Occasionally we get the opportunity to publish an interview not by one of us, but by another artist. Micko Westmoreland, actor, electronic artist, troubadour and now, head of Micko & The Mellotronics is interviewed by Terry Edwards and vice versa in this fascinating piece.
Edwards was a founding member of The Higsons and session musician/collaborator on a huge range of projects including Madness, Siouxsie, The Creatures, Nick Cave, The Jesus and Mary Chain and The Blockheads. Terry features on Micko’s new album ½ Dove ½ Pigeon.
TE – Micko, Tell us about your early music-making in Leeds and what prompted you to move to and stay in London
MW – Whilst at high school a gaggle of us were taken under the wing of Malcolm Arnold, the school Art teacher. He played in a professional band with a drummer from the music shop in Leeds and he set about organising a series of concerts for us all to play at. There were usually 7 or 8 bands, plus a dance group called Transmission and Bit & Bot, a duo that did robotics to Kraftwerk records.
We got a genuinely high end PA to play through and the shows were engineered with major enthusiasm and well attended – only a minor scattering of Mums and Dads.
One band that broke were the Pale Saints, to sign to 4AD, although at the time they were called something else and had a different singer. Act Natural were the coolest band in town, followed closely by my brother’s group Electric Hernia. Screaming Blue Murder were ace too. My band was originally called Wheat Stone Bridge, but after the first show knew we were onto a lame duck. We changed the name to Verbal Abuse and the rest as they say is history.
When I came to London I was never really in a band till Micko & The Mellotronics – everyone was too busy…
MW – You went to music school back in the day, did you consider yourself a rebel whilst a student there?
TE – I studied music at the University of East Anglia. We were encouraged to open ourselves up to all types of music from early harmony, Bach, music from the Far East (India, Bali) to the American Minimalists and electro-acoustic music etc. I had no desire to rebel against that. I learnt a lot from it – more than I thought as I just enrolled so I could get into a band, hit the big time and leave with or without a degree. Thankfully I left with a degree and as a member of a successful indie band.
TE – The Bowling Green kicked things off for you. Why did you give the project a name rather than go out under your own name?
MW – In the 90s it was the thing to do, and I think by and large electronic acts have this tendency today. I was a bedroom musician, spent preposterous amounts of time tweaking analogue synths & bending samples out of shape to fit my wonky songs. It reminds me of a wonderful Flight of the Concords lyric from ‘Inner City pressure’.
“You don’t measure up to the expectation
When you’re unemployed, there’s no vacation
No one cares, no one sympathizes
You just stay home and play synthesizers”.
That’s pretty much where I was at.
MW – The Higsons are often mentioned in relation to your early career. How was the band formed?
TE – We were lucky to find ourselves in the right place at the right time. The intake at UEA in the late 70s/early 80s had some real live wires. We quickly whittled the contenders down to five live Higsons and when Dave Cummings left to find fame and fortune in London after our first few gigs Stuart McGeachin stepped in and the band gelled into a distinctive outfit.
TE – I know that Bowie’s a significant influence in your music, past and present. Can you tell us how you got the part of Jack Fairy in Velvet Goldmine, how you worked on the role and where it led you?
MW – My brother Wash, knew the director Todd Haynes. He was across location scouting and looking out for London glitterati.
I was fresh out of film school so got a meet up in that 24 hour café down Old Compton Street on a rainy Thursday afternoon. We got on very well, found a mutual love for Kenneth Anger films. So it went from there.
I tried out for the band stylist, which finally went to the brilliant David Hoyle. I did a lip synch on VHS to ‘All the young dudes’ – must dig it out. Got the part. I inadvertently started method acting, though didn’t know it was called that at the time.
I was pimped and preened by the best in the industry. I was walking home one day and heard all this horn honking. Looked round to find 2 ladies grinning at me from behind the wheel. I feigned indifference although I was secretly made up. It never happened before & hasn’t happened since – glam rock magic rubbing off.
Where did Velvet Goldmine leave me…right here i guess, twenty years on writing all about it…
MW – You have worked extensively with PJ Harvey. How does it work in the studio, please go into some detail about working processes?
TE – Initially I did a one-off recording session playing trumpets on The River from Is This Desire? Polly knew what she wanted and the session was pretty quick and painless. The trumpet’s overdubbed four times but doesn’t sound heavy. Flood produced that, alongside John Parish. Over the years the three of them have developed a fine sense of ‘production-by-committee’ – which actually works. The sessions for The Hope 6 Demolition Project at Somerset House are quite well documented and I’d suggest watching A Dog Called Money for some insight into that, but if you’d like it from the horse’s mouth I’d say that that record was put together like Chinese cooking – a hell of a lot goes into the preparation, but the cooking time is minimal. To continue the analogy you could describe the mixing process as a long digestion period!
TE – Image and presentation is an important part of your music – does the music sound like what you’re looking at in your head? (Can you link this to some of your music being used in brother Wash’s films, please?)
MW – I spent nearly 10 years making electronic music so I developed a keen ear for texture, sonics, really listening on a microscopic level. I work a lot with chords now to generate compositions, all sorts of inversions and such like. Lyrics have become primary with Micko & The Mellotronics. I know that Jon Klein (guitarist/co-producer) and featured players such as yourself Terry can make those skilful and critical additions to build upon and orchestrate the songs. Does it get close to the sound in my head…sometimes. I meditate a lot so I feel like when I’m writing I’m unpacking from ‘the other room’, if you like, refining, nuancing as part of that process. When I’ve worked with my film maker brother (Still Alice, Colette), he’s normally referencing something I’ve already done or knows I can do, so it’s more about breaking down themes & re-presenting them in a multitude of different ways. In film work there’s always a ton of changes – it’s usual to send many versions.
MW – When you write music, do you consider it in a technical way or do you opt for a more intuitive approach?
TE – Kind of both, really. I write quite a lot in my head and can wander around for ages refining riffs and ideas before picking up an instrument, but once I’m ready to go I like to record quickly. I’m a great believer in leaving things once they’re done – and if something hasn’t worked then rethink it, use a different instrument, don’t keep returning to what hasn’t worked and you know it never will – like looking in the same pocket for your keys time after time when you know they’re not there. They must be on the sideboard or somewhere else…
TE – You’ve had some interesting guests on your recent albums – Mickey Gallagher, Ed Harcourt, Leo Abrahams and Neil Innes. Can you tell us a bit about working with one, two or all of them?!
MW – Mickey was a great lad, what a great musical style, 50 years in the making. Came over for the afternoon and was happy to play on absolutely everything I had, signed my copy of London Calling too, which he played on.
Ed Harcourt is a big ball of fun and a huge talent. I remember some 15 years ago he had hundreds of songs in his book. Great keyboard player as well which is often overlooked.
I haven’t seen Leo in a while but check in fairly regularly. He’s become one of the most sought after guitar players on the planet since he played ten years ago on my third album ‘Wax & Wayne’. Leo has the uncanny ability of appearing to do very little, whilst delivering genius strokes. He’s been Eno’s go-to guitarist for many years and has perfected the fine art of texture and space in his playing. But the bottom line is he can do anything, phenomenal musician.
I developed a solid friendship with Neil Innes in the last 7 years of his life. He became an avuncular figure to me. Spending time with him would provide complex & fascinating insights into life, the universe & everything. As a songwriter he was bewilderingly good. He can make you smile and cry all at the same time. Very unusual to combine music & comedy and excel in them both. Once wrote a book on economics too, how bizarre.
At this point, I must mention my partner in crime on our latest release (1/2 Dove – 1/2 Pigeon), Jon Klein (ex Specimen & Banshee). Jon manages to pack immense complexity into seemingly simple packages. There’s often the work of three guitarists taking place within the one line and yet it somehow has an economy. The record we have made would not sound like it does without his help and expertise. He delivers pure originality in unexpected and sometimes unusual ways. Fantastic company too.
MW – You tour a lot, what have you been spending your time on musically since covid?
TE – If it hadn’t been for the first lockdown I doubt I’d’ve got my 60th birthday boxset together. It takes a lot of man-hours to get a 60-track 3CD set together and I’m really pleased with Very Terry Edwards. I’ve managed to do a bit of recording with Near Jazz Experience plus some remote sessions for James Stevenson, Marianne Dissard and others. Plus daily practice of course, including getting my head around Terry Riley’s In C – quite a marathon. And I’m writing an autobiography.
TE – Micko and The Mellotronics is your latest outfit. Tell us about the differences between being a solo, studio-based artist and fronting a traditional four-piece band.
MW – Life seemed simpler in the studio. You can be left to your hermetic therapy. But you don’t really experience direct feedback like being in front of a crowd and once you get the buzz, you can’t get enough. Playing in a band is like a team sport where everybody wins, there are times when you feel like you’re in the eye of a hurricane with Nick Mackay our drummer pounding & Vicky Carroll on bass keeping absolute time. You can get a sense of feeling from a crowd within it all. When you get those moments when it all comes together it’s tremendous.
MW – Do you think it fair to say musicians never retire? Are there things left that you still want to realise?
TE – I’m with the character Alexandra del Lago who said, “How do you retire from art? Where do you retire to?” in Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams. But of course some musicians do retire – I just can’t see myself doing it. I love what I do and yes, there’s always more to do. I’ve probably not made enough music as captain of the ship asitwere – I tend to take on session work as it comes up and put my own work on the back-burner. 2020 has seen me bring that stuff to the front-burner and I’m giving it a stir!
TE – Please talk us through one of your favourite recordings that you either wrote/co-wrote or performed on
MW – I asked Horace Panter (The Specials) to come and play on a couple of tracks from the latest album and of course being the gentlemen he is, he dully obliged.
He’d worked one track up to a tee, but said that there were things to do on the second. It was called The Finger’, and that really sprung into life before my ears & eyes. He played on a Rickenbacker 4001 through heavy guitar processing – the clank on it is amazing. When Jon Klein came to play it went through the roof. It was like a childhood dream to get those two duelling away on what became the band’s first single. The icing on the cake then came when we shot the video with film maker Ashley Jones and Little Britain’s Paul Putner came to play the curmudgeon from the song. He did it so very well.
MW – Please talk us through one of your favourite recordings that you either wrote/co-wrote or performed on.
TE – I’m proud of both solo albums, terryedwards and Clichés, but the individual (no pun intended) track that I really like is a Higsons B-side, Lying On The Telephone. It was produced by Warne Livesey and the drum take on the backing track is brilliant. We never played to a click/metronome and it was decided that the tempo was a bit too fast so we slowed it down by varispeed (pre-digital days), rerecorded the bass and guitars then Warne and I arranged the horn section around Simon’s excellent drum fills and accents. It’s inspired by Earth Wind & Fire, believe it or not…
TE – Tell us about about what you like about working with Terry Edwards?
MW – Terry turns up on time, has done his homework, is a really good laugh and delivers excellence. He’s completely on board and in support of your ‘artistic vision’, even when at times it’s a bit flurry . So when suggestions come, you’re never made to feel compromised. Not only does he deliver brilliant ‘lead’ takes, but there’s always an arrangement for you to discover later. He’ll often say ‘let’s put these things down as well’, you’ll find over harmonies & such like when he’s gone, so there’s always a plan B & C that he’s sussed out for you. We have worked together now for 20 years and I can’t imagine him not being around on a project, bring on the next 20 I say.. MW – What do you like about working with Micko Westmoreland?
As a session player it’s great when you’re given a clear idea of what the artist wants of you, whether that’s a precise melody or feel and also when they just want you to be yourself, free rein. You get the best of both worlds with Micko, possibly because he knows that I’ll do what he tells me to do (and I can feel free to suggest adjustments) and that he can trust me to bring the right sound to his songs when he just wants me to “be Terry Edwards”.
Terry Edwards retrospective albums reviewed – Here
Micko’s album is 27 in the Louder Than War top 50 albums of 2020 Here
Micko Westmoreland Socials:
Intro by Nigel Carr. More writing by Nigel on Louder Than War can be found in his Author’s archive. You can find Nigel on Twitter and Facebook Listen to Nigel’s show on Radio Alty – Wednesdays 9-11 pm! Photos – Natalie Hitchcock