When Suky Goodfellow received a random message on social media from a stranger asking if she’d like to try out as front-woman of his band, the poet and singer’s understandable response was to to find out who was behind this unsolicited missive. Fortunately, Goodfellow’s googling revealed her new correspondent as Paul Mackie, aka Paul Research, who in 1977 had co-founded Edinburgh post-punk band Scars. Mackie had provided spiky guitar lines alongside the vocals of Robert King on Horrorshow, later sampled by Lemon Jelly, and Adult/ery, the band’s sole single on the capital-based Fast Product label. This led to Scars signing to a major label for the release of the band’s Author! Author! album in 1981 before they eventually split up.
Goodfellow, meanwhile, was carving out a lively niche of her own, both as a spoken-word artist performing at some of the city’s many live showcases, and as guitarist with nouveau riot grrl trio, Fistymuffs. As a graduate of grassroots music tuition initiative, Girls Rock School Edinburgh, Goodfellow didn’t need to join up with a gang of Edinburgh old lags, but was curious enough to attend a Tuesday afternoon rehearsal of what would become her new band.
The result of this alliance is Voicex, who play their fifth ever gig this coming Saturday night at the Mash House in Edinburgh, headlining a triple bill of kindred spirits completed by Glasgow’s Peter Cat and Livingston duo, Gravelle. Joining Goodfellow and Mackie as VoiceX is Boots for Dancing bassist Coco Whitson, guitarist William Baird of a similarly reconstituted version of The Fakes, and drummer Colin Bendall of Matt Vinyl and The Decorators.
As Voicex’s self-released eight-track CD of demos available at live shows has already shown, such a cross-generational mix of ideas, influences and experience makes for a healthy stew of off-kilter science-fiction glam-punk from a project which Mackie had never intended to be a band at all.
“We were just improvising,” he says. “Then after a few weeks things started forming into songs, and we asked ourselves, do we want to do a band? We could’ve just got somebody that we knew as a singer, but we wanted to put a new angle on it.”
It was at this point Mackie and co first saw Goodfellow.
“I was compering and doing some spoken-word at a gig organised by The Twistettes featuring female artists at La Belle Angele,” she says. “Then Paul messaged me. Interestingly I guess I’d been thinking I’d quite like to do more vocal stuff, so it came at the right time, but I googled Paul to see if he was a mass murderer, obviously.”
“Did it come up?” asks Mackie.
“No, no,” Goodfellow assures him. “You must’ve hidden it well. All that came up were things about you actually being a musician, luckily. I was supposed to be rehearsing a solo show for the Edinburgh Fringe that day, but I went to the rehearsal instead. It was all kind of serendipitous.”
Inviting a force of nature like Goodfellow into the fold was crucial to Voicex.
“It was about finding somebody who could engage with the audience,” says Mackie, “and initially wasn’t really about music at all. I’d have been quite happy if Suky had just done spoken-word stuff in front of the band.”
This attitude dates back to Mackie’s early days with Scars.
“Before the Scars did the album, we didn’t really focus that much on melody, but there’s a real power of having somebody in front who catches your eye and makes things feel edgy. I thought Suky had that, not so much in an attacking the audience type of way, but in a way that people can warm to, and I think that’s absolutely happening. It’s gone in different directions now, so it’s much more musical, but we’ve still got this idea that when we do a gig it’s an event.”
Goodfellow had never heard of Scars before Mackie got in touch.
“Because I’m not from Edinburgh I wasn’t aware of the Scottish post-punk scene at the time,” she says, “but of course I’ve got into it now. Girls Rock School has been good, because it’s giving music lessons to women and bands of any age. The drummer in Fistymuffs is older than us, if she doesn’t mind me saying. There’s a good community there that helps you get started, like punk was back in the day, I guess, to take that ethos and focus on getting women into music.”
Goodfellow came to Scotland from her home in Cornwall to study in St Andrew’s before decamping to Edinburgh after being attracted by the melee of Edinburgh’s festival season. Once here, she fell into a year-round grassroots scene which thrives in various off-radar venues. This is despite what feels like permanent threats from developers to bulldoze away the city’s artistic heart with the backing of a local council with no discernible cultural vision.
The irresistible rise of Voicex comes on the back of Mackie’s extensive appearance in Big Gold Dream, director Grant McPhee’s film history of the bands around the Fast Product and Postcard labels. This year’s Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has further raised the profile and significance of Scotland’s musical history as well as its potential future.
As Goodfellow points out, “The closure of venues in Edinburgh really makes you think about how important it is to put on shows for yourselves in small venues, and to just put stuff out there.”
Voicex is a prime example of the importance of a cross-fertilising local arts scene. The band’s debut show at the Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh saw them supported by The Fakes, from Mackie’s generation, who shared a bill with Goodfellow’s contemporaries and fellow Girls Rock School Edinburgh graduates, Ferramoans.
“Bands like Fistymuffs have actually opened up a circuit that bands of my generation can tap into,” says Mackie, “and the likes of The Fakes and Boots for Dancing have been inspired to do something in a DIY way and have fun doing it.”
This has helped foster a set of loose-knit musical communities seizing the means of production at ground level.
“It’s lovely to support each other’s gigs,” says Goodfellow. “I actually met one of the members of Gravelle at the Mash House when Fistymuffs were playing there. She came up and said she liked the show, I asked if she was in a band and she told me she was in Gravelle, so I looked them up.”
Mackie points out the charming perils of such close-knit activity.
“There’s a synchronicity there,’ he says. “When I got in touch with Gravelle to invite them onto the bill this weekend, they said they’d just bought tickets for it.”
Given that he payoff-line of Voicex’s publicity material is a triumphal-sounding ‘Welcome to the Future,’ what does that future hold for the band?
“One of these days we will make a record that will be commercially available,” says Mackie. “At the moment it’s a purely DIY thing, so people who come and see us and have the CD will know the songs, and I quite like that, but we’re producing so much stuff it would be good to get it out there.”
As for Goodfellow, “I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t think that’s a millennial thing. The way it feels right now, I’m not even sure 2019 is happening at all, but I just want to keep plugging away.”
Voicex, Peter Cat and Gravelle play The Mash House, Edinburgh this Saturday.
The Herald, December 20th 2018