A Pied-piper of the blues world, Mark Harrison weaves stories through his music, conjuring an intimate conversation between artist and listener.
It seems he’s of the camp that music belongs to everyone - not just the musician but to the people. And it’s a style audiences can expect to see at his gig in Barnoldswick next week. During shows, which he injects with humour, Mark explains the context and meanings of his songs, further embedding audiences in a dialogue with his music.
Through song-writing, he said: “You can tell a story about life. I’m not trying to put out my own personal emotions. I’m not writing about myself but pointing things out about the world. It’s more an observation or thoughts about what life is like.”
As an artist, he lives by the philosophy that “there are some simple truths” in life. He sees his job as laying out these truisms in a fresh way to recharge their effect in our minds.
“No-one wants to hear the philosophical,” he added. “The opening line needs to strike a chord and make you think about it. I try to write lyrics that might be interesting to people and which they might get something from.”
He isn’t an expressionist - communicating his inner world isn’t his thing - instead he looks outwards to society, communities and the way we live. And he isn’t afraid to take on weighty topics like World War Two and economics.
“Some of my songs are about attitudes to life and how we behave. There is a moral tone to some of them while others are straight on stories about history.”
Looking back on the past - and his musical heritage - is certainly of importance to him, some of his tracks exploring the history of the blues. Among his key influences are Sonny Boy Williamson, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt and Eric Bibb.
“The thing I got from them is that you can make a powerful sound - a proper band sound - just from finger-picking [on the guitar]. That was a revelation to me.”
But while he might find his roots anchored in this genre, Mark is more interested in recharging the pulse of blues with a fresher beat.
“If you’re in folk music, you could talk about preserving English and Celtic heritages,” he said. “Blues was one type of music that hadn’t moved on.
“My stuff is based on the original acoustic stuff of the 1920s and ’30s but I’m not primarily in the blues circuit. For me, it’s about taking the style, sound and atmosphere and doing something new with it. I’m not interested in preserving [traditions].”
This drive to create something at once familiar yet distinctive reflects the twofold opportunities that song-writing offers. While he might explore the outer world through his lyrics, he sees melody-writing as an expression of his individuality. He came to discover this dichotomy in a unique way: buying a guitar, he attempted to play the songs of the great blues forefathers; but in want of lessons or knowledge of tabs and video tutorials, instead he created new melodies, making them up as he went along, ultimately writing his own tracks.
“Music has to mean complete individuality,” he said. “I haven’t copied anyone and can only play my own songs. It’s about saying something different that means something to people. I’m not navel-gazing. It’s not an ego thing - it’s not about attention-seeking. It’s a way to do something completely natural and be yourself.”
This organic approach feeds into his comical live performances.
“Dry humour is normal to me. Most other people are not themselves. [For them] it’s an act. If you talk to me before and during the performance, you won’t see any difference.”
“I don’t play it as an act,” he said. “I’m just being myself in music.”
It’s a style Mark’s looking forward to bringing to audiences in Barnoldswick.
“They can expect all original songs in a unique style,” he added, “and I’ll say plenty of things that are connected [to the songs] and make you think.”
The show will take place at Barnoldswick Music & Arts Centre, 18 - 22 Rainhall Road, on Saturday, April 8th, starting at 8pm.
Tickets are £10 plus a £1.75 booking fee and can be purchased on 01282 813 374 or 07757 379561.