It’s been a really long time since we’ve heard official word of a new release from Martin Verrall. Singer, songwriter, painter and poet — Martin Verrall has been a leading force in the arts scene James Street North used to be defined by but it has been nearly ten years since we last spoke with him about his Spears of Fate CD. As luck would have it, the dark poet returns with a new vinyl release that encapsulates some of his earliest recordings with some of his newest.
“I was always making art but music took over from the writing at a certain point in high school,” recalls Verrall on his earliest output. “Some of the music on this new album is from my first band, Urban Sprawl, that I formed at Westdale High School. We were in our late teens in 1984. James Keillor and I formed the band and we wrote the songs together, His brother Scott played bass and Dean Everett played drums. Jamie plays in the Automatics now doing more of a rhythm and blues.
“As a writer, I thought I’d have to make music if anyone was going to hear it but hardly anyone heard it anyway,” adds Verrall. “We had a friend that was an artist with a studio on James North and we rehearsed in the basement of his studio on a little Tascam machine. Imagine James North was a lot different thirty five years ago. Urban Sprawl did a small number of shows but the band imploded at a certain point. I’ve had those recordings forever but they weren’t ever released.”
Fans familiar with Verrall knows the gravelly voiced singer explores life’s darker sides taking influence from the likes of Lou Reed, Tom Waits or Nick Cave but with his own ink and liquor spilled over it to form his own murky swill of poetic rock. The Urban Sprawl recordings find him at perhaps his most frenetic and visceral. Perhaps it was those elements that pricked up the ears of the team assembling Verrall’s new album.
“Initially, the song “Frankie Blue” was the start of this album a few years ago,” says Verrall on his ode to Teenage Head’s vocalist Frankie Venom. “There was a period of time where we hung out at the [now defunct Hess Village club] Mermaid’s Lounge and we got to know each other pretty well. Frankie was the one that told me about the attacks on 9/11 so that’s how long ago that was. I knew about his music growing up and even though my music may be quite different, it was inspiring to know you can make music in this city and get somewhere. I remember writing it and I thought he wouldn’t like it but I played it for him and he gave me his approval, it’s old but never been officially released just because we held onto it for a long time. It’s kind of a sad song, it’s inspired by Frank but maybe more about my own experience. On the recording we have Earth, Wind and Choir on it that brings it to a celebratory kind of thing. That’s where I had wanted it to go.
“Joe got really excited about the “Frankie Blue” song when I played it for him acoustically,” adds Verrall. “I had done something like 10 Velvet Underground tribute shows with him so I was pretty used to working with him. He basically produced this album and plays on the first four songs. We recorded it at Mario Pietrangeli’s Downtown Sound Recording Studio. But the recording became too long to put out as a single unless it was a 12–inch and if we were doing that, I wanted to put more music on so in the end we ended up putting a few different things on there. We need more songs to make a full length album and I have a wealth of recordings I do want to make available. I was playing Joe Csontos a bunch of recordings I haven’t released and Joe loved this Urban Sprawl stuff. I always liked it so I’m happy to put it out.”
While being a compilation album of sorts, Yesterday’s Tomorrow is still all Martin Verrall and fans should be delighted with the prospect of taking some of that home with them, particularly on vinyl. It’s been some time since we’ve seen any release so that’s a start, but Verrall seems uncommitted to what will happen in the future albeit, we’ll all try to retain a positive outlook.
“We’re doing the four new songs and three of the Urban Sprawl tunes — we didn’t get the old band together for this show although Jamie might come out to join me on some songs,” says Verrall. “Joe Csontos will be on drums, Mike Williams on bass, Chris Wilson on guitars and Annie Shaw will be doing backing vocals for some songs and if things go according to plan, I hope to bring out a lot of Earth, Wind and Choir for this show.
“I’ve got too much stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day,” says Verrall. “I’m working on two other album projects that I hope to give more attention to in the next while. But this album was important for me to go the whole distance, put it out and have vinyl. I’m trying to bring things to completion before I move on to other projects. This is trying to tie all up the loose ends to bring things to completion and to the people while I still have the grace of breath. I mean, I’d like to stick around for a good long while but like a friend said to me, we don’t have much time for any of us so there’s no time to waste. If you have the creative ability to contribute something you have a responsibility to do it as best as you can.” V
Martin Verall plays art crawl Friday October 11 @Hollywood with guests Zyla and Menial Rips. Doors open at 9pm and $10 gets you in. Click on martinverrall.bandcamp.com