Dove
A bit like Animal Magic Tricks, Woodpecker Wooliams writes incredible songs and then soils them with abrasive textures and half broken electronics. I think she gets the balance just right. I was lucky enough to be a part of her band for a while and really enjoyed how much room was left for improvisation – no two gigs were the same. This song is lead by a cascading harp but balanced by completely free falling-down-the-stairs drums courtesy of Thomas Heather. It’s a song about mental breakdown and the shiver moment is from about two minutes in.
Things were going really well for Woodpecker Wooliams with lots of radio play and big festival performances until she had a bit of a meltdown and quit music all together. Incidentally she also lent vocals to the excellent Ghostpoet track, Meltdown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABkQ96dh0eQ
She’s been getting back on track though, and is performing with the bands Becky Becky and The Fiction Aisle. Rumour has it she’s going to start work on more solo material soon.
The Leisure Society – We Were Wasted
The Leisure Society songwriter Nick Hemming is an absolute master of classic 60s era songwriting. This song closes the harrowingly sad Paddy Considine film, Tyrannosaur. (Apparently it’s harrowingly sad, I’ve never felt emotionally confident enough to watch it.) He’s written dozens of brilliant songs but this one is so harmonically interesting, tastefully arranged and moving.
Rachael Dadd – Our Arms
Rachael wrote this album when she was pregnant with her first child, Shuki, and much of the material is about this. She recorded it when she was seven or eight months pregnant and I’m very proud to have been a part of it. My favourites on the album are probably the prepared piano pieces – I Am Your Home, Animal Mineral and Three. But Our Arms is perhaps the most deeply affecting, articulating Rachael’s fears of bringing a child into a world that humans are gradually destroying. Like many on this list, Rachael has written album after album of incredible songs and they are all worth exploring.
I’m going to stop now, I’ve run out of adjectives.