Dick’s Picks: This week Dick has decided to spread the word about this classic slice of British 1980s vintage post-punk from the Young Marble Giants…..
Young Marble Giants – who, what, where, when?
Formed in Wales in 1978 from the ashes of previous band ‘True Wheel’, the Young Marble Giants comprised of brothers Philip (bass) and Stuart Moxham (guitars/organ/rhythm box) and the hesitant, unadorned vocals of Alison Statton. An early incarnation of the band included Peter Joyce (a relative of the Moxham brothers), Joyce would prove pivotal in shaping the band’s sound; an electronics whizz-kid who constructed his own home-made synths and drum machines from mail-order kits (he wasn’t alone in doing this btw, the late ‘70s saw quite a few synth pioneers on a budget doing something similar, hello Human League, Daniel Miller)…
They say that necessity is the mother of invention and in YMG’s case that hoary old chestnut certainly rings true, forget flashy equipment, or creativity stymied by not knowing which of your 400 guitars you’re going to plug in and absolutely none of what Brian Eno called, “gallons of 24-track gravy”, simplicity was key and in following this Zen-like-path YMG had found a sound truly their own. A ‘sound’ comprised of super-tight clipped bass lines with fragmented, percussive guitar runs, a wonderfully so cheesy it’s eerie Bontempi organ, muffled drum machine rolls, all topped off with Alison’s ever-so-slightly detached vocal style. It doesn’t sound like much on paper but collectively the group had stumbled on a sound far more ‘daring’ than most other groups lumped in with the dreaded ‘post-punk’ moniker – here’s a clip of one of their first songs ‘Searching For Mr. Right’, an early version of which appeared on the 1979 ‘Is The War Over’ LP on the Welsh DIY label, Z Block Records…..
After being championed by the late, great John Peel (ahhh, that first Peel session – Dick says he’s never been quite the same since!) the band signed with the hipper-than-hip Rough Trade label, released their sole long player in February 1980 and even found time to tour Europe and the US.
After that not much, their recorded legacy is slim to say the least, releasing just two more stand-alone singles; the unsettling post-nuclear fantasy ‘Final Day’ which imagines a nuclear holocaust as the great leveller, rich and poor alike meet the same grizzly fate, plus the six-track all instrumental ‘Test Card EP’, a record inspired by their love of the incidental music used to fill the gaps in between programming on TV at this time. However, that’s not the end of the story, when Kurt Cobain’s journals were published in 2003 he’d declared them (along with Scotland’s The Vaselines) his favourite, like ever-ever-ever band, Courtney Love’s band Hole covered their track ‘Credit In The Straight World’ (we’ll spare you that one), other self-confessed fans include REM’s Peter Buck, Belle & Sebastian and…well you get the idea…they were super good and it’s taken the world a long while to catch on….here’s a clip of the band performing on the BBC back in 1980….
Alison would go on to record the beautiful, jazz-inspired ‘La Variete’ under the name Weekend (no not that one) which is well worth discovering whilst Stuart and Philip would continue (albeit for a short while) under the name The Gist, and in 2003 the band re-united for a radio special, played one new song, have had an expanded version of their début reissued by Domino Records and made appearances at the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festivals and the Hay-On-Wye literary festival…..