The Plastic Mermaids performing at The Portland ArmsAlex Brian with permission for Varsity

Before we start, Douglas Richards, the frontman of the Isle of Wight indie band Plastic Mermaids, has some advice for his fellow bandmates: “You’ve got to stutter, say ‘um’ a lot and not say anything good.”

After some pre-interview banter, I move on to what’s really puzzling me - how has the Isle of Wight, with a population less than Cambridge, been able to produce so many exciting new artists? From Wet Leg to Lauren Hibbard and now Plastic Mermaids, the island is a treasure trove of musical talent. Something mystical must be happening, right?

‘There’s something in the water’

Fox explains: “We all know each other and have helped each other out to varying degrees.” Chris, for example, played guitar in Lauren Hibberd’s band, whilst Fox worked with Steph, Justin and Joe from Coach Party. “Steph was my first boss,” laughs Fox. Douglas quietly chips in, “I started Wet Leg with Rhian before we broke up and she threw me out.”

“People pull each other along,” Fox continues, “there’s only one venue people play at and the same people watch every gig. If one person starts doing well, people are like, ‘oh, that’s how you do it.’”

Eventually, Fox concludes, “there’s something in the water, something in the mountain streams and fresh country air.” This intrigues me. Plastic Mermaids have previously claimed the ocean inspires their music and Douglas explains, “I feel comfortable by the sea because there is some unattainable massiveness to it, which is somehow humbling and yet makes you feel more present.”

I ask them how their tour’s been going. “It’s been really fun except for everyone being ill,” Chris notes optimistically, “but we’re on the up now.” Despite the band’s surprise, the tour seems to have been a success. “In the first show we had in Bristol, we played the whole album in its entirety,” explains Fox. This unusual practice was not without risk. However, Plastic Mermaids seem to have pulled it off. Indeed, audiences respond differently to this new material. Chris explains why: “It’s a more mature and serious album. In the encore, we played a few of our old songs and there was a definite mood change. It made me think about the album in a different way.”

‘Record labels’ demands don’t always accommodate their artistic aspirations’

However, besides this philosophical dimension, there’s a practical reason too: “myself, my brother and Chris all surf a lot. It’s our escape... You’re in a state where all you can do is mull over your own thoughts – it’s like washing up.” “You need a physical thing that’s not complicated but also isn’t sitting and staring at a blank wall,” Douglas clarifies, “that’s the best problem-solving environment.” Fox chips in: “When you’re in the middle of the Isle of Wight, you’re only ever a 20-minute drive from the sea. Every pub is nautical-themed. I don’t know any pub there that doesn’t have a bloody anchor or a big knot tied up on the wall.”


Mountain View

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I ask Douglas if music always comes first or whether, occasionally, this inspiration works the other way round. He leans back in his seat, staring at the ceiling. The band laughs. “I’m thinking,” he declares. Five minutes pass. He finally concedes, admitting record labels’ demands don’t always accommodate their artistic aspirations.

Soon, it was time for them to step on stage. The band gave a terrific performance, with Douglas Richards demonstrating vocal versatility by alternating between near-falsetto and spoken word. Wild guitar and vocal effects melded with growling bass to produce a great wave of sound that was at once dreamy and exhilarating. Never was there a silent moment. Even between songs, there was always someone bashing out scales or providing “sci-fi interludes”. In switching instruments each song, Plastic Mermaids demonstrated their enormous talent, firmly establishing themselves among the ranks of the superb artists already to emerge from the Isle of Wight.