Saturday, 18 October 2014

Young Marble Giants - Return of the Colossal Youth

Young Marble Giants never meant to reform. In truth, the Cardiff-sired
trio, who play their first ever Glasgow show on Monday night, had been
barely there in the first place. The band's sole long-playing release,
Colossal Youth, named, like their own, after images of ancient Greek
statues, seemed to have come fully formed from nowhere when it was
released by Rough Trade records in 1980.

The record's collection of fifteen austere vignettes sounded like
nothing else around, with brothers Stuart and Philip Moxham weaving
clipped, scratchy guitar and bass patterns around singer Alison
Statton's fragile, untutored voice as she sang Stuart Moxham's lyrical
fragments with a distance that made them sound like the darkest of
nursery rhymes. A drum machine and occasional organ added to the
eeriness, as did the shadowy image of the trio on the album's suitably
stark cover. Lo-fi doesn't come close.

“We didn't think it was going to get anywhere,” says Stuart Moxham
today. “We were on the dole and living in what was practically a squat,
and were desperate to get out of Cardiff. It seemed everyone else was
making this loud thrashy noise, so we decided to turn things around and
go the other way.”

'Let's hear It For Quiet Music' went the headline of one rapturous
review of Colossal Youth as Young Marble Giants became critical
darlings in a still underground musical landscape. A follow-up EP was
led by the song Final Day, later covered by Belle and Sebastian, and
the band toured Europe and America. By the time they released Testcard,
a second EP featuring six brief instrumental sketches, Young Marble
Giants had vanished  into the ether they'd seemingly sprung from. In
truth, the band's implosion was much more mundane.

“We'd planned for the future,” says Moxham, “but there was no plan for
success. Nobody tells you that being in a band is like being in a
marriage, but with more people. We were very young, were people who
couldn't really talk about things that mattered, and never saw it
coming. On top of this, Phil and Alison were splitting up as a couple,
there was sibling rivalry, and then Alison got really ill.”

The three went their separate ways, with Statton fronting the equally
short-lived nouveau pastoral jazz trio, Weekend, and Moxham releasing
material under the name The Gist, while his brother Phil played with
Everything But The Girl and Pere Ubu's David Thomas. Only when Moxham
was approached with a view to YMG reforming to record new material was
any kind of reunion mooted. By that time, Kurt Cobain had declared them
one of his two favourite bands (The Vaselines were the other), Courtney
Love had covered their song, Credit In The Straight World and Colossal
Youth was about to be re-released on CD.

At that point, Statton and the Moxhams hadn't been in the same room
together for twenty-seven years. Despite Moxham having long given up on
any chance of a reunion, the meeting in a Welsh pub went surprisingly
well.

“Phil is the big decider in this band.” says his big brother. “He's the
draconian filter, and he and Alison both said yes really easily, which
was a surprise. We decided to get our other brother, Andrew, who's a
brilliant musician, to join as well.”

The success of what was initially a one-off appearance at the
Powys-based Hay Festival of Literature and Arts led to more shows which
grown-up commitments would allow for. YMG's most recent appearance was
at a festival in Laugharne, the Carmarthenshire town where poet Dylan
Thomas lived and was inspired to write Under Milk Wood. While in
Moxham's mind, at least, the show wasn't a musical success - “those
songs have to be played not just note perfect, but with feeling, and if
there's a mistake, it screams out because there's so little there,” -
he nevertheless had a minor epiphany.

“So now we've got three brothers and an ex-girlfriend who's really an
honorary member of the family in the band,” he says, “and I only
realised when we were in Laugharne that this really is a family affair.
We've been going to Laugharne since we were toddlers, and I realised
that being in a band, you have to give it as much love and care as you
would with any family. That was a great revelation to me. I've always
had frustrations with this band, but now that I've realised that, I
think it might be easier.”

Seven years on from the reunion, there is still no sign of that
difficult second album.

“That's another frustration,” Moxham reflects. “We reformed to do this
particular thing, and said we weren't going to be an eighties comeback
band, but here we are. I would love to make a new record,  but making
music with people is like having sex. You have to make yourself
vulnerable. We're all desperate to do it, and there's so much going on
under the surface. We're all artistically and spiritually richer people
since we last wrote together thirty-four years ago, so I hope it will
happen.”

Young Marble Giants, Stereo, Glasgow, October 20.
www.stereocafebar.com

The Herald, October 17th 2014


ends

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