This Mark McGowan article was written by Jake Willis, a GIGsoup contributor
Mark McGowan is the latest man to break the Glasgow music scene. The artist has recently signed to In Black Records who clearly spotted his ability to create heartfelt acoustic pop, laden with soulful lyrics and intricate guitar patterns.
His debut tracks, ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and ‘Colour of Surrender’ are the definition of easy listening, and yet they are embedded with complexities that remind you that you’re listening to something just a little different from the norm.
McGowan is a Glasgow based singer/songwriter playing a unique infusion of folk and soul on acoustic guitar. Bonnie and Clyde/The Colour of Surrender is out now, but where did the inspiration for these singles come from?
There’s a recurring theme throughout the two tracks and the character of Clyde is in both songs. I watch and I read a lot of things that are centered around the romanticism of organised crime and these characters are always romanticised even those these characters are essentially bad. The Bonnie and Clyde song more than anything was a take on a relationship I was in at the time. It felt like two people against the world and I took the story of Bonnie and Clyde and made it a love song of two people who can’t see by each other and it’s probably quite ill-fated, and that probably has very little effect on their decision making.
The second song (the colour of surrender) is a sort of sequel to the song, but it focuses more on Clyde. In essence it’s a song of retreat and surrender and the eventual downfall, which I think it’s quite apparent in the song. There’s a bit where the song breaks down and essentially what happens in that part is revenge catches up with him, and he gets caught, and he gets shot, then what happens is his friend who’s narrating the song has to go on and carry out the journey himself. It’s not actual strictly based on Bonnie and Clyde, it’s just the other part of the love song.
You have been compared to Lyon Bridges and Otis reading(there’s a cover of the Otis Reading song ’These arms are mine’ on your SoundCloud), but which artist would you compare yourself to the most?
I mean I wouldn’t necessarily compare myself to Otis, although I’ve always loved him since I was a wee-guy, I just think it’s more the vocal element of what I’m trying to do to a certain extent. I think my biggest influence are really the acoustic singer songwriters out there, and the finger picking guitarists such as Fionn Regan, anything like that. ‘O’ By Damian Rice was a really seminal album for me, it really got me into song writing.
Did you adapt this sound or is it style that you’ve always played?
It’s really something that I’ve developed over the last couple years, to be honest it’s something that I’ve only just gotten to the point where I can play like that, it was never something I pursued. I don’t know why; I think that those two songs are quite unique in their own way because they’re not necessarily similar to everything I’m going to be going forward with. They’re more folky, and it’s a lot more guitar based. It’s a kind of me showing off what I can do on guitar but I think going forward things are going to be a lot more direct where it comes to the songwriting and you’re really going to be able to feel the soul influences coming through.
I don’t really know what that tag means as such. The way I perceive it, obviously being from, well the UK, but more specifically Scotland we’re kind of drenched in music that would be described as folk. The highlands has it’s own unique sound so I’m happy to be tagged as that. What I take from [folk] is that it’s more music written about folk, the things that folk say and the things that folk do. I don’t really know how you can describe a sound, I think it’s just a generic thing where someone hears an acoustic guitar and someone singing in a heartfelt way. I find that a very vague term but I guess that all my favourite artists would be ‘folk’ musicians, so that’s kind of cool. I kind of try and fuse it with as many things as you can as well, and when you think about it, how old is folk? So evidently it’s always going to change so anyone who tries to do anything like that tries to develop it in their own way.
Do you find it hard being a folk musician in a predominantly EDM based generation?
That’s good question actually, but I think no. I think we’re doing people a service in that sense. I know folks who are into theses tunes but would also go to see a DJ. I think a certain part of the younger generation would see it as an entrance thing almost, where you get to a point to have appreciation for it, but I think everyone has a leaning towards a guy with just an acoustic guitar. I’ve never really thought about it that way, I’ve never really thought about it at all before. I think there are a wide variety of folk who have an appreciation for this kind of music.
With bands such as Young Fathers/Chvrches and HoneyBlood, what can you say about Scottish Music coming more and more into the UK charts?
It’s really strange that, it’s something that over the last few months I’ve definitely seen but I don’t really know why. I think there’s just such a unique blend of influences. Glasgow has become much more multi-cultural, more so than I can ever remember it and I don’t know if that whole independent thing spoked it all up.I don’t really feel that way personally and I’d never really associate politics with music because that’s not my thing but I think it’s definitely empowered a lot of people, I would say that. It’s certainly not Nationalism but I would say in general we’re a lot prouder.
Is there a longing for a Scottish voice now?
Yeah I think that’s it. I think maybe the whole debate and the whole country got so enfranchised by the debate that we’re trying to define ourselves more as a nation, as a culture or maybe try and reinvigorate our culture. Maybe the younger generation got sick of all this kilt and whiskey chat and the way we’re viewed. Essentially we’re a country of innovators and inventors throughout history so maybe we feel a bit more empowered, however I don’t really know. There is certainly a lot happening though. There’s some amazing acts, even if you said five years ago one of the best hip hop act in the UK would be Glaswegian I don’t know if many people would have taken you seriously. Take Hector Bizerk and so on , who are making some real waves, they supported the Libertines in London the other night and that’s massive. Even when you’re going about and you’re seeing little open mic and gigs, everybody is into it. There’s so many singer songwriters about as well and that’s something that’s quite evident and you can feel a lot of competition, but I don’t really know how to define that.
Bestival 2015 has just finished, and that marks the end of the UK festival circuit, but what would you say is your favourite UK festival?
There’s a few I’d really like to play to be honest. Wicker Man mainly. I can’t say I’ve attended too many festivals. T in the Park is massive in Scotland but I can’t really see myself suited there. I’d say Wicker Man is what I look most forward to getting the opportunity to play. I’ve never played at a festival but that’s what I’m looking forward to next year. This all came a bit out of nowhere to be honest, after having the single put out.
How did you get discovered?
It was nothing unique, it’s all pretty mundane to be honest and I never took it that seriously until about two years ago. I left a job, a proper job, and I’d spent a fair bit of money on a guitar and I started really concentrating on that, trying to perfect myself and I slowly built up a small support. It’s still something that’s going and it’s very primitive and very much in it’s early days. I made a record in March with a few hundred quid and I finally let someone hear them and they were starting a label. They were actually the management of a friend who’s an artist and finally they just said ‘we’d really like to put your songs out’ and that was that. It’s a cool thing I’m involved in. There’s another act on the label, In Black, called Acting Strange and I really feel as if we’re a part of something good, something fully grown up. We can just put our feet up and there’s something good about knowing there’s other people involved. I have a really good feeling about this.
Do you have any plans for 2016?
No not really, in the sense that we have another few weeks running this campaign for ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ and trying to get as much media as we can and get the singles out as much as we can. Yesterday I got invited on tour with a band called Kelvin and I’’ve got seven Scottish Dates and I’m coming along as the main supporter. It’ll be the first time I’ve ever really played outside of Glasgow, let alone four big dates back to back and we might have one in London. That’s something I’m pursuing at the moment and I’m looking to have a new single out in December.
Do you have any new music recorded or are you looking to record some more in the near future?
I’ve got a tonne of stuff demo’d, and a tonne of stuff written. The last four months have been so fruitful for me in that sense. Really prolific. I feel really empowered by all this; I’ve got a good feeling. It gives me a validation that I’ve never had before and I think that’s becoming more and more evident in my writing. We’re going to demo some stuff next week and we’ve got bigger plans in a sonic sense for the next record. We want to mix things up and get other folk involved. In terms of material, I’m really excited.
Do you play all the instruments featured on the songs or do you have other artists who help?
The strings in Bonnie and Clyde were produced by somebody else. It sounds like lots of guitars but it’s just one guitar with other lines recorded over it. The strings were programmed an that’s something I want to get away from. It was a record I recorded myself with a few hundred pounds and I didn’t have any intention of doing anything with it. Obviously I had that hope, but I didn’t really know how to go about it, I didn’t know anyone in the industry, or maybe I did but casually.
Would you get more of a band behind you?
That’s something we’re looking to evolve. We’re going to have a bigger budget next time and we’re deadset on doing something really soulful. I think that’s something that’s definitely coming back but I think people are just touching on it. I want to make something really ancient. That sound is something I really want to get involved in, maybe just recording in analogue. I’d also like to record something really orchestral but I’m not really sure yet. I’d love to have the money to get some real string players in and I think that is making a big comeback. I think somebody is going to make something really amazing like that really soon, and I’m trying to get my hands on that. I’m really into that era.