Interview by Isabella Eastwood.
Honoured to initiate The Martial Arts’ Paul Kelly into the world of Facebook videocalls, Paul and I discussed how Glasgow’s musicians are coping with the (now easing) physical and social restrictions to our freedoms. Nursing a hangover (we’ve all been there) we talked about stealing pint glasses, vexatious cyclists, and being a philistine.
As it turns out, Paul nearly didn’t commit to the Isolation Sessions: “Initially I wasn’t going to do it. Gary asked me the day after lockdown started, which also happened to be the day after my birthday; so I was hungover, on my own and watching the news feeling really weird,” he admits, “I also couldn’t immediately think of a song.”
Time, during lockdown, has felt like both a trap and an open sea. Stretching out endlessly in a way that overwhelms and suffocates, most of the musicians I’ve spoken to have shared how they struggled with the creative process. A combination of nationwide lethargy and the absence of external input interfered with any kind of action.
“I’d always had this weird hang up about doing my own vocals. It was quite anxiety inducing, so getting someone to tell me what to do is something I always thought I needed, and it cost me a lot of money. But I’ve gotten over that as a direct consequence of the process, really. I had no choice but doing my own, so I got a new microphone which sounds really good, and now I’m sort of kicking myself for not confronting it earlier.”
Left to his own artistic abilities however, these very limits became liberating, and not unlike Medicine Men frontman Ian introduced a newfound reassurance of his own talents. When it came to his song choice, there was something of a ‘love at first listen’ type scenario: “Suddenly Heaven” by Stephen Solo.
“I heard him sound checking at an LNFG gig we played together at the CCA last July. You know the first time you hear something and you’re like “That’s good”? And the second time you’re like “That’s really good”, and by the time I heard the final live version, I was blown away. I bought the album the week after.”
As to how Paul approached the cover, he preferred the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” route.
“There’s been discussion about what makes a good cover version, and some believe there’s no point unless you completely rearrange it, but I don’t agree. I think in your own style and voice is great, if you really believe in it. I also heard Lemon Drink’s cover of TeenCanteen and how they changed the key and it really changed the tone to great effect.”
“I didn’t want to change the track too much. I gave it a definite ending as opposed to a fade out. It’s quite an 80s sounding song to begin with, so I pushed that aspect even more, but it's a song that would suit different eras of production styles. I’ve got a lot of synths at my disposal, so I kept all the basic parts and just translated it to use the instruments I use in general.”
Paul is drinking water out of a pint glass – the smart choice for anyone suffering a hangover – and our conversation digresses (for much longer than necessary) into the strange phenomenon that sees every student/YA home accumulate a variety of pint glasses over the years.
“I thought I had grown up when I stopped stealing them, but this one I must have taken in the last 2 years, so maybe I haven’t,” he laughs, “but it’s really miserable to think that all these places where I used to have my social life and play might not be around anymore… we don’t know what carnage is ahead.”
With stealing pint glasses off the table for the time being, I ask Paul how he has been spending the lockdown? Has he engaged in any one of the new national pastimes: virtual quizzes or cycling?
“I’m not even a fan of quizzes so I’m screwed there,” he says,“I thought about cycling once maybe. But I’ve not been on a bike in about 20 years, aside from steaming at 5 in the morning once – not recommended – but like, I’m so annoyed at people riding on the pavement - the roads are already so empty, and they’re even going about in twos on there, and it’s almost tempting to break social distancing rules via living out dark fantasies of pushing them into the nearest hedge. But I think that would likely cause more problems than it would be worth.”
But aside contemplating the pros and cons of cycling, Paul has been gorging himself on audiobooks (autobiographies of musicians):
“Maybe I’m a bit of a philistine in that I only read music biographies. I get to live vicariously through them and experience success at a level I’ll never understand. And their drug stories are quite fun, usually. Brett Anderson especially, like when he was so out of it while recording he began singing Cyndi Lauper by mistake. But yeah that’s why. Beyond than getting into events for free, being famous doesn’t particularly appeal, really. Perhaps having a few dozen more people interested in what I do would be nice, I suppose.”
Going on shopping sprees: