March 12, 2011 by Dan Swinhoe
It’s not always easy being an iconic TV presenter, but it can be just as hard being a rockstar on stage and in the studio. “Studio work can be a bit tedious so it’s nice to unleash the beast!”.
Neil Buchanan is best known for his years on Art Attack and red jumpers, paper mach’e and the talking head. But most people don’t know about his career on stage as a rock star guitarist on stage with his band Marseille.
Started in Liverpool, 1976, they gathered a following around their hometown and released ‘Red, White and Slightly Blue’ in 1978. Tours with Judas Priest, Nazereth and Whitesnake, even managing to tour the U.S before label problems eventually caused a split after their ‘Touch The Night’ album in 1984. Neil doesn’t remember the old albums too fondly, “We hated the other ones” he says, “the songs themselves were great but we were always short changed by the record company when it came to a producer and they ended up penny pinching and employing the wrong person for the job. As a result, we felt our albums sounded a if they had either been recorded inside a sock or played through a wasps arse.”
The Original band got back together in 2008, and since have had a bit of a reshuffle, Neil and fellow guitarist Andy Charters are the only original members left. Nigel Roberts handles vocals while Gareth Webb and Lee Andrews play drums and bass. The reunion was a personal choice and not milking a cash cow like so many others, “Unfinished business more than anything” he says with a fire in his belly, “followed by the desire to see what it feels like again.”
Earlier this year the band recorded and released their first album in over two and a half decades, aptly called ‘Unfinished Business’. “This album is the album we always wanted to make” Neil says enthusiastically. The album itself has been well received and while retaining that 80s rock feel, Neil describes them as ‘catchy rock songs’, but don’t try and pigeonhole them. He enthuses “I hate labels! I always say ‘if you want labels – go to Marks and Spencer’. Label us what you like but we are simply a kick-ass rock band!”
As well as keeping one foot in the past and keeping to their roots, the band are charging forward into the new millennium. “We have totally embraced new technology in both the making of the album and the publicising of it and the tour” says Neil, “we are self-promoting the tour and this is only possible because of the internet.”
The band have been touring pretty relentlessly since they got back together, playing Newcastle twice in the last year. While some bands hate touring and the lifestyle, Neil is lucky to be able to say “We always look forward to playing live.” And things seen to have been running smoothly since the reunion, he’s happy to say there have been “No hiccups other than a gruelling and physical tour schedule – the gigs have been awesome.” He says, “It feels good to be up there again.” Last year Marseille played at the Hard Rock Hell festival in that most metal of places, Pontins in Prestatyn. “Last year was amazing and this year we are way up the bill and really looking forward to the big stage” he says excitedly, “it’s put the band right back where we left off years ago.” This year they play along side a long list of 80s bands such as Saxon and Helloween.
In terms of metal post 80s,”I don’t really follow thrash metal as I think it’s all a bit samey – I am a bit fed up with down tuned guitars, pinched harmonic squeals and death-throw vocals.” Neil’s retro tendencies shine through when he sys “Give me muscle-with-melody any day.”
Obviously since the early 80s things have changed in the music industry, and pretty much sums up the current climate as “Impossible.” He says, “You are either at the very bottom in the music biz or at the very top – there is no in-between. There is no career ladder.” From first hand experience he says it comes down to,”you either play and live in the shit holes or you are at the top and on the big stages with someone looking after you, but they usually take the money!”
Newer bands are having a tough time of it right now, “The problem with lots of deals is that the company makes all the money and when the band splits or no longer has their fan base” and when that he happens “it’s back to working in the chippy.” Working as a band on your own is more and more doable these days but it can only get you so far, “You will eventually hit a glass ceiling and will need a leg up from someone” says Neil, using his first hand experience, “but if you are really good then you have a better chance to negotiate a fairer deal.” Even though Marseille have started again it wasn’t quite so hard for them, Neil says that the distribution and publicity “were slightly easier for us because of the bands heritage and because of my telly connections.” But the band isn’t resting on it’s laurels.”We are not trying to recreate what we did back then. This is a NEW band with it’s own direction. That was then, this is now.”
Marseille as a band can survive, but it won’t be making them rich anytime soon. “The band sustains itself on the road and in the studio – we are all self sustaining outside the band” he explains. For younger bands the choices you make can mean the difference between success and failure, Hotel or van, move your own stuff or use roadies. “The earnings are low and the expenses are high. You cut your cloth accordingly.”
It’s not all doom and gloom though, as Neil is hopeful for the future, advising, “There are so many new outlets for your musical creativity today that I would always advise young musos to explore all avenues for their talents. It’s the same with all forms of creativity.” But he does warn “you need to have a plan B brewing.”
As for Marseille’s future, a DVD and another album should both be released in the next 12 months, and more touring and festivals. They plan to keep recording and touring for as long as possible, as Niel puts it, “until we drop off the perch – or until we jump!”