Features, Music

Interview: Martial Arts – newcomers pull no punches

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Featured image: Richard Kelly

If you were to swing a cat, hammer throw-style by the tail, in the dressing room behind the stage of YES’s Pink Room, the poor feline would come out a gibbering mess. More of a holding pen or an oubliette, its four white crumbly walls no doubt used to be an office when the building was home to the Capes & Dunn auctioneers.

Even so, it’s where we sit with guitarist, Jack Brown, and guitarist/vocalist, Jim Marson. They make up two-fifths of Martial Arts, a new Manchester band whose members hail from all points of the compass

“Just don’t say I’m from Birmingham,” Marson says, hair like a glazed conker, in his chewy Black Country brogue. 

Brown comes from near Ashby de-la-Zouch, an exotic sounding town in Leicestershire with a disappointing indoor market. Tom Dunnell (drums) is a Bath lad, there’s a Londoner in Jude Collins (bass), while fellow guitarist/occasional singer, Matty Pearce is a South Shields sand-dancer. Those four all knew each other from their time at the University of Manchester, but it was sheer fluke that brought Manchester Met biomed graduate Jim into the fold.

“I knew Tom through bands,” says Marson of the unlikely alignment of the constellations. “But I met a guy on the bus, went to the pub with him the next day, and he was drinking with this lot.”

It wasn’t a case of forming a band and gigging straight away, though. After rehearsing twice per week, in a furniture warehouse and a jerk chicken kitchen, an eight-month incubation period ended with their first live shows in April 2023. By their third performance, outside Cafe Blah in Withington on coronation weekend, their intense post-punk attracted the attention of Pete Garton and Noel Vasquez of venerable promoters, Akoustik Anarkhy. 

“They really want us to do well,” says Brown of their managers, who had spent time away from looking after bands, only for Martial Arts to pique them out of self-imposed retirement. “It’s removed that inherent difficulty of emailing people to big yourself up. You feel like a fraud selling your band, but it’s great having them on board.”

Others are paying attention, too. They’ve played two Speedy Wunderground nights, and by the time you read this they’ll have made their debut in the capital, playing with Go Easy and Velveteen, before making a return trip in March. There’s also the small matter of their debut single, ‘Warsaw’, which hits the electronic shelves on February 28th.

“We recorded with Seadna McPhail in Chorlton,” says Marsan. “The guy’s a wizard.”

“He did the Splint singles, too,” Brown continues, leaning forward from the couch. “He’s very receptive but also full of ideas. As much as anything, though, he’s a nice guy to be around.”

Having three guitarists isn’t the most obvious band setup, but it works for Martial Arts. They tend to have two guitars leading the way, with the spare man effectively filling in with what would be overdubs in the studio. It gives them a deeper, more complex sound than the often spartan arrangements of those that have gone before. 

That doesn’t preclude them from having monstrous hooks, either. ‘Warsaw’ is a taster that shows both their knack for a savvy chorus and shards of aggression. Just wait until you hear what else they have up their sleeve.

Martial Arts release their debut single, ‘Warsaw’, on February 28th. Its launch show is at SOUP on March 2nd.

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Ian Burke

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