Twenty Years of Mary Jane

Those of you who know me well know that I’ve always been a hardcore folkie. I’ve always been a hardcore rocker, too, and a worshipper of the Bowie God. This love of music has taken me to various places and I was invited some years ago to write for a traditional music website called RootsReview. The website no longer exists – I seem to recall politics got involved somewhere along the line and the owner of the website didn’t have the stomach for arguing so often about petty issues – but we had begun to acquire something of a reputation and may even have been a rival for fRoots, had we continued on that path.

It meant I had some clout when I introduced myself at gigs, and it got me into a few places I might not have otherwise. It also meant that, being at that time fairly shy as well as brazen (I know, a weird combination, but it’s true), I had a hook – I wrote for a proper website, it wasn’t just me wanting to get backstage (though that was often my primary goal).

Anyway, I went to see my friends Bluehorses (also sadly no more) play at the Talking Heads in Southampton, and opening for them was a band called Mary Jane. I instantly fell in love, introduced myself after the gig and we have been friends ever since.

This October, Mary Jane celebrated twenty years of being in a band together, and they have released a double album called Brigit’s Daughter on the Talking Elephant label. Spanning albums from Hazy Days to To The Prettiest One, it shows well the way the band have developed and matured in that time, from Jo’s vocals to the studio production to the way the individual members work together.

Mary Jane describe themselves as psychedelic folk-rock, and I think that just about sums them up. If you were to have the opportunity to peek at their expansive CD collection (something I have spent quite a lot of time doing over the years during many booze-fuelled evenings), you would hardly be surprised at the percentage of folk you’d find, especially psychedelic English folk from the Sixties and Seventies. In fact, Jo and partner Paul locked eyes over a mutual love of The Pentangle, and their fate was effectively sealed from that moment on.

Jo taking a picture of me taking a picture of her. There was beer involved.

Jo taking a picture of me taking a picture of her. There was beer involved.

Their first album, Hazy Days, was released in 1996, recorded above a shop the previous year. Someone took it upon themselves to report them as squatters, but thankfully, they had been sensible enough to secure the shop owner’s permission to use his premises, so all was well. (There is always a story attached to a band’s first album. Suspected squatters suits Mary Jane perfectly.)

Hazy Days was followed by several more albums, each one different but retaining that distinctive Mary Jane sound. Their latest release, Eve (as in “evening”) is naturally a culmination of all that they’ve experienced over these past twenty years, as a band, as friends and, in the case of Jo and Paul themselves, as a couple. Their sound has deepened, somehow, as you might expect after that time and the closeness they display as friends.

It’s not as though they’re only Mary Jane some of the time, either. No, they’re Mary Jane all of the time. Jo will randomly break into song. Paul will serenade Jo and me, if I’ve stayed over, perhaps, with a tune on his guitar. And, more recently, they have become the owners (or rather, servants) of three rather adorable cats (one of three kittens now lives with Steve).

Arabella, Elimanda and Clover (grey & white, now lives with Steve), tucking in

Arabella, Elimander and Clover (grey & white, now lives with Steve), tucking in. Mum – Pyewacket – is somewhere else.

They have emerged straight out of the Sixties without pausing for breath, though, like me, they’re children of the Seventies. Their drummer, Steve, is a rocker, their fiddle player Gillie is a schoolteacher and their bassist Jon is covered in tattoos. It’s an eclectic mix, but one that works, and it makes for a great sound, and it’s practically impossible to sit still while they’re playing. Their repertoire includes a mixture of traditional and self-penned songs and, to their credit, it’s not always easy to tell which is which.

So, let me introduce you to the current line-up of Mary Jane: Jo Quinn on vocals, fiddle, penny whistle, recorder, bodhrán and flute; Paul Alan Taylor on guitars; Gillie Hotston on fiddle and vocals; Steve Barker on drums; and Jon Hawkes on bass. Together, they make up one of the best folk bands under the stars.

Jo with her bodhrán

Jo with her bodhrán

With with a glass of red. Note mandatory Mary Jane T-shirt.

Paul with a glass of red. Note mandatory Mary Jane T-shirt.

So if you’re in Southampton and they’re playing, and you like a bop (even if it’s secret and you’d never tell a soul you like to dance) – go and see Mary Jane, and prepare to get sweaty.

For more information, click this link.

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