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Goodbye, Mr Mackenzie (10 questions with Martin Metcalfe)

By • Jul 10th, 2012 • Category: Feature

Rather unjustly known as the band that made Shirley Manson the international star that she is today, Goodbye Mr. Mackenzine’s Martin Metcalfe isn’t bitter.
No, the songwriter is more philosophical about a band who could have been as big as Garbage, or even strode world stages like John Duncan did with Nirvana (albeit as guitar tech). Instead, the band morphed briefly into into Angelfish before Manson’s stellar path, while Metcalfe is now the prime mover behind Isa and The Filthy Tongues, with another female frontwoman, Stacey Chavis.
Isa

1. At a certain point in the 80’s GMM appeared to be about to have “Chart Success” with ‘The Rattler’ – how does it feel now, were you robbed and do you have some regrets?

We weren’t robbed – large groups of people just didn’t like it enough!
It did chart tho’ – number 37 in the Top Forty I seem to remember.
And the LP it was on charted at 27 so not too bad.

2. Big John Duncan was a mainstay in the latter incarnations of the band. Did his presence change the sound and the dynamic? Have heard some differing reports of where he is now – where is he now?

It did change the sound. It became more rock than indie, which was great live and he was a huge presence personally.
John’s one of those people you meet and are in awe of immediately and he carried that onstage too.
Now?
He’s in Amsterdam being fabulous.

3. Also, any interesting Nirvana stories from John?

I don’t think that there was that much going on in the Nirvana camp. You’d have to ask him. I do know that he loved working with them and he went to some unconventional places like Brazil with them. He was close to Kurt, taking care of his guitars. If Kurt needed help onstage John was always there for him. Courtney liked John too. John is very likeable. But no Nirvana gossip – sorry.

4. Got to ask this, so indulge this Scottish small pond question… Shirley was probably the biggest success story emerging from GMM – did you ever foresee that happening and do you ever hear from her now? (and does it annoy you how many times you get asked this?).

It was a big surprise but I was very proud of her. We don’t talk now. Our lives are all different now. Things/relationships change as of course they should. She lives in Los Angeles and I live in Leith. Both are wonderful places in their own different ways. And yes I am serious.

5. How has the music business changed since the 80s (in a few words!) – especially in Scotland?

There’s very little start up money for bands. In those days if labels in London thought you had a chance at charting they would give you HUGE amounts of money. Even indie labels could afford to give out a bit of cash.
Today that infrastructure has been flattened by the web. In an environment where absolutely everybody can be heard paradoxically very few artists can really make an impact. It’s a very hard slog up to the 1st rung on the ladder these days.

6. Any news in Isa and the FT’s latest moves – will there be more releases and gigs this year?

Maybe something this year, but we’ve been working on various things. I’ve been working on visual art, strange to say. Painting and print making. I’m not quite ready to show anything yet. We have a Filthy Tongues LP about half finished and an I&tFT LP about a quarter done. Things are slow sometimes because we all do other things apart from music and also cash can be a problem. John Lydon did that butter advert to finance a PIL recording. Nobody wants us to do butter adverts so we have to find different ways of paying for recording and promo.
Rattler
7. Any thoughts on the STV “Scotland’s Greatest Album” show a few months ago? GMM featured but did not get anything on the ultimate album. Should you have, and who else who did not, who should have been included? Any thoughts on ‘Love Is All Around’ are welcome…

I don’t know what was on that LP. These kind of LPs never seemed to feature Jesus & Marychain/Cocteau Twins/The Skids etc etc even though those bands were huge, so who knows. H2o were quite big too weren’t they? To be honest I’m not very interested in most mainstream music these days.

8. Betty always thought that ‘Goodwill City’ was GMM’s best song. Betty observes that Irvine Welsh’s ‘Skag Boys’ prequel to Trainspotting is being published around now and among other things it documents Auld Reekie’s slide into an AIDS mini epidemic. Did Welsh do justice to the subject first time around, and this time around, and should the ‘Goodwill City’ track have been considered as the main theme rather than Underworld’s ‘Born Slippy’, good though it is? Did anyone ever try to lobby for this?

No, unfortunately… and the film was really good too. A missed opportunity. We should have got our friend Rusty to ask Irvine or Danny Boyle. But what we were pissed off about missing was the recent Jekyll and Hyde movie. ‘Here Comes Deacon Brodie’ would have been perfect for that. ‘Calton Hill’ would make a good movie outré too.
By the way…
Did you know Calton Hill used to be a leper colony… before it became a ‘cottaging’ type hang-out? I didn’t until very recently. We’ve been looking at Edinburgh history again and have dug up quite a few interesting characters.

9. Any thoughts on some other Edinburgh contemporaries of the era – Indian Givers, anyone? Wee Free Kings? Volunteer Slavery? Sugar Bullet? And what Reekie bands do you most respect then or now?

Then – The Hook & Pull Gang (Ronnettes meet the Sex Pistols, or Tina Turner signs for the Marychain were quotes about them at the time)
Now – I hate going out now. I quit drinking and it makes being in the pub unbearable. Saying that tho’ – we went to see Lach last night who was great but I suppose he’s from New York and isn’t quite an ‘Edinburgh’ act quite yet – even though he lives here.
But we’ve had a few good support bands- the Rohypsters to name but one. And I saw Sellotape around 2009 who were memorable. They reminded me of the first wave of indie bands in 1978 – Kleenex, The Raincoats, TV Personalities etc, & Vicky looked great covered in her own lipstick graffiti!! We got her to duet with us on a surf cover version of ‘The Model’.
GMM
10. Betty remembers all the babies on the “Cut”(RIP) magazine cover story of around 1986 – are they all grown up now?

One baby – many photos. I think he’s a fine upstanding member of the community now. It must have been all the good company he kept in his childhood.

11. And a last cheeky question (over the limit now) – what has been your best gig, and why?

Best gig was in a little pub in a town in Germany called Tübingen. Capacity 90. When gigs are small and you’re in a strange town it’s good if you go right over the top – I used the bar as a stage – we got really drunk of course – I’m sure Shirley flashed her boobs that night too and did John smash something?? Can’t remember. We loved those small ones for leaving people gobsmacked. We were very juvenile. Youthful high-jinks.
I don’t think I’d like to try getting up onto a bar these days. My back’s killing me.

More on Martin Metcalfe’s current activities at www.isaandthefilthytongues.com

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