Published: 12 February, 2016
by ROISIN GADELRAB
PEOPLE say playing covers is selling your soul, but what is working 9 to 5?.” Mark McClelland, of new Kentish Town duo The Insiders, is explaining the rationale behind the band’s approach to forging a serious music career. He and songwriter Dan Over – a former farm labourer – teamed up after meeting when both working at The Oxford Arms in Kentish Town. They now run the fortnightly Jam Jar Jam in the pub’s upstairs room, the next event being on Wednesday, February 17.
“You can do original songs but we all know there’s no money in that until you become Ed Sheeran. How do you become a professional musician? By playing covers,” said Mark.
“If you’re working like a professional musician, you’re able to think like a professional, you can work on your. Playing and learning covers makes you go back and study songs in a way you wouldn’t normally, and that’s invaluable as a songwriter. You see what songs people react to. Even hit songs don’t always make good covers.”
Mark, who has played bass in various bands over the past 20 years, hasn’t had it easy.
“I was a journalist in Ireland for 10 years, successful, quite well-known and I got sick with fibromyalgia,” he said.
“I lost five years of my life to that. It’s extreme chronic fatigue sickness, I call it M.E. with pain. After five years in Ireland, a lot of the time incapacitated, not able to work, I began to do yoga and managed my condition. Yoga gave me my life back.”
He decided to move to Madrid to seek his fortune as a bass player.
Mark said: “Madrid was supposed to be for a year but the financial system was horrendous and I was unable to save enough money to go somewhere else. When day-to-day living becomes survival you’re not able to go anywhere else. Eventually I went to Costa Blanca. I tried to become a bass player, had a great time, made lots of contacts but didn’t make any money and ended up going back to Madrid. I wrote a diary about this – The Costa Blanca diary (https://marksdiaries.wordpress.com/).”
A friend read Mark’s blog, helped him get to London and found him a job, but it didn’t work out. He was soon unemployed, homeless and living in a friend’s bedroom. On his first day searching for jobs in Kentish Town, he found a vacancy in The Oxford Arms. Coincidentally, Dan was starting his first trial shift. They bonded over music and were soon swapping their own songs – between them, they already have a wealth of written material.
Mark said: “We started working on songs together and realised we had great musical chemistry and a similar work ethic. It wasn’t long after that I was asked to do a jam session at The Oxford. I immediately thought, I’ll bring Dan in, and we came up with the concept of a party in your living room, like a house party.
“We’ve had some really good people coming, we’ve already got regulars. We do original stuff and invite songwriters to come. It’s not just open-mic, it’s a jam session. We’ll play band originals and any songwriters that come can play their songs and other people can come and play along with them.
“It’s fantastic, brilliant in so many ways for contacts. We thought, now we’re playing together, why don’t we make a go of this?”
The Insiders are now securing bookings for covers gigs and working on combining their own material as original musicians.
“For me, to do music properly you have to do it full-time,” said Mark. “I’ve left The Oxford. I’m chasing venues, possibilities, to see what me and Dan can do. I said to Dan, ‘once we start making money, then you can do whatever – open-mic/original shows, go to a different part of the country and play two or three shows for no money, knowing that you’ve got paid gigs’.”
And, in the meantime, Mark is happy he has his life and his condition under control.
He added: “I still get a bit tired, I have to be careful not to be hubristic about this. You can live to understand and work with it if you manage yourself. I still have it, I still do yoga. I got a book and taught myself. The day I got that book is probably the day my life started to change and I started to have hopes and ambitions again.
“There was a time that I thought, if I ever was able to support myself just having a normal job, that would be the greatest achievement of my life, and there was a time when I thought that wouldn’t ever be possible.”
• The Insiders play the Horseshoe, Clerkenwell, on February 28 at 1pm.