The Habit, the tiny bar venue in York that Mark Wynn plays often and has chosen for the launch of his new album attracts an odd melange of beatniks offbeats, hipsters, scenesters and hangers-on. With its artisan interiors and late-night opening, it has a distinctively cosmopolitan vibe, and I often find myself thinking of Henry Miller whenever I’m in there – and I like to go there every so often when I’m taking a night off, because I can sit or lean and blend into the background while someone or other – sometimes Mark, sometimes different people – play tunes, and I can enjoy a drink and watch and listen in on the ‘characters’, the cool kids and the wannabes, the has-beens, could have beens, never weres and never had a hope of beings. From a writing perspective, it’s a great place to go to simply observe.
It’s also, in many ways, representative of the way I see the music industry evolving – or devolving. As artists are rejecting the industry that rejected so many of them, they’re going cottage and taking things back to grass roots. The heart of music now doesn’t really lie in the big gigs and the major label multi-million selling albums. No, we’re entering a time when artists play day in day out to small audiences in intimate venues. They may eke a living and get paid a pocketful of change that they subsidise by flogging a few CDs on the night, and it’s a fucking hard slog, but existing at the opposite end of the spectrum from all the X-factor cal, it’s real-life, not reality TV. Without the cameras, the wardrobe, the production, the digitization and editing, playing up close and personal requires real talent and commitment.
Tonight, The Habit is more packed and buzzing than usual. In fact, it’s hard to get to the bar. The atmosphere’s a little different. It’s not full moon, but there’s definitely something in the air. Then comes a point two songs before the end of Mark Wynn’s set when the madness takes over. The drunken old fruit in the vulgar shirt who’s been busting moves all night knocks the mic stand – by no means for the first time. Mark pauses for a beat, moves the mic back so it’s positioned in front of his mouth and he launches into an improvised number ripping the piss out of the guy, who, it seems, is renowned for his tedious tales told in an inebriated state. Mark could be forgiven for being frustrated. His rant’s not overtly mean-spirited, though – it’s all in the delivery – and besides, it’s extremely funny, and I can’t help but be particularly amused when he riffs on how the old duffer resembles Henry Miller.
Y’see, Mark Wynn is a real one-off. There’s no doubting his musical skills, but in a world where there’s a singer/songwriter playing a mix of originals and covers, picking and strumming an acoustic guitar in every pub and on every street corner (especially in York), what makes Mark stand out is his apparent unwillingness to do just that. He’s a low-key and self-effacing kinda guy playing low-key, self-effacing kinda songs. His demeanour is slightly shuffling, shy and awkward seeming, and he has a tendency to play sets full of downbeat songs quietly. His between-song banter is characteristically mumbled, a little rambling, but it’s equalled by a deceptively sharp wit, and his unique brand of inverse showmanship is a welcome alternative to the big egos, the musos clamouring to be discovered.
Mark’s a genuine artist, relentlessly carting his battered guitar up and down the country on his endless ‘getting ignored in bars’ tour because that’s what he does. He’s a musician and he’s all about the music. He sings songs. Often sad or frustrated, but sometimes happy. and sometimes spinning yarns, a true troubadour, and the turnout for the launch of ‘Stories, Rags and Stomps’ (which he describes as ‘low-grade trash’) indicates that his work is appreciated.
After support slots from David Keegan and some other dude, and the rabble-rousing folksters Rat Catchers Mallets, who, er, roused plenty of rabble, Wynn’s set brings things down a notch. It’s no bad thing, however. He doesn’t actually play much material from the new album, as far as I can tell – although there are points where it’s so loud it’s difficult to tell what he’s playing – and instead plays a slew of unfamiliar material. It doesn’t matter. He plugs away, casually, affably, supping a pint and simply doing his thing. It’s what he does – and I hope he keeps on doing it.
The album’s pretty good, by the way, and costs less than a jacket potato or cheese toastie at The Habit.
Mark Wynn on Bandcamp: http://markwynn.bandcamp.com/
And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk