Into Scottish Creatives: Interview with Martin Metcalfe
Martin Metcalfe has been at the forefront of the Scottish music scene since the early 1980s, firstly through Goodbye Mr MacKenzie and latterly through The Filthy Tongues as well as a number of other bands and projects in between. Mixing killer tunes with sharp observational lyrics, The Filthy Tongues are currently one of Scotland’s most relevant bands and have recently released a new single Pandemic Pete which Into Creative reviewed here. Martin took time out from his busy schedule to talk all things Filthy Tongues, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and a shed load more besides in this exclusive interview with John Welsh for Into Scottish Creatives.
John: Covid and lockdown. How has it been for you Martin?
Martin: Up and down, There were points when I couldn’t imagine a future. Well I could, but not one I could imagine being part of. Definitely some Groundhog Day issues going on. It’s been OK most of the time. I’m a creative, I just have to think of things I want to do and think of ways to avoid doing what I don’t (laughs). Confused? Not as much as me!
Also, have you learned any new skills or taken up any new hobbies during this time?
I’m afraid not. Other people are coming out with new languages etc but not me. I’ve been busy with writing and mixing. I suppose I’ve learned a bit more about music mixing but just using YouTube tutorials. I’ve been taking walks in the fresh air which I’ve tended to find a bit time-wasting in the past but it’s been good to look at the natural world I’d been ignoring around my flat. Leith is actually a great part of town with all the old train lines which have been turned into leisure walkways. There’s a brilliant old graveyard near us and I’ve been considering learning photography. I love how nature is taking back the land. Gravestones being wrestled to the ground in slow motion by the trees and bushes. I love how tree limbs can look like arms or fingers.
The Filthy Tongues released a new song Gas Mask Blues in the midst of the pandemic. Can you tell us a little bit about the song and the accompanying video?
The video was filmed on mobile phones by all the band. Susannah did hers in Tasmania (Australia) where she’s living now and Asim & Alex did their bits in Glasgow, Kelly in London, Fin in the Scottish Borders and me in Edinburgh. Me and my trusty hound walking and walking and walking, life during lockdown.
The title Gas Mask Blues happened when designer masks started to pop up on the internet & I was like ‘Oh FFS, is there NOTHING capitalism can’t devour and turn into an industry!!!’
Every disaster seems to equal a profit for someone, Adam Smith really knew what he was doing when he invented capitalism, he co-opted our hard-wired natures and sucked out our souls.
Some of those masks are fun though, aren’t they? Be honest. It doesn’t mean I’m not concerned about the overuse of government power though. Even though I wear masks it’s mainly because I’m asthmatic and I’m also not a virologist so really what do I know about whether this is a ‘Plandemic’ or not. I’m actually not totally convinced either way but I do have friends who have had this thing VERY badly and I personally know people who have died ‘with’ it.
If the Illuminate are orchestrating this then they’re doing an exceptional job of controlling every government on earth. I would have thought that impossible but again if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that anything is possible. Who would have conceived of the collusion Jimmy Saville must have had from actors within the police, the judiciary and MI6 to get away with all he did AND hanging out with the Royal Family. Mi6 must either be utterly incompetent to allow that, or there are people in there who were facilitating him.
So as far as this pandemic goes I’ll wait and see, but in the meantime I’ll be wearing a mask. I won’t be telling tales on my neighbours though. We looked down on communist Russia and East Germany for that kind of warped civic behaviour. If the government can’t get the message across properly with all the access to the propaganda tools they have, then they’re to blame for the second wave. Don’t try to turn me into a covert grassing Stasi-agent just because you’re shit at getting this message across. You managed to lie & deceive the public into voting for a hellish Brexit. Sort it out or resign you wankers.
The Filthy Tongues includes yourself, Fin Wilson and Derek Kelly and you’ve also played together in Goodbye Mr MacKenzie and Angelfish. What’s the secret to keep that working relationship going and to continue the creative process of writing innovative music?
I’ve no idea really! I think it’s trying to keep the focus on how the whole household is doing and not getting too grannyish about who’s shirking on dishwashing duties. It’s also about trying to focus on the higher objective and not getting derailed by petty issues. The music has to be good. But I’d like to add to that, TRY TO AVOID BLAMING who’s fault it was that this thing didn’t happen or ‘if he hadn’t done that thing then this thing would have all worked out perfectly’. It’s not easy though, we are actually human and it’s not like an episode of The Monkees or the Banana Splits, well not all the time anyway.
Talking of Angelfish, the self titled album released in 1994 was produced by Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth. How did that come about and what was it like working with one half of the Talking Heads?
They were very nice people. They were heartbroken that David Byrne wouldn’t work with them any more. Any mention of his name and their heads would go down. They were generous with their home. We recorded the drums bass & guitar in their living room and the tape machine was above their garage.
Chris asked me if I would like to get anything from the off licence (or the ‘Likka’ Stow’ as he called it). I said whisky but he brought me bourbon ( Jack Daniels) which I now know is what Americans call whisky and I hated it (I drank it of course), it had a negative effect on me (I think I might be allergic ). Later that night I collapsed into his rose bushes outside their house. There’s a photo of the affair. I couldn’t live down the incident for the whole time & the band nicknamed me ’Slash’ from then until we got back to Scotland. Nightmare!
Last year Goodbye Mr McKenzie played a series of sold out gigs. Can you tell us how the reformation came about and your own thoughts on the tours and the crowd reaction after so many years not playing as a band? Also, how easy was it to go back to the old songs and play them?
I decided to do a one off Good Deeds & Dirty Rags in it’s entirety as a solo thing. Just acoustic but the interest in it was so wild that I realised I needed to ask the old band if they wanted to be in on it. It didn’t seem to be fair leaving them out. From there the whole thing grew arms and legs and we felt we needed to get a major promoter to take part. In fact, Mark at Regular Music was such a huge part of the Mackenzies becoming a big band in the 80’s we actually felt it was right to include him too. We always stayed good pals with Mark and it was fitting we started with him the same place we left off in 1995 at the Glasgow Garage.
Over the years you’ve done some really interesting collaborative work – for example, your own painting exhibition SCENES with input from poet Paul Hullah. What do you look for when you are considering a collaboration and do you have anything in the pipeline coming soon in this regard?
Again I just look at getting along with the person and Paul’s been a mate for a long time as you probably know.
I don’t think I’d be approached by the wrong people, I don’t think I’d be on their radar. I think mostly collaboration has come about by already being around those people. Shamanic was different I suppose but I’d had a bit of contact with Fay Fife (Rezillos) through us doing support gigs with Isa & The Filthy Tongues around 10 years ago but I’d never met Maria Rud so things must be changing.
You’ve also had a long running friendship and collaborate on occasion with Richard Jobson (New Town Killers, Burning Cities etc). Can you tell us how that came about and also the different dynamic of touring with Richard playing back catalogue tunes and covers in an acoustic setting?
Richard was given an Isa CD in around 2008 and wanted to meet me and maybe get us to contribute to the New Town Killers film which worked out really well. Both Fay and Richard were icons from my teenage Punk obsessed years so I never had any doubt that I’d want to create with them. Saying that, I doubt if I’d relish working with every one of my Punk heroes (naming no names).
What was the question? …. Oh yeah, how did the acoustic thing with Richard come about? These things happen naturally. Richard yanked me along to play some atmospheric background music while he was reading from one of his books at a club called Neu Reekie.
I can understand it’s maybe a bit uncomfortable having dead silence whilst reading to a crowd. I do a similar thing with another bunch of literary scoundrels (Including Paul Hullah) every year at the Edinburgh Festival. So Richard eventually suggested we do more of that. He likes to do lots of different things so he suggested adding some acoustic songs. It’s a great laugh, his stories are gold. I love to hear about his escapades with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols. I was 14 when Punk happened and I was stuck in a post industrial town in Scotland, the fact that Richard had a crazy time with Steve connects me to that era in a way that wasn’t possible when I was 14.
I’m still nostalgic about 1976/77. I don’t think it will ever leave me. It might even be some kind of psychiatric condition. I went to see the Pistols in London in 2003(?) in a stadium. It was daylight, they were under-rehearsed and a bit of a let down, but even that can’t take the sheen off my feeling around those early years. It’s kind of like looking back at a childhood Christmas. It’s a magical memory.
Coming back to the Filthy Tongues, the last 2 albums Jacob’s Ladder and Back To Hell, perhaps evoke the underbelly of Edinburgh but also with a sense of hope and redemption. Lyrically, what themes interest you and the band when writing songs?
Themes? I imagine personally we’ve inherited the subject matter of the bands we like but I also imagine that we like those bands because we were drawn to their subject matter.
Apologies for the circular thinking but if you look at Bowie and Nick Cave, add in a little Lou Reed and a few filmmakers and authors, David Lynch, Alfred Hitchcock, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Hubert Selby Jr, Irvine Welsh, Franz Kafka you can see where we’re coming from.
We always had a look at our surroundings, even before Trainspotting Goodbye Mr Mackenzie had songs like Goodwill City, Calton Hill and Deacon Brodie. All were based around Edinburgh’s underbelly.
When I wrote the lyrics to Goodwill City two of my friends had been diagnosed with AIDS. They both died within a few years. So Goodwill City is absolutely not a celebration of the city, it’s a look at the cultural divide between class, generation and entitlement – the ‘Festival Class’ versus the hedonistic class, the 60’s and 70’s generation versus the 80’s generation, hippy ideas of ‘free love’ were knocked on the head. Everything became limited, abstinence and condoms versus a horrible death. There are echo’s of that during the pandemic where casual sex could lead to Covid 19.
The company I kept was hedonistic and some of them paid a very heavy price. The outcasts and outsiders can sometimes lack self worth and end up making major mistakes when they’re ‘killing the pain’ as those two friends unwittingly did. They suffered from a lack of information which I blame Margaret Thatcher’s government for.
In respect to subject matter The Filthy Tongues are actually following in their own previous footsteps. In fact Calton Hill came up again in a song on the second Filthy Tongues album Back To Hell in a song called Leper Town. We found out that Calton Hill used to be a leper colony. Anyone leaving or entering was liable to be executed. That might sound like a grim topic for a song but we think in terms of cinema when we write songs. The majority of popular music would be romantic comedy or drama which is fine but we found that to be limiting.
Both Filthy Tongues album covers and the videos for the singles on the album are always extremely striking – what involvement do you take in the album artwork and the direction of the videos?
I thought I could maybe create some artwork myself for the cover of Jacob’s Ladder but when we found Gerry Gapinski’s artwork we knew it was perfect for us. It was also brilliant that he lived in the city and listened to similar music to us. So it was a happy experience all-round. He does massive print versions of those images which are astonishing. I’ll get round to buying one some day. He’s based in the Waverley Mall in Edinburgh. https://waverleymall.com/shop/
Are you working on any music at the moment and can we expect another Filthy Tongues album at some point in the future?
Filthy Tongues is ongoing, a new album for the New Year we hope. We’re also hoping to make a Goodbye Mr Mackenzie album but we’re just trying to find our feet with that. We’ve had a couple of writing/rehearsal sessions (once lockdown eased) which have been quite fruitful. The main obstacle is finding out who we are. So many things have changed personally and music has moved along too. The Mackenzies will be different from The Filthy Tongues as Rona and John bring a very different musical flavour.
We hope to release both a Filthy Tongues album soonish and a Mackenzies album in the Autumn of 2021. We’ll see.
Lastly, as a fan of music, thinking back to all the gigs you’ve attended, which one stands out the most as really memorable and why?
You’re asking an impossible question. I’ve been going to gigs for 40 years. I’ve seen The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Nina Simone, The Fall, The Ramones, U2, Blondie, Bowie, Iggy, Television, The Revolting Cocks (that was pretty wild), The Skids, The Rezillos, The Revillos, Dick Gaughan, PJ Harvey, The Cure, The Pixies, Christy Moore, Carter USM, Stiff Little Fingers and on and on and on and on. I should maybe make a list one day just to remind myself how lucky I’ve been. I’ve even seen Kylie Minogue & Erasure, ha ha ( I got in free though).
For my ultimate choice? Well I’m afraid at this gig no one got naked, shot up on stage or did any other kind of notably dramatic thing but the person I think gives the most live is Nick Cave – and the best concert was him at the Barrowland in 1992. The band was at an early peak. I started to hallucinate colours when they did Jack The Ripper that night and I wasn’t on that kind off drug, I was probably just a bit drunk. The sound and the performers were just one big testosterone addled beast. That’s it!
To get all the latest updates on The Filthy Tongues, sign up for their newsletter here.