Shropshire unsigned act Jonathan Markwood's Hoo-Haah Conspiracy talk about their inspirations, style, and a cabaret showpiece
Their origin story originated in London, but now they very much call Shropshire home.
Spread around the county, Jonathan Markwood's Hoo-Hah Conspiracy (HHC) mix various influences into one big...well, 'hoo-hah' to come up with a truly unique experience that aims to captivate audiences and take them on a mystical journey.
"This incarnation is by far the best and I’m very lucky to have met and be playing with such brilliant and talented musicians," London-born frontman and spiritual leader Jonathan says of his folk ensemble.
"I originally started the band in London a fair time ago, but musically we were never able to get the songs sounding the way they were meant to. I’m really delighted by the way the songs sound now and how we are able to present them in all their full-blown glory to our audience.
"It’s just such great fun to play together, and as the songs are little vignettes and character studies there’s definitely a lot of theatricality and humour about them and the way we perform them. We’re different, and I think people really seem to respond to that."
And guitarist Jim Streets adds: "I’ve been a Shropshire resident most of my life – Bridgnorth and now Much Wenlock, I met Tony [Holt, drums, from Shrewsbury] when he filled in for our regular drummer in a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute band I play in. He thought of me when he replied to Jonathan’s lonely musicians ad. It’s all about networking."
Johnathan has put a lot of his life into the performance arts. Music and acting have always been in his soul, and since moving to Shropshire a few years back he can count parts in shows such as the Channel 4 student comedy Fresh Meat, wartime drama Home Fires and soaps Hollyoaks and Coronation Street among his work.
That acting has crept into their stage presence somewhat, the live show often taking on a more storytelling structure than being purely a gig.
"Our shows are like Gerald Scarfe illustrations set to music," muses Jonathan, while Tony adds: "It’s a fully immersive experience - melody, stories, bass drum projector."
And according to Jim: "You can’t shake a stick at the amount of fun you’ll have. Seriously, I think what sets us apart is that as well as the music connecting at a gut level, the narrative tales and menagerie of characters engage people on an imaginative journey or short-story reverie. It’s an extra dimension that most songs and bands just don’t have.
"Most of Jonathan’s songs are laced with humour. They’re great to dance to and we certainly encourage that, but if you’re not listening attentively you’ll miss out on a lot of extra depth too."
The show has been honed to perfection over the summer playing such events as Bridgnorth Music Festival; Landed in Llandrindod Wells, Wales; Phoenix Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon; and Cogwarts Steampunk Spectacular in Llangollan.
"We had a great reception at Warton Festival, near Tamworth, too and they instantly invited us back for next year, with a promotion to the main stage," Jim adds of their summer success. "There are no shortcuts and every band is expected to pay their dues, regardless of past accomplishments and successes. We’ve had to build a live reputation from the ground up despite Jonathan’s international awards successes with previous albums."
Those successes include solo records released online under Jonathan's name. While the tracks do get performed under the HHC banner for live gigs, their shows are largely made up of material from the band's own record Telling Tales, which has recently been remastered and re-released via iTunes.
"My solo albums feature a slightly different style of writing really," Jonathan says. "Although we do play a couple from Black Against The Sun and Welcome To Planet Earth, the bulk of the set comes from the Just Plain Folks award-winning HHC album Telling Tales, which was inspired by me being fortunate enough to see, many years ago, a performance of a show called Shock Headed Peter.
"It was a genius piece of theatre featuring a series of dark, and funny, so-called ‘morality tales’ for children. The idea behind them was, as they’re ‘cautionary tales’, teaching how not to behave. The stories often had characters who do did dark things but who all got their just desserts in the end.
"In the songs I used what was going on around me as inspiration. Barbarella!, for example, was written at a time when being a Big Brother contestant seemed almost a respectable and aspirational career choice. It’s really a dig at the celebration of ‘celebrity’ itself. It still permeates society today and I think the '15 minutes of fame' culture is very scary.
"Another song, Minnesota, continues the theme but is more specifically about hero worship and how we sometimes value the wrong kind of behaviour.
"Another song we do, Catapult Kevin, is about bullying. Kevin is a schoolboy who’s picked out and picked on because his ‘stories always won first prize’. He’s very unhappy, but then one day he happens to find a catapult lying around a port-a-cabin and endeavours to avenge his attackers one by one."
And the live spectacle continues. Later this month, HHC have a big night at Shrewsbury venue Albert's Shed they want all to come and experience. Again, it's not just a gig. And Jonathan hopes it will appeal to a wide audience.
"On October 24, we present our Hoo-Hah Halloween Cabaret," he says.
"This is the second outing for our kooky Steampunk-themed cabaret and this time we’re really proud to be joined by the wonderful talents of Captain of the Lost Waves, magician of the macabre Sylvia Sceptre and the strange songs of David Brinkworth & The Pit. It’s going to be an amazing evening of music, magic and mayhem!"
Jonathan Markwood's Hoo-Hah Conspiracy can be found on Twitter @hoohaconspiracy and on Facebook @jonathanmarkwoodshoohahconspiracy - tickets for the cabaret night can be purchased from jonathanmarkwoodshoohahconspiracy.com