Trying To Get To Where
When the sky was teenage blue … pt 3
In 1981 the big modernist dance hit was a propulsive piece of punk funk called
'Life In Reverse' by a Belgian outfit called Marine. It was issued by Brussels-based
boutique imprint Crepuscule, came housed in a gorgeous cover, and remains one
of the greatest pop singles ever.
A long time ago I urged James Nice, the driving force behind the LTM salvage service, to reissue what remains of Marine’s recordings. He suggested that as keen as he would be it was nevertheless unlikely because Marine mainman Marc Desmare had long since disowned his astonishing past.
Now oddly LTM has issued a wonderful Marine collection, and it cannot be stressed strongly enough how essential this is. 'Life In Reverse' still sounds incredible, and will have whirling round the room like a dancing dervish as the bass spins you out of control. It is an astonishing achievement, and part of a worldwide intuitive response where people were joining the dots between the punk urge, the funk impulse, the jazz fire, the experimental edge, the noir everything.
So, a line can be drawn from James Chance and the Contortions to the Pop Group and its offshoots (where’s a Maximum Joy collection?) to what Marine were doing in Brussels. And that’s not taking account of everything that came later. It matters not who did what first. The interesting thing is that all these great explorers found it hard to live up to the promise (or threat) of their opening statement: be it 'Contort Yourself' or 'She’s Beyond Good And Evil' or 'Life In Reverse.
That, however, is not to denigrate the rest of Marine’s recorded works, as few and far between as they are. Mainman Marc did the Simon Topping thing of gradually disappearing behind the trumpet or saxophone, and for a while Sarah Osborne provided the focal point. We’ve told the story elsewhere how she joined from Repetition, and then a little later she and the rest of their comrades left madman Marc and went off to be Allez Allez. The visionary Marc put together a new Marine briefly, drifting towards a jazzier, darker film noir soundtrack feel rather than the frenetic funk that was the early group sound.
The wonderful surprise with the LTM Marine set is the bonus film footage, which is like a secret glimpse into a lost world. There’s some lovely clips of the group playing live at the Venue in Victoria, with Sarah looking gorgeous and the group tearing it up. Even better is the footage of the group goofing around and mooching about. It’s as moving in its way as the home movie segment in Paris Texas. The Marine boys and girls evoke that sense of people in the early ‘80s making connections between Jack Kerouac and the beats, the Parisian underworld of Godard and Truffaut, the mean streets of Scorcese, the strangest soul boys. As the Pop Group used to say, these were the beatniks of tomorrow.
There is also a lovely promotional film short for the 'A Proposito Del Napoli', which captures the moment when the new groups were reaching towards a sense of jazz romanticism, partly as a protest against rock orthodoxy. Another outfit making that connection at the time, back here in Manchester, was the Swamp Children. LTM have also salvaged their Factory recordings on the highly recommended So Hot set (which even has a Reid Miles-esque cover), and it perfectly complements the Marine collection.
There is also a film memory of the Swamp Children floating around on the Ikon Factory Outing, from 1983-ish, with heavily fringed young men hunched over high-strapped guitars, and Ann Quigley all blonde insouciance on You’ve Got Me Beat. The great things about groups like the Swamp Children is the sense of struggling towards an idea of what they want to be and where they want to go, musically and creatively. The ability may not totally be all there, but the spirit more than compensates. The strange thing is that the more proficient these groups got the more stale the ideas became.
The Swamp Children’s first recording, the epic 'Little Voices', in early 1981 was produced by the trans-Pennine dream team of Simon Topping (A Certain Ratio) and Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire). Appropriately it has an eerie jazzier Sextet-feel. It would demean the Swamp Children’s craft to make too much of the ACR connections, but they most certainly and very importantly are there.
The jazz dance thing gradually bloomed as the ‘80s progressed, and depending where you came from there were different catalysts. London had, say, Weekend and people like Paul Murphy playing records to convert the mods. This gradually gave way to a higher profile scene, more professionalism, Weekend became Working Week, and Paul Murphy’s star was eclipsed by the enterprising Gilles Peterson’s.
In Manchester the Swamp Children became Kalima, with more moonlighting ACR-sters, more competent latin/jazz/fusion with still a little edge, and a sophisticated boho-cool dole culture charm that now seems as somehow quintessentially a mid-80s subversive statement as anything I can think of. All very like something out of Geoff Dyer’s The Colour Of Memory. Indeed the salvaged Kalima set, Night Time Shadows, (on LTM of course) would provide the perfect soundtrack for that book. But better still if only only only someone in the mid-80s had’ve had the vision to use Kalima for the film version of Absolute Beginners, what a better world this would have been.
Night Time Shadows is a lovely record, and you need it, but it really needs to be listened to in the context of something as stubbornly extreme and chillingly lovely as Sheila Jordan singing 'Willow Weep For Me' to see what they were aspiring to at a time when those around them were just aspiring, trying to get on.
© 2004 John Carney