Mark Townson - Guitarist

An article on guitarist, Mark Townson, written by Sue Parish,
and reproduced courtesy of the Lancaster Guardian

Lancaster guitarist Mark Townson is a difficult man to put in a box. One night he will be playing a blistering blues solo at a steamy pub gig. The next he may don a bow tie and dinner jacket for a formal dinner jazz gig. And when he isn't doing that he'll probably be holed up in a recording studio, trading ideas with a DJ for a dance album.

Mark's breadth of musical activity is driven by a passionate love of live performance, of taking risks and of trying something new to see what happens. But the key is experimentation. In his own words: "I've got a natural attraction towards improvised music and there's lots of things you can do to improve your technique, but really it's freshness that counts. You can't rehearse a conversation you're going to have tomorrow."

Nor is he interested in labels for what he does: "There are only two types of music I feel passionately about - the stuff I really love, and the stuff I loathe. The good stuff takes me to another place. The bad stuff makes my toes curl."

Locally born Mark was inspired to take up the guitar aged about seventeen after hearing his younger brother playing an electric guitar through a Dansette (a portable record player probably unknown to our younger readers!). Characteristically, Mark was particularly impressed by the distorted sound produced by this impromptu amplifier. Particularly as his influences at the time included rock musicians like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jimmi Hendrix and Davy Graham.

"I was a bedroom guitarist really for the next five or six years - jamming with mates in front rooms and that sort of thing. The first gig I did was up at St Martin's with a street theatre band called Earthworm. It was quite experimental stuff. Then I joined up with two brothers, Nils and John Rasmussen, and we started doing jazz gigs. That was my first serious attempt to put my foot on the jazz path.

"On the local scene there were people who took you under their wing. I undoubtedly benefited from the benign interest of pianist Moff (aka Bob Moffatt, featured in another interview in this series), bassist Mal Hall and drummer Pete Eddowes. They were always really good about passing the baton on.

"That generosity is all over the place. Maybe you wouldn't get that if, say, it was law we were doing. Partly it's because there's no great loss because there's no great earnings to be had! 

One of Marks most widely known activities has been The Swamp Dogs, a blues band with a difference. The Dogs started thirteen years ago, and the line-up included Mark's brother Henry, and a host of other local players. Initially inspired by the British R 'n' B scene, the band evolved into a slightly anarchic funk/fusion outfit, and developed a loyal following at venues across the north, including Lancaster's premier music pub the John O Gaunt, which Mark describes as "my front room, musically speaking." 

Mark now throws himself into several projects at a time to see what emerges. Recent activities include work on his son Joel's project putting live music back into dance music culture, experimental bands with a variety of line-ups and collabarative work with local singer-songwriter Angie Palmer. 

He also gigs with local jazz piano player Bob Moffatt, for whom he has great affection: "He's always interesting to play with, and I think, really, when he's on form there's nobody to touch him - he has a fire that nobody else comes close to."

Mark is scathing about the modern music industry and the current crop of pop stars television - "boot camp for would-be pop stars. It doesn't come from that place. The next thing you know you've got a beat-box monoculture. I'm not against technology, but it shouldn't be used to replace musicianship, it's to enhance it.

"My acid test for music is about its ability to be able to transport you - that time stands still for you, that the person you are watching has a mesmeric quality, or the band is doing something that is absolutely compelling. When you are there, there is no difference between the band and audience. Those moments are rare, but when they do happen they make it all make sense."

Sue Parish   

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