FESTIVAL OF CHICHESTER: Guitarist Mark draws on influences to be his own man

Mark
Mark

Mark Harrison is promising original folk/blues songs and stories when he plays The Chichester Inn for the Festival of Chichester on Saturday, June 25 at 7.30pm.

“I do all my own stuff,” explains London-based Mark. “It is all original stuff, but in the style of the 1920s, 1930s acoustic blues people. Part of it is that I play 12 string like Blind Willie McTell, but I have just always been interested in the history of the early blues.

“I have got quite a library of books and know quite a lot of about the history. Some people that know a bit about it say I play a bit like Mississippi John Hurt, though he was way better than I am!But I was just listening to the music of that time and thought that I should write my own songs in the same style. I didn’t want to be standing there singing covers from the 20s and 30s, a world I know nothing about, and so I started writing my own songs, about things like the World War Two and economics, the sorts of things I think about but that you would not necessarily think to put into a song.

“The thing that really got me going is that I have got a 1934 National guitar. Nationals were the original blues guitars.

“I got it from a shop in London, and it had just been brought in by a guy called Eric Bibb who is about as famous as it gets in this business. He is up there as high as you can go, but I don’t think he played the guitar much.

“He doesn’t like resonators. It doesn’t suit his style. I know him a little bit. I run into him, and he keeps telling me he is going to come round to my house and play that guitar again! I think he just acquires guitars from what I know, and then every now and again he has to offload a few. This one actually belonged to his father’s guitar player. His father was a folk artist in the late 50s and 60s.

“But really these old guitars are a bit touch and go. I did try out a few old guitars that were really not very good, but I am pretty sure that this one got looked after and that he had had some work done on it.

“This one was in good shape, but I suppose guitars just get beaten up and maybe things happen with the wood over time.

“These were cheap guitars when they were made. There are a lot of collectors of vintage guitars now that really know their stuff, and these are guitars that were not really highly prized then but that might be highly prized now. But they were not making these guitars as works of art at the time.

“But really this was the guitar that got me going. I got this guitar and I started writing songs and I made an album, and that I got a group of musicians that were wanting to play with me.

“I wasn’t really wanting to try to achieve anything, but from a standing start, things have really taken off, and I am just about to put out my fifth album.”

It will be called Turpentine.

“All my albums have a title that comes from the lyrics of one of the songs, and this word appears severally in one of the songs. I never write about myself, but sometimes I get a certain word or words that seem to fit well and you kind of create the lyric around them, and that’s what happened with this song.

“With other songs, you get the whole idea, but really mostly the songs start with just a word or a phrase. But also I have got quite a few songs as well that are based on the history of the blues and the people from that era. There is a strand of my stuff that is about that.”

n More festival guitar music comes on Tuesday, June 28, 4.30pm with Guitars In The Garden, Mitch Callow And John Mason, St Martin’s Coffee House, 3 St Martin’s Street, Chichester, Guitarists, Mitch Callow and John Mason play café music, a genre from Bach to Blues, Django to contemporary, which is often interspersed with improvisation. The venue is the walled garden of St Martin’s Organic Café. Tickets include a hot drink. Tickets £8.

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