If ever one of Scotland’s most inventive bands of yesteryear is carving out a potentially intriguing future, then it’s surely the case with Goodbye Mr Mackenzie.
Best known for their late ’80s hits The Rattler and Goodwill City, and for being the launch pad for the career of one-time backing singer and future Garbage star Shirley Manson, the Edinburgh band unexpectedly reformed two years ago for a series of shows to mark the 30th anniversary of their 1989 debut album Good Deeds And Dirty Rags.
Cautiously dipping their toes back into the often unpredictable live music waters, the post-punk outfit’s first concerts in 23 years were at Dundee’s Beat Generator and PJ Molloys in Dunfermline in May 2019.
Those euphoric gigs witnessed emigrant guitarist John Duncan and keyboardist Rona Scobie’s stage returns alongside hat-wearing frontman Martin Metcalfe, drummer Derek Kelly (drums) and Fin Wilson (bass), with ex-Rezillos six-stinger Jim Brady and Manson’s replacement Marie Claire Lee making debuts.
A second tour in December revisited Beat G and Fife, followed by full houses at Glasgow’s Barrowland and the capital’s Liquid Room (twice) as a massive surge of renewed GMM interest took hold.
Depressingly, of course, a full year has already passed since anyone last played live in front of audiences. However, a stirring reminder of such heady times exists in the shape of new live album A Night In The Windy City, which documents the Mackenzies’ final pre-pandemic outings.
Looking back now, the band’s leader hails the Courier Country shows as every bit as important as their high-profile Barras headliner. “I think we were a wee bit ropey first time round in Dundee with the shock of being on stage together,” says Metcalfe, 58.
“I don’t think John had played a guitar on stage for at least a decade and we were all squashed together. It’s a brilliant venue, though, and we just got a bit tighter the second time we played.
The thing about Dundee is, if I go on my tiptoes my hat makes me six foot seven
“I’m glad we went back and did a rerun. When you get a great response close up it’s actually more elating than a bigger gig for me. The thing about Dundee is, if I go on my tiptoes my hat makes me six foot seven, or something like that, and I go through the ceiling,” he chuckles.
In recent years Martin has collaborated with Dunfermline legends The Skids, co-writing four songs on their 2018 album Burning Cities and mixing an unreleased live album by Richard Jobson and co.
He oversaw the technical work on Windy City but admits he finds “in concert” releases challenging. “The listener can feel a bit excluded by a live album because you don’t have the volume of the gig or the visuals when you’re listening to a CD, and you don’t have people shoulder to shoulder yelling beside you,” he explains.
At a gig you’re immersed in this huge spiritual experience, so making an album reflect that is a skill.
“At a gig you’re immersed in this huge spiritual experience, so making an album reflect that is a skill. If you’re a band like Dr Feelgood or Eddie and The Hot Rods that might not be so hard because of the minimal amount of instrumentation that’s in the mix, but with us, with seven people playing or singing, it’s just a little bit more of a delicate job to make it work.
“I was always baffled when I was younger as to why live albums were produced by someone. You’d just think that you’d fire it up and let it run, but that’s just not the way it works if you want it to be great.”
Fans will be delighted to hear that Martin’s done plenty of writing in recent months, with a new LP from his other band, The Filthy Tongues, almost complete.
He’s also been working on fresh Skids and solo material, and confirms that pre-lockdown plans for Goodbye Mr Mackenzie studio work remain in place.
“We’ve got ideas, but I wouldn’t say that we know what we’re going to be doing yet,” he adds. “We like Neu! and I think their influence will play some part in it. It’s just like placing everything, because distorted guitar and keyboards together tend not to work that well, unless you’re The Prodigy.
“It’s a tricky job, because John likes his metallic guitar, and we want to try and make all the individuals’ tastes work and make a good recipe out of it.”
* A Night In The Windy City is available on CD and CD/DVD, along with details on the band’s winter tour, via goodbyemrmackenzie.com, with tickets for the band’s return to Barrowland on December 17 at Ticketmaster.