Cult Q & A: Rhodri Marsden

❉ This week: Writer and keyboardist for Scritti Politti and Dream Themes, Rhodri Marsden. He’s not really into films.

Rhodri Marsden is a writer and musician based in London. He’s written columns, features, books and an abundance of laconic tweets on subjects as varied as bad dates, USB cables, rude place names, home-made perfume and nagging anxiety. He also plays in the hardy perennial pop group Scritti Politti and Britain’s best-loved TV theme covers band, Dream Themes. His only award was for winning the Under-10s piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival with a scintillating performance of a piece called “Silver Trumpets”.

What were you like at school?

Obedient and rotund. I would put my hand up a lot.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I think for a period of time in my early teens I wanted to be a professional cricketer. Then around 1985 or so I switched to wanting to become an indie rock star, although of course I had no idea that this wasn’t a big earner. That wasn’t the kind of information that careers advisors dished out.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

“Don’t worry about it, it’s fine.” Same advice I’d give to myself at any age, including this one.

Who were your heroes growing up?

Ian Botham, John Peel and my dad, although if those three had formed a band it would have been shit.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

I’ve never done a horrible job. I went straight into a fairly fascinating, eye-opening music business job after leaving university, became a freelance git at the age of 30 and have been ever since.

What are your best and worst qualities?

Best: conscientiousness. Worst: Outlining worst case scenarios.

What do you consider to be the single greatest piece of television ever?

A Breton chef preparing an entree of fine celery and crab on a programme called Le Breton Gourmand. I put it on YouTube a few years ago, check it out.

Monty Python: Is it funny?

Sporadically.

What was the last film that you watched?

Honestly? Woody Allen’s Love and Death. In the light of heightened discussion about the work of Woody Allen and whether one should appreciate it for what it is, while also accepting that Woody Allen is a dubious character, me and my partner dug out Love and Death to assess whether we could do without Woody Allen. It’s a very funny film. But we could do without it.

What film could you watch every day?

I’m not really into films. It’s not a film, but I repeatedly watch a DVD of the Joffrey Ballet doing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

What’s your favourite film soundtrack?

I’m not really into films. Bugsy Malone? That’s off the top of my head, don’t read anything into it.

Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?

I’m not really into films.

Which film, book or record last disappointed you the most?

I bought a book about the FIFA scandal called The Ugly Game and disliked the florid style so much that I gave up after three chapters. I was after facts and it was written like a thriller.

Which record would you recommend and lend to a friend?

Clube da Esquina (1972) featuring Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges. Like a Brazilian “Smile”. It’s a stunning thing, endlessly fascinating.

Which record wouldn’t you let out of your sight?

If you mean something that has so much sentimental value that I wouldn’t want to lose it because I’m sure I could find another copy, it would probably be the Cubist Pop Manifesto 12” EP by Big Flame.

Which book would you save if your house was on fire?

John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy Of Dunces.

What’s your definition of what makes something cult?

Something you’re not familiar with that lots of people you don’t know are into.

What are you reading at present?

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, but I should add that this is uncharacteristically highbrow.

As well as your career as a tech and music journalist, you’ve been a member of a new incarnation of Scritti Politti since 2006. Can you tell us a little about how that came about?

I walked into a pub in East London, recognised Green Gartside, chatted to him for 20 minutes, he asked me if I knew any keyboard players, and I said that I played keyboards. The following week I joined the band. Bearing in mind that I was a huge Scritti fan in my teenage years you may consider this event to be bizarrely serendipitous, but he recruited the whole band in the same way.

Which other writers, musicians or producers have inspired you over the years?

To be honest I’m more inspired by people I know. If I gave a list of writers I’d just be lying. The stuff that friends and acquaintances of mine have done or said over the years have had a far more powerful knock-on effect.

Your TV themes covers band Dream Themes recently released 20 GOLDEN GREATS on Bandcamp. Can you tell us a little about how Dream Themes came about?

Paul, the bass player, occasionally promotes gigs in North London. He used to put on Frank Sidebottom shows, and at one point he asked Chris Sievey (the man behind Frank Sidebottom) if Frank would like a band to play with him. Frank said yes. Paul and I got a band together, including Dicky from Scritti Politti and his drummer pal Rob, and we backed Frank in London a few years. Whenever Frank did the raffle during his show, we’d play a TV theme while they came up and got the prize. Then, when Chris died, we decided to continue the spirit of Frank by doing a stupid TV theme covers band. And thus.

Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?

I can make a high-pitched screaming noise by breathing in a certain way, but I’m probably not the only one who can do it, or indeed does do it.

What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?

Dissecting pop music and trying to understand how it works.

What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?

In 2006, helping to make Scritti Politti a performing entity.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m playing keyboards for Microdisney this summer when they reform for two shows, one in Dublin and one in London. I write a weekly tech column for the main English language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates. I’m putting together an album with the band Lost Crowns, a kind of hyper-prog-psychedelic project which is completely mind bending. Producing stuff for Lush Cosmetics’ sister record label, ECC. A shitload of other stuff but right now I’m too scared to look at my diary.

What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?

Don’t Google health symptoms.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career, and how has that person changed your life?

My old boss, Nick Hobbs. We worked together in music management and concert promotion. Indirectly, he taught me an enormous amount about clarity of communication and problem solving, which are probably the two things I’ve ended up being best at.

Do you think it’s true that you should never meet your heroes?

It largely depends who the hero in question is.

We are at a bar, what are you drinking?

Guinness.

What are your three favourite cities?

London, Glasgow, Budapest.

What do you do to chill out?

I find it literally impossible.

What would you like to be your epitaph?

“We couldn’t have done it without him.”

How can our readers discover more about you and your work?

I actually find self-publicity a bit icky, but I tend to mention any current or upcoming things on Twitter at @rhodri.


❉ ’20 Golden Greats’ by Dream Themes is available to buy from Bandcamp as a digital album, RRP £5.00. Click here to buy!

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