In Conversation: Mercury Machine

The modern music scene is a tough nut to crack, and new music can come and go in the blink of an eye. Every now and then, a band comes along that stops you in your tracks, and you know you’re hearing something special; on that note, let me introduce you to Mercury Machine.

Another great addition to the world of Manchester music, this band is about to make their mark with the release of a new album. I was lucky enough to catch them in between their busy rehearsal schedule, to find out a little more about what makes them stand out from the crowd.

First things first, introduce us to ‘Mercury machine’. How did you all come together as a band?   

Mercury Machine was founded by Lee 7 years ago in his Stockport studio; he had the central vision for the band, is the chief songwriter, lead singer and guitarist. In the early days, he would invite musician friends to his studio and host parties, whilst creating tracks for people in order to add their creative input. These events sowed the seeds from which Mercury Machine has grown. Long time friend, Carl (bass), joined him around that time, alongside our visual artist and friend Liam, who now makes our videos and designs our artwork.

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Keeping it local: Mercury Machine rehearse in an old 19th century cotton mill

A number of different musicians passed through the band until the perfect line up was established- Tim has been the guitarist for 3 years now, along with Gav on drums. Kade (Keys/Synth) joined a little later, and has been with us for just over a year. The great thing about this line-up is that we all bring different skills that compliment each other, which is how we feel a band should be.

Where are you all from?

We are a Manchester band and this is central to our identity.  It permeates our music and we are very proud of it.

Mercury Machine’s home/ rehearsal studio is in an old 19th century cotton Mill in East Manchester- there’s a boxing gym upstairs, a mini golf course next door and all kinds of community based projects happening there. This is great, because it means we are situated in a hub of activity. It’s also very inspiring architecture to be surrounded by– all the red brickwork, large windows and lots of old world internal fittings.

Our name itself is of local significance, as it links to one of the first commercial computers ever to be developed here in Manchester- The Mercury ‘Machine’. There are more details on our Facebook pages about this if people are interested.

There has always been a buzz around the Manchester music scene- do you ever feel pressured to fit into a certain mould? What do you think makes you stand out?

We’re very proud and comfortable about being a Manchester band. There’s a really good feel around things here at the moment.  Lot’s of independent promoters, bloggers and online Radio shows. If anything it means we’re spoilt for opportunities here to connect with people. In terms of fitting into a mould, we have our own thing going on but there’s no doubt, there a bit of Manc swagger in there.

How would you describe your music style to anyone who hasn’t heard your music before?

There are many influences on the band’s sound- I think we should say 80s inspired, although we suspect this is quite obvious when you listen to our songs! It’s been previously described as dark electro, synth-wave, indie and industrial- all these terms are fair. We use synths and this is a central part of Lee’s song writing.  We’re also a band that loves technology, Sci Fi, Marvel, superheroes and all things futuristic.

What can you tell us about the new album? Are there any standout songs for you?

Lee has literally just finished mixing the new album last week, after an epic period of late nights and coming close to madness! We’re obviously biased, but we think we have something really special- there is a link between the songs; they connect and fit together to create an overarching story.  Ultimately, we’re excited for other people to hear it and get some feedback.

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A little sneaky peek at the set list

Each member of the band has a different favourite, but I think we all share a love for ‘Aurora’.  The overall structure, central piano and synth parts make it really stand out. Our album launch gig is at Night People on Saturday 16th Feb in Manchester, in partnership with Scruff of The Neck promotions. We’d love for people to come down and see what they think.

Which artists do you look up to?

As a band we are massive Gary Numan fans.  He was a pioneering artist who used synths in new ways, his performance style was and still is very inspiring. We see massive parallels between him, Lee and our music. To be honest we’ve already been tweeting him, as our dream is to do collaboration with him in some way. If we keep knocking on his door, hopefully one day soon he’ll answer!

Finally… are there any artists that you’re particularly enjoying listening to at the moment, or anyone you would recommend to the Blue Light Beat readers?

To stop any arguments, it’s probably easier if we answer this individually..!

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Practice makes perfect

Tim (Guitarist): Depeche Mode Live in Berlin.  Awesome album, the way they build the atmosphere and connection with the Audience is amazing.

Lee (Songwriter and Singer): Ha, Mercury Machine. I’ve not had a chance to listen to anything else recently!

Carl (Bass): My playlists always feature Led Zeppelin and Radiohead. My parents were both Led Zep fans and this influenced the rockier side of me. Radiohead, particularly The Bends and OK Computer came out at a pivotal point in my life and inspired me to learn the guitar and want to be in a band.

Kade (Keyboards): Gunship and their new album ‘Dark all day’.

Gav (Drummer): Gary Numan’s first solo album ‘The Pleasure Principle’ Great synth hooks and warm drum grooves.

A big thanks to Mercury Machine for giving up their all important gig prep time to speak to Blue Light Beat – catch them at Night People on Saturday 16th February – get your tickets here!

Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures (Playlist #02)

Happy Tuesday you lovely lot! It’s not quite Friday, but we’re getting there. In the mean time, let’s have a little midweek singalong to keep us going. We’ve got Iggy Pop, a bit of noughties Yorkshire goodness, and some live Foos – why are you still reading?

Get listening!

To check out the rest of the Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures playlists, click here

Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f***ing like something, like it.”

-Dave Grohl 

Say hello to a new little feature for the Blue Light Beat! These playlists are made for full volume sing alongs – whether that’s with friends on a Friday night, or in the Monday morning ‘please don’t make me go to work’ shower…

Keep a look out for regular updates, but if you miss out, you’ll always be able to find the latest offerings by clicking on the playlists tab at the top of the page.

Here’s playlist #01 – Happy Friday!

Make sure you check out the rest of the Don’t Believe in Guilty Pleasures playlists by clicking here – you should probably turn the volume up!

St. Paul and the Broken Bones

When it comes to musical choices, it can be incredibly easy to become stuck in a rut. There have certainly been many occasions, when, if you were to look at my playlists over several days, you’d think we were still in the 90s. Oh hey Eddie Vedder, fancy seeing you here?!

Sometimes, it can be your current life circumstances that affect the music you find yourself reaching out for. You know how it goes: naff week at work = Nirvana on repeat. Should we add in some Foos? Oh go on then. How about some lively, early 2000s pop rock to cheer us up?

No thank you, how dare you even suggest such a thing? Let me be miserable in peace.

Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s really important to mix up your musical influences and occasionally step outside of your usual comfort zones. There is always something new to be discovered, and being fairly closed-minded is the easiest way to miss out on the good things in life. If you were to ask me what kind of music I like, I’d naturally head in the direction of rock and alt. rock, indie, Britpop and so on. With this having been said, there are artists I’d list in my top-listened-to-loves, that don’t fit my usual ‘type’ – this is something I want to explore a little more with you.

Let’s take a globally well-known example of Amy Winehouse; a beautiful soul who gave us lyrics and melodies that will never fade, no matter how many years pass. I challenge you to listen to the Back to Black album and not feel anything- go on, have a go. You don’t have to understand music composition or chord structures to appreciate what’s going on with her music, you just know that the harmonies and unapologetic honesty make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Her music spans several genres; some might describe it as soul, some might say that she was more of a jazz artist. Therefore it’s interesting, that I wouldn’t list jazz and soul as genres I enjoy listening to on a regular basis, yet she appears on many of my day-to-day playlists.

With all this in mind, let me move on to a gig I recently went to with a friend of mine. It was an acoustic set by The Slow Readers Club, who are another brilliant product of Manchester that I can’t stop listening to – more on these boys later! The friend I saw them with is very much into her soul music, and should probably have been born in a different decade. She told me about a band that was touring- one I’d never even heard of, let alone listened to. St Paul and the Broken Bones- an 8-piece, soul filled, brass backed, generally jazzy group of guys from Alabama. They would be supported by The Americans; think roots rock, folky guitar riffs and banjo parts that make foot tapping compulsory. Several gins went by and we made plans to go to their gig at the Albert Hall a couple of months later.

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The Americans @ The Albert Hall, Manchester, 15/11/2018

I didn’t really know what to expect, but didn’t think it would be my cup of tea. How wrong I was. That gig turned into one of the best I’ve been to this year. Let’s bear in mind that so far in 2018, I’ve been lucky enough to see the Foos, Iggy Pop, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, Wolf Alice, The Hives to name only a few… so this is a pretty big claim.

The Albert Hall in Manchester, is a beautiful setting for any concert, but it fit this band perfectly in so many ways. The eerie purple spotlights lit up the stained glass windows and church-like alcoves in all their glory. The band emerged, lead singer Paul Janeway adorned in a sequin cape.

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St. Paul and the Broken Bones @ The Albert Hall, Manchester, 15/11/2018

The brass backing burst into life, the guitar and bass following closely- a scene and a sound that instantly brought a smile to my face. When the vocals kicked in, it was something else altogether- this was so far away from my usual go to musical style of choice, but on hearing songs like ‘Call Me’ and ‘Apollo’, I found my whole body covered in goosebumps. The musical talent on display was difficult to absorb all at once, but in the best way possible. It was so clear to see that this was a bunch of established musicians, both in perfect control of their own instruments as well as understanding the broader musical field. Yet, this was unquestionable soul. Soul isn’t ‘my type’. How could I possibly be enjoying it?

I should probably get to my point- I know you’re a busy person with a life to lead. Here it is: if Alan Carr’s Doppelgänger in a sequin cape (no really, Google him), along with an incredible band, who don’t fit into my go-to genres in the slightest, made for one of my best gigs of the year, what does that mean? It means, that we should all make the effort to broaden our tastes, because it might be that a band that you’d never think to listen to, will be the one to lead you down a path you never thought was for you. Think about the genre you listen to most. Now think of an artist you like, who doesn’t necessary fall into that genre…Got one? Let’s make a deal- next time you’re listening to them, look at the ‘related artists’ on Spotify and have a cheeky gander, or maybe skip through a few of the related videos if you’re on YouTube. You never know who or what you might find…

Now please excuse me, but I’m off the listen to more St. Paul on repeat.

 

Playlist #02 – Arctic Monkeys

It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since the last album release, and the moment that the infamous intro to ‘Do I Wanna Know?’ became a staple of every late night playlist. I vividly remember listening over and over to AM in both disbelief and awe, at the fact that such a strong return could come seemingly out of nowhere.

I know that for many of those growing up around the time this band began to make music, there are plenty of memories, whether good or bad, associated with at least one of their albums or songs. Despite having seen the Arctic Monkeys in Finsbury Park in 2014 and absolutely loving their set, one of my most vivid memories around their music comes from a very different setting. It was Glastonbury 2007, nearing midnight, and I was sitting on my sofa (very much not at Glasto) on the phone to my best friend, who was also watching the festival. We sang along at stupid volumes down the phone to ‘This House is a Circus’ and then, suddenly, there was a point when neither of us spoke for a whole song- it was just too perfect to interrupt. Needless to say, 505 will always remain one of my favourite songs of all time, along with the associated memory embedded forever in my mind.

Here’s of a little celebration of the Arctic journey- from the glamour of Yorkshire all the way to LA. Let’s hope the release of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’ tonight is just as strong as albums gone by!

(There’s a sneaky little not-quite-arctic-monkeys track in this playlist, but it’s one of my favourite covers of all time- the last minute of the song is quite possibly my favourite minute of music ever made!)

 

Playlist #01 – International Women’s Day

Seeing as it’s International Women’s Day, it seems only fitting that my first playlist is dedicated to all the great gals of music. From front women, to drummers and solo artists, I think this one is self-explanatory.

I usually keep my playlists a little shorter, but on this occasion, there were too many wonder women to choose from! Who are your favourite leading ladies of the music world? Is there anyone you’d add to your playlist?

(On a side note- thank you to both Gwen Stefani and my mum, for teaching me that every day can be a red lipstick day…)

 

Back to Basics

Every music lover remembers their first gig- the sudden dimming of the lights, the rush as you catch the first glimpse of your heroes, the crush as the crowd moves in on the hits. Of course, there’s also the downside of the bruised ribs after being trapped against the front barrier (oh hello there youthful, eager, too-young-to-be-worried-about-spilling-my-beer Halyna), the sticky floors, and the blissful ignorance of not knowing what the suspiciously warm liquid that just hit your back was.

When I think back to my first gig, there are only fond memories. I was a 13 year old, who had discovered the happiness that combining heavy guitars, a disco drum beat and a well-placed bass part could create, and it was only just the beginning. Franz Ferdinand were playing at the MEN Arena (now known as the Manchester Arena), and as we queued at the entrance, little did I know I would become addicted to the gig life. I remember knowing the band’s first album, ‘Franz Ferdinand’, inside out; everything from the lyrics, to the fact there was a cough at the end of the song, ‘Michael.’ Looking back, it might seem pretty excessive, but I find something quite endearing about the idea that I was only just learning how much I really loved this genre of music, meaning every little detail felt so important at the time. Over the years there have been albums and bands that I’ve fallen in love with and who have become part of my story, but in all honesty, I don’t think I’ve ever known an album in as much detail as I knew that black and orange classic. Even if you don’t think you know any of their biggest hits, you do. After all, ‘Take Me Out’ is a staple of any self respecting Rock/Indie disco. ‘I say don’t you know, you say you don’t know, I say…’ – Let’s not lie now; you know exactly what I say.

I was recently lucky enough to be able to see Franz again at Manchester’s Albert Hall, a whole 13 years after the first time- be sure to look out for the review, including chats about their support, Albert Hammond Jr, which will popping up in the near future! As for now, back to the past.

Snap band
The snap band I bought at the gig – if you don’t know what a snap band is, you’ve never lived.

The support acts that night were two lesser-known bands, Editors and The Rakes. Editors were playing their new album at the time, ‘The Back Room’, which later went on to become one of their most well known albums to date. Their quick fire, whining riffs and ‘00s feel made their style unmistakable, with songs such as ‘Blood’ and ‘Munich’ increasing their fan base shortly after the tour. They’ve gone from strength to strength over the years, with their new single ‘Magazine’ having been recently released in 2018, plus an album to follow shortly. The Rakes unfortunately got lost in the indie madness that the decade brought with it, and didn’t go on to have many more popular releases- ‘22 Grand Job’ probably remains their most well known track of the noughties.

Looking back to my first real gig made me feel quite nostalgic, and got me thinking about the point in time when I first realised that rock was about to be added to my list of life loves. I can vividly pinpoint two songs that made me stop in my tracks and rethink music- I’ll give you a clue, it was 2002, and the video to one song involved a young Anthony Kiedis, a long yellow pipe and John Frusciante dancing in a dustbin. Any ideas? That’s another discussion for another time (or at least the next chapter).

Until then, have a little reminisce and get in touch to share your first gig experiences – even if it was the Spice Girls, I want to hear about the things that made it memorable for you.

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