The Martin Harley Band
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The Martin Harley Band

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE

Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, United States | INDIE
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Martin Harley has packed a lot into his 35 years. The singer, songwriter and guitarist has lived in a car in Australia, a monastery in Thailand, and staged the “world’s highest gig” somewhere in the Himalayas. He has travelled and played with musicians in Mali, Guinea and Senegal. Such exotic experiences contrast with his upbringing in Woking, Surrey, and he presents himself with the wry, unpretentious air of a man whose own cultural heritage is firmly nailed to the bohemian edge of the stockbroker belt.

Installed on a tiny parcel of stage in an elegantly appointed Soho basement club next door to Ronnie Scott’s, Harley performed songs from his fourth album, Drumrolls for Somersaults, released on April 12. Accompanied by the double-bass player Jay Carter and the drummer Pete Swatton, he sang and played a variety of electric and acoustic guitars as he led the band through a selection of his own compositions that came decked in varying shades of Americana. The uptempo Love in the Afternoon had something of the ragtime pop feel that Paolo Nutini has adopted to such successful effect, while Money Don’t Matter was a similarly sprightly, country-folk shuffle with old-fashioned harmony vocals.

The gentle, minor-key tune of Drumrolls for Somersaults gave way to the descending, bluesy lament of Darcy’s Car, as Harley sang with soulful understatement and accompanied himself with a sophisticated finger-picking style. The sound toughened up as he tackled the blues standard Nobody’s Fault But Mine, which he dedicated to the German master luthier Andreas Cuntz who has built several of his guitars and whose marque on his equipment continues to cause raised eyebrows from customs officials.

Harley’s trump card was a number called Blues at My Window, a dead-slow, 12-bar blues that he sang and played with such spine-tingling beauty on a lap steel that it actually silenced the chattering at the bar. He ended with a Tom Waits song, Chocolate Jesus, described by Waits as an “immaculate confection”, which Harley turned into a Ben Harper-style tour de force on the lap steel. Sweet. - The Times


I found myself stood inside The Riverbank Hotel trying to work out the strange array of instruments belonging to Martin Harley and his band. When they took to the stage, I was not sure what to expect. From the first to last note of the gig, my jaw didn't leave the ground. Martin's talent and charisma shone through every song. He seemed to have a life story to make Robert Johnson jealous and a natural way of playing slide guitar that reminded me of Ry Cooder. The songs, all of them honest, were well crafted and refreshing. This was not another great showy guitarist with dull songs. Martin cites Tom Waits and John Martyn amongst his influences, and it shows. The band ended the first set by playing one of the most haunting slide pieces I have ever heard. From his second album, "Blues At My Window" speaks of Martin's time in Australia, trying to make it as a musician. Martin Harley seemed humble throughout and broke the arrogant tradition of many Bluesmen. To say I was impressed would be an understatement, dumbfounded would be closer. If you have the opportunity to see Martin, do so.
- Samuel Pentony - Blues Matters


The Martin Harley Band’s live following have long been aware of his spellbinding ability with a weissenborn, a wah pedal,and a trick bag of licks that would give Ry Cooder a run for his money. But Grow Your Own proves there’s far more to his music than flash. The overt blues numbers still showcase Harley’s top drawer slide phrasing, but willingness to experiment with other genres is his great strength. There’s skiffly acoustic, sleazy big band swagger, mesmerising John Martyn-esque balladry and the opening track ‘One For The Road’ will cross over with ease to the fans of Jack Johnson’s laid back laments. But it’s the soulfull minor tinged ‘Blues At My Window-Slight Return’ that really stands out. No one is making music like it. - Guitarist Magazine


The Martin Harley Band has produced, in Money Don't Matter, an understated, mature and intelligent masterpiece of American roots music. The band has brought together a kaleidoscope of styles under one roof and coaxed and stroked them deftly into the magic that is Money Don't Matter.
So accomplished is the blend of jazz, blues and Americana that it's difficult to believe that this is only the band's second album, and it's even more difficult to accept that The Martin Harley Band didn't learn its craft touring up and down the highways and byways of the Southern states of America in a flatbed Ford, instead they emerged from the genteel wilds of Surrey.

Money Don't Matter kicks off with a flighty and funky little shuffle of a title track but Harley's voice glides effortlessly alongside his own acoustic guitar, the homemade two-string stick bass of Adam Wolters (who has since left the band, amicably) and the drums of Pete Swatton. Throughout the album the band is as tight as the drums with which Swatton so expertly keeps order.
The relaxed atmosphere of Money Don't matter suggests that this is not a band to get over-excited, Dealer and Carnival Girl almost creep up on you but once there they stick like limpets.

There is not a second either wasted or overblown on any of the album's 11 tracks. Following a fairly simple formula of let those who can play, play with the minimum of interference, this is a clear and straightforward album, however inside that simplicity lies the sparse barren country rock of If The World's Gonna Change, a song that stretches to and beyond the horizon. By paring it to the bone the band has magnified the song's impact ten-fold.
It's when that's followed by the edgy slide guitar blues of Can't Help Moving that the penny finally drops, this is no ordinary CD and this is no ordinary band.

On the evidence of Money Don't Matter you'd be hard pushed to accurately label The Martin Harley Band or Money Don't Matter, it's blues, it's country and it's much much more. The simplest way to understand both, is to listen to the fragile Single Harp Sun - Maverick Magazine


Discography

"Money Don't Matter" (Villainous Records 2006)
"Grow Your Own" (Villainous Records 2008)
"Drumrolls For Somersaults" (Villainous Records 2010)

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Bio

The Martin Harley Band are the UK’s premier blues and roots-influenced acoustic combo. Fronted by the inimitable singer and guitarist Martin Harley (also an accomplished solo performer), and based around his sublime songwriting, the MHB (as their fans know them) truly are a band like no other. With a strong DIY ethic and a love of unusual instrumentation, from Martin’s distinctive lap-slide guitar to balalaikas, double bass and tiny cocktail drumkits, and bolstered by delectable three-part harmonies, the band have crafted a unique, timeless sound that has seen them develop a sizeable following both in the UK and abroad.

The MHB have garnered a reputation as one of the hardest-working bands around, with an almost unbroken program of gigs, tours and festival appearances at home and overseas, so you can probably expect to catch one of their legendarily energetic live shows at a venue near you. Despite their hectic schedule, however, they have still found time to record two excellent albums, with their latest offering, ‘Drumrolls For Somersaults’, due on 12th April, marking an even more impressive progression of their British Americana sound.