Interview: Hit songwriter on 'shy' Morrissey

Harrogate fans of 80s acoustic pop band Fairground Attraction have enjoyed seeing its flamed-haired lead singer Eddi Reader on stage in town in the recent past.

Thursday, 22nd February 2018, 11:13 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd February 2018, 11:15 am
Flashback - 80s hitmakers Fairground Attraction with songwriter/guitarist Mark Nevin, right, who wrote Perfect, and singer Eddi Reader, second from left.
Flashback - 80s hitmakers Fairground Attraction with songwriter/guitarist Mark Nevin, right, who wrote Perfect, and singer Eddi Reader, second from left.

But it’s rare to get the chance to see the member of the band who wrote her biggest hit Perfect.

Now that’s about to be addressed when the man responsible brings his new tour our way, including a show at Otley Courthouse on March 16.

Mark Nevin - or Mark E Nevin, as he was then - is the songwriter’s songwriter, having worked with the likes of Morrissey, David Bowie, Ringo Starr, Kirsty MacColl, Carole King and more.

Early 1990s Mark Nevin with Morrissey and Kirsty MacColl.

Incredibly, the song that helped Fairground Attraction’s The First of a Million Kisses album sell a million copies in 1988 is now 30 years old.

An instant classic, Perfect even impressed a famous ex-Beatle.

Meeting an ex-Beatle!

Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser on the phone from his home on London where Liam Gallagher is a neighbour, Mark said: “By design or good fortune, I stumbled on a great pop song, something with a quality that endures.

Early 1990s Mark Nevin with Morrissey and Kirsty MacColl.

“After the song took off I got a card in the post from a Paul and Linda inviting me to the Buddy Holly Day concert.

“At first I thought “who are Paul and Linda?”

“When I turned up Paul walked across the room towards me and came straight up and said “I love that song.” It was mindblowing.”

Audiences on his new UK tour to promote his new four-track EP Dolly Said No To Elvis, will enjoy a virtual Fairground Attraction reunion – except for Eddi herself.

Accompanying Mark will be his former bandmates Simon Edwards (bass), Roger Beaujolais (vibraphone) and Richard Marcangelo (drums)

This breeziest of bands split up at the height of their fame in 1990 in some disharmony (“we wanted different things and had different agendas, it all fell to pieces” is what Mark says about Eddi.

At least they still got on well enough to sue their lawyer rather than each other, he adds

What working with Morrissey was like

A restless but likable soul, Mark landed on his feet quickly, co-writing and playing most of the guitar on the former lead singer of The Smith’s second solo album in 1991.

Mark said: “I’d sent him a cassette tape of some of my songs to his home in Manchester and the next day he sent me a postcard saying “Perfect”.

“That went on for a while and eventually I was invited to join him in the studio.

“He was an odd character. He was sitting there in his glasses with his quiff looking like a Smiths cover,

“We all had to eat vegetarian food. He was very shy and awkward, not a comfortable person to be around.

“Before I met him I thought he was whinging in an ironic way on his lyrics but he was just whinging.”

The end result of his time with Morrissey and musicians including Mark ‘Bedders’ Bedford of Madness was the Kill Uncle album.

Unfairly maligned at the time by critics, though mostly for the production by Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, Morrissey himself was happy enough with the results of Mark’s efforts to invite him on tour.

And it was Mark who suggested recruiting legendary ex-David Bowie guitarist Mick Ronson to produce his next album.

Your Arsenal, which contains I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday, another Morrissey/Nevin co-write, which was later covered by David Bowie himself, went onto to be huge success.

By the time of the tour, however, Morrissey was beginning to gravitate towards new musical partners in rockabilly musicians Alain Whyte and Boz Boorer, and Mark was onto his next project.

Mark said: “I like writing lyrics, which is obviously what Morrissey does. It was great to have worked with him but I wasn’t the right person to stay on for the long haul.

“If you’re in Morrissey’s band you basically give up the rest of your life.

“I got a call from his office saying he’s got all the dates ready and wants you to come along.

“I said “when does it start?” The voice on the phone said “tomorrow!”

Working with Sir George Martin and Ringo

Having forged a successful career since then, this highly-respected is proud of his achievements.

Mark said: “Ringo Starr wanted to record one of my songs, I’m Yours, and he wanted me there at Air Studios while the late Sir George Martin was recording it.

“It was fantastic. In between working, George was just talking away about what it was like when The Beatles were recording Revolver. Afterwards I thought to myself “did that just happen?””

At the age of 58, Mark is still in awe of that 60s generation of classic British songwriters.

Every time he sees another of his neighbours in the street, Ray Davies of The Kinks, there’s an exclamation mark in his head.

Not so ex-Oasis singer Liam Gallagher.

“It’s a generational thing,” says Mark, “Liam just seems like a big kid to me.”

Great new video for Mark's new EP

Wit has always been integral to Mark’s approach to songwriting and to videos, too.

The film for Dolly Said No To Elvis, the title of track of his new EP was filmed by young director Heather Colbert who makes the most of her skills with animation exhibited in previous jobs for the likes of Sparks.

It should come as no surprise then that personal anecdotes from his decades in music will feature heavily in Mark’s new tour – as well as the big hits.

Mark said: “I like to take audiences on a trip. I like to weave together the stories with the songs and have a good laugh.

“I know I can rely on the music. The band got together for a rehearsal the other day. We just slotted together straight way. It’s natural. It’s perfect.”