On April 14th 1964, an advertisement in a Belfast newspaper asked: “Who Are? What Are? THEM”. A legend was born, hits were made and Van Morrison never looked back. Well, he’s done nothing but look back, really… but you know what we mean. Ashley Martin is a bit like Van The Man.
The leader of The Pies – everybody knows their name – is an artist who does things his own way, stands his ground and refuses to settle. Tours, single releases and record deals have all come and gone since the band first started in the eighties, but Martin has stood firm in his refusal to compromise. The Merseyside songwriter has a vision and isn’t prepared to let it go to see the name of his band up in lights, on an iTunes chart or attached to a Facebook page. The Pies stand for much more than that: “I have no idea what goes on in the music business,” Martin tells us. “I loved Joe Strummer and no one has excited me since he passed. We’re a political organisation and have always been outsiders.”
The Pies are preparing to at least stick their crust into the mainstream, however, with an album launch gig booked for July in the palatial surroundings of St George’s Hall. Here, we chat to the man behind some of Merseyside music’s most infamous moments and try to shift the focus from motorways to music…
Will you be spraying the walls of St George’s Hall with graffiti?
Definitely not! There had to be guarantees given to the council about graffiti leading up to the show. They have had assurances from Papa Mashee (Pies graffiti man) that he is now retired – the show would be cancelled if anything got painted.
Let’s talk about the music. It’s clearly been hard to ‘let go’ of the songs…
I made the decision to let Michael Johnson (New Order, The Durutti Column) produce it and I didn’t interfere with the process in any way. It’s taken a lot of experience to do that – as a musician, it’s not what you feel like doing – but finishing the album physically and mentally exhausted me. I knew it had to be done now, though, and it’s a nice feeling now it’s been ‘let go’… but it’s taken a long time for all the boxes to be ticked in my mind.
Some of the songs are new and some go way back?
Generally, they are ideas which have been improved over time. I play a concise version – just me and acoustic guitar – and that must have some meaning to it… and it must be for the people. Then the musicians jam around with them – there is no substitute for letting a band of talented musicians play songs for a couple of years, once every couple of weeks. This allows time to let things settle, which is very important.
That must require a Herculean amount of patience and restraint?
Some songs are thirty years old… one was written in 2016. The band has jammed on most of them for about three years. We put it down in just two weeks of actual recording, though.
The album sounds great and brimful of different shades…
Hopefully it flows well as a whole piece to listen to – people said they expected a ‘punky’ sound, but we’ve never been scared of any style of music. We’ve got my secret weapon, Billy Roper, on steel guitar and brilliant harmonica; the Keenan sisters, Barbara and Beverley, who have backed top bands in Liverpool; seven-year-old Kirsty Newick duetting with me on ‘Batman’ (a song about Fathers 4 Justice) and Tim Kinch, Tony Oxley, Si Lee and Lee Shone – on drums, bass, guitar and keyboards – they have all been around The Pies for a while.
A full band line-up for the big launch gig, then?
Yes. I’m hoping all the musicians relax and enjoy playing. I think it will be a good show for people… with a few surprises.
Talking of surprises – can we expect the follow-up to this new record at any time in the next thirty years?
It won’t be rushed. How long will depend on how this album is received… if it’s received very well, and people wanted to hear more asap, I would still want two years to play around with twenty ideas and then maybe end up with twelve songs to record.
The material’s there, then?
We have a great second set of songs. Between us, over thirty years, we have quite a few that stand out! If this album is not well received, I would just keep doing it anyway and take my time. Two years is a rush in pie time…
“Pie time”… love it. Come on, why ‘The Pies’?
We’ve made up different stories over the years for a laugh. This is the true story: on the way to the first show, there was a big dictionary in my mums, we put a pin in it… and it came up ‘pastie’. Lee Shone, the keys player, said ‘we can’t be The Pasties, we will have to be The Pies’! We laughed and it stuck, because we felt it said to people that we don’t take ourselves seriously.
Saturday July 23rd 2016, St George’s Hall Concert Room, Liverpool
Pic by Anna Evans