A little note on this one: additional to my obsession to meet Raymond Watts, I developed this mad idea that I absolutely HAD to meet Mary Mary if it was the very last thing I ever did in my life. It took me two years from thinking I’d quite like to have a chat to actually sitting down and talking with him, but … it really was one of the greatest moments of my life to sit there, nose-to-nose with my indie idol, chatting happily and animatedly. While we never met again, other people in the room remarked on how well we’d got on with each other, and I came away with one of my favourite ever interviews.
With their explosive blend of metal riffs and drum and bass grooves, Apollo 440’s rise to fame has been as meteoric as the name suggests. The funky, jazz-inspired Krupa and chart-busting Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub (from Van Halen’s Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love) have set a blueprint for their fast-developing sound. Finding an increased audience with the Lost In Space theme, @440’s star is in the ascendant. Incredibly, their trademark ragga-style vocals come courtesy of none other than industrial legend Mary Mary.
“I suppose the rumours are true,” Mary grins, as he reveals all about his days as vocalist for psychedelic punkers Gaye Bykers On Acid. He reveals that the speculation of huge, acid-fuelled frenzies stems from when a certain alternative celebrity handed out 250 tabs of acid to the band.
Ian: We were handing it out to the crowd, and we did take quite a lot of it ourselves. It’s something you get over, though.
He smiles, accounting for his current sober appearance.
Born Ian Garfield Hoxley, Mary hails from Leicester, but has spent years in various bands in Liverpool, Camden and Chicago. Mary has an extraordinary reputation. Not only as a versatile and talented vocalist, but as of The World’s Nicest Bloke. Former bandmates, roadies, producers and friends all chorus their affection for the tiny, affable, gregarious Kurt Cobain lookalike. In fact, so widespread was his acclaim that we simply had to find out what all the fuss was about. We weren’t disappointed.
After endless telephone calls to the Epic Press office (thanks guys!), I am finally led to a tiny room at Subterrania, where my favourite singer and one of the hottest bands on the planet are playing tonight. A man in an Afghan coat introduces himself as Simon. He in turn introduces me to the band. I promise to Mary that I am not going to neglect Apollo 440 (and miss this one?) and decide to start at the beginning.
Ian: After GBOA, one night we went to see Henry Rollins play in Highbury, when Paul Raven from Killing Joke came up to me and handed me £200. Cash. He said, “I really want you to be on the team. Get a plane and come to Chicago.” So I spent it. A couple of days later, he called and said, “I was serious about you coming out here. Get the next flight out.” I told him that I’d spent it, but a royalty cheque came through, so I ended up in Chicago. Martin Atkins (Killing Joke / Ministry) was like “Yeah, yeah, come on over”, so suddenly I’m surrounded by people like Andrew Weiss from Rollins Band, En Esch from KMFDM and it’s like, great, I’m in a band with loads of complete nutters.
Touring America with Pigface – the craziest “supergroup” in history – was no piece of cake.
Ian: There were kids coming up to us with syringes, wanting to do heroin with us, and offering effigies of Ogre. Ogre (from Skinny Puppy) was such a huge star. In America, that whole scene is like their indie, and no-one cared who I was, just “Where’s Ogre!” f****ed up American kids – all they want to do is get f****ed up with their heroes singing about desolation and despair. I found Ogre to be an uplifting sort of guy. He used to play ice hockey so we’d talk about sport, which is totally alien to what you’d think. I got on better with him than anyone else, because everyone else was like, “Oooh, Ogre, Oooooh….” But it was a good tour and I had a good time.
Ian: It’s a shame, because Martin Atkins is very difficult to work for, but he’s very enthusiastic and it’s great that he gets all that s*** together. I saw En Esch in New York and I saw Lesley Rankine (from Ruby) at Camden tube station, heading off to Los Angeles, and I really like those people, but in Pigface it wasn’t the same any more. If you mention Pigface, those are the people I remember.
For Mary, Pigface is a half remembered haze of “heinous amounts of drugs”, every night tanked up to the eyeballs on LSD. Atkins remained sober, so it ended up with half the rhythm section drug free and the other half (including a virtually unconscious Ogre) staggering about, trying to play and – somehow – succeeding. At the peak of its decadence, the industrial scene populated by Martin Atkins, Al Jourgensen and half a dozen of their side projects was a laughable, intriguing mess. Finally, a chain of tragic events took place, culminating in the deaths of some of the most talented musicians on the network – not least drummer Jeff Ward and Skinny Puppy’s Dwayne Goettel. A kind of shocked silence seemed to befall the entire scene. People stopped what they were doing. Took stock of their lives. Grew up.
Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, Apollo 440 had been knocking around for a fair bit. Mary returned from the States with nowhere to live, and @440 were more than happy to oblige (“They kept me locked in the gimp box!”). He was in Hyperhead for a while, but then @440 needed a vocalist, and Mary just happened to be around…
Noko: I met Mary through Karl. Mary was in a band with Karl and he was playing the viola, and my mate said, “Hey, you gotta meet this guy – he’s insane”… I produced the Hyperhead album and that was it. I asked Mary to be our singer about two years earlier, but it didn’t happen until Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Dub. Mary’s like a box – he’s got these buttons marked “rap” and you push them and he makes up a rhyme and we stick a tune behind it. You put him in front of an audience, and he makes them more excited than they would have been before…
Ian: That’s my function in life. Noko came back from Tribal Gathering and he’d written this tune with that Van Halen riff in it. Drum and bass. Never heard anything like it. “Sing on this,” he said, so I was like, okay. They got me really stoned, and that was just the character that came out. The “grrrrr” thing. Rrrrrraw Power. Rrrrrapid Racer. That’s how it got born. I just did it jamming. Noko came back and said “That’s the single.” What’s the single? I hadn’t finished!
Noko: We just cut it up and stuck it together in a different order.
Mary is quick to respond to accusations of trying to attempt a gruff ragamuffin vocal style.
Ian: I wasn’t trying to sound black. I mean, Elvis Presley sounded black. I was just so stoned that that was the way it came out. Reggae has been part of black and white culture for twenty years. It belongs to everybody. I never sang like that in Gaye Bykers on Acid, though I now I wish I had… Still – I invented grunge! But now I’m more Michael Caine than Kurt Cobain.
One of the most fascinating facets of Apollo 440’s electrifying live shows is the fact that they use live drums. Cliff plays the Digital D drum kit, which he played on Krupa. Second drummer Paul Kodish is a jazz fan, whose love of drum and bass allows him to mimic the complicated syncopation of breakbeats whilst playing live.
Noko: The shows were great fun. We played seventy gigs in a year. We supported U2 in Israel to 70 000 people. That was incredible. Did you know that we sell more records in Poland than Oasis or The Prodigy? We are huge in Germany. Record company people keep giving us loads of vodka! That was bloody nice!
Apollo 400 isn’t the only thing that keeps these boys off the streets. Side projects include Maximum Roach, a jungle rockabilly Dick Dale-style offshoot. The band also harbour ambitions to have a residency at somewhere like The Blue Note (ultra-cool London night-spot), but still intend to release further Apollo 440 singles. The Lost In Space soundtrack was a dream come true for the boys who have benefited from the increased exposure, and cool factor, of working on such a high profile project. It is something they started pitching for months in advance, and the end result is a sophisticated and frivolous piece of work. All that listening to John Barry appears to have paid off.
So, a closing sentence from Mary?
Ian: We are the soundtrack band of the Nineties.
And, with that, the interview was over. It was weird: I’d been utterly and totally obsessed with Mary for years beforehand, because I wanted the answers to the questions above. The girl in the room even applauded the interview and pointed out that we had – as we did – get on like old friends who’d known each other for years. I absolutely one hundred per cent f***ing adored him, yet despite my previous obsession, once I asked my questions, I never needed to speak to him again. I was glad for the experience, but that was it, I just didn’t need to know any more. Well, the gig was great, and I later learned Mary was involved in a lot of successful projects. Good for him. I want nice people to do well in life.