Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer An Englishman in the U.S.A.

By Mark Jordan

MARCH 8, 1999:  It’s all because of soccer!” says Mark Harriman.

The 34-year-old Englishman, who has called Memphis home off and on for the last nine years, is referring to the tight-knit community of former British Commonwealthers living here.

“You have all these English and Irish and Australians who come over here to work, and they’re totally isolated, separated from their culture,” he explains. “But they meet each other and establish this bond because of the one thing they all have in common — soccer.”

Among the ranks of Memphis’ English-speaking ex-pats, however, Harriman has assimilated more than most because, in a manner of speaking, he already knows the language — music. In his years here, he has established himself as a reliable sideman with the likes of Alicia Merritt as well as a familiar and talented frontman in his own groups Lime and the Sallymacs. In some ways he’s become a full-fledged Memphian — albeit one with a funny accent — with his own painting business, a home in Midtown, and a Southern wife. It’s a life that is reflected in his newly released solo CD … remind me to forget.

Harriman grew up in England just outside of Leicester, a university and industrial city “famous for Engelbert Humperdinck and Richard Attenborough, and that’s about it.”

“Ours was a sports family,” Harriman recalls. “My brother played professional soccer and my dad was a big soccer head. I just got into music because my best friend in school wrote punk poetry, and I used to write music to his words.”

As a youth, Harriman experimented with a variety of musical styles in a succession of groups.

“The first gig we ever played was at a place called the International Hotel, and it was goth night,” Harriman says. “We were pretty straight back then, and we had to convince the guys at the door we were really the band.”

Eventually, Harriman settled into the melodic, guitar-driven pop that defines his sound today. By his early 20s, Harriman was already a music-biz veteran in Europe; he toured frequently and one band he was in had a minor hit in Ireland.

But in 1990, he traveled to Memphis for a friend’s wedding. That first visit was brief, but Harriman made some contacts and, more importantly, developed a taste for the place. When he returned in 1993, it was with the express purpose of making a go of a music career here.

RCA Records showed interest in Harriman’s first Memphis band, the pop-rock outfit Lime. But Harriman says when the label flew the band down to Atlanta for demo sessions, it quickly became clear things weren’t going to work out.

“I got really tired of trying to sound like the happening thing,” he says. “We’d cut a song, and the RCA guy would say, ‘Yeah, that sounds like (blank). That’s what we want.’ I just got frustrated and said to hell with it.”

It was perhaps the moment Harriman truly became a Memphian. Like a lot of local artists before him — and perhaps to the detriment of his career — he had forsaken selling out to commercial forces in favor of being happy with his own music.

“When I was in England, you always had to be very fashionably aware, always be on top of what’s happening,” he says. “In Memphis, you have to be yourself first or nobody’s going to give a shit about what you have to say. … Sometimes I don’t think people in Memphis really know how big a name Memphis is elsewhere. In Europe there was a survey to name the top cities in America, the best-known cities, and the ones that were named were New York, Los Angeles, and Memphis.”

Lime is now defunct, but Harriman stays busy with two new projects. The Sallymacs are what Harriman calls “an Irish pub band,” playing covers by groups such as the Pogues and the Waterboys.

“Back in England, I did an Irish thing with a nine-piece band called Life of Riley, so I knew the songs,” Harriman says of the group, which also includes Lime mate Greg Gardener and producer Mark Yoshida. “Then for a while here, a group of us used to go down to Charlotte’s Place and play. And a bunch of other English, Irish, and Australians would come down. And we’d just play good drinking songs. One night we had 60 people coming in and out of there.”

Harriman enjoys the Sallymacs because they are a fun, welcome relief from the pressures of producing his first solo project, … remind me to forget.

“Making this record was quite nerve-racking, really,” he says. “There’s no place to hide. It’s just me singing songs with guitar and very little acoustic embellishment.”

The songs on … remind me to forget are taken from throughout Harriman’s career, including the first song he ever wrote, “New Clothes.” Helping provide the disc’s “acoustic embellishment” are members of the Riverbluff Clan — Richard Ford on steel guitar, Tommy Burroughs on mandolin and violin, and Harry Peel on percussion — who will also join him to play the CD-release party Saturday. Susan Marshall-Powell, wife of co-producer Jess Powell, also contributed vocals to the record.

For Harriman, the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of the record was a way to get to the truth of the songs without the distractions of rock-and-roll.

“Instead of dealing with all the band bullshit, I just wanted to do a collection of songs — just do it acoustic and present the songs as they are without having to worry about what the band looks like. … This record is very personal. It’s what I’ve wanted to do for awhile. It just seemed like the right time to do it.”

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