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‘To show you I’ve been there…’: An interview with Soft Cell’s Dave Ball
03.15.2019
08:02 am
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On May 1 what is probably the ultimate piece of Soft Cell memorabilia will be published by Chris Smith’s Renegade Music in a strictly limited edition of 1300. To Show You I’ve Been There… is a 176-page oversized coffee table book featuring images of Marc Almond and Dave Ball taken throughout their forty year history, from the nightclubs of the north of England in the late 70s all the way to their sold out farewell performance at the 02 Arena last year. Photographer Peter Ashworth, who shot several album covers and publicity shots for the band has opened up his archives for the project, which include his contact sheets and fantastic early live performance shots. Additional photographs from Peter Anderson, Tony Mottram, Justin Thomas and many others round out the exhaustively compiled book. Each photograph is accompanied by comments and context from Marc and/or Dave.

Exclusive to the book is also a 7” clear vinyl EP (or digital download) of three recently re-recorded early Soft Cell numbers (and a cover of Fad Gadget’s “Back to Nature”) titled Magick Moments which has a cover drawing by Dave Ball. The book will never be reprinted and the record will never be repressed independent of the book. You can preorder To Show You I’ve Been There… HERE.

In anticipation of the book’s publication, I asked Soft Cell’s Dave Ball some questions over email.
 

The Mini-Korg 800 DV, Dave’s first synth.

First I wanted to ask you about recording in New York. It’s nearly impossible to truly convey just how jaw-droppingly insane NYC was in early 1980s to someone who who didn’t experience it. What was your first reaction upon arriving in the city?

NYC was a crazy place back in the early 80s. I’d previously visited in 1978. The city was almost bankrupt and there was a heroin epidemic. They had one of the highest murder rates after Detroit.

How old were you then?

I was 18 years old when I first visited with my mum and sister.

Had you seen Taxi Driver before you got there?

It was about the same time Taxi Driver came out and walking in the evening was very reminiscent of the film – steam coming out of the potholes and Checker cabs everywhere.

Did New York live up to your expectations?

I thought it was like a very intense version of Soho in London. One morning I was walking down 42nd Street towards Times Square and a guy offered me a pistol for sale.
 

On the set of the ‘Enterian Me’ video shoot.

Marc’s predilection for sleazy situations is, of course, the stuff of legend—literal legends, quite an achievement that!—but what about you? What are some of the more notable things you saw or did in Times Square?

When I returned to the city three years later with Marc Almond and Stevo it was a totally different experience. We fully immersed ourselves in NY club culture. Apart from our usual hangout, Danceteria, other clubs we visited and sometimes frequented were Paradise Garage, the Roxy, the Ritz, the Peppermint Lounge, Berlin, the Red Parrot, Negril, the Mudd Club and Studio 54, of course. They were mainly dance clubs but we also discovered there were some very different clubs where they didn’t just play music but also got involved in lots of live sex action. One night we ended up in Manhattan’s meatpacking district and discovered a sex club called the Hellfire Club where there were people having various kinds of sex everywhere. I guarantee we never actively took part, we were just there as voyeurs. There were also predominantly gay clubs like the Mineshaft and the Anvil.
 

At the Factory with Andy Warhol in 1982
 
Tell me about meeting Andy Warhol.

When we met Andy Warhol at The Factory he was just as I expected – very quiet, creepy, old looking with a very limp handshake.
 

 
Where did you guys meet Divine?

We met Divine in a club called Danceteria. He was really pissed off and said he hated NY and wanted to go home to Baltimore.
 

The Roland CR 78, the “Tainted Love” beat machine.
 
I know that the debut album was recorded very quickly. What were the sessions like? How solidified was your sound before you went into studio for first album?

We worked at Mediasound Studios on West 57th St. from 11am ‘til 6pm everyday except weekends. We worked very fast as we knew all the material inside out. We’d been playing it live for the previous two years every week in clubs around the UK.

How conscious was the notion that you were making music for people who were on drugs to listen to? I feel like that’s an important part of what made the Soft Cell sound so powerful. Psychedelic isn’t the right word, but “druggy” is a step in the right direction, certainly.

We were experimenting with a lot of different drugs on the NY club scene – cocaine, quaaludes, ecstasy, opium, acid, heroin, crystal meth & Special K (ketamine). Anyone wanting to read more should check out my forthcoming autobiography Electronic Boy coming out this summer from Omnibus Press.
 

Anita Sarko and Cindy Ecstasy at Danceteria

On his blog (Soft Cell producer) Mike Thorne says that he feels bad that Cindy Ecstasy is often described, unfairly he feels, as your drug dealer. That it was a more casual passing of drugs from one friend to another, but a friend of mine remembers her being at Danceteria and other clubs of that era and he says “No, she was definitely a drug dealer.” How did she enter your orbit?

Cindy Ecstasy’s contribution was great as it gave a little taste of the life we were living in NY. There have been all sorts of questions and answers about what became of her. The one that sounds the most plausible to me is she became a screenwriter in Hollywood, under a different name of course.
 

Cindy Ecstasy during downtime on the ‘Torch’ video shoot
 
The shots from the Non Stop album launch party at Danceteria look… rather interesting. What happened that night and who came to the party?

The NY launch party for Non Stop Erotic Cabaret was great. All the Manhattan clubbers were out in force. Some of the Warhol crowd, some John Waters people, notably Cookie Mueller who was a friend of my girlfriend, the late Anita Sarko. Mick Jones from The Clash was there and was very complimentary about us and a pre-famous Madonna was there doing her little dance routine as normal.
 
Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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03.15.2019
08:02 am
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‘Lost in Blue’: Anni Hogan’s dark torch songs with Lydia Lunch, Gavin Friday, Soft Cell’s Dave Ball


Anni Hogan by Peter Ashworth
 
There is, I suppose, an almost sort of secret society comprised of the most ardent admirers of Torment and Toreros, the harrowing 1983 Marc Almond solo album released under the name Marc and the Mambas. It’s a cult album, to be sure, but with a seriously passionate fandom devoted to it. If I meet someone who likes this album—not that this happens all that often, but I consider it a variant on the Illuminati handshake for rock snobs—they immediately rise in my opinion. Fellow fans of that album—obviously—have great taste in music, which is something I correlate closely with high intelligence. In fact, everyone who I know who has expressed a fondness for this album, I tend to be very fond of myself. It’s a masterpiece—a singularly bleak vision put to sensuous and violent song—although admittedly not for everyone.

Fans of that album tend to be partial to a handful of other Marc Almond albums recorded in the 80s—Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters, The Stars We Are, the first Mambas album Untitled—and are very well aware of the fact that Almond’s main musical collaborator on these records was classically trained pianist/arranger Annie Hogan, who now goes by Anni Hogan.

Hogan’s contributions to those albums are of a paramount importance to their greatness. If you tried to subtract her playing from them, they simply couldn’t have existed. The sound of her grand piano on those albums is stunning, and distinctly and very uniquely her own. It couldn’t have been anyone else in her role and worked as well as it did, not in this universe or any other. Her style was the perfect accompaniment to Marc Almond’s wonderfully idiosyncratic voice. That they had a falling out and have not worked together in decades, in my eyes, is, and I am not alone in this, truly a damned shame.

But Hogan’s musical journey has seen her collaborate with other notable voices, and prominent musicians along the way, among them Nick Cave, Yello, Robin Rimbaud/Scanner (as Scanni), Barry Adamson, Budgie, Jim Thirlwell, Kraftwerk’s Wolfgang Flur and Simon Fisher Turner. It’s worth noting that as I typed that last sentence I realized I had all of these in my record and CD collection. I have considered Anni Hogan to be one of my favorite musicians for over three decades; if she’s involved with something, I want to hear it.
 

Anni Hogan by Peter Ashworth

And now she’s back with an extraordinary new album, Lost in Blue (Coldspring Records) featuring new collaborations with Lydia Lunch, Gavin Friday, Kid Congo Powers, Kraftwerk’s Wolfgang Flür and Richard Strange from 70s cult band Doctors Of Madness. The album was produced by Dave Ball and Riccardo Mulhall. It’s released on March 8th, although vinyl copies signed by Anni can be ordered here now. I posed a few questions to Anni via email.

Richard Metzger: Anni, you’re best-known for your celebrated collaborations with the other half of Soft Cell, but this time you’re working with Dave Ball. How did that come about?

Anni Hogan: I’ve known Dave the same amount of time as Marc Almond and we have remained friends for nearly 40 years!  I’d chatted with him over the past few years about doing something together and we eventually met up at a pub in Soho, which actually became the album meeting place, The Coach and Horses, where I promptly tripped and spilled his pint all over him, perfect! We laughed a lot and so I knew then this was going to work,  we still had tons in common including our sense of humour, and of course our passion for music and music related books.  A couple of pizzas later and we had a plan.  I knew I wanted to make a really good record and from my heart rather than going through someone else’s remake as it where.  Dave is a genius anyway, but a generous and understanding old school producer.  He felt it was his job to elevate my musical ideas, we share a love of soundtracks and I wanted that shape around the album.  Dave had his own ideas to make this work, including working the main musicians as a band, and a adding electronics, orchestra, etc. where needed. 

It seems like in each case the singer wrote the words they are singing. Generally speaking how did the songs become composed and how did the recordings get made? I would imagine that the circumstances were different for each song. Was the album recorded over a long period of time?

The whole album was recorded mainly over two years, although I did already have a couple of demos from a few years earlier.  I had sent a piano piece to Kid Congo a few years ago and he sent back his wonderful autobiographical adventure in spoken word Kid drawl, which totally worked great against my Bernard Herrmann-influenced piano which I recorded on my baby grand in my own Studio Blue.  I kept it to one side and did the same with Wolfgang Flür, I had already made the song “Golden Light” with him after we met djing at the same event in Dublin, incidentally Dave Ball was also at that event, we all dj’d and destiny was in motion.  Of course I was a much better DJ and I remember Dave was like laughing and calling me “bitch!” when I mixed all my tracks seamlessly, haha, It was a funny night.

Anyway I digress, I sent Wolfgang a piano piece, very emotive and he sent back to me the spoken word “Silk Paper” over the piano.  Sounded gorgeous and perfect.  Again, I kept it to one side and similarly I had a song which I recorded with Richard Strange in London a few years previously, at the time I was house DJ for him at his fabulous weekly night Cabaret Futura.  I had given him a rough demo and we recorded vocals and trumpet in London. So I had these three tracks and late in 2015 began writing some new material. 

I got in touch with Lydia and sent her over a piano and melodica piece which she responded to “I love it” and “Blue Contempt” came from that.  I had not intended to sing anything myself, but after meeting up with David Coulter in Liverpool, he sent me a beautiful, hypnotic viola piece and I immediately heard a vocal melody and had a few words which seemed to fit so I went for it.  My friend of many years—and top sound engineer Andrea Ando Wright—came over to my studio and recorded piano and melodica to David’s violetta and then I said I wanted to try a vocal.  She wrapped me up in quilts and cushions, pillows and more quilt and we got the desired effect.

I don’t usually record vocals at my place. “Thunderstruck” came from a dark place of devastation an instant emotional response on the day Jo Cox MP was horrifically murdered, both the music and lyric came out as one. So I would basically write and pre-produce and then send down to the studio in Richmond, owned by Dave’s production partner Riccardo Mulhall and they worked on tracks whilst I wrote the others. 

I went to London for the physical recording, so for the horns and harp and some backing vocals.  Dave suggested Gavin which was a brilliant idea as was bringing in 1970s legend John Fiddler from Medicine Head and the writers Scarlet West and Celine Hispiche. I wrote the music for them to then respond to, it was a very challenging and interesting aspect of recording to write for people I had not yet met, but did do research on.  Most of the vocals were recorded in London but Gavin wrote and recorded his epic love poem (with a vast array of backing vocals) to a fairly complete demo I sent over.  The real magic happened in production I think, bringing all the songs to full potential and the boys created a wonderful resonant album “sound.”

I’ve always felt that Lydia Lunch is an underrated singer. She’s got such an instantly recognizable voice—when she opens her mouth there is no one else it can possibly be—and that sort of bleak, Erik Satie-esque dreamscape you’ve got her singing to works spectacularly well, I thought. You can really hear the nuances in her voice.

“Blue Contempt” is a sensational recording, and I agree, underrated and oozing visceral edgy coolness forever. Queen Of Siam and 13.13 are two of my favourite albums.  Queen Of Siam particularly blew me away when I first heard it in the 80s and still does. Jasmine Hirst actually filmed Lydia on the day she wrote the lyric and the video was equally sensational with Lydia looking gorgeous as ever.  Dave and Ricc were excited to work on the track and enhanced the delicious “Lynchian” film vibe.

I think her prodigious cigarette smoking has given her voice a greater depth as she’s gotten older, like Marianne Faithfull’s, and that’s also true of Gavin Friday. I understand that he’s a pretty heavy smoker, too. These wonderfully smoky voices. Obviously he’s worked with Dave as a producer in the past, on the final Virgin Prunes album, so it was Dave who brought Gavin into the project?

Yes, sure was, Dave suggested Gavin early on when we were chatting about the album.  Of course I’m a Virgin Prunes fan, saw them live several times and love Gavin’s solo stuff.  Dave suggested I particularly listen to his ‘95 solo album Shag Tobacco (which is brilliant!) as a reference and that helped me find a way into a piece for Gavin. It turned into quite the epic!

I wasn’t expecting Wolfgang Flür’s contribution to be vocal. I guess I was expecting him to be playing drum pads or something!

Well he is rather well known for that : )  But yes we explored his performed written word for the tracks we have recorded together.  Previously we recorded “Golden Light”  and he loved it so much he included it on his album Eloquence and Wolfgang has encouraged me ever since we have become friends. “Silk Paper” was seductive little prose which worked so well against my semi classical piano piece and then production enhanced along the way.

How did you coax Richard Strange back into the studio?

Well it wasn’t difficult: I asked, he said yes : )  Richard is a gorgeous, giving guy, very talented and very open.  He was very encouraging actually and wrote and delivered a great lyric and performance in “Death Bed Diva,” an intricate camp tale of faded glory. I love it.

I wanted to ask you about Celine Hispiche. Her voice is so striking. I loved the lyrics where she’s mentioning famous drinkers at the Colony Room and lamenting what’s become of Soho. It seems like that could be an entire concept album on its own, a lost London lament, if you will.

Yes, the regeneration of our famous old cities and the life fading out of them and turning into something corporate and just much less. A lost London lament but it could be equally talking about New York or any other major old city. Celine is a wonderful character, a talented writer and actress, a bohemian figure at the center of Soho life. She painted a perfect picture of the London we all knew and loved, our 80s haunts all but gone now. The album was certainly planned in Soho and Dave and I did a tour of all our old haunts on the fateful “spilled pint” day.

The album factored in to the artists involved and our combined musical histories and many cities did feature in a way, all being regenerated as we speak, Liverpool (my nearest city) London, Dublin, New York ..

Having collaborated with so many iconic voices is there a “dream” collaboration that you’d like to see happen in the future?

Françoise Hardy I listen to practically every day so that’s a secret special desire. I would love to work with Stuart A. Staples and Claire Denis as I love his music for her films and I love her films, they are a beautiful combo and seeing Tindersticks film performance in Liverpool inspired my melodica playing on my album.  Scott Walker still inspires me, his latest musical ventures really challenging textually, visions of wonder and artistic truth.  Beth Gibbons is also an artist I love to listen to and respect very much … there’s a lot more I’m sure!

What happened to your “e”?

Hahahahaha, well there is a photographic artist Annie Hogan who I have actually become friends with, anyway seemed easier to drop the e, less confusion. 

Lost in Blue is released on March 8. You can order signed CDs and limited edition blue vinyl here.

Videos after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.21.2019
03:29 pm
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Kembra Pfahler on 30 years of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, with exclusive Richard Kern pix!


Photo by Richard Kern, courtesy of Kembra Pfahler

On February 15, Marc Almond, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Sateen, Hercules & Love Affair, and DJs Matthew Pernicano and Danny Lethal will perform at the Globe Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. This absolutely mental, once-in-a-lifetime bill will celebrate the second anniversary of Sex Cells, the LA club run by Danny Fuentes of Lethal Amounts.

Because I am so eager to see this show, and because the life of a Dangerous Minds contributor is high adventure, last Sunday I found myself speaking with Karen Black’s leader, the formidable interdisciplinary artist Kembra Pfahler, by phone, after she got out of band rehearsal in NYC. My condensed and edited take on our wide-ranging conversation follows. If I’d noted every time Kembra made me laugh with a deadpan line, the transcript would be twice as long.

Kembra Pfahler: My guitarist is Samoa, he founded the band with me; he’s the original Karen Black guitarist, Samoa from Hiroshima, Japan. And then Michael Wildwood is our drummer, and he played with D Generation and Chrome Locust, and Gyda Gash is our bass player, she plays with Judas Priestess and Sabbathwitch. I just came from band practice, and I am one of those folks that really enjoys going to band practice. Doing artwork and music isn’t like work, and being busy is just such a luxury. It’s been very pleasant preparing for this show we get to honorably do with Marc Almond. We’re so excited!

We played with Marc Almond at the Meltdown Festival that was curated by Ahnoni in 2011. That was a great show with Marc Almond and a lot of other incredible artists. And I have an art gallery that represents me in London now, which is called Emalin, and I had an art exhibit there, and Marc Almond, thankfully, came to it. He’s friends with one of my collaborators called Scott Ewalt.

I’m not a religious person, but I did think I had died and gone to heaven. When artists that you have loved your whole life come to, for some strange reason, see the work that you’re doing, it’s one of the truly best things about doing artwork. I’m very much looking forward to this concert.

Can you tell me what you have planned for the show? I’m sure you want to keep some stuff a surprise, but is the disco dick in the pictures going to be part of the set?

You know, the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black has always made a lot of props and costumes, and I never really just buy things. I’m not much of a consumer. I’m an availabilist, so I usually make the best use of what’s available, and we are going to have a lot of props and costumes in this show that I make myself, and I have art partners in Los Angeles, collaborators. We’re going to have a big grand finale sculpture that’s going to be my Black Statue of Liberty holding the pentagram. That’s a huge pentagram sculpture. I made that with a friend of mine called Brandon Micah Rowe.

That sculpture lives on the West Coast, and it comes out when I go to the beach and go surfing. I usually take the Black Statue of Liberty with me, ‘cause it’s a great photo opportunity on the beach. And the last time I was photographing the Black Statue of Liberty—‘cause of course I have several—I took this Black Statue of Liberty in a truck and drove down to Sunset Beach, right at the end of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, and I just have a great memory of almost drowning with the Black Statue of Liberty. It was very much like reenacting Planet of the Apes. That was the impetus for the Statue of Liberty; I’ve always loved the last scene in Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston realizes that the future is just a disastrous, anti-utopian, dead planet. Kind of similar to what’s happening to us now.
 

Photo by Brandon Micah Rowe
 
[laughs] Yeah, it’s uncomfortably close to the present situation.

To me, it’s very close. I mean, film has always been very prophetic, to me. Orson Welles always talks about magic, and historical revisionism, and truth, and the ways that film can actually inform you of the truth in politics, mythological truth, cultural truths. And I’ve always learned the most just by watching films. That’s why I named the band Karen Black, because I was so educated by the films of Karen Black. I know that sounds sort of wonky, but what I’m getting at is I love listening to Orson Welles speak about magic and truth and film as a way to articulate that truth.

Are you thinking about F for Fake?

I’m thinking about the little tricks and happy accidents that occur in film that are what Orson Welles spoke to. I mean, Kenneth Anger talked about magic and film constantly, and light, and Orson Welles just had a different articulation of the same side of the coin.

I grew up in Santa Monica, so I always loved Kenneth Anger; I was always happy that I lived near the Camera Obscura on Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. I thought, I don’t fit in with any of these other Californians, but Kenneth Anger was here at the Camera Obscura. I can’t be doing everything wrong.

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and my family was in the film business, and I left for New York because I wasn’t accepted by my family and the community, because I was interested in music, and it wasn’t fashionable to be a goth or be into punk when I was in high school. So I moved to New York. But no one was going to New York when I first moved there. I really just moved to New York to be as contrary as possible, and I knew no one would follow me at the time.

You moved to New York in ‘79 or thereabouts, right?

Yeah, I did.

I think the LA, probably, that you were leaving was more, I don’t know, provincial. . . I can imagine the appeal that New York would have had in 1979.

Well, also, the thing was that I really wanted to be an artist, and I got accepted to School of Visual Arts when I was in 11th grade at Santa Monica High School. That’s why, really. The Los Angeles that I was familiar with wasn’t provincial at all. I mean, there’s been generations and generations of weird Los Angeles. My grandparents met on the baseball field: my grandmother was playing softball, my grandfather played baseball, and my father ended up being a surfer, and I’ve always had exposure to a really incredible kind of lifestyle that I think people mostly just dream about. Like, Beach Boys songs at Hollywood Park race track in the morning and surfing in the afternoon. If you think about being born into this time when the Beach Boys and the Stones and the Beatles are playing, and then Parliament-Funkadelic’s playing, and then. . . just the most incredible exposure to music and art and nature, surfing even, surf culture. I mean, when most people are born in countries where they can’t even eat dirt for breakfast, I was born in the most incredible place, that I’ll never forget.

It’s such a huge part of my work, I named my interdisciplinary music and art class at Columbia University “The Queen’s Necklace.” Because when I was a child, I used to meditate on all the beach cities. Starting from Zuma Beach, I would meditate on the cities by saying: [chants] “Zuma, Malibu, Topanga, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Venice, Torrance, Palos Verdes”. . . I’d say all of the cities that represented the Santa Monica Bay area. That was in my field of vision, that was what I saw every day. All those piers, all those waves, and all of the mythology that I grew up with was all about beach culture.

So Los Angeles, I feel closer to writers like John Fante than anyone else. Do you have books in your library that you’ve had your entire adult life that you would say represent your thinking, more so than any other books? Do you have your favorite, favorite books? One or two books that always are with you.

Oh my God, I’d have to think about it. 

I do. I mention that because one of them is Ask the Dust. Another one is David J. Skal’s Cultural History of Horror.

What’s that?

It’s a great book that talks about the horror film genre being quite prophetic, and it’s kind of what I was trying to speak about, as far as how film and horror kind of teach us about the future. That’s one book, and also Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies, Volume 1 and 2 is important to me. Do you know that book?

I do not. Is it like a case study?

It’s a case study of men’s relationship to women during World War II and pre-World War II. It’s about men’s relationships to the women in their lives, in Germany, particularly.

Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Oliver Hall
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02.07.2019
01:18 pm
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Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story
09.28.2018
04:38 pm
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I’m a huge Soft Cell/Marc Almond fan and I have been ever since “Tainted Love” was a hit and their memorable 1982 Solid Gold TV appearance—where Marc beat the stage with a leather belt and generally camped it up bigtime—caused my father to become visibly agitated and angry. It was an incredibly subversive thing to see on such a goofy middle-of-the-road disco hits program—one that usually followed The Lawrence Welk Show or Hee-Haw on Saturday evenings, depending on where you lived—and I wholeheartedly approved.

From that point on, I had every Soft Cell album, EP, 12” remix, book, VHS, fan club issue, bootleg, you name it. I still have them all along with practically every Marc-related release, Dave Ball’s solo album, everything by The Grid and many things produced or remixed by Dave Ball. I even own the entire discography of Vicious Pink Phenomena. In short, I am not only qualified to properly evaluate their new career-summing box set Keychains and Snowstorms: The Soft Cell Story, I am squarely within the fanboy Venn diagram that this exhaustive compilation is meant to appeal to. Truly I am the target audience for this product by any metric.

Admittedly after the above preamble, it will probably come as no surprise to anyone who has read this far to find that I’m absolutely unashamedly nuts about this compilation. If you’ve only ever heard “Tainted Love” and are intrigued enough to still be reading, this box set might be for you. I’m admittedly biased but I think it’s the best thing I’ve heard all year. Let me count the ways…
 

 
Soft Cell were—and still are—practically unknown in America. However true that statement might be, everyone in this entire country aged nine to 99 knows “Tainted Love” as it’s still played on oldies radio and in drugstores, shopping malls and supermarkets nationwide on a daily, even hourly basis. It’s playing in a CVS or a Walgreens location somewhere in America—if not several of them—right this very second. “Tainted Love” has never left the outer periphery of popular awareness since it first hit the American top ten in 1982. That song has a uniquely ubiquitous pop culture persistence, a staying power rivaled only by the likes of something by Fleetwood Mac or the Beach Boys, even if virtually no one on this side of the Atlantic has ever heard a second song by the duo who recorded it or could name the group themselves. (The more culturally savvy might have noticed the heartbreaking use of quite a long swatch of “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” in the big final scene of series two of Master of None.) Anyway, think of that as an opportunity. If you are looking for something “new” to listen to, look no further.

It’s TEN discs. Freaking TEN discs from a band who have only released four proper albums in their career and if you already own those albums—and every Soft Cell fan does—almost nothing from those albums is repeated here. (The exception is that their 2001 reunion album, the annoyingly overlooked Cruelty Without Beauty—one of the finest “comeback” albums I can think of—is excerpted heavily here with the strongest tracks present plus three great numbers left off the album that would have made it an even better release. As few heard this album, I agree with this approach. Those songs are worthy and should be heard.)

There is very little (none really) overlap with last year’s similarly packaged Marc Almond career box. Speaking of, the packaging is glossy, sturdy and first rate. The design, by Philip Marshall, is elegant and slick. The extended essay by Simon Price is terrific, even someone who has followed the duo from the start will find much new information and insight into the creation of their music and the insanity of being shoved to the forefront of the global music industry the way these two were. It’s a great story, well told and a thoroughly good read.
 

 
Here’s a rundown of what’s on each disc.

Disc #1 has each of the 12” extended versions of their Phonogram singles. With most acts, this sort of thing holds no interest for me, however with Soft Cell the opposite is true. Their extended mixes had additional verses, and new instrumentation. Ball didn’t merely slice and dice their music like everyone else, he resculpted it and redid it in a radically different fashion from the 7” and album versions. I tend to hate remixes and find them generally speaking pretty useless as a listener, but not here.

Disc #2 has the B-sides from these 12” singles. They might have only released three albums during their first incarnation, but they actually did release a fair amount of material during their brief run, issuing several extended EPs and their B-sides were never throwaways… (“Tainted Dub/Where Did Our Love Go?” which leads off this disc is included in the Spotify playlist below selected by yours truly, along with several more tracks from this disc. Note the two John Barry compositions—“You Only Live Twice” and “007 Theme”—and Barry’s obvious influence on Dave Ball and the Soft Cell sound.)

Disc #3 consists of new extended mixes of less obvious tracks by Ball that utilize, with rare exception, solely the original master tapes from the era. I didn’t expect to like this disc as much as I did, but I did like it, very much. It also made a lot of sense in the overall sequencing of the set. It might seem like a daft comparison but the way the music is broken down into its component parts and reassembled throughout this entire set reminds me of Yabby You’s Conquering Lion album in the way that the constant repetition of certain themes and phrases start to sound almost like a symphony of sorts. The mixes here sounds “analog” and not like something some smartass did on a laptop.
 

 
Disc #4 is the “curios” collection and includes the early classic “The Girl With the Patent Leather Face” along with things like their incredible “Hendrix Medley” (“Hey Joe”/“Purple Haze”/“Voodoo Chile” done ala Soft Cell will fry your mind) and the harrowing “Martin” based on the George Romero creepy loner vampire film. All of these, and the 7” edit of “Numbers”—AS IF a song based on a John Rechy novel was going to get played on the radio!!!—are included in the playlist below.

Disc #5 collects demos, early punky DIY experiments, some things recorded with MUTE’s Daniel Miller and their first release the Mutant Moments EP.

Disc #6 collects various radio sessions and the strongest tracks from their 2001 reunion album Cruelty Without Beauty. Also included are three additional tracks from those sessions that were not selected for the album, but perhaps should have been. “God Shaped Hole” is one of the best Soft Cell songs, period, so why was it left to languish on an obscure Some Bizarre compilation? (Listen for yourself as it’s included, along with their excellent cover of Frankie Valli’s “The Night,” in the playlist below.)
 

 
Much more after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.28.2018
04:38 pm
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Marc Almond sings Aleister Crowley
12.06.2016
02:57 pm
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Since I have already weighed in on the monumentally brilliant new 10 CD Marc Almond box set Trials of Eyeliner: Anthology 1979-2016 (spoiler: I loved it) I will just direct you to that, but I do want to say that several weeks later I am still deeply into it. If you are looking for something new to give your full attention to—especially if you’re a fan of, say Nick Cave or Scott Walker—then Trials of Eyeliner is the high quality rock snob box set of this Xmas season, hands down. Anyone picking it up who is barely familiar with Almond’s non-“Tainted Love” career is surely in for something… profound. As a long, longtime major major Marc Almond fan, I would almost envy the discovery of his genius via this one fabulous package and not doled out over the decades.

It’s 10 CDs and you can find it for around $75 on Amazon. It would still be a bargain at twice the price. I can’t say enough good things about it.
 

 
Anyway, when I posted about Trials of Eyeliner last month, there was one thing on it that I wanted to hold back on, and present later on its own to call your attention to it especially. One of the “deep cuts”—indeed one of the very deepest cuts of all—is Almond’s emphatic performance of one of the only songs known to have been composed (in this case co-written) by the Great Beast hisself, Mister Aleister Crowley.

The sheet music for this song, referred to in a footnote, was thought to have remained unpublished and lost. None of the major Crowley collections throughout the world had a copy, but in 1991, a copy was discovered.
 

 
“The Tango Song” was written by Aleister Crowley and set to music by Bernard Page. It’s a musical adaptation of Crowley’s poem “The Tango,” first published in The Equinox Vol I, No 9 in March of 1913 as part of a short play co-written by Crowley and Mary D’Este (the mother of the great madcap Hollywood film director Preston Sturges):

What is money to the bliss
Of the honey of a kiss?
What are rank and fame and fashion
To the ecstasy of passion?

Chorus:
Give me dancing!
Give me wine!
Bright eyes glancing—-
Yours in mine!
Kisses sucking
Up my breath—-
Give me passion!
Give me death!

Were the town of Paris mine,
Its renown should drown in wine
I would pay the land of France
For a day and night of dance.

Dreams entrancing float above
Music, dancing, wine and love.
Sober sinks the sobbing breath;
Smiles the sphinx of sleep and death.

More after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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12.06.2016
02:57 pm
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‘Trials of Eyeliner’: The massive new 10 CD Marc Almond box set is best of the season
11.15.2016
03:29 pm
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Photo: Damien de Blinkk

Let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that there’s been a recent national (or even international) event so seismically disturbing that your entire worldview has crashed on the rocks of Reality Beach, a well-tended waterfront property under the maintenance of a bunch of mean-faced racist and xenophobic rich old white men in their 70s with much younger wives.

More than once, during particularly stressful times in my life, I’ve gone into a well-stocked record store to ask someone whose opinion I respected to recommend something by a non-mainstream artist who I might’ve missed, but whose work would blow my mind and draw me deep into its mystery, to move my head from the place it was in to someplace else. It almost doesn’t matter where. Makes sense, right? The power of music. A therapy of sorts. A diversion. A solace. A form of self-medication. Prayer, even.

Can’t be anything frivolous. It has to transport you. Change your mood. Change your mind. Transform you. It must be magical. Holy. It’s got to move you from here to there.

The “correct” response to my record store query might be something like “Well, have you gone through a Sun Ra phase yet?” “Do you have the Faust box set?” or recommending both of these Big Youth anthologies.

My prescription for what psychically ails you? Do take me up on this sage advice, I promise you my rock snob reader that it will work: Trials Of Eyeliner: Anthology 1979-2016, the newly released and truly magnificent 10-CD, 189 track anthology of the life’s work of Marc Almond.

Trials of Eyeliner, I reckon is one of the most essential box sets of the day, an all-killer, no-filler jam-packed to the bursting point celebration of one of our greatest living vocalists, a singular talent who will never be equaled or topped in the niche that he created for himself as the ultimate gay torch singer/diva. And this is the definitive study of Marc Almond’s work, chosen by the artist himself, with singles, deep cuts and unreleased numbers from his collaborations with David Ball in Soft Cell, the Marc and the Mambas/Willing Sinners/La Magia period with Anni Hogan, solo work and duets with the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell, Jimmy Sommerville, Gene Pitney and PJ Proby. Packaged in a slick, glossy box with a copiously annotated hardback book, it’s a luxurious item, but one with a very reasonable price (around $80-90). Want something to lose yourself in musically? This is it.
 

Photo by Pierre et Gilles

I’ve been a massive Marc Almond fan for pretty much the span of his entire career, from the first Soft Cell album onward and I have to say that there are few disappointments, in terms of tracks not included on Trials of Eyeliner, although I can still think of a few dozen off the top of my head. These 10 CDs make a very, very clear—and as far as I am concerned unequivocal and definitive—musical argument that Marc Almond is one of the greatest artists of our age, a one-of-a-kind vocal talent who will probably be ranked alongside of Frank Sinatra, Nick Cave, Scott Walker, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and even Judy Garland by future generations of musical historians for a unique ability to breathe life, but also unutterable grief into a sad song. His decidedly homoerotic artform also compares to French poet and revolutionary Jean Genet, but I believe Marc Almond will ultimately achieve a stature far greater than Sartre’s “Saint Genet” as a pioneering gay artist of the 20th century when all’s said and done.

And I gotta say, I can only imagine what Marc Almond himself thought when he got his own copy of Trials of Eyeliner. He must’ve been fucking pleased. All in one place like this? It’s a staggering accomplishment.

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite things on Trials of Eyeliner. Truth be told, I love pretty much everything on it.

The quintessance of Marc Almond’s artistry is on display here in his heart-breaking performance of Charles Aznavour’s “What Makes a Man a Man?”
 
Much more Marc after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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11.15.2016
03:29 pm
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‘A Lover Spurned’: Famed French photographers direct colorful, campy Marc Almond video
06.07.2016
11:24 am
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Famed French photographers Pierre et Gilles (Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard) directed this amazing—and seldom seen—promo video for Marc Almond’s “A Lover Spurned” in 1990. This is as much a work of art as it is a music video.

The clip co-stars the glamorous Marie France, the iconic 80s Parisian transsexual pop singer, as the spurned lover. Although Almond and France have recorded duets together, that is actually not her voice in the perfectly poisonous pissed-off rap in the middle. Interestingly Almond enlisted actress Julie T. Wallace (who played the title character in the BBC cult revenge comedy The Life and Loves of a She-Devil) for that, adding a nice camp dog whistle for listeners who could hear it.
 

 
Pierre et Gilles also shot the covers for the single and 12” releases of “A Lover Spurned” and the Enchanted album the song came from.  “A Lover Spurned,” produced by Stephen Hague, was a top 30 single in the UK in 1990.
 
The music video for “A Lover Spurned” after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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06.07.2016
11:24 am
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‘A Woman’s Story’: Amazing Cher rarity, produced by Phil Spector
05.15.2015
05:55 pm
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“There are many who have laid with me, then got up and walked away from me.”

Thus begins one of the rarest, and some (like me) would say very best, songs that Cher ever recorded.

I’ve heard Cher’s 70s output referred to as “whore operas” and that’s an especially pointed way to describe her extremely rare 1975 Phil Spector-produced single, “A Woman’s Story.” Written by Nino Tempo, April Stevens and Spector himself, it’s the plaintive lament of “a woman who was passed around” but who has now found true love in her life, and who desperately wants and needs this love. It’s a really tense, haunting, moving, gorgeous, slow-burning number, fairly unique in both Spector’s, as well as Cher’s, oeuvre. Backed by the The Phil Spector Wall Of Sound Orchestra, as you can hear, it’s an absolute show stopper.
 

 
Continues after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.15.2015
05:55 pm
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Lights, camera, SLEAZE: Marc Almond, this is your life
05.11.2015
04:01 pm
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First Third Books, the London and Paris-based publisher of deluxe coffee table books devoted to counterculture (like Sheila Rock’s Punk +) and extremely in-depth celebrations of particular groups and performers (Felt, Saint Etienne, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge) are coming out with another of their beautiful monographs in June—this volume concentrating on the life and career of the great Marc Almond.

Marc Almond will be limited to 1300 copies worldwide, hand numbered and bound in purple fabric. There will be 300 copies of the standard edition priced at £40 and 1000 copies of a limited special edition for £60 that includes unreleased songs on a 7” single. The first 500 copies sold of the limited edition will also be signed by Marc.

Back in March, when the book was first announced, Almond remarked:

“Putting a book like this together is very difficult because it brings up all kind of emotions. But it’s important to me to paint an honest picture, which means that as well as the many wonderful memories, working on the book has also forced me to resurrect certain things I’d rather hoped had been consigned to history. But that’s great. It would be too easy to fall into the comfort zone of nostalgia. The book goes much further than that. The whole process has been bittersweet and yet cathartic. I’ve really enjoyed working on it and it looks fantastic.”

It does. It’s the ultimate Marc Almond coffee table book and the perfect companion to his hilariously bitchy autobiography, Tainted Life (Ever the diva, Almond settles a score in every chapter! Highly recommended if you like pop star tell-alls.)

As longtime readers of this blog know, I am a massive Marc Almond fan—I have been since I saw my father fuming mad after Soft Cell ruined his Saturday night by performing “Tainted Love” on the Solid Gold TV show—so I’m thrilled to be able to offer a selection of photos from this amazing book, along with Marc’s own captions, and some related videos.
 

Youth: In 1964, I was seven. The world was still in black-and-white, still very much post-war, still austere, with poor street lighting and simple foods. But much of my world revolved around television pop shows like Ready, Steady, Go!, Thank Your Lucky Stars and Juke Box Jury. One of my first pop memories was seeing Sandie Shaw barefoot on RSG! singing ‘(There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me’. I was always singing that song. I loved pop from a very early age.

 

Photo: Peter Ashworth

Non-Stop Subversion: This was our preferred cover for Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret but the record company thought it too menacing and subversive. Dave looks quite convincing in the role of switchblade-carrying psychotic!

“Martin” live on ‘The Tube’ in 1983

 
Much more Marc, after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.11.2015
04:01 pm
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Marc Almond and Beth Ditto duet on ‘When the Comet Comes’: A Dangerous Minds exclusive premiere
02.11.2015
05:23 pm
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After hinting that his 2010 Varieté album would be the last to feature original material from him, Marc Almond was convinced to change his mind by LA-based British music producer/songwriter Chris Braide—whose list of A-list clients include Lana Del Rey, Beyoncé, Britney Spears and David Guetta—who he’d never even met.

Said Braide:

“I simply had to get in touch to try and tempt him to do the exact opposite. It was such an absurd idea to think there would be no more new Marc Almond original songs. This is the man who wrote ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ and we need more of those passionate, unique and original songs. Just like Bowie and Bolan before him, he’s a true original.”

Hear, hear! I like this Chris Braide, fellow!

Braide sent Almond three songs written especially for him, over the Internet. Although the two men communicated daily over email, they never even spoke on the telephone or met up in person until after the album was completed, so as not to disturb the chemistry of what they were cooking up together.

Almond explains:

“I felt the songwriting muse had left me, possibly forever. Then an email arrived with three instrumental tracks. I got goose bumps. I was blown away. Chris had an understanding of the chord changes I adored, of the sounds I loved; songs in minor keys with big dark dramatic pianos and strings. I sat down to write, both excited and inspired. Three songs were written in a matter of days: ‘Minotaur’ a dramatic song about rage and animal passions, ‘Scar’ a torch song about deception and ‘Winter Sun,’ a melancholic reflective song about fading love.”

The idea was to create the “ultimate” Marc Almond record, and I must say, as a long (long) time Marc Almond fanatic, The Velvet Trail comes pretty close. Is it the equal of his 80s solo material? Perhaps not, but it’s closer to that level of rarified quality than he’s produced for years (which is really saying something). The idea of Marc Almond paired up with someone who produces Lana Del Rey, Beyoncé and Britney seemed quite intriguing to me. I played The Velvet Trail the first time and thought “Okay, that’s pretty good, but whatever…” and then the next day I woke up with several of the songs (especially the duet with Beth Ditto posted below) on repeat in my skull, craving to hear it again. And again. And again…
 

 
Almond with be touring the UK in support of The Velvet Trail throughout April. The album is available in a regular CD digipack, as a limited edition CD/DVD combo and as a limited edition double LP with poster and two bonus tracks

Here’s my favorite track from the album, a catchy-as-hell duet with Beth Ditto of The Gossip, “When The Comet Comes.” It’s pure pop perfection. Play this song twice—I dare you—and just try getting it out of your head. It can’t be done.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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02.11.2015
05:23 pm
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‘Cruelty Without Beauty’: Soft Cell’s criminally unknown 2002 reunion album
07.22.2014
10:43 pm
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Most of the time when a band reforms, the results are lackluster. A creative partnership that’s run its course isn’t easily resurrected for love nor money and usually it’s for the latter and not the former that most reunion albums and tours occur.

That’s the way that I normally feel, but when Marc Almond and David Ball decided to reform Soft Cell in 2001 I was very excited to see what they’d come up with after 18 years. They had worked together on a few thing in the years since Soft Cell split in 1984, so it wouldn’t be an issue of them looking backwards to the 80s or anything like that. The idea of a mature Soft Cell seemed vastly appealing.

The first thing they released was “God Shaped Hole,” a track that was a part of a 2001 Some Bizarre compilation album titled, I’d Rather Shout at a Returning Echo than Kid That Someone’s Listening. They went on to record their unfairly neglected Cruelty Without Beauty album, which came out in 2002 and toured the globe in support of it. Sadly ticket sales were poor and most of the US dates were cancelled. I was lucky enough to catch them at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles (which was packed) and they put on one hell of an amazing show that balanced the hits with the new material.

The lead single from Cruelty Without Beauty was “Monoculture,” an infectiously catchy, but sharply-pointed diatribe about the bland horror show that popular culture was becoming (and this is years before the Kardashians or Cupcake Wars...) The evil Ronald McDonald-type character seen in the video is Some Bizzare label boss and former Soft Cell manager Stevo Pearce.
 

 
More Soft Cell after the jump…

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Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.22.2014
10:43 pm
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The Rise and Fall of Soft Cell, New Wave’s sleaziest synthpop duo
12.02.2013
09:41 am
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celldavemarcsoft.jpg
 
The track was “Memorabilia” and I heard it nearly every time I was out in some club in the early 1980s. Between dances, there was small disagreement over the band’s name, who they were and where they came from. It varied depending who you talked to. Then came “Tainted Love” and suddenly everyone knew who they were: Marc Almond and Dave Ball of Soft Cell.

When this duo first appeared on Top of the Pops with their number one hit “Tainted Love” in 1981, the florid Wing-Commanders and Colonel Mustards of Tunbridge Wells thundered, “Who the hell is this woman? That can’t be a man, surely? I fought a war for this?” It certainly was a man, and those damned lucky blighters were watching Marc Almond give one of TOTP’s most memorable and thrilling performances.

Marc is the Poet Laureate of sleaze, and Dave its Schubert. Together they wrote songs that perfectly captured an underclass world of the disenfranchised, the sexually ambiguous, and the impoverished. 

When their debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret came out on November 27th, 1981, I had to beg, steal and borrow a copy, and even wrote to Santa, bad Santa, for this delectable slice of vinyl. When it arrived, I played it endlessly. The NME may have hated it, but they were old, too old, and this was Year Zero for eighties music as far as I was concerned.

Just take a listen and you will hear why, as m’colleague Richard Metzger has previously written, Marc Almond:

”...is one of the truly great interpreters of song of our age. His distinctive voice, like Frank Sinatra’s, is instantly recognizable from the very first note.”

After Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret and Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing (arguably the UK’s first House record by a British band) came the richer and darker blooms The Art of Falling Apart and Last Night in Sodom, which only the most great and reckless talents could have produced. 

This documentary from the BBC series Young Guns traces the rise and fall of Soft Cell from student life in Leeds to the bright New York lights, and the seedy London back streets. Made in 2000, it has superb interviews form Marc Almond, Dave Ball, the band’s manager Stevo, and record execs.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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12.02.2013
09:41 am
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‘Glamerama’: Pre-Soft Cell Marc Almond in ‘artsy’ student film, 1978
09.09.2013
02:08 pm
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A young, pre-Soft Cell Marc Almond and friends made this amazing and amusing short college film at Leeds Polytechnic in 1978.

It’s equal parts Pink Narcissus, Modesty Blaise, Barbarella and (very) early John Waters. You might even say it’s like a (super) low-budget Matthew Barney film.

Marc’s precocious preoccupations with sleaze and S&M bondage gear were in full evidence here.

Dig that space-age hookah.
 

 
Part II after the jump…
 

READ ON
Posted by Richard Metzger
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09.09.2013
02:08 pm
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Tainted Life (or sainted life?): Happy Birthday Marc Almond!
07.09.2013
01:22 pm
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Marc Almond is one of the truly great interpreters of song of our age. His distinctive voice, like Frank Sinatra’s, is instantly recognizable from the very first note. Almond’s subject matter often chooses to examine a seamier side of life than most people would be inclined to want to experience firsthand. In this way he is like Jean-Paul Sartre’s conception of “Saint” Jean Genet, a darkly sensual queer roué reporting back, musically in Almond’s case, from the sexual fringes, while alchemically transmuting squalor and sleaze into great and moving art.

I am a huge, huge fan. Marc occupies a special place in my (gutter) heart and in my record collection. His harrowing Torment & Toreros album would totally be in my top five of all time (I’ve written about it extensively here), while his Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters collection would hover just beyond the top ten, garning at least getting an “honorable mention” in this household.

And don’t even get me started about my love of Soft Cell…

Marc Almond turns 56 today.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Soundtrack for a Suicide: Marc Almond’s musical masterpiece, ‘Torment and Toreros’

‘A Lover Spurned’: French photographers Pierre et Gilles direct Marc Almond

Here’s a real Marc Almond gem, a powerful live rendition of Charles Aznavour’s deeply moving ballad about the life of a drag performer, “What Makes A Man A Man?” It’s one of Almond’s finest vocal performances, if you ask me. Taped at the Royal Festival Hall in 1992. Simply stunning:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.09.2013
01:22 pm
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Nick Cave, Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch & J. G. Thirlwell: The Immaculate Consumptive

evitpmusnocetalucammi.jpg
 
A gathering by accident, design and hair-spray: The Immaculate Consumptive was an all too brief collaboration (3 days, 3 gigs) between Lydia Lunch (gtr. voc.), Nick Cave (pn. voc.), J. G. Thirlwell (aka Clint Ruin, Foetus) (drm., sax., voc.) and Marc Almond (voc.)

The 4 musicians met in London—Lunch had been filming Like Dawn To Dust, with Vivienne Dick; while Cave had been collaborating with Thirlwell (on the track “Wings Off Flies” for the debut Bad Seeds album From Her To Eternity), and both had worked with Almond, who was resting from Soft Cell, and working on Marc and The Mambas.

The party traveled to New York, where they were followed and interviewed by the N.M.E. Lunch had a Halloween event organized for October 30th and 31st—though The Immaculate Consumptive’s first gig was actually in Washington, on October 27th, where Thirlwell broke the piano, and ended with 2 nights later with Cave seemingly bored by the chaos of proceedings.

This is some of the archival material of those 3 gloriously chaotic days together. The cable access interviewer is Merle Ginsberg, known to many of you from her role as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
 

 

The Immaculate Consumptive - “Love Amongst The Ruined”
 

The Immaculate Consumptive - “Misery Loves Company”
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
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04.24.2013
08:51 pm
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