Published: 08/08/2014 10:23 - Updated: 08/08/2014 10:42

BELLA INTERVIEW 10: Mekons make Highland comeback 20 years on

The Mekons
The Mekons

PIONEERS of cowpunk The Mekons appear to have followed their inspiration west.

Perhaps ironically for an English band who play country music, home for the Mekons has shifted from the UK to the US with four members now married to Americans and relocated across the Atlantic.

The move from their Yorkshire base makes sense for a band whose blend of punk, politics and country music has won them a devoted following in the birthplace of country music itself.

"The reason we became more popular here that in the UK was that we embraced country music at a weird time when country music was considered to be pretty unfashionable in the United States," singer Sally Timms, who is now resident in Chicago, explained.

"Then a few bands, including us, came along with a weird take on country that made people re-assess it. We were playing country music songs, but through a different filter."

However, Timms debut as a singer of country songs came via all girl group The She Hees, who took a less than serious approach to the genre.

"But we took the mickey out of everything. That was a very silly band," Timms pointed out.

"Jon (Langford) and Tom (Greenhalgh) and Eric (Bellis) were the ones who very much fans of country music in The Mekons. I came to it later, but I could sing it. But you can take the mickey out of things you really like, and often you do that more than with things you don’t like."

This trip back to Britain will see The Mekons make a long hoped for return to the Highlands and Islands, with this weekend’s Belladrum date just one part of a tour that takes them to Orkney, Skye, Jura and the Black Isle, as well as a more intimate house concert show in Strathpeffer.

The band last made a similar visit to the Highlands over 20 years ago and The Mekons have always wanted to return, Timms said, despite the trip not always being a positive experience.

"Staying in freezing cold farmhouses in the middle of winter — I vaguely remember that," Timms said.

"We played in some village hall in the afternoon to about 15 people and a couple of dogs, but I also remember it being stunningly beautiful and mad drives to get to places. I also remember it being cold and rainy, so I’m hoping for better weather, so fingers crossed."

It may not be the warmest or most lucrative tour The Mekons could do, but there are undoubted attractions for the veteran band.

"We like to go to places we have never been before or do unusual shows," Timms explained.

However, it will be a slightly under strength Mekons who make the trip with guitarist Lu Edmonds and drummer Steve Goulding on tour with other bands, respectively Public Image Ltd and Graham Parker and The Rumour.

Yet the other members of The Mekons were not about to pass up the opportunity for this return visit and have enlisted the help of Chicago singer-songwriter Robbie Fulks to allow the tour to go ahead.

He is not the only friend of the band helping to make this a memorable tour for The Mekons, who first came togather as a band back in the mid-1970s.

Support from friends in Chicago has made the tour possible, while the tour will include stopping over at a friend’s recording studio on Jura to record some of the material they will be playing on their Scottish trip.

Another friend lives in Cromarty, so the band will also make an appearance at the Black Isle town’s gala, which close observers of The Mekons’ lyrics might guess would be a hard opportunity for the band to pass up.

"We have a song with the word Cromarty in it. Are there any other bands who use the word Cromarty? I don’t know, but we do," Timms said.

"There’s this weird thing with wanting to go back and having all these other connections which meant we could go to places we would never normally go."

There is also the musical connection, which Timms sees as coming full circle.

"The idea that America sends over, in the ’50s and ’60s, this music that is incredibly influential, people in the UK hear it, make it into something else and then go back with it to the US and now we come back to play our own version in Scotland with Robbie. There’s this weird back and forth across the Atlantic and I like that idea."

• The Mekons and Robbie Fulks appear at Belladrum tomorrow (Saturday 9th August) on the Grassroots Stage; the Aros Centre, Portree, Skye, on Thursday 14th August; the Victoria Hall, Cromarty, on Friday 15th August; and a Square Wheels house concert in Strathpeffer on Monday 18th August.

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