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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Mark Ronson is back with a gig at the inaugural Green Grooves in Abu Dhabi

The hipster hitmaker behind Uptown Funk talks celebrity weddings, the New York Subway, and why he won't produce Bruno Mars's new album.
Mark Ronson at London's Lovebox Festival 2015 in  July 17. Simone Joyner / WireImage
Mark Ronson at London's Lovebox Festival 2015 in July 17. Simone Joyner / WireImage

“Public transportation is one of the greatest things about modern civilisation,” begins Mark Ronson, justifying his claim, a few seconds earlier, that he takes the New York Subway “three or four times” a day.

“Why would you want to spend 45 minutes in a taxi going from Times Square to Long Island City, when you can jump on the E Train for two stops and be there in seven minutes?” adds the British super-producer, almost too naturally. “I’m not trying to sound like everyman, down-to-earth ...”.

Ronson’s insistent self-consciousness is understandable. The conventional media narrative paints this guy as the quintessential transatlantic tastemaker. A sharp-dressing polymath who, thanks to his socialite mother (Anne Dexter-Jones) and rock-star stepfather (Foreigner’s Mick Jones) grew up surrounded by their celebrity parties and pals (David Bowie, Al Pacino) – before making his own famous friends (and own celebrity) by helping to launch the careers of Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen. The rest is tabloid history.

So in conversation, Ronson inevitably finds himself spelling out just how very normal he is, or would like to appear. As normal as it’s possible to be, anyway, after scoring the biggest song of the past 12 months with Uptown Funk, his infectious, record-breaking feel-good Bruno Mars collaboration.

“It’s not like I get chased down the street. In America, I’m like the guy who did the Bruno Mars song, not a giant pop star,” he presses. “I’m happy and comfortable with how I can live my life, and that’s something I feel really fortunate about.”

I’m talking to Ronson by phone ahead of his Abu Dhabi gig tonight at the inaugural Green Grooves Festival at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club. It’s fewer than six months since we met in person, hours before his last UAE gig, at Dubai’s DXBeach in April – which, coincidentally, also returns with its next edition tomorrow.

At that time “the Bruno Mars song” had just been knocked off the US Billboard No 1 after 14 weeks, and Ronson was riding high. Now, half a year and one billion YouTube streams later, he must be sick to the stomach at the sound of it, right?

“You know what? I don’t have to hear it that much,” he answers diplomatically. “The people I know who are really sick of the song are my friends who have to deal with their kids going crazy, screaming at the top of their lungs when it comes one. I don’t have kids yet, so I’m kind of off the hook there.”

Celebrating his 40th birthday last month, Ronson learnt the hard way about the record-buying public’s short memory and fickle nature. While Winehouse’s Back to Black (2006) and his own covers LP Version (2007) – which featured the late soulstress’s “version” of Valerie – made him a superstar, intrigue dropped off sharply (and not-quite-fairly) following 2010s Record Collection.

That eclectic indie grab-bag was a clear rejection of Version’s sound and success – no horns, no covers – Ronson says the follow up to his present album, the acclaimed Uptown Special will not be similarly reactionary.

“I think, if anything, this record reminded me of what I’m good at,” he says. “With Version I was a little too thin-skinned, coming off the ‘down with Mark Ronson and his merry band of trumpeters ruining other people’s songs’. You’re right, I did knee-jerk hard in the other direction. I couldn’t tell you honestly what I’m doing on the next record, but I don’t think it will be a polar reaction to this album.”

Work for album number five is set to begin next year. In the meantime, after the Abu Dhabi set – “probably the last DJ gig I’ll do on this album” – Ronson has production work lined up. Having worked on star-studded records by everyone from Adele to Q-Tip and Duran Duran to Paul McCartney, Ronson knows to be discreet with the names. But the biggest surprise is a heavy hint that he won’t be returning the favour by contributing to Mars’s long-­anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Unorthodox Jukebox (which he worked on three tunes from).

“I’m not sure,” says Ronson. “Bruno’s such a talented producer and arranger in his own right. People don’t quite give him the credit he’s due. It’s a good thing for him to maybe produce his own record and show everybody that he’s not just singer, performer, entertainer, but much more than that.”

Our time is nearly up. The last question: does Ronson charge when DJing at the celebrity weddings he’s known for, such as Paul McCartney and Tom Cruise?

“I don’t charge for my friends’ weddings,” he says, before adding “but yeah, if it’s someone like Tom Cruise, of course,” he answers – you can almost hear his grin down the line.

rgarratt@thenational.ae