From The Roots Up – Filthy Tongues interview (Part 1)

The last 18 months or so have seen the Filthy Tongues gain a welcome, increased profile not just in Scotland but increasingly over the border. Even if ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ inexplicably failed to reach even the longlist for the Scottish Album of the Year, reviews for the debut LP were universally positive and the band have subsequently built on that foundation with well received live dates.

To help promote the band’s upcoming show in Dundee, I spoke to singer/guitarist Martin Metcalfe before the recent Fornicators show in Kirkcaldy.

It was a fascinating half hour because Martin contrasted the Filthy Tongue’s current circumstances with his time as a major label artist with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish.

One subject that came up time and time again was money to the extent that, halfway through our chat, Martin felt he had to apologise for continually talking about the same thing. But it was a succinct illustration of the difficulties that independent bands face in this Spotify era of music when people seem to think that they can have access to a musician’s work for nothing.

As well as providing a perspective on the changes in the music industry over the last 35 years, musicians like Martin also have to deal with how their legacy is viewed from outside the band, and he’s not entirely sure exactly what that long history means for the Filthy Tongues.

“Obviously, people know the Mackenzies so we have either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you view that!”

Martin thinks that the case for the prosecution would rest on something outwith the band’s control.

“Mid 80s pop music or rock music was marred with horrible technology and it spoilt a lot of it. So, people might look at us and think we were kind of plastic sounding in those days but it’s just because of the way things were. A lot of bands ended up that way.”

As a positive though he recognises that there remains a following for the band, even if it’s not the same size as it once was.

“We’ve picked up what we can from the old days and the ones that were fanatical are here now and come to every gig that we do. And there’s people that turn up who travel and that’s because of the Mackenzies. But I don’t know if there is a huge Mackenzies crowd waiting in the wings.”

Whilst the band can still connect with at least part of their old fanbase, the same connections don’t exist on the business side.

“No, we’re doing it from the roots up. It’s really, really difficult. We’re basically an indie band without an indie label.

“In the days of Rough Trade or One Little Indian or whatever we wouldn’t have been on these labels. We’re self-released and it’s quite hard with the money we’ve got to get limited coverage.

“We’ve got a publicist who’s an indie guy and we pay him a monthly fee. It’s not a lot but he’ll do what he can.”

The other thing working on the band’s behalf is the music and Martin reckons that ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ has opened a few doors for the Filthy Tongues.

“We got a gig supporting Pete Wylie through a promoter who really liked the album- it was his album of the year. And he then got the Brix gig for us and we’re doing our own show down there – just because of one promoter who likes the album. All that’s totally new – from a new connection.”

It was an earlier record though that has led to a productive working relationship with Skids legend, Richard Jobson.

“Richard knew somebody who gave him the first Isa and the Filthy Tongues album and he thought it was great and wanted to do something with us.

“In a way that was another new connection. We knew Richard years ago but I don’t think he would have been that impressed with the Mackenzies. But he was impressed by Isa & the Filthy Tongues and he likes the new album as well.”

The relationship with Jobson led not only to Isa and the Filthy Tongues contributing to the soundtrack for ‘New Town Killers’ and his participation in the Filthy Tongues ‘Bus Shelter’ track, but also to an opportunity for Martin that he couldn’t turn down.

“I’ve written some music with him for the next Skids album. With the fortieth anniversary tour, Richard thought it would be a good idea to do a new album.  Bruce and Jamie Watson are the likeliest candidates to be writing with him, but Big Country were touring and Bruce and Jamie were tied up.

“So, Richard thought who else could he write with and he liked where I was coming from musically. And being a Skids fan, I had the heart for it.

“It’s coming out in the New Year on a label that’s done well with the new OMD album. They’ll have the advantage, that we don’t have, of having a team behind the record.”

Unfortunately, one consequence of the work with the Skids did lead to a delay for the much-anticipated new Filthy Tongues album.

“We’d really hoped to have it out now but if you’re behind a few weeks you end up falling into this mudbath called Christmas.

“You can’t get any press in December and the vinyl takes about 7 or 8 weeks to turn around. So we would maybe have been looking at the end of the first week in December for the vinyl.

“If you miss that boat you have to wait till people have got the cash after Christmas so it’s been pushed back until early March.”

Fans can expect to see the same sort of opportunities in the New Year that heralded the arrival of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.

“We’ll have to cover costs so we’ll be doing what we did the last time which is sell artwork, that sort of thing. We’re hoping people will have enough money to help so we can pay for the production.”

Part 2 of this piece is here when Martin discusses building a following across the country, the pros and cons of life on a major label and whether or not there may be reissues from the Goodbye Mr Mackenzie and Angelfish back catalogue.

The Filthy Tongues play Beat Generator Live! In Dundee on Friday 10th November with support from Birdhead and VFLambda. Tickets are available in advance from Groucho’s in the city or online from We Got Tickets or Tickets Scotland. More info on the show here.