Mark Fry: An Assessment

Nick Franglen writes for Clash...
Mark Fry.jpg
These things take time.

An English arts student, Mark Fry's wanderlust took him to Italy. Studying painting in Florence, the young musician was introduced to the record producer Vincenzo Micocci.

Laying down a series of tracks in the summer of 1971, what emerged was named 'Dreaming With Alice'. Released the following year to almost no fanfare, Mark Fry had already left Italy by the time the album reached it's tiny audience.

Yet - somehow - over the next three decades 'Dreaming With Alice' has developed a cult following. The record seems to define the strangeness, the eeriness of the Acid folk scene with unerring clarity, while Mark Fry's natural songwriting ability places him next to the likes of Vashti Bunyan or Nick Drake.

Emerging from the shadows with 2004's 'I Lived In Trees', Mark Fry is set to perform at the Village Underground in London on April 19th. A rare chance to catch this mercurial talent in the live arena, the concert will be directed by Lemon Jelly musician Nick Franglen and features guest spots from members of The A. Lords, Mercury Rev, Super Furry Animals and Tunny.

ClashMusic asked Nick Franglen to provide a personal introduction to the work of Mark Fry.

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Mark Fry is one of those secret discoveries you just can’t wait to share with your friends. I hadn’t heard of him or his music before I met him by chance at a long lunch five years ago but it instantly felt as if we’d known each other for ages. When I later listened to his 1972 album Dreaming With Alice I had a similar experience – it’s one of those albums that feels as if it’s always been part of your record collection, soaked with immediate, interesting, warm familiarity.

So from then on Mark’s beautifully written psychedelic folk became a little secret for me to share, and I could see the little circles of interest growing as I spread the word amongst my friends. It became obvious that I wasn’t alone in my ‘wow, what’s this?’ delight; name checks from Kieran Hebden, Jim O’Rourke, Julian Cope and MGMT, the astronomical multi-thousand pound value of original copies of the record, the fact that Andy Votel contacted Mark out of the blue the very weekend I met him - all show how Mark’s music has spread gently but persistently through the underground musicosphere, long after it was released with no fanfare in Italy some 40 years earlier.

Dreaming With Alice was recorded in Rome in 1971 when a teenage Mark was studying art there. Recorded in three days with an unknown handful of British musicians, far too much weed and a hard to tune sitar, it was released quietly the following year after Mark had returned to England. Mark received a few copies in the post, heard no more, and that seemed to be the end of that. He tried for a couple of years to make a go of his music, travelling with his guitar around Europe, America and West Africa but without success, and it seemed that yet another teenage musical dream had faded away.



It wasn’t until the internet opened up the information highways in the noughties that Mark’s true musical impact showed itself. “Did you realise you’re a lost psych-folk legend?” his wife said, peering at her search engine. Quite a few people had assumed Mark was dead, but in fact he had been quietly working as a fine artist in Northern France for many years, completely unaware that there was any interest in his music. The internet changed all that: over the next few years Mark was to connect with a whole new generation of music lovers and musicians, which led to the release of last year’s album I Lived In Trees, written with the fascinating Dorset alt folk duo The A.Lords. And now leads to the first full length live show of Mark’s music, a show that will see Mark surrounded by a remarkable band of musicians - members of Mercury Rev, Super Furry Animals, Tunng, The A.Lords, and Lemon Jelly (of course!), all members of the growing company of Fry aficionados.

Mark’s story is such a wonderful one - discovering that the once forgotten music he made years ago resonates with an increasing number of people - but presenting another chapter in that still developing story is not the reason I’m so excited about this show. Mark is a truly great songwriter with a mesmerising voice, and to be able to play his songs with this amazing group of musicians is going to be one of life’s rare pleasures, a pleasure to be shared with friends. Bring it on.

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Mark Fry is set to play the Village Underground on April 19th.

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