BN1 Chats to MarthaGunn

It’s always good to be that band on the tip of people’s tongues, as Brighton five-piece MarthaGunn are fast learning. The outfit offer a stark contrast to the rest of the city’s emerging alternative band culture. Keeping it local, they’re named after the folk heroine of the same name, known as “the venerable priestess of the bath” – a reference to her status as Brighton’s leading ‘bathing woman’. Luckily, the band’s success has seen them move away from any further folklore comparisons and onto carving out an identity of their own.

MarthaGunn’s ethereal sound centres around the angelic-tinged vocals of frontwoman, Abi Woodman. Speaking of their debut single, Heaven she explains: “A friend of ours played it to Steven and Laura-Mary from Blood Red Shoes who run an indie label called Jazz Life. They loved the song and wanted to help us release our first single.” This crucial first step led to a positive working relationship between the band and label. MarthaGunn gush over how “passionate” the Blood Red Shoes duo were. “They went above and beyond our expectations of how they could help us.” The band are a tight-knit group of close friends who make you almost envious you’re not in their inner circle. Their formation is comparable to the majority of bands these days, however the friendship aspect played a heavy part in them joining together and that seemingly unbreakable unity is what ensures their live sets are so fun-filled.

On bandmate Max Hunter, Woodman says he “was living with one of my good friends and she introduced us in 2013. We started playing music and writing together pretty much instantly.” The pair then went on to meet the rest of the band at Brighton Electric Studios. Drummer Frankie Sparrowhawk was the last member to join the line-up as they are today. “That’s when things really started to take shape. Frankie was playing in another band that we were watching and we all said, ‘if only he was our dummer’.”

Playing Communion Music’s annual Bushstock Festival in London this summer, the band was due to play their latest single live. “Honest was one of those songs that took 15 minutes to write the entire thing, almost as if the words were already there. I remember trying to write as fast as I could to get all the lyrics onto paper,” Woodman says. However, due to a technical hitch and being on the smallest of stages, the song was unable to be performed. Not every track is solely Woodman’s brainchild though. “Honey, Let Me Know was the first song we wrote collaboratively around Ally’s bass line. The moment he played it everyone started improvising and it came together very quickly.” The process of writing material remains diverse and is growing for the band. “It varies song to song. It might be composed all together in our rehearsal space or one of us will come up with a more polished idea and we just arrange it together. There is no set blueprint.” There may be no singular plan mapping the moves they make, but the glue that pulls everything together and propels MarthaGunn forward into greatness is their ability to resonate with their audiences and get crowds dancing.

The future remains exciting territory for the five-piece as they’ve been experimenting with new sounds. “Max just bought a lap steel and we are all a little bit obsessed with it at the moment,” Woodman laughs. Excited for their upcoming show to kick off The Great Escape, they’re amping up their sets show by show. An album release is never too far from their thoughts though. “It’s always in the back of our minds. For now, we just want to focus on making great music and letting everything else fall into place naturally.”

By Lauren Wade

MarthaGunn play The Great Escape, First Fifty on Weds 23 Nov at London’s Kamio

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