Marc Burrows - Interview

12 August 2014

Interview with Marc Burrows Aug 2014

Interview with Marc Burrows Aug 2014

Marc Burrows isn't just a stand-up comedian - he's also the cheeky bassist from 'The Men Who Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing' (alongside fellow stand-up comedian Andrew O'Neill), or you may know him for his music writing in The Guardian.

He'll be at the Edinburgh Fringe this August to unveil his brand new show, 'The Ten Best Songs Of All Time', but before he headed up and over the border we managed to catch up with him.

Contactmusic: You're returning to the Edinburgh fringe with 'The Ten Best Songs Of All Time'. That's quite a challenge - what were your criteria for choosing the songs?Marc Burrows: Actually it changed across the process of writing - originally it was going be super-snobby; me definitively and authoritatively saying, "These songs are awsome and this is why" and the original tag line was actually "No arguments." Songs like 'Be My Baby' by the Ronettes and little obscurities like 'Santa Claus Is A Black Man', a little curio from the early 70s, were the plan - b-sides, rare songs, the full 'High Fidelity' treatment. It was going to be a bit judgey, if I'm honest. There were plenty of jokes there too, but I started to realise that there was no real heart to the show and it made me sound a bit of a di**. When I was doing the poster I was trying to think of a strapline, something that summed up the show, and "A stand up show about really loving music" popped into my head - that's what it became. The ten songs couldn't just be good songs, they had to be important to me personally, they're sort of my building blocks. If I was made of Lego (I'm not, FYI) each of those songs would be a brick.

CM: Stand up comedy can be a challenging, and lonely, business, especially given the number of shows during festival season. How do you stay focused?
MB: The Edinburgh Fringe is the one place where doing comedy isn't lonely, because the entire sodding industry is sat within a square mile of the city centre. It's got a bigger concentration of my friends than my hometown does. The show is lonely though - it's just me on stage, and the nature of the lo-fi production means I don't even have a sound man, or someone collecting the tickets. It does grind you down; I'm doing 23 performances of 'Ten Best Songs', plus another 10 of a second show, a two-hander called 'I Blame Britpop' with the artist She Makes War, plus a couple of other gigs a day - it's exhausting. And this is my holiday! You stay focused partly by enjoying yourself - the Fringe is the best social occasion of the year for comics, and it's important to blow off steam. Also by making sure you have a bit of quiet time. I find re-reading a book I've read loads and love really helps as well. It's a combination of beer and boredom.

CM: How do you feel about the current popular music scene compared with past decades
MB: I get really bored of people saying, "there's no good xxxxxx style bands around right now" or "guitar music is coming back" because what I've learned as I've got older is that nothing disappears and nothing comes back, it just bobs to the surface depending on the public mood. There are so many "music scenes" and so many genres and movements and they all do brilliantly, all of the time. Metal isn't "big" at the minute in the way it was during the Nu-Metal boom (shudder), but Download and Bloodstock still sell out. Britpop may be 20 years ago, but have you been to Indietracks? There's a thriving, homemade scene centred around indie-pop that you can't help but fall in love with. I think we're guilty, especially as music journalists (I am one, by the way, so I can say this) of focusing on the top level and not delving for what's hanging around in the murky depths. The music industry is basically a 50-year failed experiment anyway, so why bother with what big labels tell you to listen to? There's always been gubbins, and there's always been genius and they've always happened at the same time. That said, can we stop pretending it's 1994 now? I always thought a Grunge/Britpop revival would be brilliant but it turns out all the bands are rubbish. I'd rather skewer myself in the face than listen to a Peace record.

CM: With the rise of the celebrity comedian and the resulting comedy courses that have popped up in its wake, do you feel that funny is something that you can learn to be, or is it something you're born with?
MB: You do need the spark. A comedy course (and by the way, I wouldn't recommend doing them: just watch as much live comedy as you can for years and you'll have a better time for the same money and learn more) can teach a very reliable and mechanical way of writing which does work, and which genuinely anyone can learn, but the best stuff always comes directly from your intuition. No doubt about it, there are too many comedians on the lower rungs now, and that's partly because of the "celebrity comedians" (although they've always existed - look at George Formby or Morcambe and Wise?) and the courses. But that doesn't mean we're seeing more at the top level, because you really need to be good, and there's a certain imaginative back-line you can't learn. It needs a lot of work to build on though.

CM: How did you find your first experience performing stand up?
MB: Bloody terrifying, as you'd imagine. I was working at the Edinburgh Fringe filming Spank! (the late night show) for the long-defunct Myspace Comedy site (Yes, there was such a thing) and took a night off and asked around for a spot. I got a 5 minute slot on a compilation show at the Tron on Hunter Square. There was only about 17 people there but, annoyingly, just before I went on an old university friend wandered in. I loved being onstage though, the gig went basically fine, although I'd shudder to watch it back, but my opening few lines generated a really big laugh, and after that I was hooked.

CM: Music is something that's very important to you. Can you tell us (without spoiling your show) what it was that first drew you in?
MB: That's a big question. A BIG question. A lot of people will say their parents were big music fans, or had big record collections, or they had older siblings and that's how they found their way into music, but that wasn't really the case for me. My parents were pretty typical young working class, they listened to Radio 1 (Radio 4 LW for the Cricket) and watched Top of the Pops, but they'd really lost touch with music when they got bogged down in raising a family and getting by. They didn't go to gigs or listen to much outside of the car. I do remember a few stepping stones though; one was getting obsessed with Christmas music at a very early age, to the point I'd play it all year round when I was 3 or 4. Another was, weirdly, Erasure. I've got no idea where Erasure came from, but around the age of 10 I got obsessed with them - I still rate 'I Love To Hate You' as an amazing work. Really though, as with anyone, it was my teenage years when I started to really tunnel into music. I was lucky enough to be hitting thirteen when Nirvana were at their peak, and there was Britpop, and Kerrang and NME; it just clicked something inside of me. There's a bit in the show where I describe the moment it happened, because I can actually narrow it down to the actual second, when the switch got flicked and I became obsessed, and after that I was completely insatiable - just greedy for it. I'd have posters of bands I'd never even heard, I'd spend days in the library reading biographies, liner notes, books about guitar-making, anything. It became a way of life very, very quickly.

CM: Who would you say were your comedy heroes?
MB: Rik Mayall, Rowan Atkinson, the Pythons, Lee & Herring, Eddie Izzard, controversially Ben Elton (early stuff only) and I've got a massivesoft spot for Lee Evans. My show sounds exactly like none of these.

CM: Same question, but musical heroes?
MB: Nicky Wire, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, Billy Corgan, Paul McCartney, Marc Bolan, and Gareth out of Los Campesinos!

CM: If you get the time, whom are you looking forward to seeing at the festival?
MB: Andrew O'Neill's 'History of Heavy Metal', Hatty Ashdown's 'Nan Child', Rob Auton's 'Face Show'. The late night shows are always an important part of the experience too, I always love Josie Long's shows and I think Angela Barnes' debut is going to be great. Mostly, I'm looking forward to the thing I haven't heard of yet but will love.

CM: Post Edinburgh, are there any future shows we can look forward to?
MB: I'll hopefully be doing a London run of 'Ten Best Songs' all being well, and my band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing, are playing the Highbury Garage, all 600-capacity' worth- on November 14th. Were I you, I'd also be looking forward to the Manics' rumoured Holy Bible gigs at Christmas. It's not Christmas without the Manics.

You can watch Marc Burrows performing The Ten Best Songs Of All Time for free at Maggie's Front Room, The Three Sisters, 139 Cowgate, Venue 272 from 1st August until 23rd August 2014.

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