Filthy Tongues' tales from the dark side

Inspiration for songwriters can come from the most unlikely places. But in the case of the Filthy Tongues, it’s right there under their noses. Edinburgh’s old town provided Martin Metcalfe with such a rich seam of material for album Jacob’s Ladder that its follow-up revisits Auld Reekie’s dark underbelly. “It’s hard to ignore the surroundings here,” agrees the singer.

"Celebration of the dark past is everywhere in the Old Town – I suppose there’s a feeling of brutality when you think about all the references to murder and crime.” He cites pub names like ‘The Last Drop’, named after the location of the last public execution and ‘Fleshmarket Close’ “a more disturbing description of a meat market”.

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“Criminals like Deacon Brodie and Burke & Hare are celebrated. All these names pull your imagination back towards the middle ages, where justice, if it existed at all, was very nasty.

Metcalfe pursued the darker side of modern life with previous band Goodbye Mr Mackenzie.

“Some of the Mackenzies material fits with the new themes. ‘Goodwill City’ was about Edinburgh being Aids capital in 1987. We’ve always written about our environment so there a quite a few songs that do work today.”

But surely Edinburgh has changed – for the better? “The Old Town is our visual metaphor for modernsuffering,” he explains. “The population have an easier life than those who lived in the old town, but there is still suffering and brutality now.”

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In may be no wonder that Metcalfe spends a lot of time ensconced in his studio – as well as a sideline as an artist (his art adorns the band’s album’s sleeves) he performs under the Fornicators banner – a “back catalogue thing” where he can easily head out with an acoustic guitar and play Mackenzies and Angelfish oldies.

“It’s fun – and it helps pay the rent”, he smiles.

But not as much fun as working with boyhood heroes, The Skids, co-writing with bandmate Derek Kelly four songs on the revived punks’ new album Burning Cities.

“Yes, The Skids were heroic to us,” Metcalfe admits. “Working class guys creating intelligent music and of course Jobson’s audacity – a brilliant frontman and a great songwriting poet”.

And Metcalfe will unite again as “ambient backdrop” for Jobson’s upcoming string of spoken word dates. But despite the Filthy Tongues’ high energy live shows becoming the stuff of legend, he’s quite happy to spend time out of the spotlight, as he did when Shirley Manson fronted Goodbye Mr Mackenzie before heading off to world stardom with Garbage.

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“I really enjoy playing guitar, so working with Shirley, or Stacy (Chavis, one-time Filthy Tongues vocalist) worked just fine for me. I’m happy to be away from the spotlight, I’m fundamentally a creative person which explains why I can spend time hidden from the world in front of an artist’s easel or writing songs. I’m lucky to have all those opportunities.”

Back To Hell is out now.

The Filthy Tongues play Glasgow's St Lukes on June 1.

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