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Tuesday 5 October 2021

In Conversation with Mel Bowen...

Photo: John Johnson

I recently caught up with musician and all round top fella Mel Bowen to talk music, clothes and modernism. Here's the result of our chat...

MOU: How did you get into music in the first place? 

MB: I honestly think I had some innate connection with music and melody from day one. I used to dance round the room doing these weird dances for me Mam when the Top 40 was on the radio. When I was about 12, my sisters fella Alan was a serious session bass player, who played and recorded with some big names. He travelled the world with some of the coolest looking things I'd ever set eyes on, Rickenbacker and Fender entered my world along with Al's Funk N Soul record collection. Nothing would ever be the same... Without sounding corny, I think I was always into music, but when my sister met Alan I realised music was something working class kids could actually do. I just wanted to become Alan. I still do.... He married our Sis and they had two boss kids. He sadly passed away some years ago but I've got his 1962 Fender Precision Bass and it has been used on every single one of my recordings to date. Rest in melody Al!

MOU: Who were the bands you were drawn to in your teenage years? 

MB: So many to mention. First pure love - The Jam!! What a band, what a man, what a writer! The fact so many have turned onto Weller and he's still performing and creating tells you all you need to know! The Jam turned on the Mod switch for so many of us spotlighting stuff like The Kinks, The Who and The Small Faces. But for me I also got the Funk N Soul scene introduced to me by both Alan and my older Mancunian step brother Paul. Paul was a bit of a Soul Boy so the likes of Al Green, Curtis, the mighty James Brown and Gil Scott Heron all began to enter the frame. As a teen, The Jam were my band though... I always remember a boss shout from a fella in one of the music mags when The Jam split up... he wrote, "The Jam were our Beatles, The Jam were our Who, thank fuck they're not gonna be our Rolling Stones!" I concurred with this sentiment and happily threw myself into The Council of Style. I put Sly & The Family onto the turntable and wondered where I might the money for a Smedley!

MOU: Have you always been a solo artist or have you been involved in bands and other projects too? 

MB: No, I was always in bands but you get to a certain age and people grow up, have kids, get jobs and start putting the footy before the music. All that makes it hard to keep a band together so eventually I went solo, thinking I'd only myself to rely on. I'm not just a songwriter, I'm a composer, I hear brass lines, bass lines, rhythm tracks and backing vocals etc. When I recorded "Everyday's a Holiday" EP in 2018, I called in favours from mates and mates of mates to record the EP. It's a very acoustic based album as at that point I was generally an acoustic artist. It sold enough to initially wipe its own arse but recording it made me realise how much I missed working with other people. By chance, I bumped into an old mate, Emily Valerio, aka Sister V. she's and incredible pianist, hammond player and singer in her own right. Sister V's and amazing human that always makes me feel lucky to call her my friend and musical comrade! We started jamming together, gigs came through and we've just grown the line up with other mates who dig the same stuff as us. Our current set up is a six piece including The Horns of Hope brass section, piano, guitar and drums. "Mel Bowen & The Original Series" are... Mel Bowen - guitar & vocals, Sister V - keys & vocals, Chelle Taylor aka Sister T - sax & Vocals, Pete Higham - trumpet, JP - bass and Lionel Duke - drums & percussion. 

MOU: What bands/artists are you digging at the moment? 

MB: Jesus, we could be here a while with this one. Monophonics, Durando Jones & The Indications are tremendous, their latest album is boss. Common Saints, I'm loving the vibe of their latest single but all their gear so far has been ace. Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, Black Pumas, El Michel's Affair, Holy Hive, Ghost Funk Orchestra, Orgone, Brainstory and Michael Kiwanuka.... I could go on and on! 

MOU: What's next for you in 2021? 

MB: Getting our album recorded and out there! We've got the first of our new night called, "Stoned Soul Picnic", it's on the 2nd October at The Athenaeum in Liverpool, it sold out in a day and we've got some good mates DJ'ing so it's going to be a special night. As we speak we're looking at some other gigs outside of Liverpool. Manchester, Yorkshire and a few other gigs around. But we really want to concentrate on getting the album, "Down There For Dancin'" recorded and out there. 

MOU: You're stylistically astute, what's your go-to look when playing a gig? 

MB: If I was gigging tonight it'd be a pair of Universal Works chinos, a Sunspel T, Yogi suedes and a Beams Plus jacket. I do love that Ivy League look. I take bits from Ivy/Mod but i certainly wouldn't consider myself a mod, a modernist though for sure. I sweat like fuck onstage so I often end a gig looking like a bad fucking scruff regardless of what I started out the set with. 

MOU: What clothing brands are you into at the moment? 

MB: Beams Plus, APC, Universal Works, Sunspel, Finn Comfort. Clarks, Smedley, Baracuta, Levis are all names that will never leave me. Novesta have shared the past few long hot summers with me. I avoid some of the so-called Mod clothing labels as the quality is often just a bit shite. I do like Rueben's gear though at Anglozine. I think they do some really nice bits, particularly the jackets. Capirari are also doing some really decent bits and the quality is boss. 

MOU: You hail from Liverpool, for me it's a city full of friendly people who are extremely passionate about their music, clothes and football. How would you describe it? 

MB: I was actually born in Birkenhead, exactly a mile away from Liverpool city centre, but cross the river so not actually from Liverpool. All the band are from Liverpool and we rehearse in Liverpool so we're a Liverpool band with a Wool singer!! But I think you've hit the nail right on the head. Liverpool's holy trinity is football, music and clothes. Not necessarily in that order but everything about the place takes those three magic elements and links them up to create our beautiful working class culture. For me, Liverpool is second to none! It's real and surreal all at the same time. I do think a lot of our culture has been eroded in recent times. Middle class hipsters telling kids who they should listen to and what they should wear etc. But those fellas will only be tolerated to a point. Liverpool dances to its own tune and always will. 

Everyone's welcome in Liverpool, well everyone who doesn't read The S.N... Liverpool simply doesn't suffer fools and will not tolerate injustice. It's an independent state out on its own in so many ways and musically the city is soaked in melody. Everyone plays something or knows someone who plays something. I adore the city and my closest and dearest all hail from it. 
Photo: John Johnson

Check out everything Mel's got going on over on his site here!  



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In loving memory of Denise Pottinger