Mark Read solo artist and former a1 member chatted with us about his upcoming releases, his video and his time in a1.
April 7th found us in Sunderland pottering around the Glass Spider, the location for the nights gig and also where we would be meeting with Mark Read for a little chat before hand. Heading home for an hour before heading back into the town, it was decided then that we clearly had good timing as who should we discover waiting to get let in but the man himself. After heading inside with him and a chat during which we had a look at his new guitar before mocking me and my own guitar “What is it a violin?” sound check was next. After which our interview commenced.
“I've gone and flipping well put a bag of biscuits in my pocket and they've crumbled up and its all horrible” Mark tells us after we've discussed the recording device and I've proven that I really know nothing about it at all “Excuse me while I de-crumb, a bit of decrumbage going on. How do you think the sound check sounded?”
“It sounded good actually” we nod “There was a little bit of, the microphone sounded a little bit too loud”
“Oh good, yeah yeah yeah, they sorted that out. I've got a killer killer sore throat at the moments and I don't even know how I'm singing on it” he admits, “I've just taken so many numbing tablets you wouldn't believe, like living on soothers and strepsils, but no my throats in agony, but there you go you get through it. Right” by this point that packet from the biscuits is being folded in Mark's hands and is brought to the microphone and crinkled “Is that going to be really annoying?” he asks with amusement “Should I do that all the way through? We're having a chat over breakfast” he smiles still crinkling the packet as he speaks “How many eggs would you like?” that's the next question “How many eggs would you like? Sorry”
We don't really mind, finding it quite amusing ourselves. Mark first shot into the public eye back in the summer of 1999 when he hit the charts as one quarter of 'boy band' a1. After the band split in 2003 its all been quite quiet, aside from the few songs we know he has had a hand in writing that were released into the charts by other artists. But now, 6 years on from the band splitting, Mark is back and ready to release his solo record and it couldn't have come at a better time.
It's been quite a while...
“Since we last chatted? Its like 5 minutes” he states as we press on to say its been a while since a1 and ask what he's been up to.
“Absolutely nothing, I got myself a really comfy sofa, just parked my bum on it and I didn't move for 6 years, that was about it. I just watched all the TV shows that I'd missed Lost, 24, Heroes; caught up on all of them” he states with a level of belief that almost had us believing him had he not continued “No, no that's a really bad answer, no I've been working constantly like song writing; developing my skills as a writer, that's something I was always really interested in doing anyway, so after a1 finished I started a publishing deal with Universal, wrote with lots of artists, wrote with lots of different co-writers and got to a point where I was kind of like you know what, its been so many years I want to get back out there, a lot of the songs that I was writing were very personal to me and they were about things that had happened in my life and I was like, why am I writing these songs and trying to give them away to other people? It came to a point where I felt like well, I might as well do these myself so I kind of put an album together and am ready to go again now.”
Unlike his a1 cohorts Christian Ingebrigsten who has gone on to have massive success in Norway and Ben Adams who released his first solo single relatively soon after a1 finished Mark has kept quiet, why did he choose the song writing path?
“Well I've always been a song writer” he explains “I mean but what I felt is, after something as big as a1, I don't want to rush into doing the solo thing without having anything to say. I think its really important as a writer, because the songs we wrote with a1 they were very much, they were just like fun pop songs and they were kind of, very different to what I would have liked to do as a - and what I have done - as a singer. Well actually” he pauses “The music I'm doing is actually, possibly where a1 would have gone next, you know its kind of like a slight step in the more bandy territory, so its actually kind of like a continuation from, say songs like 'Caught In The Middle', so yeah I just wanted to wait until I had something to say so I went away, life experience stepped in, all sorts happened, good things, bad things and then before I know it, I've written an album”.
But what sort of things inspired the record?
“Inspiration, all life experiences, all as I said – good things, bad things, breakups, you know making friends losing friends, the normal stuff that people go through all the time and it just makes – as tough as it is – it makes for the best material for writing songs.”
At this point I check the microphone to be sure it has actually been recording, because lets face it I have a fear of things not, especially when the recorder has no lights or indication its actually recording.
“Have you pressed record?” Mark asks to which I reply yes “You've just realised that you haven't pressed record”
I explain, rather badly that I have to check to make sure it was actually recording, did I actually hit record.
“Are you recording in like slow motion, when you play it back it's going to go (at this point you will possibly be interested in knowing that Mark does a very good impression of a fast forwarding tape)”
And we move on.
We've found out what inspired the record but have any artists influenced him while he was writing the record?
“Influenced me to do what?” He asks “You should do this”
I re-ask the question so it makes sense to the topic, because clearly on occasion I have talking issues, so have there been influences from other artists?
“Yeah always” he nods “I mean the thing is, you write a load of songs, and I've written a lot of songs that I've had for a long time, and then another band would come along or an artist sounding like the songs that I was writing and I'd be like 'oh man', like when I heard The Feeling it was exactly what I wanted to do, I was like 'oh man that is everything that I want my album to be and more', and I think they are an amazing band. And also when I heard Take That's 'Shine' I was like awh, but then it just goes to show that, uhm I just realised I just went 'awh'” he detours a little “It doesn't really translate well when you're writing things down. What does that actually mean?” he asks – its hard to describe an onomatopoeic word so I'll leave that up to you readers to decipher. - continuing “No I kind of when I heard those songs I thought, 'wow this is the kind of thing that I'm writing', and I think it shows that a lot of musicians like Gary Barlow, like Mark Owen and The Feeling, we've all listened to the same music growing up, we're all from a very similar generation and I think we're probably inspired by similar bands and that shows, and I'm talking about bands like ELO, and The Beatles, The Beach Boys and I think you can hear that in a lot of. Queen as well you can hear that and also like Mika's music as well. Yeah, so when I heard Take That's new direction, The Feeling and Mika I was like, that's incredible. Great stuff, really good stuff.”
Recently our ears were assaulted by Marks' single 'The Greatest Lady In My Life', a glorious ballad released close to Mothers Day, which can be said to be found encapsulating the spirit of Mothers Day. The song was chosen as a sort of anthem for the Tesco Mother of The Year awards, how did that happen?
“That wasn't actually a single” Mark tells us “That's the interesting thing, what happened was, I was asked to do that, and because the album is called 'Peace At Last' and the first single was always going to be 'Peace At Last' which is the title track I wanted to go BANG with a whole new direction and this is what its all about, and then, when this Tesco thing came along, to be able to perform at the Mum of the Year everyone was saying well it's too good an opportunity to miss not to release it as a single. Obviously we had Mother's Day around the corner but as it happened we just, we only had 2, 3 weeks to promote the single and it's quite impossible to get a song off the ground but, as it happened we, in the time what we had, we managed to get it on iTunes, we managed to get it out there and it's gone down really well, it's been very popular, well received but I don't think its the end of that song, I have a feeling that's going to be one of those songs that's going to come round quite a lot, I mean, we've already heard that there's a lot of people because Mothers Day is actually May 10th in the rest of the world, in America so there's actually plans to do things in other parts of the world with it, but yeah its a nice song, but very different from the rest of the album, its more sort of traditional early style a1 ballad”
When we meet, Mark is busy doing a sort of mini-promotional tour for the record.
“A mini-promo tour which is the prelude to the huge promo tour which I hope is going to be later on once we've got the video ready and everything.” he smiles “So what I'm doing at the moment, well basically because obviously I hadn't gigged myself for a long time, I do the odd gig here and there, but not actually with new material and we got a new gigging agent, and he said 'yeah I can get you here, I can get you there, I can get you everywhere', and all of a sudden I'm all over the place, but its kind of like wow it happened so quickly, I hadn't even thought about how I was going to do it, what I was going to do. It was very different going from being on-stage with 3 other guys and then just doing it on your own” he admits “I mean I'm more at home sitting behind a piano just playing a song but I don't know how exciting that is for the audience to watch me enjoy myself at a piano for half an hour or whatever, so I try and put a bit of variety into the shows so, some of it's on guitar, some of it's on piano”
Do a bit of dancing?
“That's the one thing I have not incorporated into the set. I encourage the audience to do all the dancing yeah, saves me having to do it”
I go on to express that I think he should, stick a couple of the old songs on and have a bit of a dance
“Have you tried to do a dance routine whilst sitting at a piano?” he asks, we haven't (but I have been known to sit at the computer and have a bit of a jam) he continues “It ends up looking a bit comedy like a guy sitting in the corner in a pub going 'wayhey!' You know I should be singing 'I've Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts'” At this point I have to point out that Mark was in fact giving us a fantastic example of said piano dance before continuing “But uhm no, I'm going to pass on the dancing this time round”
But will they be included next time around?
“Yeah, absolutely” he nods
Since he's been promoting his records and playing the odd gig every now and then has he found that a lot of the old a1 fans are continuing to show their support?
“I'm finding a lot of the old a1 fans are all married with kids now, which is quite scary” he laughs “A lot of them are like 'we can't come out tonight because we've got a little baby' its like wow okay, but uhm which is lovely, hopefully future a1 fans. But no it's nice because even 6 years later there's still a lot of familiar faces and people that have supported us from day one, and that's amazing, that's really just lovely that they've stayed with us”
Do they bring friends along who weren't necessarily a1 fans?
“I hope so, I hope so. I don't mind if they have to drag friends along, I hope that by the end of the gig that they will be converted”
Since we've discussed the single a bit and covered the touring, we move on to the video. Mark recently wrapped the shoot for his first single 'Peace At Last' which is out on May 11th, and from what pictures we have seen it looks like it's going to be great. So how did the video shoot go?
“The video shoot for 'Peace At Last' was really good” he smiles “We did one day in a studio in front of green screen, so at the moment I couldn't tell you what it's going to look like because some guy sitting at a computer is going to make it all happen and bring it to life, but I've got a feeling its going to be a bit like” he pauses “The song is all about just getting away from it, just getting away from your mad chaotic like and enjoying a bit of peace, you know that's what the song's about so, we thought we are going to have this massive contrast of the chaos in all the city and then getting away from it in the countryside, so one of the days was in a location and one of the days was in a studio so really good” he explains, and you could tell that there was a hint of excitement in his voice anticipating its completion. We were curious if there was any date or release in a few weeks.
“The thing is as soon as the video is ready” he starts to tell us “They have this whole process in post production where they'll be bringing it all together. As soon as its ready and we know its ready to go, then we're going to send it out to all of the TV companies, all out to the music channels etc., get ourselves a real like plan and a real package together and then we're going to just press the button and then hopefully, it'll all take off from there”
The conversation so far had got me thinking, as had the days leading up to the actual conversation about a1. Admittedly I scurried around through my CD's and replayed them all. It was good, and it is still sorely missed. So seeing as how we were standing with Mark having a chat we turned the conversation back to a1 for a while.
“Yeah we did all right” he smiles when we start mentioning a1's success “We didn't do too badly”
Just a Brit,
“Yeah I know, not bad I know. It's a good door stop.”
At this point we break out the proverbial question that many an old a1 fan have been querying – Is there any possibility that you'll do a reunion one day?
“I think we always just say never say never because, we still all like each other – which is a relief, not sending out death threats” he laughs “So yeah there's always a chance, there's always a possibility but I think we're all kind of busy doing our own thing at the moment. I know that Christian is over doing 'Les Miserables' in Norway so he's playing the lead role in that show for a few months. Ben has obviously just come out of Big Brother recently so he's very busy doing his own thing. I think it may well happen, it may well happen, but it's just a case of if and when. And how”
Again, I get that old adage named word vomit and continue talking briefly saying that they should and that another tour is in order.
“Yeah, yeah I know we loved it we really did have the time of our lives” Mark nods “Its only when say, if I'm doing a gig and I slip on an old a1 song and I do 'Take On Me', it makes me realise how much fun we had because yeah I love my new songs absolutely love them, I'm really really proud of them, but the kind of nostalgia and the memories that come back from doing an old song, you know you just can't beat it you can't compare”
We briefly discuss the shows that a1 did at Durham Gala Theatre, and the dance that was created to accompany 'Everytime'
“But that's one of the slow ones, you can't dance to that. Are you saying you actually had a dance?” Mark asks – yes we did.
Its great reminiscing on the fun times back in the day, the good times. But since Mark himself was in a1, surely he has his own favourite a1 moment?
“Well I think the obvious thing to say would be say, winning the Brit” he states “That would be kind of obvious, but I don't know if it really is. I think probably just going on your own tour and enjoying that, and going to all the different towns and stuff and I think, having a second number one. Because to get a first number one that's just amazing in itself, but then having another one was just brilliant, and then having a number one being a song that we'd written ourselves. There are so many memories its virtually impossible to kind of say what is the best memory.”
Since a1 were a household name, was it quite difficult for Mark the step out of a1 now and start doing his own thing, because people do remember him specifically from a1?
“Well I think enough time has passed where its familiar, but if I come up with something new its relatively fresh and like, because you say Mark from a1 or whatever and people who know you know who you are and stuff, but if I'm just coming out as Mark Read its like a relatively new name and a new act so I've really not had any problems with that. If people do know the a1 stuff I'm like great fantastic, and I'm happy to do the old a1 songs, but the nice thing is I've been getting such a good reaction to the new stuff that its kind of just, I just want the songs to speak for themselves.”
We were recently enthralled to learn that there was to be an a1 Greatest Hits album hitting the shops a number of weeks prior to this interview and also discovering that Mark was going to be playing in Sunderland. So like the good old a1 fans we were, we bought a copy, only to receive it and feel a tinge of disappointment when we actually examined it. So we asked Mark if it was their decision to release the Greatest Hits CD, and it was a surprisingly thankful revelation.
“Nope” he states “That was a lame, lame quick attempt to cash in on Ben being in Big Brother, they didn't put any effort into it, they rushed it” you can hear the irritation in his voice as he speaks flustering slightly “We didn't really have any... Because if we were...” he pauses a second “I can understand them doing that but then the final straw, ridiculous thing was there was no promotion, they didn't let anybody know about it, it was just a case of if you knew it was out you might be able to find it, but if you didn't there's no chance you'd find it”
There was an email sent out about its release, which I personally didn't get, but someone I know did – we told Mark about this
“Oh well there you go. I just thought it was a bit you know. I would have, I think the four of us would have liked to have put something together a bit more special” he admits “And we may still do that, we may still”
“I don't like it at all” he admits when we ask if he's seen the actual album “I hated the picture of me on the front of it I mean, like its not that hard to find a half decent picture of me. I mean yeah maybe not all the way decent, which might be a bit of a struggle but a half decent picture”
We think he's being silly saying that because he takes good pictures, but the pictures on the album are rather old, from I think Same Old Brand New You – possibly I'm wrong and they're from Caught In The Middle. Either way they aren't that recent.
“They are old” Mark agrees “They are old, but I mean they picked really old ones, they're really bad ones because apparently - giving all the secrets away now – Sony lost all the a1 pictures or something like that, well not just a1, they lost a lot of their old pictures on the computers, they lost a lot of files. I mean well you know, its just the nature of the business really.”
We covered a lot in our little chat, but we didn't want to keep him for longer than necessary, although we admit, we would have given half the chance, so we started bringing it to a close and found out what was next for Mark Read.
“I'm going to go to the hotel and have a sleep” he states “Because I had a 5 hour drive and I'm on-stage at 1am, that's what's next. Possibly try and fit in a bit of dinner. What's next. Video coming out 'Peace At Last' and then the album coming out. Its all written on the back of this nifty little card that I'm handing out at gigs now. But yeah that's what's next, and lots of gigs. I've got some festivals, I've got festivals in London, festivals all over the place, Canterbury – I'm just trying to remember all the names – Crawley. I'm going over to Spain for a gig. All sorts, all sorts coming up” he smiles.
And so we're done. We say thank you and see you later, because I was heading back that night to the club, camera in hand ready to take on the lighting to grab some shots of the performance. And then we left him to tackle the first part of the what's next answer.
A great night, a great chat and I still maintain that Mark is one of the nicest guys in the business I've had the pleasure of interviewing.
'The single 'Peace At Last' is out May 11th
Keep your eyes peeled for the forthcoming album of the same name.