An Ilford musician is about to embark upon one of most creatively exciting adventures of an already colourful career.

Ilford Recorder: L-R: Marc Parnell, Dave Hemingway, Phil Barton and vocalist Laura Wilcockson. Picture: Jon ShardL-R: Marc Parnell, Dave Hemingway, Phil Barton and vocalist Laura Wilcockson. Picture: Jon Shard (Image: Archant)

During more than 40 years as a session drummer, Marc Parnell has toured with the likes of Joan Armatrading, The Blockheads and Jethro Tull.

The 59-year-old now finds himself on another musical adventure, this time as the drummer for Sunbirds, the new band formed by The Beautiful South’s Dave Hemingway.

With the band’s debut album — Cool To Be Kind — out today (Friday, November 27), Marc spoke to the Recorder about his journey to becoming part of the group.

While his love affair with drumming started in Marc’s early years, the meeting that would lead to him joining Sunbirds came in 2016.

As a session drummer — a profession described by Marc as being “an incredible rush but also nerve-wracking” — the performer goes where the gigs are.

Four years ago, this brought Marc to Middlesbrough, where he was asked to replace the drummer for The South (Hemingway’s band at the time) who had gone AWOL.

It was there he met Dave and Phil Barton (a guitarist and songwriter for The South, now also of Sunbirds). A connection was formed, and a year or so later, Marc got the call to join the new band.

As a long-time fan of Dave, Marc was already intrigued, but his decision was made when he heard the band’s music: “The songs are just really good; really honest. They remind me of 70s/80s pop; there’s a simplicity which makes the music really authentic. When I heard the songs, I thought ‘this is something I can really get into’.”

That was three years ago. The new group — completed by vocalist Laura Wilcockson — recorded Cool To Be Kind in 2018 on the independent Nectar Records label.

Produced by the reputable Teo Miller, known for his work with The Pretenders, Placebo and Robert Plant, the album’s release has felt a long-time coming for Marc.

“While we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve been waiting in anticipation for this album to come out. I am excited to see what happens with it.”

Seeing a response to an album has arguably never felt more important, particularly in a year when the coronavirus pandemic has all but wiped live performing off the map.

With live gigs temporarily out the window, the release of this album feels timely.

Though the virus has undoubtedly had a huge impact on the music industry, Marc – a consummate optimist – reflects on how he has adapted.

“Being a session drummer, I have had a lot of spells in my life without being employed, so in a way I was better prepared to manage this adversity.”

That said, he is desperate to get back on the road — especially America. He is wary, however, that the return of the live music scene may be gradual.

“I think there’s going to be more of a consciousness in people, in terms of being close together in venue spaces. But no doubt it’ll come back.”

He is excited by what the future holds. When asked where he’d like to be a year from now, he answers: “I really want to tour, especially the States but I’d be happy to go anywhere. I also hope we’re getting ready to release the next album.”

The quality of the album certainly suggests the demand will be there, with the songs described as “tales that cover contemporary themes as well as age-old matters of the heart and soul — all viewed through the bottom of a recently drained pint glass”.

Of the 12 tracks, When I’m Gone is Marc’s favourite.

Written by Phil, Marc confesses he doesn’t know exactly what the song is about, but as is the mark of a good song, it still has the capacity to really affect him.

Should things progress as hoped, it looks like Marc will be departing Ilford (albeit temporarily) sooner rather than later. Though still a session drummer, he hopes success for Sunbirds will lead to a shift in priorities.

When asked to sum up this experience, Marc elects to keep it simple: “I’m privileged. I feel grateful to be part of something special.”

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