Welsh bluesman Mark Pontin releases his third album 'Kaleidoscope' with his group this Friday (26th November), an excellently inventive album that takes in rock, funk, soul (and of course blues) influences coloured by string and brass arrangements on many of the tracks. Mark took some time out to answer a few questions for BBMATB on the making of the album, playing live, his influences and who he's listening to at the moment.
'Kaleidoscope' is out on the 26th November on Lunaria Records on all the major digital sites and from www.lunariarecords.com. You can also still pick up the two previous Mark Pontin Group's albums 'Days Of Destiny' (2013) and 'Textures' (2015).
Hello Mark, thankyou for taking some time to answer a few questions. You've a new album out, 'Kaleidoscope'; how was it recording and putting it together - did COVID impinge on it at all?
Hello! Thanks for asking me! I actually recorded the album before Covid, so whilst the pandemic didn’t hinder the recording it certainly did hinder the release. I decided to hold it back from a planned 2020 release and I’m so glad I did as I then got signed to Lunaria Records in the interim and they will be releasing it now on 26th November 2021.
It took three years to complete the writing/recording process and I tried my best to ‘squeeze all the juice’ from every track. It was at times both frustrating and fulfilling but I think it turned out ok in the end!
Where did you record the album? Somewhere you had recorded before?
All my albums including Kaleidoscope were recorded at Sonic One Studios in Llangennech, near Llanelli. It’s the best studio in Wales and one of the best in the UK. Tim Hamill who owns and runs it is a real asset in that he’s a wonderful engineer, great musician and great mastering engineer so you can ‘do it all’ in house. The SSL console he uses used to be at Wessex Studios and has been used by David Bowie and Primal Scream amongst others.
There's a number of tracks on the album with strings and brass? Were they musicians you had worked with before and how were the sessions with them? I also gather you wrote the string and brass parts yourself - how did you find doing that?
I had a ‘fixer’ - Helina Rees - who played violin on the album but also assembled the players for me. She came highly recommended by Tim at Sonic One and proved a wonderful person to work with. We tracked all the string parts in one morning, and the only thing I had to do really was wrestle the ‘classical’ out of them and put the ‘funk’ in them here and there. Rather than European chamber type I was looking for 70s blaxploitation type strings - so I played them ‘Move On Up’ by Curtis Mayfield so they got it then!
For brass it was another session player - Andrew Griffiths - recommended by Tim. I sent him the tracks and my brass parts and he played and recorded at his home studio and sent them back the next day.
Yes I did write all the arrangements - it was a huge learning curve as I wanted ‘original’ type parts rather than ‘paint by numbers’ style. It took me many hours to compose them, but I’m so glad I did as it’s good to push yourself out of your comfort zone!
Do you have any favourite tracks on the album? If so, which ones and why?
I like the track ‘Everything Tomorrow’. It has a contemporary element to it which to me brings the blues more up to date. But it maintains a retro feel too. I’m particularly proud of the lyrics as they really tell the tale of addiction and the struggles to resist.
I also like ‘Phoenix’ as it turned into a real epic song - the strings turned out magnificently well, I was thrilled when I heard them. It’s a song about mental health issues and the battle within. I used this metaphorically in the music video which showed a WW1 soldier waiting to ‘go over the top’. I dedicated it to my Great Grandad David John Maddy who did go over the top and lived to tell the tale..
How do you feel 'Kaleidoscope' differs from your previous albums, 'Days Of Destiny' and 'Textures'?
I feel it’s a huge progression - I always try and better what I’ve done before and I think you can really hear better vocals, writing, composition and production. It sounds more ‘professional’ to me. I am pleased that my inner ‘talent well’ still has some depth and more hopefully to investigate in the future.
You've put together a power-trio for your upcoming live shows (with Rowan Griffiths on drums and Joe Hoskin on bass). Do you enjoy the chance to play your music in different band formats? And do you find you have to change your style of playing to fit with the size of the band you're playing with?
I’ve always played the trio style apart from one or two tours where I had an additional keys player. I like to improvise and encourage the players with me to do the same so we stretch the songs out in a trio format - no two nights will be the same - and it challenges us to respect the song but also advance the tune each time we play it.
I do alter my style when I have a keys player - I will focus more on playing less as there is less space to fill. Having keys also allows me to sit back and comp whilst the keys are soloing, and I can also really concentrate more on singing as I’m not so relied on to play all the melodic rhythm parts. I will expand in the future to include a keyboard player when economics allow!
As a guitarist, who were your main influences when you were starting out? And as a songwriter, where do you draw inspiration from and who were the songwriters you admired / do admire?
My main guitar influences are Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Robben Ford, Doyle Bramhall II, all the old blues guys like BB King, Albert King etc. I love Stevie Ray Vaughan and his brother Jimmie. Then more fusion type players like Michael Landau.
As a songwriter it’s again Jimi Hendrix ( who is underrated as a songwriter in my opinion ) then the classics like Lennon/McCartney, Page/Plant etc. I also like Robben Ford’s songwriting particularly on ‘Supernatural’ and Doyle Bramhall II on ‘Rich Man’.
Are there any upcoming guitarists you enjoy listening to on today's music scene?
I like Scott Mckeon who plays with Tom Jones but also puts his own stuff out. There’s a guy from the US called Christone Kingfish Ingram and another called Marcus King. I tend to like the people who play authentically and also write songs rather than just be virtuosos on guitar,
What do you think of the UK blues scene at the moment? Any bands currently out there you'd recommend to listeners?
I think it’s very healthy. One particular band to watch is ‘Five Points Gang’ who are on my label, and I’ve known the guitar player Joe Pearson since he was very young. Honest rocking blues at it’s best!
And finally, what musical plans do you have for the rest of 2021 and 2022?
I have a few dates in 2021 Covid allowing and the album will be out on Nov 26th on Lunaria Records. 2022 then will be expanding the touring and promoting the album to its fullest extent as long as Covid doesn’t stop that of course. Towards the end of 2022 I will see about recording the next album for a 2023 release, all being well..