Mark Harrison


I’ve been playing for ages and not very long. A few years ago, I started listening to music again, after a lengthy layoff, and then I started playing again. It was all about the Blues, in the loosest sense of the term. It was pretty much the only kind of music that had stood the test of time. I assembled something of a collection of the greats, from Charley Patton to Muddy via Blind Willie McTell and the first Sonny Boy Williamson. I read a lot of books about their world and their music. It all spoke to me in mysterious ways.

I decided to buy a resonator. While trying out new ones in a London shop, I was directed to a recent arrival. ‘The way you play, you’ll like this one,’ I was told. It was still in its case. It was a 1934 National Trojan, a wood-body resonator. ‘It’s got a sweet sound but it’ll bite if you want it to,’ the man said. He was right. Eric Bibb had just brought it in. Fate. Of living blues artists, he was the one I’d most cottoned on to. Naturally, I bought the guitar.

I kicked off trying to play some of the songs I liked by the greats. But they always turned out sounding totally different. I had no real idea what those guys were doing. I’d never had a lesson, knew nothing about tabs and video tutorials. I just played what came into my head and fingers. Pretty soon I realised I was writing new songs, not doing versions of old ones.

I started going out and playing the songs around London. It all seemed to go down very well, both with audiences and other musicians. I was encouraged. I built up a repertoire of songs and I was up and running.

Then I recorded my first album, WATCHING THE PARADE. I asked some of the fine musicians I’d played regularly with to play on it. One of them, bass player and all-round musician Charles Benfield ran the whole thing, produced it, mixed it, mastered it. There’s a whole variety of kinds of song on it and all sorts of instrumentation – harmonica, mandolin, drums and percussion, keyboards. The centrepiece is the National guitar, but I play 12-string and 6-string and electric guitars on there too.

I started to do gigs all over London, in all sorts of fine and well-regarded venues – some solo, many with Charles Benfield (double bass), Ryan Carr (mandolin) and Will Greener (harmonica), in various combinations. With that fine bunch of musicians, I did a couple of hundred gigs over the following couple of years, and sometimes we were joined by Ed Hopwood on drums. The gigs included supporting such fine touring US artists as The Holmes Brothers and Doug MacLeod and there were radio appearances on Bob’s Folk Show on Radio Wey and The House of Mercy.

In 2012, we went into the excellent Livingston Studios and recorded the second album, CROOKED SMILE. At this time, there were two welcome additions to the band, Josienne Clarke (vocals) and Ben Walker (mandolin/electric guitar). Right now, I’m doing regular gigs in all manner of line-ups including 6-piece band, and expanding outside London to other parts of the country and overseas.


The music is rooted in the blues, but it’s not stuck in the past. I’m tapping into the timeless quality of the early blues to produce music totally relevant to the present day. I’m trying to do something fresh and different. I’m picking the guitar, using the strong rhythms and feel of the originators, and putting hopefully memorable tunes on top. People say they’re catchy.

The songs are about a variety of things – I figure the area of male/female shenanigans has been pretty well-covered already, and I’m interested in all sorts of other things. I’ve got songs on subjects that people don't generally write songs about.

There are songs about how people live, what they think, how we’re run, what’s going on. There are songs about life and characters (real and imagined) in the southern states of America back in the days when the blues was around. There are songs about work, economics, World War II, booze, dreams and death. I’ve got protest songs, story songs, gospel songs, songs of celebration, songs with a shrug, light songs, dark songs.

Some of them pick up on parallels between the world of the early blues greats and the here and now, images of the past applied to the present. And some of them are just about the here and now – there’s a lot to be said that isn’t necessarily getting said.

I’ve got the wonderful musicianship of a bunch of great players, who work out for themselves just how to make the songs sound at their best. It all evolves naturally and it always sounds fresh. I can do them on my own, and nothing’s missing. And when I do them with the others, something wonderful is added.

So that’s what I’m doing. It’s got a foot in the past, but it’s all brand new.
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