Martin Metcalfe looks forward to Goodbye Mr Mackenzie’s return, 30 years after release of debut album Good Deeds and Dirty Rags
MARTIN METCALFE will come full circle next month when he takes to the stage of the Liquid Room fronting the band he and some friends from Bathgate started more than three decades ago - Goodbye Mr Mackenzie are back.
It’s a gig that in some sense completes a unique Scottish rock and pop journey, while at the same time opening the door to multiple new possibilities.
Today, the singer/songwriter is best known as the frontman of The Filthy Tongues, a band that evolved out of the earlier Isa and the Filthy Tongues.
Before that, the 56-year-old was a leading force behind Angelfish, the band with which Shirley Manson got her big break after being spotted by members of Garbage.
Earlier still, however, came Goodbye Mr Mackenzie with dark, apocalyptic, era-defying anthems such as Goodwill City and The Rattler.
They’re just two of the songs Martin will revisit at The Liquid Room on 25 and 26 May when Goodbye Mr Mackenzie reform for their first live appearances in nearly 25 years.
The gigs mark the 30th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album, Good Deeds and Dirty Rags in 1989.
“We’re having to relearn most of the songs,” Martin admits, revealing that one song in particular, the title track, is proving more of a challenge than the others.
“The title track was too dynamically complicated for us to pull off properly live when the album was released - I think we might only have tried it a couple of times.
“So now we are attempting to do just that. It’s a biblical epic psychodrama and this will be the first time we have performed it properly.”
The genesis of Goodbye Mr Mackenzie lies in Bathgate.
“The name was invented in Edinburgh but the core members of the band were from Bathgate,” Martin confirms.
He explains, “In those early days, three of us were from Bathgate, one still lived there and two of us, Derek Kelly and myself, had moved through to Edinburgh.”
The band member who remained in Bathgate was bassist Chuck Parker.
“My friend Chuck, who I’d known from age 12, was around when punk happened and when the memorandum came down from the NME and Melody Maker that anyone could be in a band, we went, ‘Alright then, we’ll do it’,” he remembers.
Armed with a “battered Spanish guitar”, drumsticks and a bass, a first step on the path that would lead to Goodbye Mr Mackenzie had been taken.
As early band members left, so it fell to Martin and drummer Kelly to move the band forward with musicians continuing to come and go until the earliest fixed line-up came about when Martin, Parker and Kelly were joined by Hilary McLean, Shirley Manson and, later, Rona Scobie.
“We had lots of keyboard players and guitarists,” recalls Martin, “When Hilary decided to leave and we discovered Shirley could play piano, we re-configured the line-up to have one backing vocalist and two keyboards to cover all the samples, some of which were just noises, explosions and orchestra stabs.”
More changes came before the personal settled down to that familiar to fans of their first album.
“I was playing guitar at the time and to give me freedom to move around, we stared pulling in different guitarists.
“In 1988, after signing our record deal, Big John Duncan came in and a while later Fin Wilson showed up to play bass, a mellow guy, he fitted in.”
With this line-up they reached the Top 40 with a re-release of The Rattler in 1989, by which time Shirley too was getting noticed.
“At the end of the Mackenzies, we had made two major albums and were working on a third,” recalls Martin.
“We’d started talking to Shirley about taking on vocal and that third Mackenzies’ album is what became the Angelfish album.”
For a while both bands existed in tandem and if Goodbye Mr Mackenzie had been popular in the UK, the side-project Angelfish took the band around the world.
“I remember we hopped from Edinburgh to Berlin, played a gig as Goodbye Mr Mackenzie, took the train to Belgium and then toured as Angelfish - we didn’t ever play as Angelfish in the UK.”
It was during the Angelfish era that the band lost Manson to Garbage after they saw Angelfish live in Chicago in 1994.
“We thought there was going to be another Angelfish album but at the end of that tour we all fell out. We couldn’t do it anymore,” says Martin.
Coming home to regroup, Goodbye Mr Mackenzie continued to gig until Christmas 1995 when they played their last gig, but one early Edinburgh live appearance sticks in Martin’s mind.
“In 1986 we played for 28 A&R men in a new club in Glasgow. It was empty, just 28 A&R men at the bar and, between us and them, no one.
“The gig was a cataclysmic failure. We didn’t get signed.
“But the following night The Rattler was played on The Tube on Channel 4.
“That night we played the Hoochie Coochie in Edinburgh and it was rammed because everybody had seen us on The Tube.”
Still gigging as The Filthy Tongues, Kelly, Wilson and Martin will be reunited with Scobie at The Liquid Room in May, so is the current band just part of the natural evolution that introduced them to the Scottish music scene all those years ago?
“All that separates Goodbye Mr Mackenzie from The Filthy tongues is time,” says Martin.
“Time has separated and divided the music through the decades and, weirdly enough, what we do now is probably more related to our earlier tracks than the later stuff because the 80s were dominated by studio engineers.
“There’s a lot of drama in what we’re doing now so it will be much more cinematic.”
He adds, “I must admit, it did surprise me that we sold out these gigs so quickly, especially as there were just four of us on the poster, on the night, however, there will be some surprises in the line up.”
Goodbye Mr Mackenzie play The Liquid Room on 25 & 26 May, www.ticketmaster.co.uk