Mark Stoney is a sunny character and a far cry from the tortured persona you might expect from a singer / songwriter who documents his experiences through music. Even the bitter chill of a Monday afternoon in Sheffield can’t disconcert the Croydon escapee who’s made his home among the seven hills.
At the moment he’s got every reason to be cheery. He got married to Hannah last summer, he’s ‘more than likely ‘ to sign to a major label this year and get an album out soon after. And he’s recently seen Doc Fox fall off his motorbike.
“We were waiting outside radio XFM when Doc Fox walked out. He gave us this look as if to say ‘Yes. I’m famous’ then got onto this enormous motorbike. I think it might have been the size of his head but he overbalanced and fell off. Arms and legs everywhere”
The reason Mark’s band were recording a session for the London alternative station is ‘Amber’ an album Mark wrote, played and produced during 2001. A collection of songs written between the ages of 18 and 20 it is a clever mix of melodic pop underpinned by the kind of lyricism that can deal with self-doubt without miring itself in bedroom miserablism. Mark Stoney is a good deal more more chipper than Morissey.
Most serious musicians are skint, plenty are rolling their own while trying to get deals sorted out. Even those with publishing or recording contracts aren’t necessarily flush. Plenty will never make a living out making music. Mark reckons though that “that stage is really important. You’re naive and people will get at you but you need a strong character to survive in the music industry.” Even at the age of 22 he’s been working for years in one form or another. You wouldn’t guess it to look at him but he started off working on a lady’s lingerie stall in Caterham, part of the grey Croydon conurbation. (Unlike a man sandman once met Mark denies that he can guess a bra size merely from a brief glance.) “It was a rudeboy town. I was wearing all this chunky jewelry and puffa jackets. At the time I really got into Gangsta rap and Asian music then, a bit later, I got more into Grunge - you know the way you change your image when you’re teenager? Anyway it’s hard to write Gangsta Rap on an acoustic.”
At home Mark stresses, “there was always created music rather than just stuff on a record player. My Dad’s a blues piano player and my Mum did a bit of music teaching.”
Like plenty of sharp, creative kids Mark felt let down by school and left at 16. “I really resented the place, the way you’re just forced to regurgitate information and Croydon’s a depressing place, there’s not much hope. Then I went to college to do a media studies course, the sort of place where you’d be encouraged to roll your spliffs in the classroom, but there was this guy who encouraged me to get a gig sorted out with my band. We played at this lovely theatre in Epsom. We were awful but we had the arrogance to believe that we were the best. You have to.”
Mark was already with Hannah at this stage and engaged. But, as she went to Oxford University she broke off the engagement. “It broke me, I just didn’t know anything.” It seems the loss of the relationship took some focus out of his life and left him with a severe case of self-doubt. “This is the time I wrote most of those songs. It’s called Amber because of the traffic lights. You’re waiting to go but you’re stuck in the traffic between red and green.”
Fortunately the two sorted themselves out and Mark headed up to Sheffield where he began to record his songs in a studio in his basement. In between working on building sites he was on the dole, “there was this funny situation where one day I’d be signing on down West Street and the next I’d be chatting to Melvyn Bragg’s daughter in Oxford where I’d gone to see Hannah.”
A mate of Mark’s suggested he put his songs together on album and despite wrangles as one prospective record label fell apart it’s been, if not plain, then at least sailing.
Currently he’s working in Record Collector (“thanks to that I seem to have very, erm, promiscuous, tastes at the moment.”), recording with Kevin Bacon and John Quarmby and planning a new album - one that he says will be ‘less introspective.’
As we said; he’s a cheerful bloke.
words: Jack Tractor
pics: Tracey Welch