A Brief History of Mary Jane by Paul Alan Taylor
Mary Jane was formed in Southampton, November 1993 by myself (acoustic, electric and 12-string guitars), Jo Quinn (vocals, flutes, acoustic guitar), Peter Miln (fiddle, mandolin), Nick B. Davies (drums, percussion), and Geoff Newitt (bass). Nick and I had met at Southampton University and previously played together in The Magic Cat, a psychedelia-orientated group that played in and around Southampton before breaking up in 1992. The Cat had in addition consisted of fellow University students Paula Hamill (vocals), Mat Walters (bass), and Mark 'Sparky' Wells (electric guitar). Apart from Nick, who was a seasoned player on the Southampton circuit, the band was still somewhat inexperienced, but had supported popular psychedelic-blues band Dr Brown in the past. Upon the break-up of The Cat, I set about finding a replacement line-up of more dedicated musicians, whilst retaining the services of Nick on drums. The first requirement was a singer, and Jo fit the bill admirably with her considerable vocal talents and a proficient background in traditional music and song stemming from her Irish family background. Jo's cousin Carlene Anglim, a virtuoso Irish fiddler, was also pursuing a career for herself amongst the more mainstream Anglo-Irish folk circle. Thanks to some string-pulling by Jo's mother, Ann Quinn - who was herself an experienced folk singer - Jo and I recorded some traditional material at a BBC Radio 5 studio (though unofficially) in January 1993. The results seeming promising, we felt obliged to form a band and have fun. Geoff was soon recruited on bass, but it took until meeting Peter, a more experienced folk musician, to have a good enough basis from which to start. Peter had come down to Southampton from Gloucester, but remained in his own band there, the roots-influenced Reincarnation, by frequently commuting back. I chose the name of the new band from a song by 70's singer/songwriter Nick Drake, and all was in place. Rehearsals of the new five-piece began early in 1994.
Early Mary Jane rehearsals at Southampton University Students' Union consisted in equal parts of psychedelic, progressive, and folk influences mixed in the tradition of the 60's and 70's. This was something that no other band seemed to be able to do successfully anymore, or at least no other bands seemed inclined to try at that time. From the outset, we had a dedication to writing original material rather than relying exclusively on traditional songs or covers. However, when the chance to record a demo came upon us unexpectedly soon, it was a popular part of Mary Jane's '94 set, the traditional standard She Moved Thro' the Fair, that was chosen to showcase the new band's sound. Original material had still not evolved sufficiently at that point for the band to feel happy recording it yet, though a repertoire was developing extremely fast. The day of studio time came Mary Jane's way through a donation from Ann Quinn, and hastily assembling an acoustic track, The Snows, plus an unaccompanied vocal Lagan Love, the band went to Crazies Hill Studio near Maidenhead for a pastoral summer day's 24-track recording. Passing a few copies of the resulting demo tape around drew interest from amongst others HTD Records (The Albion Band/Ashley Hutching's recording label), and Woronzow Records, the label owned by Nick Saloman (aka underground psychedelic legend The Bevis Frond). The positive feedback was encouraging, but when a copy passed to mail-order music purveyor and musical veteran Rustic Rod Goodway was quickly forwarded by him to the German September Gurls label, who where specifically looking for an English psychedelic-folk band, Mary Jane seemed set to be signed. The promise of a modest advance up-front sealed the deal, and in the spring of 1995, the band made preparations for assembling an album's worth of original and traditional material. However, not everything was going quite so effortlessly. Live performances were popular but were proving too infrequent to bring in much money, and the inevitable 'musical differences' were arising between Geoff and the rest of the band, eventually resulting in us parting company with him. The more experienced Martin Griffin, a friend of Nick's from the New Forest, filled the gap nicely soon after. Martin and Nick were also to moonlight as designers for future Mary Jane covers, as they both had the necessary expertise to produce finished artwork.
The summer of 1995 saw both the release of the debut EP on 7" in September and the recording of the first album Hazy Days during five swelteringly hot days in July. The venue was an unoccupied design studio in the St Mary's district of Southampton, and a portable 16-track studio was used. We lived mainly in this makeshift studio for five days: three days to record, two to mix, and there was Mary Jane's first album in a surprisingly short time. The tracks were a varied mix of Mary Jane's styles: from the heaviness of Glasgerion, Blackwaterside and In My Garden, to the mellower 1970, Wilderness Song and Dreams of the Forest; from the whimsical Hazy Days and Mary Jane Blues, to the moody Our Lady Babalon and the decidedly folky Under the Broad-Leaved Tree and Medley. In retrospect, I'm proud of what we achieved in such a short space of time, and with so little previous recording experience. Of course, the album wasn't perfect and I still wish we'd had more time to try more takes on certain songs. Despite that, it had a certain original something that I wasn't hearing elsewhere in 1995, yet still echoed some of the albums of the late 60's/early 70's that I loved. Mary Jane had made a good start, I thought, but we could definitely improve on our debut with the next album, and the next, and the next after that... However, by this time Peter had decided to return permanently to Gloucester's music scene and Reincarnation; his other commitments had been making it increasingly difficult for him to find time to also play in Mary Jane, and so the recordings proved to be his last involvement with the band. Mary Jane were temporarily put on hold...
With the resulting lull in Mary Jane's activities, Jo and I took the opportunity to record an album of original material under the name Zaney Janey with Woking-based Pete Jardine (vocals, guitar, bass), who had previously been playing with acoustic songstress Lisa Von Hasenberg and Surrey funksters Chooby. The project grew from several informal jams, and the combination of Pete's funk/jazz background together with the Mary Jane influence produced a distinctive and varied array of material. September Gurls agreed to release a Zaney Janey album along the same lines as Hazy Days, and recording commenced in November 1995 at Ade Lunn's Lunar Studios, Cranleigh. This was a more produced effort than Hazy Days and thanks to Ade's input and use of his equipment sounded a great deal more professional than Hazy Days. Nick appeared as percussionist under the pseudonym Max Barclay (in reality his middle names), Martin designed the artwork, and members of a rock band Leith that Ade managed at the time also guested on bass and drums. The members of Zaney Janey had earlier in the year attended the Fhleadh Cheoil traditional Irish music festival in Count Kerry, Ireland, and the many feelings and experiences from there were to also rub off onto these recordings. Recording concluded in April 1996, and a 7" single Sad Day b/w Prelude released, followed in May 1997 by the Zaney Janey album itself. The delay in its release stemmed from disagreements with September Gurls over the tracks themselves. Agreement was finally reached, but not before the celebrated Seventies album cover artist Patrick Woodroffe, who had agreed to provide an original drawing for the cover, withdrew his interest in annoyance over the record company's reluctance to offer him a fee. The album's fourteen tracks were arranged in such a way as to tell a dreamlike story, and started and ended with the lively Irish-inspired Janey's Jig/Janey's Gig. Autumn Dream then acting as a kind of overture, various characters, feelings and situations were presented in the remaining songs as observations of, and on, life in general. Time Slides By, Blues for the Goddess, The Trip, Raspberry Jam at the Beatnik Emporium tended towards jazz, whilst the aggression of Sad Day contrasted well with the fragility of A Little Bridge, Cut Your Hair, Circle, Meadow Fayre, Begin and Lazy Summer Days. Photography for the album and single was shot by Mark Tuckett, a friend and local photographer who had previously tried out briefly as rhythm guitarist for the band in 1993, but who found his talents were best used behind a camera instead. Collaboration continued throughout 1997 with Pete on more original material under the name Kallisti (meaning, from the Classical Greek myth of the start of the Trojan War, 'to the prettiest one') and an extensive collection of ideas were soon assembled on various cassette tapes. The material was an extension of the more Eastern, mystically-inclined moments from Zaney Janey and Hazy Days, incorporating such varied instruments as sitar, zither, and ocarina, plus more conventional folk instrumentation. Though these songs and instrumentals were not formally recorded or played live at the time, some went on to provide the basis for subsequent Mary Jane tracks, whilst the project in itself gave the opportunity to explore some more exotic musical instruments and increase the standard of musicianship generally. The rest of the sizeable collection of Kallisti material was intended to be put out on release when time and opportunity allowed, but first there was the matter of continuing Mary Jane's activities and creating the eagerly awaited second album.
Another activity undertaken in 1996, after the release of Hazy Days and Peter Miln's departure, was a musical collaboration with Dave Cook (bass), who had recently left Dr Brown. Together with Ben Sullivan (slide guitar), Paul, Jo, and Nick began Ultimate Blue Day, a heavier blues-rock band that would hopefully be able to generate some more live work and revenue in addition to Mary Jane's more eclectic gigs. Though promising, it was a short-lived affair as Dave become involved with other bands, and Ben moved away to art college; the only recordings extant are rough rehearsal tapes. However, the idea did influence the next Mary Jane EP... Mary Jane had meanwhile continued playing live as a four-piece and we recorded the rockier Isle of Wight EP in October 1996 as a prelude to a new album. The track referred to the 1970 festival, and the demise of a generation's ideals that the event unintentionally demonstrated. Consequently, it had a fittingly heavy bass & drum sound that highlighted Nick and Martin at their best, and this together with the lack of a fiddle provoked some criticism as not being sufficiently 'folky' enough for a Mary Jane song. The point that we were a band that enjoyed our experiments with other musical styles seemed, unfortunately, to have been missed entirely. The EP was again recorded at Lunar Studios, and consisted of two traditional tracks: Oxford City and Polly Pretty Polly. The latter was a solo acoustic performance by Jo of a song she had known and loved for many years, whilst Oxford City provided a chance for the band to try a longer, more mesmerising album track. Shortness of time meant overdubs on Oxford City were limited for the EP version, and the track would have to wait until the recording of the new album was actually underway before finishing touches could be added. The EP was eventually released in 1997 but further haggling about repertoire and artistic control with September Gurls delayed further Mary Jane recordings throughout the year, and it was November 1997 before recording of the second Mary Jane album could finally get underway. Meanwhile, Nick had left the band earlier in the year to get married, and Martin had agreed to step down whilst awaiting surgery that would prevent him playing live for a while. Replacements were found in Simon Hayman (drums) and Chris Lilley (fiddle), but a regular bass player was not forthcoming. During the summer of 1997 the band struggled to assemble a live set: Chris left to form his own band whilst remaining as a regular session fiddler for Mary Jane, and Simon moved to London and so left at the end of 1997. Martin rejoined in 1998, soon followed by (but in a studio/recording role only) Nick.
The 'difficult' second album was entitled The Gates of Silent Memory, after a drawing I'd seen by Edwardian artist and mystic Austin Osman Spare. The music continued to evolve during its recording to again express the various moods and contrasts of Mary Jane, and featured Chris on fiddle & viola, as well as a guest vocalist, Gail Holliman, singing an unaccompanied duet with Jo. (The Gates of Silent Memory also marked the recording debut of Pete's Crazy Alien studio, which has been set up in compact 8-track form in rooms of his own property that had been strangely altered...) Traditional tunes such as Boys of Bedlam, Janey Picking Cockles, Morrison's Jig and Gail and Jo's aforementioned The Silver Whistle sat alongside the progressive, Celtic sound of the new material Waiting for the Storm, A Newer Day, The Far Watchtowers, Half-Sick of Shadows/Fiddlin' Mary and the title track. The latter stemmed from me going into the studio to play to some moving reverb delays that Pete was experimenting with. I just played the first thing that came into my head and other parts were then added to that first take to make the track - a serendipitous event of which I'm modestly proud! Pete also added a Beatle-esque reprise to close the album. Also included were gentler acoustic compositions such as Twilight Song and Flibbertigibbet, and my guitar solo Brigit's Daughter. The two EP tracks Isle of Wight and Oxford City (the more complex album version) were also included. Mark's photography was again suitably expressive for the atmosphere of the music, almost all of the tracks of which were related in some way to the remembering of things past. It was a melancholy and bittersweet theme, perhaps reflecting in some degree recent upheavals in the lives of band members and friends. All in all, it seemed to me to reflect a maturer approach to song writing and to album composition, though once again with limited resources and in the less than ideal circumstances of line-up fluctuations. As recording concluded on the new album in October 1998, Mary Jane were still a four-piece, and lacking a regular fiddler or a drummer for live work. Dutch percussionist Emily Tooke joined to replace Nick on-stage and complement an acoustic live sound, with Jo bravely taking over fiddle duties, and me adding banjo, bouzouki and bouzouki-guitar or 'bouzar' to the instrumentation. (These instruments we'd learned to play for the first time during the recording of The Gates of Silent Memory, and I think Jo had the harder task!) The influences of the Kallisti material had now also permeated back into the evolving Mary Jane sound, and the music - Mary Jane or Kallisti - now seemed very much just all part of one whole.
By the end of 1998, Emily had moved on and Nick once more was inclined to return, resuming his full live/recording role by January 1999. Mary Jane were again playing live after a year of working almost exclusively on the tracks for the second album. New friends of the band were inevitably made on the live circuit, most notably members of Vernon Fleece, Senseless Amelia and Nature's Children, bands mostly based in and around Southampton. Increasing live work was leading to something of a renaissance for the band, and when Nature's Children's James Carey (rhythm acoustic guitar, vocals) joined Mary Jane temporarily for a year, the five-piece worked on more new material. The band took some time in September 1999 to record a live session in this their latest incarnation at Planet Hellingly in East Sussex, with Chris Lilly again guesting shortly before his permanent departure for Donegal. Soon after, work started on more studio tracks at Lunar Studios in late 1999; after finishing his parts Nick for the last and final time retired from music, to be replaced by the energetic Andrew 'Pidge' Pidgeon on drums in March 2000. Pidge's first recording was to be on another live session at Crazy Alien, this time all acoustic. Together with the previous electric session, we approached September Gurls to see if a live session album could be released. An agreement for an LP only release was struck for sometime in 2001, and Martin's suggestion Tacit (referring to the understated feel of the sessions) was decided on as the name. The first side consisted of the Crazy Alien session, and included the instrumentals Reaping the Rye and La Rotta (a slip jig and an Italian folk-dance respectively), as well as dark treatments of the ballads Polly on the Shore, Lady Margaret, I Loved a Lass and Maid on the Shore. The second side of electric material included new versions of Morrison's Jig and She Moved Thro' the Fair, as well as a lively set of reels and the Irish ballad I Roved Out. Also included here was a more West Coast version of the traditional favourite Wayfaring Stranger, another legacy from the Ultimate Blue Day project.
Mary Jane were now in a good position, perhaps better than at any point since I'd formed the band in 1993. Local live work, and the Internet, had won us a larger following; we had the forthcoming LP release on September Gurls as well as a moderately well selling studio album in Gates. The studio tracks that had been started off at Lunar in late 1999 now needed to be finished and added to, so that a completed fourth album could come into being to build on what we had established so far. By the end of 2000, however, both James and Martin had left the band to pursue their own musical interests, so yet again more personnel changes were in the offing. New members were recruited in late 2000: Steve Bayley (bass) - an ex-bandmate of Pidge's - and Gillie Leach (fiddle), who was playing Irish music after coming from a predominately classical background. Now once more a five-piece electric band featuring flutes, fiddle and guitar (as during the Hazy Days period), the new members gelled quickly and naturally with the old, and a fresh and exciting vitality was coming into the live set. The studio tracks for the fourth album were finally finished in 2001, and also incorporated further material from the Kallisti period that had lain incomplete. The album's tracks hence covered a recording period from immediately after The Gates of Silent Memory, through the recording of Tacit, and incorporated three core sets of recordings. These were the unfinished Kallisti material from late 1998/early 1999, the Lunar sessions from late 1999/early 2000, and additional material from the new line-up in 2001. In deference to the Kallisti influence, and because so many people had in the end contributed to the album, I suggested the name To the Prettiest One as a general dedication to all who had played a part in the music. It was a brighter, more harmonious and positive album, in contrast to the darkness and melancholia of The Gates of Silent Memory. The arrangements were maturer, the musicianship more proficient, and the styles varied yet complementary (partly due to the fact of it being three different sessions based around the nucleus of Jo and myself). It seemed also a good time to explore different record label options, and an offer from Southampton-based independent Seventh Wave Records was accepted amid rival bids from September Gurls and High Note Music. The album, whilst including traditional material such as the Gaelic-Latin hymn Deus Meus, Irish tunes Return to Milltown and Morning Dew/Lads of Laois, the violent Somerset ballad Bruton Town and the re-worked Three Maidens, also introduced some complex new original material. Leaves are Falling and Spiral displayed more Progressive leanings, Fragments wandered into jazz themes, whilst No Effort Required is as near to pop as Mary Jane dared venture! There is the contemporary Celtic song Journey with guest vocalist Isabelle Lydon of Vernon Fleece, the Eastern-flavoured Helios and Mahadev, and the abstract psychedelia of Phaethon. Meanwhile, Tacit was released on September Gurls subsidiary label Acony Bell in October 2001 as a limited edition LP. A CD release of To the Prettiest One with new label Seventh Wave followed in early 2002, as well as a CD version of Tacit. Alongside this, 2001/02 had been the busiest period in terms of live performances for Mary Jane, with the welcome consequent rise in profile. This led to links with other similar bands, such as folk-rock veterans The Morrigan, Welsh band Bluehorses, Portsmouth-based Arlen, and Salisbury's Beltaine. In addition, the new band were growing more proficient than ever at their live performances, and featured twin fiddles and vocals at points on stage from Jo and Gillie as yet another feature of the group. Another advancement was our ability to spontaneously create extended multi-section jams which we then subsequently whittle down to a coherent piece of music; a new way of writing material for Mary Jane that proved a source of a lot of new material.
And new material was forthcoming at a goodly rate! It seemed like early 2003 would be a good time to begin work on the fifth Mary Jane album to showcase the ever-evolving repertoire. As the line-up's second anniversary dawned, we started recording in January 2003 at Bob Ross Studios, Portsmouth. Four tracks were started, and initially sounded very promising indeed. But, in typical Mary Jane style things are never that easy! Pidge had to leave in Summer 2003 to move to Brighton, and Steve's growing involvement with the record label Easy Street meant he was unable to continue with the band too. Hence, the material was abandoned and sadly has never seen the light of day. New members Ray Norwood (drums) and Cliff Eastabrook (bass) quickly stepped into the breach, but the arrival of Ray's baby son soon meant he had to step down in favour of one Steve Barker. Cliff was a very experienced musician, late of The Morrigan and Press Gang, and also a proficient sound engineer and professional storyteller. Steve also brought a wealth of experience (as well as a high level of martial arts mastery!), and was arguably the most powerful and energetic drummer to grace the band. Once again, the Mary Jane sound evolved! Of course, alongside all this Jo and I couldn't restrain our predilection for undertaking other projects, and formed an acoustic trio with female singer/songwriter Jhassi Elliott in late 2001. As we all had some background in Cornwall (Jhassi and I both being Cornish, and Jo having lived there as a child) we chose the name Keheja for the group (meaning 'equinox' in Cornish). The material was based strongly around Jo and Jhassi's very different vocal styles, and provided a forum for a completely different form of music from Mary Jane; simpler and more acoustic-based. The material was all original, and the group was augmented by Norwegian Grete Hjorth-Johanssen on bass in 2003. Keheja provided support at Mary Jane gigs whilst building up a fuller repertoire of material for its own performances. A Keheja album was also on the horizon - but once again geographical factors came into play during Summer 2004 and Jhassi's move to Bristol meant indefinite suspension of that project.
However, one other collaboration that has fed into the Mary Jane sound from 2004 onwards (and continued the band's tradition of having guest vocalists) is that with Lucy Rutherford, vocalist for the band Arlen mentioned earlier. Arlen & Mary Jane often played joint gigs together to good effect, the bands' sounds being complimentary in the extreme, but never contradictory. Lucy's voice displays a power and maturity that, when matched with Jo's soaring, more ethereal tone, provides an unforgettable impression. They worked on new interpretations of the traditional songs When I Was In My Prime and Cruel Sister, based around the two voices and which formed part of the recordings for the current Mary Jane album Eve. And yet again more personnel changes: in 2006 Cliff moved on to a more rustic locale to be replaced by ex-Royal Marine bandsman (!) Jon Hawkes on bass. In 2009 Gillie was involved in a serious accident and we needed a fiddle player to jump into the void, Jamie Caswell filled that void and played with Mary Jane throughout 2009 and features on Lovely Joan on the album. He would then introduce us to Serena Smith, an American fiddle player specialising in Irish syle fiddle and dancing. Her debut is on the single version of Eve recorded in October 2010. Also featured on the album is Jon's wife Maggie Hawkes on harmony vocals. Quite a family affair! The new album's title of Eve is from the title track referring to both the twilight of the day, and an allegorical character representing this mixture of light and dark. It was eventually completed in 2010, and released on the Talking Elephant label. It builds on the ideas of To the Prettiest One but takes the Mary Jane sound forward yet again in darker, somewhat heavier realms, contrasted with lighter melodic acoustic material. It seems like delays and Mary Jane albums are now inextricably linked forever, but Eve shaped up to be (in Mary Jane's humble opinion)well worth the wait! That's it for now...and remember Mary Jane loves ya!!
Amongst all of the coming & goings, to-ings & fro-ings, ups & downs, here's the entire released output of Mary Jane (and offshoots) so far:
She Moved Thro' the Fair 1995 September Gurls
Zaney Janey 1996 September Gurls
Isle of Wight 1997 September Gurls
Hazy Days 1996 September Gurls
Zaney Janey 1997 September Gurls
The Gates of Silent Memory 1999 September Gurls
Tacit 2001 September Gurls LP only
Tacit 2002 Seventh Wave CD only
To the Prettiest One 2002 Seventh Wave CD only
Eve 2010 Talking Elephant