by Sam Skilton
Cast your mind back to this time last year. It’s nearing the end of March 2012, and a mini heat wave has hit the nation. The sun is beating down heavily on the Old Walls of the city of Southampton, where two scooters are glistening elegantly. An excessive number of silver-trimmed mirrors, polished to perfection, spring up from either side of each of them like a flower sprouting in perfect symmetry. These elaborate and eccentric constructions underline what it means to be ‘Mod’.
Perhaps the most famous line from the cult film Quadrophenia, produced by the once self-confessed Mod band The Who, is the exclamation of ‘Jimmy’, the main protagonist. He claims: “I don’t wanna be the same as everybody else, that’s why I’m a Mod, see?”
And that’s where these two elegant sculptures have come from. The first is a replica of the scooter which belonged to Jimmy, a construction of the conflicting personalities of The Who’s four members; Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon.
Jimmy is a schizophrenic, and in the film he eventually drives the second scooter – belonging to the ‘Ace Face’ (in other words, the leader of the Mods) – over the edge of the East Sussex cliffs of Beachy Head. His own has already been crushed by a postman’s van.
Why, you may ask, do you need to know the ins and outs of a motion picture from 1979? Well, the story represents the struggles of a young person to do something different and be someone unique. Not wanting to be the same as everybody else rings truer than ever in modern times.
So here we are in Southampton, where four bands have gathered, each representing an aspect of the essence of Modernism. This setting provides the backdrop for a photo-shoot organised by Dave Wyburn, architect of ‘The Uprising Tour’.
Four bands will be playing a concert at The Joiners Arms later in the evening. Headlining are local boys ‘The Queue’, who are joined by The Spitfires from Watford, and The Town of Wolverhampton. But the one which we’re focusing on this time are a group of five called Marmalade Sky.
“So where did the name come from?” I ask first off, expecting a reference to The Beatles’ song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.
“We’ve been called that since we were a three piece,” explains lead guitarist Luke Mayo. “It was nothing interesting really; I just heard it on the telly. Someone was describing something to do with space – Mars or something like that – and he said ‘marmalade skies’. That’s when I thought, ‘Oh, that’d be a good name for a band’. If you want to put the cool answer down just saw we got it from The Beatles’ song!”
We spend a few minutes wandering up and down Southampton High Street, up to Bargate which was once the entrance gates to the city, before settling on the local Wetherspoons to sit down for a chat and a couple of pints.
Luke begins to describe how the group came together, starting off with Jamie Ham (drums) and Mike Wilcox (bass) as a three-piece, covering songs from the likes of The Who. He then recruited Dan Warren who became lead vocalist and frontman, before George Shelton (rhythm guitar) completed the line-up. “George came along about a year later because we wanted a real guitarist!” he quips.
“George was stalking us for a bit,” adds Dan to the amusement of his band mates. “Coming to all of our gigs, begging us if he could be in the band! We said, ‘Who’s this little weirdo who keeps turning up to all our fucking gigs?’”
When the laughter has died down, we tackle the subject of inspirations. Ranging from Luke, a big fan of The Who, The Kinks, Small Faces and Led Zeppelin, to Mike who adds: “I was brought up within the indie scene, acid house music and all that, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers. My favourite band is Kasabian.”
The Jam and Paul Weller are mentioned too, as are Oasis by Dan who is a big fan. “My favourite band of all time is Oasis. It was when I was like 13 or 14 that they kicked off. That’s what got me into music,” he reveals. “I saw them live about 20 times. It all started from there for me, Oasis when I was a young kid, and listening to band that inspired them, like The Jam, The Stones and The Beatles.”
“I met Noel Gallagher once,” he adds.
“Jumped on him!” interrupts Mike to the amusement of his bandmates.
“It was at Glastonbury when they headlined in 2005,” he continues, “Me and my missus got backstage, fuck knows how we got there, but we did. He was sat there in the corner of a tent. It was all cool because it was backstage, and you weren’t supposed to act up, and that.
“I was sat there with my missus, drunk, because obviously it was like two o’clock in the morning after they’d headlined, and I just noticed him in the corner and thought, ‘Fuck this, I’m going over’. So I just bounded over like, ‘Noel! Thanks for the music, man!’
“I was kissing him on the cheek, and I can see he looked at me as if to say, ‘Fucking cunt!’, because as soon as I’d done that everyone else went ‘whoosh’ to go and talk him. I could tell nobody else wanted to be the un-cool person that was the first to go and do it. I said to me missus, ‘I ain’t letting this opportunity pass’, and I was on him!
“I wouldn’t say I’d met him,” he concludes, “But kissed his cheek, you know! I haven’t washed since!”
“Looks like it!” jokes Mike.
The band certainly have a very relaxed demeanour about them. Later in the evening they are due to play as part of ‘The Uprising Tour’, a full review of which you can read here. After the gig, via a quick trip to the Premier Inn where they are staying, we head to a local indie bar called Lennon’s where the flow of Jager Bombs continues late into the night.
But while Marmalade Sky enjoy their status as a fledgling rock and roll band, there is a serious side to what they do too, and this is certainly embodied by their live performances. A stomping set at The Joiners features tracks from their EP, ‘Time to Listen’, and proves that they are far more than just hot air.
“Whose idea was the tour then?” I ask.
“It was our manager, Dave Wyburn’s,” says Dan. “He has got a real passion to try and bring back British guitar music. He’s got a lot of contacts. He was a Mod back in the day and makes scooters and stuff like that. He loves it. It was his idea to put this tour together, and it makes sense really for similar bands around the country to join forces and unite.”
Kitted out in smart jackets, Fred Perry, paisley, Levis and desert boots, it’s easy to conclude that Marmalade Sky are influenced by Modernist fashion. But strangely, at a time when you can walk down the street and see as many people as ever trying to look ‘Mod’, there is a distinct lack of successful rock ‘n’ roll music.
“There ain’t much about in terms of new guitar music, our kind of music, you know? Especially British,” says Dan, “Me and George were chatting on the way up, really it’s just Kasabian and Arctic Monkeys at the moment, but they’ve been going for five years. There’s nothing really new breaking through, but there’s no market for it at the moment, is there?”
“The record companies can just pay one person to manufacture something on a computer, and put a singer over it,” adds Luke.
“Do you think you can be the next big guitar band?” I ask.
“Well you never know mate, you never know,” says Dan. “We’re good enough, it’s just whether there’s a scene that takes off. It’s a long hard slug mate, until you get a private jet!”
“Marmalade Sky painted down the side!” jokes Luke.
“We’re yet to get to Madison Square Garden mate,” says Dan, “But we’ll let you know when we do!”
Almost a year on from our interview, Marmalade Sky are still looking for the elusive breakthrough, although situations have changed slightly. Mike Wilcox has left the band and been replaced by new bassist George Hall, while The Uprising Tour has recently come to a sad conclusion with Dave Wyburn citing a lack of support as the reason for packing it in.
National Brit Rock would like to pay special tribute to all of the hard work and effort which Dave put into the tour over the last year or so, and wish all the best to the bands involved.
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