Manx and Marriner make music matter

Harry Manx and Steve Marriner. Photo: Shimon

No question Steve Marriner can spot a good alliteration. After all, his latest project is called the Manx Marriner Mainline.

Of course, anyone who nostalgic for 1970s Canadian rock might get misty-eyed about another triple M band — McKenna Mendelson Mainline. But there is no connection there for MonkeyJunk‘s Marriner.

The connection is with Harry Manx, that Canadian “mysticssippi” music man.

Marriner has known Manx almost as long as he’s known Tony D, his mate in MonkeyJunk.

“I met Tony in 1998 and I met Harry in 2001. It’s been a long time.

Manx and Marriner met at a meeting of the North American Folk Alliance in Vancouver in 2001.

Manx had just moved back to Canada in 2000 and he didn’t know anybody at the folk alliance.

“He just showed up and sat in the lobby of the hotel and started playing,” Marriner said in an ARTSFILE interview in advance of a concert by Manx Marriner Mainline on Saturday as part of the Come See The World festival being staged by the Ottawa Bluesfest folks this weekend to coincide with Winterlude.

Marriner was in Vancouver with JW Jones as part of a contingent of artists working with the NorthernBlues Music label founded by Fred Litwin.

“Fred heard Harry in the lobby and invited him up to showcase in the NorthernBlues room and immediately signed him to do a record.”

That is how Manx got going in Canada, Marriner said.

The 16 year old Marriner met Manx and the two started jamming together right away.

They kept in touch and every time Manx would come to venues in the Ottawa area, notably at the Black Sheep Inn, “I would play with him there.”

Things got more intense in 2004 when Manx was playing at the Chicago Bluesfest and Marriner and his father were there too.

“I had never been able to go before and my dad took me. We looked at the lineup and saw that Harry would be there. I emailed him and he said he would let me sit in. He got me up at the Chicago Bluesfest and people went nuts.”

That culminated in Manx offering to take Marriner on full-time in 2005 and “I dropped out of university to go on the road with Harry for a couple of years.” That was not the road to perdition. It was a musical ride.

“I like to think he gave me my real education,” Marriner said.

The recent collaboration has produced a record called Hell Bound for Heaven which is a mix of blues and gospel. It will be released April 5 on Stony Plain. Both men wrote songs for the disc.

The latest get-together began on New Year’s Day 2018.

“Harry called me up. We hadn’t played together in the previous few years, in fact we hadn’t really talked that much. And he and said ‘Hey let’s make a blues and gospel record and I said ‘OK, sounds like fun.’

“The earliest we could get together was last June. I went out to his place on Salt Spring Island. It was beautiful time to be out there.

“He’s got a studio at his place. We made the majority of the record right there.”

It’s all new material save for a version of This Little Light of Mine. Marriner even wrote one gospel song on the spot so to speak.

“I went to David Gogo‘s house in Nanaimo to borrow a 12-string guitar for the recording. And I ended staying up late and drinking a lot of wine.

“I woke up the next morning and had no idea where I was briefly but then I realized was at Gogo’s. Almost immediately my brain flooded with a gospel song. I wrote it down on my phone before I left his house.”

The song My Lord is on the record. It has a classic gospel sound.

“We were going to get The Sojourners to sing back up but they were on tour in Europe so I did the harmonies myself.”

For the high voice, Marriner does sing falsetto “but pulled back a bit so it doesn’t sound like a guy singing falsetto.” He’s done that on  Monkeyjunk records with a credit as the Marinnaires.

On Feb. 4 the combo did perform at the Maple Blues awards and Marriner joined Manx on some shows at the Neat Cafe in Burnstown, in Waterloo, Peterborough and a couple in Quebec.

After the Ottawa gig they’ll be headed to Regina’s Mid Winter Blues Festival.

“We are really enjoying working together again. In the last 10 years or so we only did the odd show together. It was all MonkeyJunk for me in the past decade.”

Marriner is quick to say that MonkeyJunk is not ending.

“The answer is no, of course not. I just have some other opportunities I couldn’t refuse” including a tour with Colin James.

Tony D is doing some recording and playing with Suzie Vinnick as well. Matt Sobb is the artistic director at the Overflow Brewing Company where he is booking in acts to a concert series. And he has a rockabilly band he plays in called the Dime Store Playboys.”

MonkeyJunk can’t go and play the same venues in Canada every year, Marriner said. It’s usually every 18 months to two years. So you need something to fill in the down time. That’s when collaborations happen.

These days Marriner is also contemplating a life as a master of ceremonies. He definitely has the gift, the stories and the sense of humour.

“I am seeing myself get different opportunities as an MC at events. I hosted the Maple Blues Awards two years ago and I loved it. It was nerve wracking because I had never done anything like it but it went well.

“That was beginning of thinking about adding that to the tool kit.”

Manx Marriner Mainline with Crystal Shawada
Come See and Hear the World Festival
Where: Fourth Avenue Baptist Church, 816 Bank St.
When: Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets and information:

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.