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Mark Potter: “I wouldn’t have survived in the Motown studio. They’d be like, ‘We’re not getting him in, he takes five hours to start playing!’”

Mark Potter
(Image credit: Ollie Millington/Redferns via Getty Images)

With Elbow's new album, Live at the Ritz, we sat down with guitarist Mark Potter to talk about his first guitars, why you can't hurry tone and that time he met Brian May.

Got my first real six-string

“My first guitar didn’t have a name on the headstock. It was a natural wood, Les Paul-shaped guitar, which I absolutely loved, as you do with your first guitar. My first ‘proper’ guitar was when I was lucky enough to save up and buy a Gibson SG, because my heroes at the time were Angus Young and Carlos Santana. I was always a worker, I always had a job and saved my money, so I was about 15 when I got my SG. Pretty spoilt, really, at that age.”

Break on through to the other side

“I loved Nick Drake’s guitar style, early on. At that age I wasn’t a fingerpicker, but it made me regularly pick up the acoustic guitar. One day, I did realize I could fingerpick to a decent standard. It felt like, ‘Oh right, I’m getting somewhere here!’ But I’ve got a lazy little finger on my right hand that I wish I’d incorporated more. It’s not quite as ‘involved’ as the others.”

If I could have a lesson from anyone I think it would have to be Brian May. Queen were such an influence on me and my brother

Just a castaway, an island lost at sea

“One guitar, one pedal, one amp? It’s got to be the SG, the pedal would be an EHX Big Muff and the amp would be a 1959 Fender Bassman. That’s a no-brainer, that. I’ve recently switched over to the Kemper Profiler. We just got back from a few weeks in California and, like a lucky bugger, it was waiting for me when I got home. I can’t believe how great it sounds. I’ll definitely be going back to the studio with it.”

Pigs on the wing

“We use the little Pignose guitars with the built-in speakers a lot and at the end of every tour, Guy (Garvey, Elbow vocalist/guitarist) will give it to the support band. They’re great writing tools. That guitar is on every Elbow record we’ve made. 

“The problem is we have to keep buying them! It’s always like, ‘Where’s the Pignose? Ah shit, we gave it away again...’ You should see Guy playing one, though: they’re so small and he’s such a looming figure. I’ve not yet convinced him to play one onstage.”

A kind of magic

“If I could have a lesson from anyone I think it would have to be Brian May. Queen were such an influence on me and my brother [Craig, keys/producer]. We actually met Brian at the 2012 Olympics. He knew who we were and it totally blew my mind. 

“Our stage manager Rich House is also a huge Queen fan, and he, brilliantly, introduced himself as Brian! It was like putting your hand up and calling your teacher ‘Mum’. He gets a lot of shit for that.”

Working on a dream

“My greatest strength is probably that I’m always working on my tone. I’ll be in rehearsal an hour before everyone else, still tweaking my 'Grounds For Divorce' sound. Guy will be like, ‘You’re not still working on that fucking guitar sound are you?’ 

“Then we’ll play the song and he’ll be like, ‘Ooh, that sounds good!’ Maybe that’s a weakness as well. I wouldn’t have survived in the Motown studio. They’d be like, ‘We’re not getting him in, he takes five hours to start playing!’”

In the early 2000s, we played a Greek festival. The band on before us was six women, naked, but green, playing instruments they’d made out of various pieces of trees. It was an odd one!

One day like this

“In the early 2000s, we played a Greek festival on what was, apparently, a contaminated beach. There had been some leak or something and there were signs up everywhere saying ‘Don’t dip your feet in the water.’ The crosswind was so ridiculous that the town, eight miles away, heard the gig, whereas everyone stood on the beach heard nothing. The band on before us was six women, naked, but green, playing instruments they’d made out of various pieces of trees. It was an odd one!”