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James Marples – EP Launch, Mirth, Marvel and Maud, London, 05/04/2019

This started as a joint review of two ‘stable mates’ (although they are both unsigned), James Marples and Mally Harpaz, the former with an EP, ‘Go Quietly’, and the latter with her debut album, ‘Zoom In, Zoom Out’, which we previously reviewed (https://www.godisinthetvzine.co.uk/2019/03/29/mally-harpaz-zoom-in-zoom-out-self-released/).

Unfortunately various delays and technical matters prompted Mally Harpaz’s show, which featured, as it does on the album, a vocal contribution from Anna Calvi, to start around 10pm, by which time your reviewer had hot-footed it to Euston Station for the last Manchester train out of town which, the way things are politically right now, is akin to the last helicopter out of Saigon. So I can only report on James Marples, an intriguing individual, and supported not only by Mally Harpaz on percussion but by other talented individuals.

The evening was produced by Blind Dog Studios, a collective that involves both the artists, together with, inter alia, the American singer-songwriter Hazel Iris, an engaging host on the evening. You can always tell when an event is going to be classy. No cheesy wallpaper music before the show started, just solid Leonard Cohen, Antony and the Johnsons, et al. They even put out free bags of popcorn, a feature that is apparently de la maison, a nod to the venue’s cinematic history.

The tall dark-haired Australian James Marples cuts a dashing figure, in an interesting combination of tuxedo, informal white shirt and casual gray trousers; a sort of James Bond meets Lord Lucan. Playing his white and turquoise guitar high, just under the chin, he ekes appealing folky ballad tunes out of it, wrapped up in thoughtful lyrics.

His subjects range over ghosts, (apparently, he told us, the venue is full of them, some “attached” to a previous cinema on the site, which was frequented by Alfred Hitchcock), waxworks, satire on the end of empires and the alignment of stars, the latter being, for my money, the most impressive of the set.

One of his songs, ‘Use A Little Love’ was presented solo with acoustic guitar accompaniment, but for all the others he was joined by Mally Harpaz, Rose Asprey on cello and pedal steel guitarist Henry Senior. They added excellent vocals, too.

I’ll lay my cards on the table here. Male singer-songwriters typically do little for me. The mere mention of Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith is enough to send me screaming into the hills. Firstly, don’t confuse Mr Marples with them; he’s more subtle, musically, lyrically and presentationally. And he has an Ezra-toned voice (one of the few that can get my attention) to go with it.

Secondly, this selection of musicians works together perfectly, from Harpaz’s almost silent brushwork (I was fiddling with my hearing aid then remembered I haven’t got one – yet) to Asprey’s heavy and occasionally dramatic cello contribution, to Senior’s subtle slide guitar, allied to Marples’ gently caressed electric guitar, the entirety was compelling and quite sensuous at times.

It’s a variety of music I rarely if ever come across in the north but then again we have few collectives up here that I can think of like Blind Dog so such evolution is harder to find. In the North you tend to stick to your genre. In North London, you don’t have to.

‘Go Quietly’ might refer to the fact that he is apparently leaving these shores soon to return to his native Australia after 15 (?) years, where he’ll find a booming scene, but mainly one of female artists as I read it. I’m unsure as to why he isn’t better-known here. I was impressed by his show and by the way these collectives work to improve on original work.

As I’ve only got half a review I’ll do two things. Firstly, courtesy of Michael Golding, a dramatic role-reversal photo of Anna Calvi backing Mally Harpaz, on the song ‘Not Without Pain’ I believe.

harpaz mirth

Secondly, I’ll comment briefly on the venue, again because this sort of establishment, Mirth, Marvel and Maud, could really only exist in these environs, in London or other big cities. Having fallen into disuse as a cinema, a church wanted to buy it but it was acquired by a pub chain, Antic, in 2005 and named because “we wanted to bring Mirth back to the Foyer, which is in itself a Walthamstow Marvel… (and)…my Great Aunt Maud took me to a similar space as a child”.

Now it functions as a bar, restaurant (I can recommend the Cumberland sausage and mash at a very reasonable eight quid), performance space, occasional cinema and cultural centre.

It’s in Walthamstow, a suburb literally at the end of the (Tube) line in northeast London which has seen hard times but which has been gentrified, at least a little. It isn’t the next Shoreditch but its working hard to improve its image.

Situated next door to a pub where a drag queen was the star turn on the night I can best describe MM&M as being fashionably tatty. It’s like walking through the door of the Tardis into the 1950s. The paint was probably last licked around then. But the authenticity is immense and the venue, with its tiered bench seating and excellent acoustics, a joy.

The point is that without venues like this folk from far and wide wouldn’t easily be able to see and appreciate the likes of James Marples, Mally Harpaz and their supporting musicians. Long may they thrive.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.