In 2010, London based singer-songwriter Mick Terry released ‘The Grown Ups’, a debut album with a personal quality. Its creation came as a surprise, since Terry wasn’t especially planning on recording an album after returning to music after a family-raising break. Since 2012, he’s been working on a follow-up. Real Gone caught up with him in January 2015 to find out if it’s almost finished…
RG: Hey Mick – thanks for taking time to talk to us today.
MT: “No problem. I’ve always got time for Real Gone!”
RG: Your debut album, ‘The Grown Ups’, came out back in 2010. You’ve said previously it was an album thirty years in the making due to the themes being inspired by a teenage diary. At what point in the song writing process did you decide upon that as a core influence?
MT: “Short answer long: it was thirty years in the making in so much as it took that long for me to finally get an album out, but, the actual writing and recording was only over the period of a year. I had somehow ended up playing in a covers band for five years and, following the birth of my youngest – now eight years old – I stopped playing completely, as I just felt numb.
“Then in late 2008, on a whim, I bought a piano. Around this time, I had hooked up with some old school friends on Facebook and one of them remembered me being drunk on top of a post box following my sister’s wedding when I was fourteen! I sat at the piano that afternoon and ‘Hoxton Song’ tumbled out in about twenty minutes flat. I had also found my old diary from 1982 and I think that re-reading it had subconsciously put me on even more of a reflective path.”
RG: Well, “That’s me, drunk on top of a post box” has to be one of the best opening lines to an album, ever. In fact, the whole of ‘Hoxton Song’ comes with strong imagery designed to reel in the listener. It’s personal, but friendly – not naval gazing.
MT: “Thanks… I had always felt like I spent my life trying to get away from Hoxton and the narrow mindedness I saw around me. In reality, I think it was a case of me having to travel the world in order to make peace with it and learn to love it for what it was/is. Having had time to reflect on the whole of ‘The Grown Ups’, it still strikes me as a completely honest record. I just wanted to create a little piece of art…a document if you will, so that if I died tomorrow there wouldn’t just be a box of DAT tapes and half-baked demos left behind. I have Danny George Wilson to thank; he heard my demos and encouraged me to make an album. You have to remember that at that point in my life I had no real plans to get back into music, let alone consider making a record. For the first time ever I had actually started to believe that maybe making music would no longer be a part of my life.
RG: ‘The Grown Ups’ has a very personal feel. Near the end of the record, after the shiny acoustic numbers and story-filled pop ditties, one track stands as odd-man-out. ‘Tinseltown’ sounds like a sketch of an idea in comparison…
MT: “Well, If I’m brutally honest that’s the one track that I know we could have done better, given more time.”
RG: The use of simple rhythm and programmed drum makes it sound like Andrew Gold’s ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’. Was that deliberate?
MT: “Having waited so long to make a proper record, I wanted to wear my influences like a badge! That said, the Andrew Gold thing is probably justified as my piano playing chops are limited to say the least… With regard to ‘Tinseltown’ sounding less polished, though, as I said, was mostly down to a lack of time. I had set a timescale for the album to be completed. I wanted it to be ready for the release show I had organised. This date was entirely driven by me wanting to have Jim Boggia on the bill and his visit to the UK was fast approaching… Looking back now, it was utter madness. We were running out of time and money and Jim’s backing vocals landed with literally minutes to spare.”
RG: How did Boggia get involved with the project? You’ve said yourself you hadn’t necessarily intended to make a record at first, and yet you secured involvement from an established cult artist…
MT: “We met online back in the days of MySpace. This was around the time that I was getting back into music and had posted some old demos onto my page. I had been a fan of Jim’s for a while and after discovering he had a MySpace account I sent him a friend request. When he accepted the request, he also answered my little question about Nils Lofgren that I had tacked on to my profile! We traded a few messages back and forth and really seemed to hit it off.”
“Then, completely out of character for me, I asked if he would be interested in a collaboration. Surprisingly, like the man form Del Monte, he said yes! I sent him the ‘Hoxton Song’ piano demo and promptly never heard from him again. Well, not for about four months, anyway —“ [laughs] “— I now call him my mail order bride!” [laughs]
RG: …And he’s back on board for your second album?
MT: “He absolutely is. ‘The Grown Ups’ was recorded with Mick Wilson and myself handling all the instrumentation and vocals, apart from Jim’s contributions to ‘Hoxton Song’ and ‘Tinsletown’. This time, he’s handling producer’s duties.”
RG: What’s he like to work with?
MT: “He operates entirely on another level. Apart from being a great songwriter in his own right, he’s a superb musician and has the most acute musical ear I have ever experienced. Boggia’s becoming more like Mr Spector with each passing day. Loaded guns ahoy! [laughs]… He’s totally bonkers, yet unbelievably focussed.”
RG: You gave an estimated release for your second album as Easter 2013. Two years on, we’ve heard very little…What happened?
MT: “The Atlantic Ocean happened! [laughs] No… seriously, though… Jim lives in Philadelphia and we only had a few short weeks at the start of 2013 when he was in the UK for the initial tracking sessions. For a number of different reasons, it’s just taken a long time to get the right people in the studio in the US. It’s looking good, though. It currently has a working title of ‘The Insomniacs Dream, but unless we finish it anytime soon, I might start calling it ‘The Lost Album’. Mind you, Lewis Taylor already has that angle covered.”
RG: ‘Insomniac’s Dream’ is also the name of a Soul Asylum EP.
MT: “I’m sure Mr Pirner won’t feel threatened!”
RG: If you’re gonna borrow, borrow from the best.
MT: “I wish he’d lend me his hair! [laughs] …With regard to the making of the album, the sporadic approach to recording can be extremely frustrating as I don’t want to lose the impetus, but on the plus side, we have got some great performances from people like Tracy Bonham, who has added some beautiful strings to a track called “The End of You and Me”.
RG: Are there any other guests lined up?
MT: “We have the magnificent Dana Myzer of Farrah/Cotton Mather in charge of the drums and the equally superb man about town, Henrik [an alt-pop solo artist in his own right], handling the bass duties. For the second record I really wanted to have select players on the album, handling specific duties. My favourite records are the ones where the liner notes read like a “Who’s Who” list. Okay…I admit it: I wanted to make [Jackson Browne’s] ‘The Pretender!’” [laughs]
RG: Isn’t that every singer-songwriter’s ultimate goal…to make something as perfect as a Jackson Browne record?
MT: “Well, ‘The Pretender’ is probably one of, if not my favourite record of all time. My go-to LP, if you like. He’s the complete songwriter in my book. Beautiful melodies, heartfelt lyrics and a voice that makes you believe every syllable.”
RG: Back at the end of 2012, you put out a track ‘River Bend’ with Rosalie Deighton. Is that (still) gonna be on the record?
MT: “Definitely! We have re-recorded it with a band and I think it’s going to be a real beauty. It was also marks a change in direction for me lyrically and along with a few others off the new record, it’s a story song as opposed to my normally very personal lyrics.”
RG: So, stylistically, we can expect something different from the new material?
MT: “I think that there is a definite change stylistically and that was very much a conscious decision from the outset. I really didn’t want to make the ‘Grown Ups, mark II’. As a result of working with people like Jim [Boggia] and Mick [Wilson], I think that I have learnt to hone my songwriting skills a lot more. Previously, I was extremely precious where lyrics were concerned and would almost never alter them. Nowadays, I slay those little mothers without a moment’s hesitation. With this record there’s a motto: The Song Is King!”
RG: Do the songs have a common thread as with ‘The Grown Ups’?
MT: “Not this time. Number three will be a concept album, though… [laughs]
RG: Of the new songs, are there any which particularly stand out for you?
MT: “There’s a track called ‘Emily’ which really stands out for me. Initially I was really unsure about it. I’m not sure why, but even though I felt it was my best piece of work, I had this irrational fear that everyone else would think otherwise. However, people began to single it out for praise whenever I played it live and I began to believe in it. Jim came up with a wonderful arrangement for the song, chock full of harmonies and chiming guitars that took it to another place altogether. It’s my favourite cut on the record without a doubt!”
“Two other tracks, ‘Pop’s a Dirty Word’ and ‘Arthur’s Tale’ were started during ‘The Grown Ups’ sessions but, again, we ran out of time. To that end, I think they still share the same headspace as the first record, but, I think we have really upped the ante musically speaking”.
RG: The release of ‘The Grown Ups’ led to regular live shows. What was that like for you, as someone who’d never thought you’d return to music?
MT: “It was great…eventually. I put on a few shows myself, but got tired of schlepping around London and playing places where nobody wanted to listen. After that, I hit upon the idea of The Living Room Scene – the motivation behind it was pretty simple: I would choose two other songwriters who I admired and we would play a “songwriters in the round” show where each artist takes a song and then passes the baton along to the next. The first of these shows was at What’s Cookin’ on the opening night of The Olympics. We had Danny “Champ” Wilson and Greg Humphreys from Dillon Fence and it was just a magical night.”
“After a few more shows there we moved to the Betsey Trotwood. It was a great way of learning how to keep on your toes musically. Set lists were useless…you had to figure it out on the fly. We had some absolutely stellar nights and always finished off with everyone joining in on a cover. It was yet another piece of the learning curve and – more importantly – another way for me to face down my low self esteem demons.”
RG: At the end of your first album, you read a passage from a diary from 1982 and name-check Small Faces’ ‘Ogdens’ Nut-Gone Flake’ and the first Dexys Midnight Runners LP. Are those records still in your collection?
MT: “Absolutely! I never threw any of my vinyl away. Actually, I started buying vinyl again a few years back and whilst I love the convenience of iPods etc, looking at an iTunes library just makes me weary. Vinyl forces you to put the music first; it demands your attention rather than being something that you put on whilst you go and do something else. With regard to the Small Faces, Stevie Marriot was the reason I became a singer in the first place. I guess I have always gravitated towards that blue-eyed soul thing. I’m a sucker for it.”
RG: Which other records hold a similar place for you?
MT: “Revolver still blows me away, every time. Prefab Sprout’s ‘Steve McQueen’ is always on the list. I think Paddy McAloon should be a national treasure. The first two Big Star LP’s – I’m making headway with the 3rd, but, it’s a hard sell.
RG: I’m totally with you on the Big Star. Their first two albums were a permanent fixture on my mp3 player before it died. ‘Third’, on the other hand, is a draining experience. It’s a record that takes and takes…but never gives back.
MT: “That’s why I’ll always go for The Blue Nile’s ‘Hats’ for sadness. It’s sad music that is still tremendously uplifting – like Sinatra fronting Kraftwerk. Elvis Costello’s ‘Get Happy!!’ is another favourite. On that record, he’s churning out great lyrics like there’s no tomorrow on fire and totally at the top of his game. It’s a record that tests the boundaries of vinyl too! My original copy was scratched to bits and always jumped really badly on ‘King Horse’. I bought another copy last year and that one jumps on ‘King Horse’, too!”
RG: ‘Get Happy!!’ is amazing – one of my go-to Costello discs, too. That bassline from ‘The Imposter’ is outstanding. As for the Blue Nile disc, it’s a career best…although Paul Buchanan’s solo record [2012’s ‘Mid Air’] runs it pretty close.
MT: “… He’s a fellow member of low self esteem anonymous! As I mentioned earlier, Jackson Browne’s ‘The Pretender’ is pretty much perfection as far as I’m concerned and it’s the LP that I return to time and time again. I still draw both inspiration and comfort from it in equal measures.”
RG: With some distance to go before ‘Insomniac’s Dream’ is finished and upon us, what else can we look forward to from you in the meantime?
MT: “More gigs… I’m playing a couple of shows in January and February. First up in colchester on Jan 31st, I’m opening for my pals in The 1957 Tailfin Fiasco and hoping to have something a little bit special ready for that show. Then on February 19th, I’m playing The Green Note in Camden with my fellow minor key troubadour Peter James Millson, as well as the tallest man in rock, Jinder.
RG: Dates for the diary… It’s been great chatting with you, Mick. Thanks again for taking so much time out for Real Gone.
MT: “No problem! I hope you can sort the wheat from the chaff!!!”
Mick Terry’s ‘The Grown Ups’ is available from his Bandcamp page now. ‘The Insomniac’s Dream’ is released at a later date…