By Theo Cronin
When Max Somers, as he was then known, was expelled from Steyning Grammar School in 1983, his head of year told him he’d wind up being found dead in Piccadilly Circus with a needle sticking out of his arm.
So, it was with some satisfaction that he returned 15 years later as a recording artist signed to Sony with his first album Weddings, Bar-Mitzvahs & Funerals as a gift, credited to his new stage persona Max Pashm.
“All I wanted to do was be a rock star,” remembers Max, thinking back to his troubled school days.
“The head of year used to shout ‘do your top button up’, ‘pull your tie up’, and drag me in his office and demand what the career plan was.
“I’d say ‘music’, and he’d say ‘no, that’s plan B’, his finger poking me in the chest.
“To him, music was just some perverse fantasy.”
But it was a fantasy that came true for Max, who this year has launched Pashmount Music, and just celebrated the record label’s first release Electro Swing Club vol.1.
Max lives in an idyllic rural retreat near Ashington with his wife and two children, but grew up above his grandfather’s sweet shop The Golden Hen in Henfield.
At 46, he still meets people who confess to stealing from the high street confectioner and when put on the spot he admits to the occasional indiscretion himself, removing one of each of the penny sweets, but always with a fearful trepidation he would get caught.
With Jewish parents his childhood was infused with klezmer music, but his true musical coming of age came after leaving school with no qualifications.
“I went to Israel to go on a Kibbutz,” says Max, “but I was too young, but because I was Jewish they said I could join the army instead.”
Having only just escaped the British Army recruiters following a school referral, Max evaluated his worth and escaped on a boat to Greece where he became stranded.
“I learnt to speak Greek, had a Greek girlfriend and I used to travel to this cafe and wait for work.
“When we got picked up on the buses I used to hear this mad music that I had never heard before, with eastern scales - the music of Crete and Greece being very Eastern influenced.”
Max’s love for Greek musical flavours permeated his being and years later was showcased to the world on his underground hit album Never Mind the Balkans, released in 2008 - the cover paying homage in design to the classic Sex Pistols album of a similar name.
His band toured the album for the next three years entertaining crowds across 14 European countries, as well as the United States and Canada, with an energetic mix of gypsy, Balkan, Greek and Jewish music wound up with electronic beats and a punk edge, all masterminded by Max.
His musical tastes are eclectic to say the least, but how does the singer, percussionist and producer now define his musical style?
“Old world meets new world,” he says, clarifying: “That doesn’t necessarily mean world music – I like vintage music from the early part of last century and I love early recordings of klezmer and jazz, and of course I love the dance vibe as well.
“So for me it is really about mixing the old world with the new world but with respect to the original recordings.
“I don’t tend to sample much, instead I try and reproduce wherever possible.”
In 2009, as the electro swing musical genre started to take the world by storm, mixing 1920s swing melodies and vocals with the beats and bass of the 21st century, Max was at the leading edge of the scene.
With three international partners he helped establish more than 18 Electro Swing Clubs right across the globe, and his label’s first release showcases the talent and artists that have played in the clubs over the past four years.
“When we started electro swing it was almost unheard of and now it is practically mainstream,” says Max.
“Normally at that point I would walk away because of the lack of cool factor – but I haven’t - I have decided to stick it out.”
For Pashmount Music, based in Brighton and London, this is just the start with Electro Swing Club vol.2 being released later this year, and the label also signing some of the international artists which feature on the compilations, such as Demicat, a Canadian jazz and blues singer.
Max is particularly excited by another forthcoming compilation which will break new ground, as well as a new line-up for the Max Pashm band which he hopes will be performing at the opening of the Olympic Park later this year.
Exciting times for the local music producer who has so far this year already played in eight different countries, despite trying to always put his wife and children first.
When his first daughter was born, Max rejected the Somers family name, as it had been forced upon his immigrant grandfather by the British state which discouraged Jewish surnames at the time.
Max is now Max Chekonova - or Max Pashm, a leading light of electro world fusion music.