We’ve been fans of Mark Nevin’s work for years as we were first introduced to his music via his band Fairground Attraction in the 1980s. Their song Perfect, which was written by Mark, went to number one in the UK in 1988 and stayed in the charts for a total of thirteen weeks, and even won a Brit award in 1989 for ‘British Single’. They went on to release three further singles Find My Love, A Smile In A Whisper and Clare. The band broke up in early 1990 but Mark has continued to write and record.
His fifth solo album, My Unfashionable Opinion, has been released today (24th March 2017) and it is simply brilliant. From the opening track of the same name, to the very poignant Clown, to Forgotify (which is a real website we’ve now learned), every track is fantastic. We were lucky enough to listen to the album before release and we literally had it on repeat. There isn’t one track we’d skip and each song is a beautifully woven piece of craft.
We caught up with Mark, to find out more about him and his latest album.
How did you first get into music?
Seeing David Bowie singing ‘Starman’ on kids’ TV when I was 12 years old was the lightbulb moment, I bought a guitar for £5 and started writing songs. I was in bands with my brother and various friends and then came to London (from Bristol) at 18 to ‘make it’. The first ‘proper’ (paid) gig I had was as Sandie Shaw’s guitarist (this was during her Smiths phase) and then I signed five songs to a small independent publisher called Compact Composers, they turned down the sixth song I offered them – it was ‘Perfect’. I was lucky with that because, for the £50 per song advance they paid, they would have had 40% of the publishing for life!
Who were your musical influences when you were growing up and who are your influences now?
Growing up it was Bowie, The Beatles, The Kinks, Velvet Underground, Motown, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Paul Simon, Little Beaver, Roberta Flack, Stevie Wonder, the American Songbook songwriters, all the great’s really – since then I have devoured so much of everything good, I love Charlie Mingus, Miles Davies, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen. Over the last year I have been binging on Fela Kuti, the sound that he and his huge and amazing band made is breathtaking, so physical and exciting, I would love to make a record with so many people playing together like that.
How would you describe your sound?
The sound of this new record and of the band when we play live is a continuum of what I started with Fairground Attraction. Back then I saw it as jazz musicians with folk/acoustic instruments playing pop songs. Since then that framework has expanded to include hammond organ and a horn section, but whatever the instrumentation, the important thing is that the song comes first, the arrangements are like the hands that hold the baby (the song).
Apart from the release of My Unfashionable Opinion, what do you have planned for the next 12 months?
I want to do more live shows, it took a while to be comfortable being centre stage, but now I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I am lucky to have a brilliant band of supportive friends and there is nothing like setting up and playing together. Beyond that, I want to keep writing, I want to challenge myself to write more songs about subjects that wouldn’t seem like obvious things to write a song about, like ‘Curly Wurly Boy’ and ‘Forgotify’ on this album.
Is there anyone you’d love to collaborate with?
I have been so fortunate to have collaborated with so many amazing people over the years and no one person comes to mind when I consider this question. The truth is I want to develop the musical relationships I have with the people I am already working with. I have a fantasy of going to Nigeria with my band and The Kick Horns and recording in the studio where Fela Kuti made his records.
Not to give away any spoilers but does the album have a theme/message?
If there is a thread that runs through the record it is probably about determination and cheerful defiance, a kind of ‘be yourself, don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do or be, don’t follow the herd, life is short, live it your way – now!’
Are the songs stand-alone songs or was the album written as a single piece?
It isn’t a concept album, it is 12 separate songs, but they came quickly and close together, so I think that gives it the feeling of continuity.
The track My Unfashionable Opinion is a real song for the times. Is it a song that you had for a while, or was it shaped due to our political climate?
I had the title in my head for years, so many times I have sat in a social situation and thought it best, for the sake of friendship, that I refrain from adding my opinion to the conversation. Now with the advent of social media, being in that position has become a familiar feeling for a lot of people, what with the trolls and the ‘giant echo chambers’. It is a time of paranoia and awful division. Perhaps it is the inevitable one step back in the on-going process of globalisation and connectedness. My favourite part of the song is ‘If argumentum ad populum does decide the truth, then I’m sorry chum but I’m keeping schtum, ‘cause I can but only lose”. It seems that more and more, things are judged on their popularity and not their quality.
Only Dreamers (Live The Dream) made us reminisce about teenage years gone by. Was it written about your youth?
Yes, last year we played a show near the village where I spent my teenage years on the edge of Bristol. An old school friend came and she said ‘I remember when you said to me “I’m going to London to be a famous songwriter” and you did!’ It made me think about all the time that had gone between that teenage me and now, the amazing life I have enjoyed so far. I did used to sit by the brook and dream, like it says in the song, and I have had a lot of those dreams come true.
I Can Hear You is a beautiful end to the album, we loved every song. Do you have a favourite on the album?
Thank you. I love every song too! Maybe ‘Punching Above My Weight’ – being number six of eight children I did used to feel like ‘the little one in the rugby scrum’ and at school I literally was. But it has made me very determined, the song is about the on-going battle between faith and doubt, if we don’t feel that we are punching above our weight sometimes, then we are not trying hard enough, we are living too safely.