Stefan Kassel remembers the very first time pop music had an effect on him that was physical as much as emotional.
“My mother had a copy of Dione Warwick’s album, I Know I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” says the co-founder of the Hamburg-based Marina Records of Warwick’s 1970 collection. “I heard it as a kid and got goosebumps. That never went away.”
Given that the record Warwick’s spine-tingling interpretations of songs by the likes of Jimmy Webb and composer of its title track, Burt Bacharach, Kassel’s response sealed his love of classic pop song-writing forever after. It was the same when a decade or so later he first heard the bands whose records were being released on Alan Horne’s Glasgow-based Postcard record label.
“My gateway into Scottish music was listening to John Peel on British Forces Radio,” says Kassel. “The first time he played Blueboy by Orange Juice and Pillar to Post by Aztec Camera, that was goosebumps too.”
This is presumably one of the reasons why Kassel and Marina’s other co-founder Frank Lahnemann called their label’s twenty-fifth anniversary two-CD compilation album after the same sensation Kassel felt all those years ago. Released last September, Goosebumps also heralds the end of an international cottage industry which over the last quarter of a century has championed a plethora of post-Postcard wave of artists from Scotland as well as fellow travellers in Germany and beyond.
Many of Marina’s Caledonian roster will this weekend be taking part in Goosebumps – 25 Years of Marina Records. This last live hurrah for the label was pulled together by kindred spirit and founder of the Creeping Bent Organisation Douglas Macintyre as part of this month’s Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow.
“Douglas wanted to have a farewell concert,” says Kassel, “so we invited everybody, and remarkably everybody said yes. That’s really exciting for me, to bring together so much talent from Scotland’s musical history in this way, especially as I haven’t been in Scotland for a long time. It’s a nice way to go out, to bring everyone together from when we started.”
Marina’s first releases back in 1993 were a 12” by Glasgow band Gazelle, and the debut album by Chris Thomson’s post Friends Again vehicle, The Bathers. Thomson and co released several albums on Marina, though not as many as The Pearlfishers, David Scott’s Brian Wilson tinged ensemble. There have also been albums by Roddy Frame, a Josef K compilation and two solo albums by the Edinburgh quartet’s guitarist and co-songwriter Malcolm Ross, all packaged in Kassel’s distinctive retro-chic design.
Records by the likes of Cowboy Mouth, Sugartown, Adventures in Stereo, Jazzateers and Paul Quinn and The Independent Group chart an umbilically linked Scottish scene sired or inspired by the first wave of Postcard bands. More recently, Marina released an album by Edinburgh jazz trumpeter Colin Steele and his quartet.
As well as many of those already mentioned, also on the bill will be The Kingfishers, The Magic Circles, Starless, featuring Love and Money’s Paul McGeechan, and BMX Bandits frontman Duglas T Stewart. To keep thinks slick, these will be backed by The Marina AllStars, a supergroup of sorts made up of Macintyre, former Aztec Camera bassist Campbell Owens, Pearlfishers driving force David Scott, guitarist Mick Slaven and drummer Jim Gash.
“I never planned to start a record label,” says Kassel, who was working as a music journalist in Germany when he was first invited to Scotland. “I made connections in Glasgow very quickly, and I heard all this music and thought it should be released. One thing led to another and it just happened, but as soon as I heard Gazelle on that first demo tape I fell in love.”
As the label developed, Marina released barely heard material by Liverpool maverick Michael Head’s first band The Pale Fountains, as well as putting out Waterpistol, the great lost second album by Head’s next band, Shack. Tracks by both appear on Goosebumps, alongside cover versions by The Pearlfishers - here cunningly disguised as The Pale Fishers – and Saint Etienne chanteuse Sarah Cracknell.
The Marina catalogue’s best-seller over the years has been Caroline Now!, a compilation of songs by Brian Wilson and The Beach boys, which featured the likes of Vaselines vocalist Eugene Kelly, Belle & Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson and Katrina Mitchell of The Pastels in a duo with Bill Wells.
Kassel’s favourite release from the Marina canon, however, is You Can Make it if You Boogie, the only solo work to date by former Orange Juice guitarist James Kirk. This is despite the record’s somewhat protracted creation.
“James is James, and it was a nightmare to finish,” Kassel jokes now, “but we got there in the end, and everyone plays on it. I still can’t believe James is playing the show, but I’m delighted.”
Despite his and Lahnemann’s devotion to Marina and to music in general, Kassel feels it is good to go out on a high.
“Nobody buys records anymore,” he says of the decision. “That’s just the way it is. When things went to downloads you could still make some income, but right now it’s all about streaming, and there’s no income at all. We’ve had a really good run with Marina, but it’s over. That’s just something we have to accept. It would be great to continue, but the truth of the matter is that things are over for the way we bought, sold and enjoyed music. These are different times now.”
As for the future, Kassel remains philosophical, and if something new came along that gave him goosebumps the same way Dione Warwick did, one suspects it might prove irresistible.
“Marina will always go on in a way,” he says. “The music is still available, just through different platforms, so the label isn’t dead. And who knows? We might get a demo that totally blows us away, but let’s see.”
Goosebumps – 25 Years of Marina Records (Krach Auf Wiedersehen!), Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow, January 18.
The Herald, January 17th 2019