Caught by the River

An interview with Vic Mars

Lara C Cory | 29th October 2019

Vic Mars’ third release with Clay Pipe Music, Inner Roads and Outer Paths, came out last month. Inspired partly by things like ‘Alfred Watkins, 70s rural news reports, roll neck sweaters and chunky cardigans’, the album was also a response to seeing the effects of time and tide on Mars’ childhood haunts, pathways and adventures in Herefordshire. Lara C Cory chats to him.

Your debut with Clay Pipe Music was Land and the Garden; a remote, nostalgic trip of your childhood places. With Inner Roads and Outer Paths, you went on a literal exploration of your child hood haunts. What are the differences in your perspective from those imagined memories to seeing it in reality? And how did those changes affect the music for this record?

I made most of The Land and the Garden while I lived in Japan. It was probably homesickness that made the music sound pastoral and an idyllic thought of a country that didn’t really exist anymore, if it ever had.  Although the titles of the tracks were quite descriptive and to the point, it was in general a kind of hazy, catch-all view of Albion, fields and trees, farms and hedgerows unblighted by new roads and construction.

Inner roads and Outer Paths is more focused on elements I can remember from childhood, and where the city ends and the countryside begins. Some areas change drastically, new housing estates built and new roads. Other areas stay the same, still recognisable, and will stay the same way for years to come.

The beginning was seeing a great big new road cutting through an area of fields we would cycle through as kids. It felt weird seeing it, even though I knew it had been built.  I found myself looking to see if any of the parts of the land from my youth were still there, but they were all gone. A watchtower overlooking the fields, from the war, and a bunker which the farmer used to put the cows in. Walking with my 11-year-old daughter, the landscape had changed quite dramatically, and I had to stop myself from blurting out “I remember when all this was fields”.

I’m not sure how it affected the style of the music, it must have without me knowing it. Perhaps the use of more real instruments for this album links to the real experience instead of the imagined version I thought I was missing.

The instrumental palette feels a little more acoustic than your usual selection. What were some of the cultural/historical cues you used for Inner Roads?

More guitars generally, some recorders, glockenspiels and synths, not something I was really conscious of doing. It felt like the right way to go with this LP, but keeping the pastoral aspect. Radiophonic Workshop is always a source of inspiration, Freddie Phillips, Jake Thackeray, early Mike Oldfield. 

Sometimes going over old routes can trigger memories and feelings as strongly as any song or photograph. Can you describe some of the feelings you had while you explored your old neighbourhood and the places you used to explore and know so well? How did you try and capture those in the music, and can you point us towards a track that you feel does that particularly well?

Every time I visit my hometown, like anybody else who has moved away, I find something that jolts a memory. It can be anything, an old wall, a cracked path, a rooftop. To get into the town centre is the same old walk I used to take when I was younger, and it is strange when some of the old landmarks have gone or have not been looked after.  But I often see and remember the same cracks in the pavement, or a mark on a brick wall. Sometimes it feels like nothing has changed.

The second track on the LP is not a memory of mine, but of my Dad’s. They had evacuees during the World War II, and my Dad’s mother kept in contact with the evacuees for a long time after. I saw some photos of them all at the house where my Dad lived, and letters they had sent when they went back home to London and so on. It inspired me to write the track with those photos in mind.

‘Following the River’ has the feel of a slow walk beside the river bank, I think.

Inner Roads is a remarkably peaceful record. It’s difficult to turn it off once you hit the play button. Was your childhood in Herefordshire really as idyllic as the music suggests or has age, city-living and retrospect softened your recollection? 

Thank you, I am happy it is an LP to listen to all the way through. Quite rare these days with Spotify and the like.

We had some really hot summers in the 70s and early 80s, and before the advent of affordable home computers, there was not a lot to do at home. Only three TV channels, and most of that was sport on Saturday. My friends and I would just get on our bikes and head out, within 10 mins we would be in the countryside exploring the woods. As long as we were home for dinner time, everything was fine. Looking back, there was probably a lot of boredom to be honest and lazing about. The only thing we had to worry about was returning home covered in mud and an angry Mum. 

It wasn’t long before we all got ZX Spectrum computers and stayed indoors though, sadly.

Have you got any good stories to share from a particularly fun adventure, or disappointing discovery – either as a child or when you’ve gone back to Herefordshire as a grown up?

It was always fun exploring the Munitions Factory which was abandoned after WW2. Getting there was half the adventure, evading an angry farmer, crossing railway tracks, scaling barbed wire fences. Finally, inside the old bomb factory, everything is overgrown, bunkers, blast walls, hangars. In the last ten years, the council flattened it all, sadly. 

There were two or three empty mansions to explore. One we were chased out of by a security dog, another accessed by sliding blindly down a coal chute into darkness. I think both have been bought up and turned into hotels now.


Inner Roads and Outer Paths is out now and available here.