Turn It Up Loud - The Recordings, 1981-1985
After Family, after Streetwalkers… Roger Chapman’s solo career is scarcely the best-remembered facet of his career, and that despite reveling in gems that could rival the best of either of his past projects.
Launching with the still-breathtaking Chappo album in 1979, with Mail Order following in 1980, and backed by a great new band, the Shortlist, Chapman might have been “unfashionable” in the eyes of the music press and its followers, but he remained a storming performer, armed with a voice that could strip the paint from the studio walls - as is immediately apparent from the first disc in this hefty box set, the magnificently titled Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun.
Released in 1981, Chapman’s first for Polydor Records, Hyenas kick off a five CD package that traces his work through the first half of the new decade, brilliantly chronicled in the accompanying booklet, and bolstered by a small and a very select smattering of bonus tracks: four tracks from a 1984 Berlin show, the 1983 “Shot In The Dark” b-side, and both sides of 1984’s “How How How” 45.
Three of the discs represent his studio work. Hyenas was followed in 1983 by Mango Crazy and, with Chapman’s career bolstered by “Shadow On The Wall,” his hit collaboration with Mike Oldfield, The Shadow Knows in 1984. A live version of the Oldfield track is included among the Berlin bonuses.
The double live set He Was… She Was… You Was… We Was… consumes the remainder of the package, an astonishing show captured on Chapman’s late 1981 tour of Germany, and even more remarkable for the absence of any of his own oldies.
Rather, it is dominated by solo material, interspersed by some dramatic covers - Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee,” Hendrix’s “Stone Free,” and even a snatch of Miles Davis’s “Bitch’s Brew.” There’s also a thunderous, driving “I Just Wanna Make Love To You,” captured on cassette at one of the shows, and included as a bonus track on both the original LP and here. If you can’t find the original vinyl, He Was… is probably worth the cost of the box set in its own right.
Recorded in that titular year, but unreleased until 1971 after her original label folded, 1969 was Julie Driscoll finally stating her independence, two years after her partnership with Brian Auger and his Trinity sundered. And, for anybody stepping into it expecting more in the mold of her best known recordings - “Wheel’s On Fire,” “Road to Cairo,” “Season of the Witch” et al… well, it was a surprise.
Accompanied now by husband-to-be Keith Tippett, and a cast of musicians that included Elton Dean, Chris Spedding, Jeff Clyne, Mark Charig and Karl Jenkins, Driscoll schemed an album that wholly showcased that remarkable voice, but did so from some very unexpected corners.
The overall mood of the album is dark, largely inspired by Driscoll’s own emotions following her departure from the Trinity - which in turn was fired by her distrust of, and disgust with, the fame that had so swiftly engulfed the band. In the liners, she talks of one particular live show that exhaustion ensured was one of their worst. “But the audience, because of our reputation, just went potty and thought it was wonderful.”
If the emotions remain reasonably stable, however, the accompaniment takes us all over the place. The opening “A New Awakening,” for example, is driven by acoustic guitar, across which Spedding’s yowling guitar does its best to distract the listener, while a horn section tootles for all it’s worth.
“Leaving It All Behind” is the sound of Soft Machine if Driscoll had replaced Robert Wyatt; “Break Out” was possibly the last song Driscoll’s old labelmates, Blossom Toes, ever recorded, a rolling rocker which pushes Driscoll’s delivery to new heights. And “Lullaby” is so sensibly titled that the haunting “Walk Down,” which follows, is all the more powerful, if bloody. And it all winds down with the closing “I Nearly Forgot - But I Went Back,” a yearning, nostalgia-chased ballad that other ears have claimed is comparable with the best of Sandy Denny. You probably won’t disagree.
Lazy Ways and Beach Party
Hindsight can be a real beast sometimes. Looking back on the Marine Girls, it is difficult to see them as anything more than an early footnote in the career of Tracey Thorn, an acoustic teenaged quartet gently strumming away the cares of early 1980s.
In fact, they were sensational. A little lo-fi, a little clumsy, the sound of a youth club band playing their rehearsals in public, the Marine Girls nevertheless possessed a charm and effervescence that were thoroughly addictive.
The self released A Day By The Sea cassette (a limited edition of 50 copies) and the scratchily recorded “On My Mind” single were their first public steps, early in 1981. By the end of the year, however, DJ John Peel was playing the life out of their newly-released Beach Party album, and would soon be inviting the band in for a couple of sessions.
Cherry Red swooped, reissued Beach Party and a new album, Lazy Ways, was recorded. And then it was all over, Thorn departing for Everything But the Girl (she had already released her A Distant Shore solo album), bandmates Alice and Jane Fox forming Grab Grab The Haddock.
And, for forty years since then, those of us who cared at the time have been awaiting the definitive Marine Girls box set, a package that rounds up every note they released and, hopefully, more that they didn’t.
Those Peel sessions, for example - the Marine Girls recorded a stunning version of the Buzzcocks’ “Love You More,” and weren’t opposed to covering Thorn’s solo tracks either. In fact, A Distant Shore should be in there as well, and not only because Jane Fox did the cover art; and if you want to be really adventurous, Space Museum’s cover of “Tutti Lo Sanno.”
Ah, it would be magnificent.
Sadly, the wait goes on. Instead, this is effectively a reissue of a cassette-only twofer that originally appeared in 1984, and has been bouncing around on CD since ’86.
There are a couple of bonus tracks, the early b-side “The Lure of the Rock Pools,” and a gloriously ramshackle CD-Rom video for “A Place in The Sun,” while the digipack unfolds to reveal a full discography of the Marine Girls family’s Cherry Red releases, and maybe that only adds to the demand for a box.
But then you pop the CD in the tray, and you can’t help it, floating away from the moment Beach Party’s opening “In Love” gets underway (even though it means starting the CD at track 15, then going back to the start when the first album finishes), and not returning to shore until the final notes of “You Must Be Mad” fade away. And all the while it’s playing, you’re wondering - how could the world at large have overlooked the Marine Girls… and what would it take to make it pay attention?
Things We Lost Special Edition
It’s been a busy couple of years for Marc Almond fans - bonus stacked reissues of The Stars We Are and Enchanted, a new Soft Cell long-player, the upcoming ten CD concert box set, his own last album Chaos And A Dancing Star; and now this, a three CD celebration of Almond’s songwriting partnership with Chris Braide - his collaborator since The Velvet Trail in 2015.
Busy, but delightful. While so many of Almond’s contemporaries are content now to grind round the eighties revival circuit, living out their own gory vision of Drew Barrimore’s Music and Lyrics, he remains a compulsive songwriter, an exquisite performer, and quite possibly the only truly essential artist to emerge from that entire benighted decade.
The heart of this three CD collection is the two disc recounting of the February 2020 show Almond and Braide played together at the Royal Festival Hall, close to forty songs which include both Almond’s own compositions, and a few of Braide’s, too.
Of their joint material, the bulk of the first disc is drawn from Chaos - indeed, the entire album is reprised here, and it is arguably even better live than it was on CD. The Velvet Trail, likewise, is at the heart of disc two, but rest assured, oldies and surprises are never far away.
There’s a guest appearance from Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, flute-ing away across “Lord of Misrule,” Soft Cell’s “Bedsitter” and his own “Witch’s Promise” - and then returning for the closers “Tainted Love” and “Say Hello Wave Goodbye.”
There’s a breathtaking voice and piano-only suite that claws back to Marc and the Mambas; there’s a triptych of T Rex covers; and Almond is in both fabulous voice and triumphant mood. Introducing “Tainted Love” he admits, “some people have been waiting two hours for this!”
But the live show is not alone here, for Almond’s own new (mini-) album consumes a disc of its own, and it, too, is remarkable - sonically, a look back at his late 80s/early 90s widescreen majesty, to the point of delivering “Dead Stars,” a gorgeous postscript to Fantastic Star’s excoriating “The Idol.”
“Siren,” too, could be said to cast its mind back to earlier times (“The Sea Still Sings”), but this is no exercise in retro stylings and the good old days, just an assurance that the touchstones that inspired Almond in his youth are still in place as he hits pensionable age. Because then we reach “A Flowered Goodbye,” which would not have sounded out of place on Torment and Toreros - an album which some ears still proclaim the high-water mark of Almond’s entire career.
Things We Lost does not compete for that title. But, in keeping with its most recent predecessors, it meets again the lofty standards that Almond still requires of himself. And the accompanying concert is the cake beneath the icing.