A handful of Seel Street revellers might have thought they were seeing things on the night of Saturday 3rd May this year, when they glimpsed a saxophone player belting out the high notes in the back of a Hackney cab. Thankfully, these weren’t merely the hallucinations of an alcohol-soaked indulgence, but the latest bout of over-exuberance from Edwin Pope, otherwise known as MUTANT VINYL. On stage at Brooklyn Mixer and coming to the end of his woozy, sway-inducing track Acid Honey, Pope made his way out of the venue and into a waiting taxi, all the while delivering a sizzling solo and blissfully unaware of his surroundings. Acts of unrivalled spontaneity are just one of the many thrills of the Mutant Vinyl live experience, giving revellers a moment to remember and outsiders an unforgettable taster. It’s certainly a memorable way of attracting new fans to his genre-splicing venture of dub, trip-hop and funk, to name a few.
“My band just continued on without me while this was happening,” Pope later laughs about it. “They said afterwards that they were scared; they had no idea where I’d gone!” We’re back at Brooklyn Mixer, but it’s early evening. Only a handful of punters lounge about, a far cry from the full-capacity room he played to that night. Pope has just completed his final day at LIPA, and he’s giddy with excitement; whether on stage or relaxing over a pint off it, he is a striking figure to behold, with a relentless level of enthusiasm that feeds off the possibilities that lie before him. “My friends showed me a photo of me in the taxi the next day and I couldn’t remember a thing,” he admits. “When I play, I get lost in the music and completely forget my surroundings.”
This isn’t the first time Pope’s performance style has led to some intriguing antics: at February’s Fiesta Bombarda in the Sefton Park Palm House, he looped the venue during his set-closer, belting out notes all the way. What’s even more impressive is that all the while Pope was balancing vocal and sax duties, a mammoth assault on his lungs without the extra capers thrown in. It’s a wonder how he maintains his energy during a set, but even Pope doesn’t have an answer. “It is exhausting. If you try to talk to me after a gig, I will be slumped over, trying to recover.” If it sounds preposterous on paper, it is only because words can only do so much justice; exactly why many have been spurred-on to see Pope in the flesh, as his reputation for joyously animated live shows continues to grow. The method lies in the importance Pope places on performing, a trait which stems from seeing the tenacious jazz maestro Courtney Pine in Winchester when he was a teenager.
“It was in the Theatre Royal, a sleepy little place,” Pope recalls. “My dad’s a big jazz fan so he took me along, but I didn’t expect it to be so intense. He had this energy that came from his virtuosic style, particularly the saxophone solos he did. I think solos are a dying art form, but when someone can pull it off, for me that’s them at the top of their game.” Pope was also struck by Pine’s illustrious career, which has left no musical style untouched. “He did a classical tour focusing on a bass clarinet, and then he’s also integrated drum and bass into his style,” he enthuses. Among his inspirations, from Prince to Damon Albarn, you begin to see a pattern forming; a refusal to let their sound go stale, be it on record or in the live setting. The way Pine struck Pope on that night in Winchester – that was what he wanted to achieve with every performance.
Inspired, Pope surrounded himself with Pine’s material and has remained an avid follower, having seen him four times since, most recently at the Liverpool Jazz Festival. He found himself drawn to the album Back In The Day, which is laden with guest vocalists co-existing alongside the saxophone. It was this that sparked the pivotal dynamic that makes Mutant Vinyl a unique venture. “Listening to that record, I decided I wanted a project with both vocals and the saxophone at the front. I’d been playing in a lot of rock bands growing up where it hadn’t been suitable to bring the sax in, but I always toyed with the idea. After sixth form, I wanted to do something that was just me.”
This is where much of the charm of Mutant Vinyl stems from for, though he has recruited a flawless backing band during his time at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, Pope’s bold, enigmatic presence sweeps all focus towards him during a set. His spirit rises from the faith he has in each musician, bounding off the captivating chemistry between each player. If this wasn’t enough, his slick black saxophone is a remarkable idiosyncrasy, respected as both a trophy and an accomplice. Each riff anchors the track, a foundation that offers a different angle in how the vocals and saxophone interact. Though he tells me not to look too much into the name Mutant Vinyl, it aptly reflects the alluring fusion of genres that collide in Pope’s music, exploding into bold and colourful melodies.
Though he performs everything on record, curating the perfect backing band was essential in the live setting, and in this way Pope is continually grateful for the creative hub that LIPA has provided. But the institution wasn’t the only thing that drew the Boscombe born-and-bred lad to Liverpool. Just like he wanted his own project where he could call the shots, he needed a change of scenery to influence him. “I wanted to go somewhere that was far away from home, because you have to restart everything from scratch. I think that’s really important for university, because it helps you decide whether you’re doing the right thing. Liverpool was so different to what I knew, and when you walk from your house into town and back, you see so many things that trigger ideas, because it’s such an amazingly vibrant city.”
Lavender is one such track that was born from Pope’s keen observational eye, albeit an inebriated one in this circumstance. “I was on a night out and I saw this woman with this beautiful blue dress. She really stuck out amongst the urban city scenery. But blue was a hard word to sing, and on the next day I was visiting a friend and I walked past this lavender bush. I caught the amazing smell, and suddenly those two vivid things came together.” It’s only a slight influence on the final piece, a nifty number with a delightfully gooey thump sprinkled among the vocal and sax interplay, cemented together with some deliciously crisp production.
Pope leaves more than enough space in his material to play about with it in the live setting, but with hushed talk of how he’s written his biggest tune to date, it seems he has all avenues covered. Always the perfectionist, he scrapped half a dozen recent demos he wasn’t happy with, so to have a finished product he is satisfied with is an accomplishment in itself. And where would he be without this attitude?
Pope graduates from LIPA in July, capping off a memorable three years by headlining the third-year graduation show at The Kazimier. With his sets in such good standing, it would be foolish to miss his last farewells in Liverpool before he moves to pastures new. Pope has a heck of a journey ahead of him, and it won’t always lead to the back of a taxi on Seel Street; wherever his particular journey takes him, it’ll make for an exhilarating experience.