If I’m still waiting for the first great LP of 2012 then at least the year hasn’t been short of musical good news. Top of that list undoubtedly was last month’s news that my favourite Scottish band of the 21st century, De Rosa, is reforming.
Before his solo gig at the Captain’s Rest on Saturday I caught up with singer Martin Henry for a quick chat about what to expect from De Rosa in 2012.
First up, I asked Martin what had prompted the reunion at this time.
“I’d worked with Chris and James from De Rosa on my solo stuff anyway. So really it was the first time all five of us had managed to get together in a few years and talk about things since the band split up the first time. And it was really good. I think everybody had missed it.
“It was the right time to get together socially and it’s the right time in the sense that we want to do music together. But it’s maybe not the best time for me (laughs) because I’m still promoting an album!”
In terms of immediate De Rosa activity, Martin explained that the band would initially be keeping a low profile.
“It’s just to record again at the moment – once we’ve got a decent set of songs to play. Today Andy and I were recording as De Rosa today for the first time since December 2008. We started a song, quite a quiet song, and that’s why it was just the two of us today. But the song will have parts by everybody when it’s finished.”
With the announcement coming fairly hard on the heels of the release of Martin’s solo LP ‘The Other Half of Everything’, I was naturally curious as to what sort of stuff the band would be recording.
“Some of it’s demos and things that have been worked on before. It’s quite nice to come back to some stuff.
“There’s hundreds and hundreds of songs that exist from those years as De Rosa that were discarded for various reasons. Some of those became my solo album but other ones are becoming new De Rosa songs.
“There’s new things as well because I’m also writing for it. But nothing new is ready quite yet for the band. So at the moment it’s really working on things that already exist.”
De Rosa fans will recall the ‘Appendices’ set of songs which were released on the internet only in 2008. Despite being made available prior to the release of second LP proper ‘Prevention’, the tunes from ‘Appendices’ were actually the last things the band worked on in the studio.
Back in the first MPT Podcast early in 2009, Martin had talked about these sessions as producing a new way of working for the band. In the intervening 3 years, he’s not changed his mind.
“That’s definitely the kind of the framework for De Rosa now. It’s much more collaborative. I think I’m definitely not the best musician in De Rosa (laughs). But I think it took me a while to realise that I was only part of a decent band rather than the songwriter guy. So it’s good that I’ve got the solo thing so that I can have that control but De Rosa now, I can see as a collective.
“That’s what Appendices taught us as a band and that’s where we’re setting off from, the last Appendices.”
The prospect of seeing the five members of De Rosa treading the boards again is quite an exciting one for this writer but as Martin explained, although the band are keen to play live again it’s not imminent.
“Yeah, certainly, but it’s going to be a while. This album will take a while because we’ve got members of the band living abroad and we’ve all got very different lives now. People have got families and marriages and it’s all very different and we’ve grown up a bit.
“So managing De Rosa is a wee bit more difficult but we’re all very driven to do something. And we’ve given ourselves a deadline of working on an album or a new bunch of songs this summer.
“We’re planning that just now and trying to find a place to do it, because we want to work on it alone, just the five of us and get out of the central belt of Scotland to do it.
“We’ve been looking at venues like barns and church halls and can hopefully hire somewhere cheap. And go away and sleep on the floors and really do it with no other distractions.”
When the band originally split, I half expected Martin to operate under the name again, whether as a solo “band” (like The The or Dinosaur Jr) or with other musicians. But that wasn’t really an option.
“I don’t think so because De Rosa ended, not acrimoniously, but it wasn’t too nice. We were a bit frustrated and fed up with each other. And I think everybody, including me, just wanted to be distanced from it a bit.
“That’s why it took 2 or 3 years to come back positively to it and remember the good stuff about it, which was that we worked well together in terms of making music.”
Of course the split permitted Martin to go on and make a cracking solo LP, which was only released last October. Prior to the Dundee show in October he’d mentioned to me that he wasn’t entirely convinced about operating as a solo artist but those doubts have gone.
“Maybe I was frustrated at the start doing the solo stuff because it was like starting again. But really it wasn’t because after a few months the news got out that I was still active and doing stuff under Martin John Henry. Now I’m really happy to have both things going.
“The new single’s coming out this week and I’m going to be promoting the album for the next few months.”
So anyone concerned about the solo stuff disappearing has nothing to worry about. And, of course, the solo career has not been Martin’s only musical activity of late as he is also a member of Malcolm Middleton’s Human Don’t Be Angry live band. It’s an outlet that Martin is enjoying.
Henry Don’t Be Angry
“We’ve been talking about working together since De Rosa toured with Arab Strap a few years ago. It was nice of him to ask me to play bass and I really enjoyed it and I think that’s going to continue for the foreseeable future. There’s stuff to be confirmed for the UK and Ireland in the next few months.
“But we’re still talking about collaborating in different ways, such as writing together and stuff.”
If you’re greedy enough not to be satisfied by the De Rosa reunion and a third De Rosa LP, then surely the prospect of two the finest songwriters in Scotland coming up with new material together will get you excited – even if that tantalising prospect is clearly some way off. But it seems a fitting place to leave the piece.
Thanks to Martin for again giving up his time for the interview.
The ‘Span’/’Only Colour’ single was released by Gargleblast Records yesterday on 7″ vinyl and 7 track CD E.P. It’s available in all good record stores or online here.
Martin and his band will be playing the Third Door in Edinburgh on Saturday 17th March with support from Kill The Waves and Michael Cassidy. Martin will also be playing at the Slaughtered Lamb in London on 16th April and supporting RM Hubbert at the Arches in Glasgow on 21st April.
Whilst other blogs go Christmas crazy during December, MPT has always rather maintained a “Bah! Humbug” attitude to the festive season. (That’s the blog, I do give my kids an orange for Christmas, I don’t have a heart entirely made of stone).
In part that’s down to the crass commercialisation of Christmas (epitomised this year by the use of a cover of ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Have What I Want’ in a commerical for a well known department store). Not that the religious festival holds any more appeal for me either.
Still, there are rewards at this time of year and one of these is the long awaited second Gargleblast Xmas Ep (Gargle Xmas 02). The original, several years ago, featured an early version of De Rosa’s own Christmas track ‘Under The Stairs’ and De Rosa feature again in version 2. The first official release since the band split is a live version of Prevention favourite ‘It Helps To See You Hurt’ but there’s other De Rosa related goodies as Martin John Henry has a further 2 new recordings on the EP, both done with former bandmates.
First up is ‘Perfect Try (rogue version)’ recorded by Martin with the assistance of De Rosa guitarist (and MJH bass player) Chris Connick whilst ‘Dorset Leveret’ features De Rosa keyboard player (and occasional standing guitarist) Andy Bush. The former is quite an electronic track, the latter an affecting number which actually isn’t that dis-similar to ‘It Helps …’ in mood, with some nice piano and clarinet(?).
All of which is exciting enough, but there’s another 3 tracks to enjoy. After a long silence there’s a new, quite brilliant track, ‘Song At Midnight’, from Desert Hearts (their first in 5 years) whilst 2 nice tracks from Pan complete the collection.
And very good it all is too. It’s available for the entirely reasonable price of (at least) £3.49 from the Gargleblast Bandcamp. Go on, you know you want to.
Not entirely unrelated ;-) is the 2011 Gargleblast Christmas Party at Gargleblast Studios this Saturday (10th) in Hamilton. Martin will be playing (not sure if it’s solo or with band) as well as live performances from other Gargleblast Records’ artists and friends. And after show DJs. This is limited to 50 people and available at the ridiculous, bargain price of £4.50 which also entitles you to a CD-R of Gargle Xmas 02. Tickets here.