“Let’s frame this story properly,” said August March in a faux Midlands accent—something you might hear in northern Gloucestershire, except for that indelible New Mexican emphasis on long vowels that he just couldn’t resist.
“Well, this dude Baz Francis is from Windsor and he just moved here with his wife. She’s an academic,” I told March as I tried to picture the places I had lived in those environs—a landscape that, despite the rock music culture, was never quite home—that’s still quite memorable 20 years on.
“Oh, so this is like the Steve Hammond scenario, like the Billy Bellmont thing?” He looked over his Foster Grant sunglasses and sighed. March was referring to a phenomena that seemed to haunt Burque’s rock music scene. A great composer and promoter of themselves, their band, that kind of music and therefore the whole community made the scene in town and flourished for a number of years alongside a grateful community. But then their partner took a professorship or something like that, far away from Dirt City.
And then they left. And Burque was poorer, we all gathered, even as those temporary tune masters continued to vault upward toward rockandroll-landia from some other, brighter place.
“Here, the story’s the opposite,” I told him. This fellow was from the Midlands and his band had become a big thing in the rock clubs that were scattered like loud, churning coal factories along the M4 from London to Cardiff. There were plenty of these burning black nuggets of rock—and Magic Eight Ball and Mansion Harlots, Baz’ old bands, had held them all in their hands when they first came together in the age of Cobain.
“Wha’ happened?” uttered March sarcastically, breath exhaling loudly for effect.
“The band broke up and well, he ended up out here. His wife is a linguist of some sort. And the band just got back together. They do seem to rock by the way,” I continued enthusiastically. Mansion Harlots just dropped a def new album called All Around A Fairground , released a locally made video and have gigs around El Duque when he gets back. The rest of the conversation went quickly, with brevity.
“Did you interview him yet?”
“Yes, but he’s in Old Blighty until after the new year.”
“Is it decent, the interview?”
“Then let’s hear it, people in Burque gotta rock, you know.”
Well, then: We now join our interview with Baz Francis—who fronts Mansion Harlots—already in progress; straight outta Slough and now headed for Burque.
Tell me about you and your music, how you came to Albuquerque, all of that.
I started out life in England, just outside of London. In Old Windsor to be exact. I formed my first band, Mansion Harlots, with Will Gray. We were a teenaged band, we were together for a few years then went our separate ways in the 1990s. I then formed Magic Eight Ball and toured all around Europe. I toured around the world solo, too. And was talking to Will and he mentioned bringing Mansion Harlots back. And that’s what we did. And we recorded the new album in Europe. Then I came over to America, we moved to LA.
Did you think you’d fare better on this side of the pond?
We had a lot going on in LA, but my wife got a teaching position at the University of New Mexico in the Linguistics Department. So she’s brilliant and she told me we need to move to Albuquerque for 18 months. So, I started immersing myself in the local scene. In fact, I was on KUNM the other day.
Like Brandon Kennedy’s show or something like that?
It was the Matthew Finch show, actually. A really nice guy, by the way. Anyway, I finished the Mansion Harlots album in America after doing some live shows with the band in Europe late last year. I’ve been commuting back and forth from California all this time.
I know you drove in today from Cali for this interview. Amazing.
Yeah, and you’re one of the first people to get a copy of the new album.
Tell me about the music on this album. Tell me about your vision.
Well with Mansion Harlots, because we formed in the ’90s, I thought it would be a really beautiful thing to explore all of those influences that really made us tick as teenagers while bringing our adult perspectives to it, too. And one big influence for us, back then and now, is the band Everclear.
Yeah. And what happened was I finished the album, I came back to Albuquerque to finalize all of the release information and I got a phone call the other week—well an email—saying, “Do you want to come up to Chico [California] and open up for Art Alexakis of Everclear. So, that’s what I did. Just as this album is coming out, I get to open for one of the key influences of Mansion Harlots. I think that one thing I’ve always loved to do is to combine my influences [like Everclear] with influences from soul music, from Motown Records.
With that alternative rock sound in there, too. There’s some classic rock in there, too; I love Queen and Manic Street Preachers.
That’s a big deal in Brit-pop culture. The lyricist and rhythm guitarist of Manic Street Preachers, Richey Edwards, disappeared and was never heard from again!
I went to their hometown. I met James Dean Bradfield [the band’s lead guitarist] a few years ago.
Fascinating. You’re talking about all these diverse British bands but they’re bound together by a real strong rock guitar aesthetic, it’s like an idealized form of rock with jazz and classical influences too, que no?
It’s really interesting that you bring that up. If you listen to “A Design for Life,” which is the Manics’ big song, the chords are very jazzy, very unusual. With me it’s everything from metal to soul. But also I’m a big fan of the melody, infusing the work I do with with melody is important. On this record, there are 10 songs written by me and two songs written by Will Gray. It’s melodic, it’s rock but it’s not one type of rock. And I think that’s what the definition of alternative is. When you had hair rock at the end of the ’80s, that was very cookie-cutter. Grunge and alternative were literally the alternatives to that formula.
Do you feel like that was a shout-out to authenticity in a genre that had become overburdened by pretense?
I think so. Compare hair metal at the end of the ’80s with music by a band like Primus.
I recall that Frizzle Fry really changed the pop music landscape in 1990. It was funky-time rock with an edge.
Did those sorts of projects set the stage for what came next, your band for example?
When you have a Les Claypool or a Kurt Cobain or a Slash making music, it will certainly knock down the barriers.
Is that the sound you’re trying to recreate on your latest record?
I think there are flashes of that; flashes of Slashes!
Right on. We’re going to get along fine. What are your plans for your new life in Albuquerque?
We’re going to be here for another 14 months. And like I said, I’ll be doing some solo shows in northern California to promote the album, hopefully playing gigs out here in Albuquerque and I’ll be working on a record with my other band, Magic Eight Ball. That’s the plan. The first ever Mansion Harlots video was filmed entirely in Albuquerque by the fantastic local filmmakers Kevin Schulmeister and Jesse Walden at Yo Soy Productions.
How about shows out here?
I’ve already been playing out quite a bit. I’ve recently played at the Red Velvet Underground. I also played at the ZiAmaizing Maze, I did that for Halloween. We just did two KUNM sessions and also Cafe Bella Coffee over in Rio Rancho. I’ve kept quite busy here.
The new year then begins with me performing in session for Vintage Radio in Liverpool on Jan. 5 with special guest [and Magic Eight Ball bandmate] Robbie J. Holland. Then I'm back to New Mexico again where I perform at the South Valley Library in Albuquerque on Jan. 23.
If you had to describe what you do to someone who had little experience with rock music or anything remotely related, what you tell them?
I would say it’s equidistant between alternative rock and stadium rock. It is melodic. It is mournful and yet joyous. We seized an opportunity and here we are in Albuquerque, ready to rock.