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25th June 2011
On the verge of major success before disbanding in the early eighties, British rock/metallers Marseille never fulfilled their full potential. Reforming with their original lineup in 2008, after a series of gigs it seemed only founding members Neil Buchanan and Andy Charters had retained their enthusiasm for rocking it out under the Marseille moniker in the twenty first century so assembled a new lineup with which they set out to renew their popularity of yore. Returning to prominence good and proper with appearances in two consecutive years at the prestigious Hard Rock Hell festival in 2009/2010 and a brand new studio album, the aptly titled 'Unfinished Business', Marseille are perhaps set to eventually realise their dream of greater success within the scene or, at the very least, they're most certainly headed in the right direction. In Nottingham at the end of June for a late night gig in Rock City's basement, Metal Discovery met up with Neil, vocalist Nige Roberts, drummer Ace Finchum and stand-in bassist for the night Phil Ireland from Exit State to discuss the band's past, present and future plans. Beer, pizza and curly fries are offered around as discussions commence with the ever charismatic and perennially popular onetime children's TV presenter Neil mainly answering the questions posed. With Canadian metal veterans Anvil performing in the adjacent venue earlier in the evening, they become the first topic of conversation...
METAL DISCOVERY: So what did you think of Anvil?
NEIL: Legendary! They’re an institution, aren’t they…
(Neil Buchanan on a dream almost fulfilled)
"The first time we ever played in London, and our name was in lights, me and Andy went out to the front of the theatre to see the name to take photographs because we were so chuffed... the ‘M’ had fallen off and it said “ARSE ILLE”!"
Marseille in their dressing room, Rock City, Nottingham, UK, 25th June 2011
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
NIGE: Well, I saw them at Monsters of Rock years and years and years ago and I’d never seen anything like that because they were new…and I thought, fucking hell, I hope this isn’t the future of music. That’s what I thought back then and then they disappeared, and I saw the movie and I thought it’s not too dissimilar to our own story, really.
NEIL: I just think they need a medal for keeping going. I think if you had to award a medal for the people that hang on in there the most, I think they’ve got to be top of the tree. Close second would be our other guitarist, Andy, who commutes from the States… but he missed his plane as there are big storms in Chicago.
MD: Oh, so he’s not here tonight then?
NEIL: No. I’ve got a story tonight – we lost our bassist this week and Andy has missed his plane so Phil from Exit State who supported us on the last tour that we did, we poached Phil for a night and he learnt the set in half a day.
MD: So, tonight, you have one guitar, singer, bass and… your drummer’s around?
NEIL: He’s in the hotel next door; I think he’s having a kip. But Phil learnt the set in half a day and it’s taken me half a year to learn the set!
MD: To re-learn it...
NEIL: To re-learn it, yeah, absolutely.
MD: So you had a new album out last year called ‘Unfinished Business’ – was there a sense when you reunited that there was unfinished business?
NEIL: Absolutely huge. Certainly for me and Andy but for Nige as well. When Nige came into the band he absolutely immersed himself in the spirit of the band and he felt the… not pain, because that sounds a bit like cross carrying, but he felt the whole vibe and…
NIGE: I was a fan. Steve, the old bassist, he contacted me because I knew Steve from outside of the band, and he contacted me to tell me the band was getting back together again. I just said, “I’ll do your website for ya” and he said, “well, actually, I wondered if you wanted to come down and sing.” I was like, “why, what’s happened to Paul, the original singer?” and he said, “we kinda want to move on a little bit and Paul doesn’t want to go with us.”
MD: But Paul was back in the band when you originally reunited?
NEIL: Yeah, he was. But some of us hadn’t seen each other for twenty years. It was a case of Andy phoned up out of the blue and said, because he lived in the States, he phoned up and said - “I’m coming over; do you realise it’s the twentieth anniversary that we haven’t, you know, whatever. How do you fancy just getting together?” I said, “yeah, brilliant” and he said, “well, why don’t you get in touch with the other boys.” So I did and we got together and, initially, it was only gonna be for a natter and a drink, and some bright spark suggested guitars were involved, and then amps, and then drums. Then we made a noise and we just got very itchy. We came away from that particular weekend, we had a great weekend together, all in a hotel, and we said – “I’ve got the itch”… “Yeah, so have I”… “Are you scratching like me?”… “Yes, let’s get some gigs.” So we got some gigs and that was even worse! It was like arrghhh, I’m covered in this thing now! I’m really itching! And when we got serious about it, gradually, some of the guys dropped out. And that’s inevitable after all that time and having age behind you, some guys are gonna go, “ahhh, maybe not for me”. But we shed the pipe and slippers and seriously went in for it. And Nige, he came on board, and his audition, really, was our EP because we thought if we’re gonna move forward, do it seriously and get Nige to do the EP as an audition…. [to Nige]… and we’ll let you know!
MD: So when you started writing new material, did you try to capture the classic Marseille vibe or was it a bit more about where you’re at now as musicians?
NEIL: To be honest with you, I think the classic Marseille vibe… I thank you for saying that… it’s all about songs. Now that’s very clichéd and that’s easy to say but, from our point of view, it was always about a catchy rock song because all the bands we liked did catchy rock songs. I mean, I was always into Alice Cooper, KISS, Queen, Mott the Hoople, Deep Purple… all those bands that had real catchy riffs, catchy chorus lines and that’s where I was. Now, the interesting thing is, you’re absolutely right, in terms of our musicianship when we were kids, it was something to be shuddered. And it’s like anything, you get better at it. So, personally, I think the songwriting has always been the same. It’s always been who we are; it’s always been… I want a song, can you hum it? Can you go in and say… if you can go in and say to each other, “look, it goes like this… da-daa-da-daaa-da”. If you’re gonna go… [mimics a cacophony of notes]… maybe you won’t remember that. So we tend to go for the more memorable hooks type of thing. When we were crap musicians we played it in a certain way and it came out like that and now, many years later, you’re absolutely right. And what that’s done, that’s developed a band into a more mature sound. But the ‘Unfinished Business’ album, it’s exactly the album that I always wanted to make and Andy feels the same way.
MD: Hence the title of the album.
NEIL: Absolutely, it really is a sense of unfinished business, and it feels great. Both Andy and I said if nothing else happens we’ve got closure on this now.
MD: Exactly, but good things do seem to be happening! I read you recorded the album in Gas Station Studios which is where the label name came from, I guess…
NEIL: Yeah.
MD: And that’s a studio you own, I believe?
NEIL: Yes, it is.
MD: Has that been set up for personal use or is it a busy, working studio?
NEIL: It started out… I started to work with Paul, the original singer in Marseille, I started to work with his son’s band. They were a real fine bunch of musicians and I started to work with them and built my own studio. When I came out of Art Attack, I sold Art Attack because I created it…
MD: On Wikipedia it quotes for fourteen million quid. Is that a true Wikipedia fact?
NEIL: It’s the truth in inverted commas but, you know, I don’t do that sort of stuff; I don’t go on and alter things. I don’t really get involved with the internet stuff because I think so much stuff changes so quickly you’re chasing your tail.
NIGE: You’re dead, aren’t ya!
NEIL: Yeah, I’m dead!
MD: I was gonna ask that later on, but if you Google your name then five out of the top ten matches are about your “death” three years ago! There was even a Facebook group set up about it!
NEIL: Yeah, I know. It was some complete dick who found fun in doing that to celebs. Fortunately, when he did it to me, it had a huge reaction because…
NIGE: … you’re a celeb!
NEIL: …because the computer kids… you know, when it goes out that Terry Wogan has snuffed it, the computer kids don’t give a shit. But what he did, he put out a rumour and he got all the students and all the young kids on there, and they were, “fuck, this is one of our icons.” And it went wild; it went absolutely wild. The most unfortunate thing was it came out when I was in Wales. Every year, I used to take the family up into the mountains and we used to go and leave the phones in the Post Office because we knew the people in the village…
MD: … and you came back to a load of answer phone messages?
NEIL: Yeah, and one of them was me mother.
MD: Shit, that’s terrible.
NEIL: She’d heard the rumour and didn’t know what the fuck was going on. So I wasn’t too pleased with that. And actually, if I ever meet the guy…
MD: … ‘nuff said. That’s really terrible. There’s one forum I took a look at and I think it got up to the fifth page with all sorts of eulogies until one guy said he’d phoned ITV who confirmed you were alive and well, then the tone changed to “who’s this total bastard who started this rumour?”
NEIL: In the first two weeks there were sixty nine thousand messages of condolence. Well, I was well pissed off because we went out to six million every week on the show!
NIGE: I think as well, the bummer from a band perspective and all that, it’s just a pity that we hadn’t got back together then. We’d have been straight out on tour and…
MD: You need ‘The Story of Marseille’ like ‘The Story of Anvil’, or something like that.
NEIL: Well, we always thought that like Spinal Tap is a certain type of humour, and an awesome type of humour, the Anvil story was similarly a certain type of humour. It also had melancholy but it was its own type of humour. We feel the Marseille story has also got another different type of humour but, nevertheless, humour. It’s got bits of Anvil sadness in it and it’s got bits of Spinal Tap in it as well.
MD: Well, the fact that you went off and became incredibly successful in a whole other form of entertainment…
NEIL: Absolutely.
MD: There’s a story to be told there, I reckon.
NEIL: Well, there is and just stupid things that happened like the first time we ever appeared in London and saw our name in lights. Andy and I formed the band when we were kids and we used to dream about stuff when we used to play guitars in our bedroom, and we dreamed about seeing our name in lights. The first time we ever played in London, and our name was in lights, me and Andy went out to the front of the theatre to see the name to take photographs because we were so chuffed... the ‘M’ had fallen off and it said “ARSE ILLE”!
MD: Awesome!
NIGE: The thing I love about it, another twist in it, is that you look at the Anvil story and every one of the original members of Marseille… with Anvil, Lips has had a tough time of it, but every original member of Marseille has gone on and been successful at what they went on to do. They’ve all done very, very well for themselves.
NEIL: We were lucky because what we did, we went and did that and then we were in a position of… we were very lucky; we were very fortunate. We’d dug ourselves out from the crash of Marseille the first time round. We all dug ourselves out personally and got decent lives together. It gutted me; I put my guitars in the attic for fifteen years.
MD: Fifteen years… seriously?!
NEIL: Fifteen years. I didn’t play for fifteen years. Every time I was doing live telly, because I used to do Saturday morning live, every time I did that and the bands would come in, I left the studio. I couldn’t be in the studio with the bands. One of the worst things I’ve ever had to do, it’s on YouTube, and I was very honoured at the time, I had to interview Gary Moore. I say I had to because I really didn’t want to because he was a mate – we were one of him, he was one of us type of thing. And I had to ask questions like, “what is that Gary?” and afterwards we were playing together, jamming and everything, but on telly I had to say to him, “so what does that do on the guitar?” It just did my head in. So I had to put it to one side and, in a way, it was like an alcoholic - you can’t touch it. You have to put it in the cabinet, lock it, and throw away the key.
NIGE: That Gary Moore thing is on YouTube.
NEIL: Have a look at that – put in “Neil Buchanan Number 73 Gary Moore”. You’ll be able to see how much pain I’m going through in it. And he was great, Gary was great because we were recording in the same studio for the first album years ago so we knew each other to say “hi” to. He said to me afterwards, “did that hurt?”; I said, “fuck, did that hurt mate.” And he really understood, you know. So, yeah, the story is…
MD: … it’s a movie waiting to be made. And a very sad loss when Gary Moore passed away.
NEIL: Oh, devastating. Devastating.