DCSIMG

Hello again to Mackenzie bandmates

AT THE start of the 1990s, indie band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie were on the verge of greatness.

With a loyal fan base in Edinburgh and a string of well received, albeit minor-charting, singles and LPs under their belts it seemed only a matter of time before they would break into the mainstream.

Across Scotland, a new musical revolution had taken place with bands such as Deacon Blue and Simple Minds riding high in the charts and others like the Fire Engines and Orange Juice playing exciting under-the-radar gigs in the city.

And with their guitar-driven brand of thrashy indie-rock, the Mackenzies - as they were affectionately known by their fans - were widely regarded as one of the most exciting, most innovative bands around set to continue the trend of exciting Scots bands.

But by 1995, everything had fallen apart. The once-lauded Capital rockers were left without a record label and contemplating an abrupt end to their ten-year quest for a shot at the big time.

Even when their side project - the four-piece band Angelfish - looked like making it big in the United States thanks to the success of their debut single, the musicians were soon handed yet another crushing blow, when singer Shirley Manson was approached by American producer Butch Vig for his new band Garbage.

Of course, the rest of her story is well documented. Top 10 albums, singles, sell-out stadium tours and providing the title track for a James Bond film have transformed her from a gawky, small-time musician into a global megastar.

But her departure and that of lead guitarist "Big" John Duncan spelled the unfortunate end for one of Edinburgh's most promising bands, and left frontman Martin Metcalfe spiralling into alcoholism. When they played their final Capital gig in 1995, it looked like that would be the end of the line for the Mackenzies.

"It was a real shame," admits Martin, whose current 40-year-old shaved head and black-framed glasses contrast wildly with the impressive blond mane he sported during the Mackenzies' heyday. "We were good but for some reason it just didn't work out for us. As soon as Shirley left for Garbage and we got dropped from the record label, that was it.

"But then again, I don't think we ever tried to make the music particularly commercial. It wasn't about becoming famous as far as we were concerned, but we managed to attract a lot of people who really liked what we were doing.

"We did our own thing and had a good fan base here, but we never did the whole 'let's be pals' thing with other bands and weren't really part of an Edinburgh scene, as such. But I think the problem we had was more that we weren't able to properly contact or communicate with the people who were interested in us. These days, with e-mail lists and the internet, that's become a lot easier to do, but back in the 80s it was practically unheard of."

While Manson went on to world domination, Metcalfe was forced to sober up, and hasn't touched a drink in nine years. He now works as an IT specialist and web designer, but he still looks like he could more than hold his own onstage. And his ten eventful years with the Mackenzies and Angelfish haven't quelled his musical ambitions.

Recently, he and former bandmates, drummer Derek Kelly and bassist Fin Wilson - now a sports sub-editor at the Evening News - returned to Edinburgh's stages under the new guise of Isa and the Filthy Tongues. Metcalfe has taken a back seat, preferring to play guitar and leave the frontman - or in this case woman - antics to new singer Stacey Chavis instead. He initially took that step in Angelfish after John Duncan quit and admits he realised he "f*****g loved it". "I could get pished, get on stage a bit out of my face, play guitar and make a lot of racket which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was only then that I realised what a tough job being a singer was, being at the front and having to communicate with all those people . . . I loved being free of all that."

He admits it was at this stage that his drinking became problematic. He says everybody had their fill of Metcalfe, who was "either mad drunk or hungover".

He admits to drinking nothing stronger than ginger beer now - and that the band are looking forward to getting another crack at the music business.

"We've all got other jobs we do now," he explains. "Me and Derek are both in IT, Stacey works for the NHS and Fin's working at a newspaper, so the band has had to work around that. It's not like it was in the old days when the band was everything to us and was the only job we all had. Now we've got other things going on that are paying the rent.

"But we've been playing as the Filthy Tongues for a good few years now. Fin and I started it as an acoustic project, but then all these bands like The Strokes, the White Stripes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs came along who were doing something completely different and exciting. After listening to American bands like those, it totally changed what we wanted to do.

"By the end of 2004, we eventually persuaded Stacey to join the band and we've been playing as a four-piece ever since. I know people are going to see similarities between the new band and the Mackenzies, but we're really trying to do something new."

He, Kelly and Wilson have been writing and performing music - both together and with other projects - in the ten years since Goodbye Mr Mackenzie split, but he admits that it is only in the last few years that they have started to take it seriously again.

"I didn't have a real job until I was in my 30s," he explains. "So that took over and the music went on the back foot a little. It's only been in the last few years that we've started to write a lot more songs and this band has formed around that."

For Oregon-born Stacey - the youngest member of the band, in her late 20s - it's been a baptism of fire so far, as she admits that she knew nothing about her band-mates' former guises before joining. "I didn't have a clue about Goodbye Mr Mackenzie or Angelfish or the influence they had here," she says. "As far as I was concerned, it was just an opportunity to play music with some good friends. I'd been asked to be in a few bands when I was living in the States and after I moved here eight years ago, but I'd always been too shy to get up and sing. With these guys, we just clicked and it felt like the right thing to do. But it was a shock when I found out what they'd all done before. At one point we were being promoted and getting a following even before we'd played a gig, purely because of the reputation of the Mackenzies and Angelfish. That was a little too weird for me.

"But it's great to have experienced guys like these in a band. I still don't know anything about the music industry or how it works, so I'm learning a lot from Martin and the others."

So far, they admit that some of the audiences at their gigs in Edinburgh have been filled with fans of the old bands, although they are attracting some new admirers too. "It's strange," Martin explains. "We've had a few people turn up to our shows who are a little thinner on top and thicker round the waist these days. But then again, although we're performing different music, we're still very similar to how we were in Angelfish. It's practically the same band except it's Stacey singing now.

"And as we've got our new album out and we're getting some airplay, we're getting a lot younger people coming who want to see what we're all about.

"We have a whole load of songs which we want to record and there are plans to restart our old record label Blokshok.

"The nice thing is that we're also getting support from the other guys we used to play with. Rona (Scobie - ex-Mackenzies keyboardist) and Big John (Duncan - former guitarist) came to watch one of our very first shows and it was great to catch up with them.

"We're also still in touch with Shirley and she's wishing us all the best with the band. We'll just keep recording and playing our music and see what happens."

Addiction is on Circular Records. For more information visit www.isaandthefilthytongues.com

amather@edinburghnews.com

FROM WANNABE ROCK STARS TO IT GURUS

IT was 1981 when Martin Metcalfe and Derek Kelly, wannabe rock stars, moved from Bathgate to Edinburgh. While auditioning for the Edinburgh Youth Theatre, Martin met Shirley Manson, so she and Rona Scobie joined the band as backing vocalists.

Scruples Records chooses them for its first single release in 1984, Death of a Salesman, but it's not until 1986 when Wet Wet Wet manager Elliot Davies hears The Rattler, that a breakthrough is made.

Fin Wilson then joins the band on bass and between 88 and 91 they manage 11 top 100 records, including a top 40 entry with The Rattler.

That's as good as it gets and they split in 1995.

Backing singer Shirley Manson is now the most high-profile former member - having found fame as the singer of American rock band Garbage. Guitarist Big John Duncan was a tour roadie with Nirvana.

Manson is now taking a break from Garbage as she records solo material, while Duncan has guested with lowkey bands such as the Gin Goblins.

Keyboardist Rona Scobie is still based in Edinburgh, although she no longer works in the music industry, while drummer Derek Kelly is now based in London, where he works in IT.

Fin Wilson has been working as a sub-editor at the Evening News.

 
 
 

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