For many music fans of a certain vintage, the guitar work on the seminal Scars album ‘Author Author’ is as an iconic part of post-punk as Dave Formula’s swirling keyboard or Ian McCulloch’s floppy fringe.
And that sound is as evident now in the latest release by Paul Mackie aka Research, as it was in the late 1970s / early 1980s. The guitarist hasn’t been idle these past years, recently forming Voicex as well as previous outings with Lemon Jelly and a reformed Scars. Time to catch up…
• So this new album ‘Skate The Royal Mile’. How did it come about?
I had been making demos of a new Voicex track which ultimately turned into ‘Brandenburg Gate’. At the same time I was working with a singer called Neil Crossan, and I developed three new song ideas. Because of lockdown, it became impossible to rehearse with Voicex and Neil, so I started to put more detail into content of the song lyrics and arrangements I had built. When I had six or seven well-formed ideas, I realised that the quality was high enough to push on and create an album. Then it was time to start practising guitar and bass again!
• There are three different vocalists on the album – how did you select them and were you not tempted to sing a track or two yourself?
The original idea was a different singer for every track, but LeeLoo was so good to work with that we did the first three very quickly before I remembered I didn’t want it all to hang on one vocalist. Once you have found a good way of working it’s good to capitalise on that. The songs were quite varied so I wanted a rock singer (I wanted it to be like Lulu singing with the Spiders from Mars), a more jazzy singer for that kind of disaffected, spaced out feel (I imagined someone with a kind of Joni Mitchell voice) and a man singing in a classical style – which turned out to be a revelation. I wanted very high quality vocal performances, and I didn’t want to break the spell by bringing the sound of my own at-best serviceable voice into it.
• How did you get into music in the first place – with the Scars presumably but how did that happen?
I have music going round in my head all the time, that’s been a lifelong thing with me. I took piano lessons from a very young age, and violin at school. I had a toy Beatles guitar and all that. I was trying to form a band with my brother from our early teens. And then when punk happened, suddenly a door opened and ready or not, we just went for it. From my 40s I focused on classical music again, and when I wasn’t playing in a band, I was in various orchestras.
• The Edinburgh music scene in the late 70s – who did you run across, either playing in The Scars, or as a fan? The Exploited, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, others?
Contemporaries – who I still bump into every so often, to my great pleasure – include Fire Engines, Josef K, Flowers, Dirty Reds, Boots For Dancing, Delmontes, Freeze. I only met John from the Exploited for the first time a couple of years ago and I’ve never seen them play. As a fan, I was totally different before and after punk. I loved glam but was a bit young to go to glam-rock gigs. Age 15/16 it was SAHB, Yes, Nazareth, Jethro Tull, Argent until 1977. After that it was strictly punk rock.
• Who are your musical heroes? And influences?
Musical hero and life hero – David Bowie. Change, exploration of styles, forward movement, looking for new things off the beaten track are all principles I hold to and wanted to bring into ‘Skate The Royal Mile’. It’s not for everyone, I know that. But it is me and this is my stuff. As a fan I am drawn towards loud, flashy spectacular music played brilliantly in small intimate venues where you can talk to the band afterwards. Influences – I’m sure you can hear them all when I play but obviously John McGeoch of Magazine and Siouxsie and the Banshees is a big one.
• The Scars’ ‘The Shouty Track’, sampled by Lemon Jelly… BM assumes it was a complete surprise to you… how did they contact you and how did it play out, think there were some live appearances… and how did that affect the band in general?
Their record came out before we knew anything about it. But Lemon Jelly are sooo nice, they were ultra-accommodating. At the Usher Hall they came into our dressing room before the Edinburgh show – are you guys happy? And I had the wrong colour socks on, so Nick Franglen disappeared off to the tour bus and came back with a fresh pair of HIS OWN SOCKS to wear onstage… The gigs were fantastic, surreal. To walk onstage in front of 1000 people going crazy and just play your one note for four minutes was exciting and bizarre, like distilling a whole pop career into a single moment. At the Usher Hall, after our bit we went up to the upper circle and watched the end of the show with a beer. At the very end Lemon Jelly announced “now let’s bring them back for a big hand – THE SCARS!” and we were sitting 100m away looking at each other… it was a real uh-oh moment. Only three of us played the shows it, we got together the weekend before to rehearse and it went so well that it really prepared the ground for a full reunion in 2010 – it was a major bonding moment.
• BM know it is almost impossible with Covid etc at the moment, but are there any future plans to play the album live?
No firm plans, but I was thinking that the occasion of album #2, whenever it happens, would be a good occasion to celebrate by performing pieces from both records.
• Will we be hearing any more from Voicex?
It was fun while it lasted and we all had a lot of fun at the time, but we haven’t been in touch for a year so I suppose that says it all.
• Advice for anyone considering a career in the music industry?
It’s like asking an actor “how do you feel about signing a contract with MGM and living in Hollywood?” or advising someone how to behave if they win the lottery. I’ve not been at all successful at making a living from music. I can’t even get our biggest record ‘Horrorshow’ re-released. I can’t get the Scars back catalogue on streaming. So my advice is don’t copy me, you’ll go broke! Even at the best of times in my late teens/early 20s we were only subsisting. But of course, if I had heard that when I was 17 I would have ridiculed it. So go ahead and enjoy it!
Nowadays I think if you want to make music, make music. Seize the means of production, make your art as good as you can, and try to get a buzz going with an audience for fun. You can record your masterpiece at home and release it on Spotify more or less for free. Sell your CDs on Bandcamp and you can make some £ and keep it.
• What have been your best, and worst experiences of playing live?
Best live show – the Anti-Nazi Carnival with Scars was the first time I realised what kind of an impact we were making on people (good and bad). It wasn’t just music, people were becoming fiercely passionate about whether they loved or hated us. People are literally still talking about that day.
Worst live show – I have ruined a few gigs with tuning issues and broken strings, but playing guitar with a local band at Skye Music festival on 2005 was a special nightmare. I reckon I was only properly amplified for about 25% of the show – awful. And the five hour drive each way didn’t help. What is it about open-air gigs?
‘Skate The Royal Mile’ is out now on CD or as a download.
More at paulresearch.co.uk.