Mark Atherton Music
Mark Atherton Music
Mark Atherton Music
Singer - Songwriter
Mark Atherton Music

Biography

 

Schooldays

Passport-Photo-age-19.jpgMark was born near Wigan in Lancashire, UK but had lived in 21 different places by his early twenties. Mark's stories and essays provided the initial outlet for his self expression. Various English teachers would read out or make available these compositions to the rest of his class. At 15, his English teacher chose him to play Romeo in the school production of Romeo and Juliet and after his performance it was suggested he should follow an acting career. But it was around this time that Mark had started to learn the guitar and this had become his main focus. "We had some time off for revising before our exams. A school friend and fellow guitarist came over to my house for a rehearsal and brought a couple of girls along to hear us. We were playing our guitars when my Dad unexpectedly came back to the house at lunchtime, wasn't too pleased about how I was using my study time and threw them out."

Unsurprisingly, Mark didn't end up with the results expected of him but left Secondary School with the 400 metres school record and enough qualifications to attend the local 6th Form College. It was whilst there that Mark developed an interest in the musical genre that would most inspire him. "The Beatles later albums had got me interested in the music of the late 60s-early 70s and that whole counter-culture ethos. That led to me to hearing first Paul Simon and then Ralph McTell's early acoustic songs and those at times searching, ethereal, pastoral, poetic qualities struck a chord with me. Shortly afterwards I went to see Ralph live and the way he could hold an audience with his songs and guitar accompaniment inspired me to try and do likewise. I read about other acoustic guitar playing singer-songwriters who'd come out of that folk scene like Donovan, Roy Harper, Al Stewart, John Martyn and Nick Drake along with contemporaries like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell and started listening to all their early albums."

Travelling

Mark also followed in the footsteps of his musical heroes in a more literal way, ending up busking on the streets of Europe. "I'd read about how Ralph, Donovan and others had followed the bohemian lifestyle in their early days, dropping out of college and convention for a life on the road, hitchhiking around, living rough, picking up the odd job to see them through.

I'd also read Laurie Lee's As I Walked out One Midsummer Morning, about him busking his way down the length of Spain in the 1930s, and those experiences appealed to my sense of adventure. I initially headed for the Cornish coast where Ralph and Donovan had both spent some time, followed by a spell in Wales before working my way around Amsterdam, Paris and the South of France." These experiences would later inspire songs such as I've Got All I Need, Making Waves, Catch A Ride and Chasing The Shadows.

Early Songs

Some time after his return Mark began living and working at a remote conservation volunteer centre at the foot of the West Pennine Moors and it was during this period that he discovered Folk Clubs were still in existence and began performing 'floor spots'. Shortly after this Mark met the musician Marc Crumley who had come up with a series of interesting chord progressions but was struggling to put a tune and words to them. Mark was asked if he could help out and the results went down well. This encouraged Mark to concentrate more on writing his own songs as well and soon built up a wide repertoire of songs. Mark recorded 4-track demos of all these early songs and there are plans to release these on a 'collectors item' CD, First Impressions in the future.

"Musical phrases often come into my head, just like a song I've recently been listening to, only I've never heard it before. I call it an affliction or gift, depending on your taste! It was only when I found some people got something out of what I came up with that I realised I should try and take it as far as I could. I like to write in a broad range of styles so there's a good contrast in terms of mood and pace from one song to the next, that way whatever you're trying to convey can have more impact."

First gig, NW Buskers Competition Finalist & featured on Granada TV News

Harwood-1990.jpg

From these early demos he secured his first billed gig in 1990 at Bolton Octagon Theatre on a night featuring songwriters, performance poets and comedians. He was accompanied by Dan Buxton on this occasion but was invited back as a solo act on a similar night in 1991. The following year Mark took part in the North West Buskers Competition final with footage of him playing at a preliminary event the day before shown on Granada TV News to publicise the event.

Recording Chasing The Shadows with Simon Cohen & first radio plays

It was around this time that he first got together with multi-instrumentalist Simon Cohen. "I was asked to perform at the college where Simon taught music and he offered to join me for a couple of songs. The combination seemed to go down really well and so we decided to start rehearsing more material together for playing on the folk circuit. From an initial demo we were offered a spot at a Manchester 'Acoustic Special' in 1993, our first billed gig together.

We released the Chasing The Shadows album in time for this gig, selling quite a few there, and through the album started lining up gigs for the following year. At this point I'd written and demoed over 30 songs and from these we'd selected 12 to re-record for the album plus a few instrumentals, with Simon on violin, accordion, flute and oboe." The album was generally well-received with quite a few of the tracks receiving air play.

At the end of 1993 they were voted one of the best new acts on the folk scene in a phone-in poll on BBC Radio Lancashire's folk show.

Folk Clubs, festivals & radio sessions, followed by a tour of Germany

"At the beginning of 1994 we played our first folk club headlining spot and got a really encouraging response, selling quite a few albums and immediately being offered another booking. I would also sometimes play other types of venues solo and later that year took part in the Manchester Festival of TV & the Arts Alldayer alongside acts like Dodgy and China Crisis."

In 1995 they played their first radio session and also that year a German musician who was impressed with Chasing The Shadows offered to line up some gigs in his homeland through his contacts there. "We played mainly in tourist towns in Southern Germany but the highlight had to be when we played at an open-air event in a wonderful setting on the outskirts of Blau-beuren. And to top it all the audience wouldn't let us go until we'd done a second encore. That was an unforgettable experience."

Recording Between Two Worlds, Red Moss Benefit & Songmakers Concerts

1996 saw the release of Between Two Worlds, which received much critical acclaim.

The album was recorded at Dave Howard's Redwood Studios. Dave also played bass and mandolin on the album, with Jai Field on percussion and Simon playing a similar array of instruments as before. That year Mark organised the Red Moss Benefit Concert. 

"Hundreds of people attended the concert. That greatly helped the funding of the campaign to save this ancient peat bog which we actually won!" Towards the end of 1996 Simon relocated to the North East and Mark continued performing as a solo act, appearing that November in the Songmakers Concert at Burnley Theatre, headlined by Richard Thompson and in December at the North West Songwriters Competition final.

More festivals & other venues, Mojo feature & radio guest presenter

"From the response to Between Two Worlds I ended up playing more gigs in 1997 than in any of the previous years." It was around this time that Mark was also featured in Mojo magazine. This was followed by quite a few festival spots in 1998. Pete Conway (guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica) joined Mark on one of these and at a couple of other gigs during this period.
 

Later that year Mark was a Guest co-presenter on Radio Lancashire's folk show. As well as having some of his own songs played, he played tracks from songwriters he'd come across while playing on the folk scene and particularly liked and emphasised the important role folk clubs can play in providing a platform for the less established singer-songwriter often overlooked by the mainstream media.

Recording Dovetales, Stop The War Benefit & Nick Drake Tribute Concerts

Mark relocated to Derbyshire in 1999 and took a break from gigs for 3 years before the release of his Dovetales CD and the album launch concert in 2002, both of which received positive press coverage. The album featured a host of highly rated musicians who Mark had come across since moving to Derbyshire. The album launch concert in Matlock was followed by a series of gigs further afield, culminating with a very favourable review at Leicestershire's Scrag End Folk Club. To tie in with the Dovetales release, UK Music Network provided Mark's first website (now superseded by this one) and thanks partly to the Internet Mark has sold his CDs to people from many different countries.

In February 2003 Mark provided a Stop The War concert to help raise funds and publicise the National demo the following Saturday. He also produced a not-for-profit compilation CD, Songs of Justice & Peace, selecting songs from his CDs (and one previously unreleased song) that loosely fitted that description and available at the time through the Matlock Stop War website. "Some of my songs reflect an alternative outlook on life to the myopic materialist view that dominates our society. Maybe moving about so much in my formative years helped me to see things from different perspectives".

In the summer Mark helped set up and performed in the 1st Nick Drake International Gathering Tribute Concert. This has now become an annual event and Mark is the only musician to have played at every concert since then.
 
Mark continues to reach people with his music through festivals and his concerts, radio sessions and recordings and has recently completed a new CD, To Bring Me To You, with very favourable reviews . "There's a special intimate atmosphere that an acoustic singer-songwriter can create so that it's almost like having a one-to one rapport with each member of the audience simultaneously. It doesn't matter to me if there's not much financial reward. When people come up to me at the end of a spot, or after listening to an album, and say how much they like the songs then I know I'm doing something worthwhile."
 
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