Isle of Wight act Plastic Mermaids get ready to explode in The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth

Isle of Wight band Plastic Mermaids play at The Square Tower in Old Portsmouth on March 15, 2019.
Isle of Wight band Plastic Mermaids play at The Square Tower in Old Portsmouth on March 15, 2019.
Share this article
Have your say

Given the perception from the mainland of people on the Isle of Wight is that they can be a bit, well, odd, then Plastic Mermaids will do nothing to dispel the notion.

And given that their music is already mentioned in the same breath as the likes of The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala and Arcade Fire, it’s no surprise that they sell out every show they play on the island. 

With their gleefully eccentric live shows building quite a reputation, anticipation has been building for the release of their debut album, Suddenly Everyone Explodes, due out in May.

Now they’ve got a short run of headline dates this month and more to come later in the year, they hope to acquaint many more with their psychedelic pop on this side of The Solent too.

Vocalist Douglas Richards is looking forward to their return to Portsmouth: ‘We have only ever played in Castle Street for Pie and Vinyl when they’ve done the Record Store Day events. Actually, it seems strange that we haven’t played there more when it’s so local...’

Doug shares vocal duties with his brother Jamie, along with various synths and samples. The line-up is completed by guitarist Chris Newnham, bassist Tom Farren and drummer Chris Jones.

The brothers are from Cowes, but the rest of the band were dotted around the island. They came together through all studying – bar Jamie – at Platform One, the Newport-based music college.

‘I met them all there, a long time ago now. We kept in touch and started doing bits together, playing in cover bands and whatever.’

With a dearth of live venues on the island though, the band has forged it’s own way.

‘There’s a venue now, which opened up about 18 months ago [in Newport], which is dedicated to live music called Strings, but other than that, yeah, there’s not much. We’ve done gigs in various places like warehouses, in the woods and wherever.’

‘It’s a funny one, because there’s tonnes of great musicians on the Isle of Wight, and in terms of the number of people who live here, there’s an exponential number of great bands. But because there’s no sort of university there’s a bit of a void between 18 and 30 – you know, your normal sort of gig-going demographic

‘So there’s lots of good musicians – not so many people to come and watch.’

But the band has managed to find those gig-goers – they played to 700 people over two nights when they put on their own gigs in a boatshed.

With a meticulous eye for detail in every aspect of their music, they foster a strong DIY aesthetic – whether it be making their own videos, the new album’s cover, or even building much of their own recording equipment.

‘I think the DIY thing has always been more through sort of necessity. We’ve always thought, right how are we going to do this? Let’s just figure it out and do it ourselves. It can be tricky when you’re working with other people that you don’t have control, whether it’s recording music or making videos, you have to give over a certain amount of control, and until you’ve got loads of money to pay for someone you really respect and trust, you can end up in a tricky position, so we just do it ourselves.

‘Like Jamie my brother is a bit of a geek with the electronics, and he makes all these preamps and microphones and basically everything we use to record through – it’s homemade.

‘Everything we’ve recorded we’ve recorded and mixed ourselves. I’m sure if we did something with a producer it would come out with a different result and I’m not sure if that’s better or worse – we’ve just always done it the way we do it.’

They’ve been working on their debut album since 2016, and they’ve had the chance to do a lot of it in a space close to the brothers’ hearts.

‘Jamie and I grew up in this house which is down the end of a gravel track probably a couple of miles long.

Then for whatever reason we left there when I was about six and my brother eight. My dad was walking past there one day, and he used to build boats in a shed in the garden. The people who live there now have turned it into this really amazing space – it’s like a garage with a living space next to it, just like this big open plan space – a huge room.

‘We thought it would be a great live room for us. He went and spoke to them, and they were like, yeah, they can come and record here - they realised we used to live there and thought it would be a nice thing to do, and they just agreed to lend it to us. It’s their second home, so they’re not there a lot of the time.

‘A lot of the album we recorded and jammed in that space and then we took it home and spent a bit of time mixing it and finishing it.

‘We finished it about a year ago, but we weren’t sure how we were going to release it, and we weren’t signed to a label at the time, so it’s taken us another year to sort that out.’

But serendipity intervened in the shape of island resident, Bestival founder and Sunday Best record label owner, Rob Da Bank.

‘Rob had been to a few of our shows in the past. He randomly contacted Jamie on Facebook out of the blue asking if we had any new music and that he’d love to hear it. It was actually the day we finished mixing the album so it was like: “Wow, your timing is impeccable…”

‘We sent it to him and he really liked it and it went from there.’

And that Flaming Lips connection? It seems they have made a fan of frontman Wayne Coyne.

They were on the same bill at Bluedot last summer – the festival held at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

‘My brother has just finished designing a guitar pedal, actually – he sells them through his company Neon Egg to help fund the music. He really wanted to give Wayne a pedal, and then he came and saw our set, which was a nice ego boost.’


Square Tower, Old Portsmouth

Friday, March 15