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root salad Ma Polaine’s


Polaine’s Great Decline. The Hampshire- based duo have clearly listened to Tom Waits, Billie Holiday, jazz, folk and blues. But they don’t sound like any one of those, nor any combination thereof. They sound like themselves (distinctiveness, that’s another thing I like).


D


The first time I encountered MPGD was a few years back at Camden’s Blues Kitchen. They were a band then but for reasons logistical, economic and artistic, have stripped it back to just singer Beth Packer (who also plays double bass, accordeon, har- monica and piano) and guitarist Clinton Hough, with drummer Pete Flood joining as and when. On the evidence of their recent second album The Outsider (OMH) this has paid some serious dividends. As Paul Slade noted in his review in fR418, it’s an album that grows with every play.


“We started out as a duo and sort of went back to it,” explains Beth when we meet up for a chat one grey Sunday back in April. “We’ve had lots of different line-ups over the years. But the band didn’t really break up. There weren’t any big fall-outs or anything. It just happened quite naturally.”


They originally came together in 2011, after Clint joined Beth’s rhythm and blues band. They’d meet up to work on songs that Beth had written and increasingly, her material was proving too reflective for an R’n’B band. So the two of them started from scratch as a duo. “Suddenly, we couldn’t play places like the Ain’t Nothing But The Blues bar on Kingly Street,” recalls Clinton. “We had to find places where people actu- ally listened.”


So, how would they describe their oh- so-elusive sound? “We try not to,” says Clin- ton. “For me, it’s just songs,” reckons Beth. “It’s influenced by things. But we certainly don’t fit into any genre.”


“People often bring up speakeasies, Parisian cafés, smoky atmosphere, all that kind of stuff,” adds Clint. Which makes sense. If I was ever going to take up smoking again, they’d make for the ideal soundtrack.


“It all came together when I just decid- ed to write songs and let them be what they were,” reckons Beth. “When I stopped try- ing to push them into any particular catego- ry. Then they all just seemed to sound bet- ter. You can’t replicate things, you just have to be who you are.”


ownbeat, elusive, spare, melodic with a bit of smoky swing. All things I like in music, all things I find in abundance in Ma


25 f


Great Decline Downbeat, elusive, spare, melodic – all things we like, notes Jamie Renton


It’s as though they had to talk things through get beyond self-consciousness and just be. To this end, Beth sings in an English accent. There’s no phoney US drawl here. “That isn’t a thought-out thing. Although I do think sounding American would be a bit weird.” Growing up in Cornwall, she was raised on folk and classical music. Maybe that’s got something to do with it.


issue’s fRoots 69 compilation) was one of the first they ever wrote. “These songs just went together,” says Beth. “And it was only long after we’d recorded the album and were scratching around for a name that we started to think what the songs were about and realised that they kind of all did piece together. But it wasn’t thought out.”


T Beth mostly writes the lyrics and


melody, with Clinton developing the arrangement. “I’ll come up with the initial idea,” Beth tells me. “But Clinton’s the one who makes it sound good.”


“We put a lot of thought and work into the sound,” says Clinton, “into making it sound the way it does. But the songs are still


he Outsider features a mixture of newer songs and older material. One of the standouts, The Poison Sits ( the opening track on this


the songs. We didn’t try and ‘blues’ them up or anything like that. I don’t know why we sound like we do. I think the good thing with Beth’s voice is it’s quite distinctive. And because she writes all the songs, that kind of ties them together in a natural way. That gives people something to latch on to and they get drawn into it.”


Beth’s lyrics are poetic, impressionistic, as elusive as their music. “That’s just how I’ve always written really,” she reckons. “I’d find it very hard to be straightforward and just explain a situation. I find it easier to use imagery and metaphor.”


When I speak to them, they’re touring to promote the album, mainly as a duo, occasionally with Pete Flood in tow. “He’s an amazing drummer,” Beth tells me. “But he’s really good at leaving the space. So he’ll add really quite subtle stuff sometimes.”


Next up, there are festival dates booked for the summer, another tour later in the year and they’ve already started work on the next album. “I just bring lots of songs,” says Beth. “Some of them are good, some of them are too folky for us.” In fact she’s considering releasing a solo folk album.


mapolainesgreatdecline.com F


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