I have a distinct memory from childhood in connection with Young Marble Giants. It’s distinct in the sense that it sticks clearly in my mind for some reason, but vague in the sense that I don’t recall the details. I have a memory of being at a record fair in Swansea, selling the one issue of a fanzine I did, and perhaps having a conversation with someone, I think about the band, and perhaps he told me about them, or played me something of theirs. I remember one song in particular really stood out for me, but having listened to them again more recently, I can’t quite place which song it is, which is very unusual for me, because I normally always remember the names of particular favourite songs. It was most likely “Final Day”, but I’m really not sure.
I won’t deny that I was a bit cynical about this gig in advance. Is it really suitable for the band to be plying their trade once again, having had a very limited output, which might now seem dated? Had they possibly been over-rated anyway? I was just saying to someone in the audience, as the band was taking to the stage, bringing on stands which presumably carried lyric sheets, “God don’t they even remember the words?!” (as it turns out, I barely saw any of the band even glance at these stands – maybe they just had the setlists on, I don’t know), when actually quite an extraordinary thing happened.
The first thing that happened was that I quite quickly put my cynical mouth shut. I was suddenly then overwhelmed by quite an incredibly beautiful, pure, almost perfect sound. Whether it was partly to do with having had a sleepless night, and then not the greatest of days, I don’t know. Was it just that the sound engineers had done an amazingly good job? This event was in aid of the Grassroots Studio in Cardiff where Young Marble Giants had first recorded, so I don’t know if perhaps some of the sound engineers from there had been working their magic for this gig. I know the sound at this venue is always very good indeed. I think it was about more than the quality of the acoustics or the tuning of the guitars though. Something to do with the familiar sounding effects; of course, singer, Alison Statton also has a fantastic, very assured voice (much more confident sounding than on the original recordings from way back in 1979). I would go so far as to say the sound at this gig was the best I’ve ever heard anywhere.
Now whenever I’ve listened back to the album recently, I’m not going to lie, I’ve found it a bit too basic. Of course, I know that’s part of its appeal, but still. I’ve been a little disappointed by it. The music at this gig just completely elevated the music from the album. Listening to the band live, I was taken completely by surprise as to how good it could sound in a live setting. So much so that this is one band who you could truly say could not be replicated by a tribute act. The majority of bands that play at the Globe are now tribute bands – anyone thinking of trying out a Young Marble Giants tribute act – don’t bother!
And then there was the factor of the relevancy of it. Of course, being described as post-punk, the band are marked down as having come up with a sound that was both a reaction to punk, in it being very quiet by contrast, but also still reactionary, being quite unique, possibly even anti-establishment, but of course in a completely different way to punk. What I realised also though, listening to the band tonight was that in fact, perhaps you could almost say that the sound was a kind of blueprint for most types of 80s pop music. Not just the indie scene that would follow, but so much other 80s music as well. Their sound was like the bare bones of so many styles. Strip much of the 80s down, and you will hear the sound that Young Marble Giants made, or make. Of course, that alone wouldn’t necessarily make it good, but it is good. It definitely makes the band relevant at the time but is it still relevant now? I would say, definitely yes. This actually did not at all feel like a boring old nostalgia trip, but surprisingly fresh, as if the band still, after all these years, are doing something not very often heard. I think there is an acknowledgement by the band themselves however that it is almost as if, in their later years, they are now doing something like a recital of their work from years ago. I think perhaps they hope they can impart something on a new young generation, the sort who will be using Grassroots today.
What I did wonder as well was whether there was also still just the tiniest hint of violence or aggression in some songs that of course is the backbone of much of the punk sound. Actually, I wasn’t wondering this, but during one song in particular, I think it was “Music For Evenings”, I suddenly sensed that maybe there was just that subtle hint of violence, or that it could boil over. Of course all of the songs are extremely short, and it’s as if they’re cut out quickly, like an argument that’s suddenly interrupted before things escalate. Maybe it was this tiny hint of violence that appealed to Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love – I’ve always loved her cover of “Credit in The Straight World”. Young Marble Giants play their own version towards the end of the set, and it’s one of the songs greeted most enthusiatically by the audience.
As you might expect, it was mostly quite an old crowd for the band, with the average age being well into the 40s most probably. These were hipsters before beards became a necessary aspect of being a hipster. Also, probably a greater percentage of bespectacled spectators, curiously, than I think I’ve seen in one audience (I’ve never been to a Harry Potter convention). If it was true about the effects of masturbation on the eyesight, there was evidence of a lot of wasted sperm at this gig. One strange thing about the crowd was, I didn’t see a single person singing along to any of the songs. With the band having had such a small back catalogue, you’d have thought there’d be enough people who knew the words – were people just staying silent in awe, preferring the sound coming from the stage to the sound of their own voices?
“Colossal Youth”, YMG’s solitary long player, was I think aired pretty much in its entirety tonight. Alison Statton reminisced about times spent at The Globe in its earlier incarnation as a cinema, and about how the venue was where she’d been on a memorable first date; I think that was her recollection just after “Searching For Mr Right”, which went down well. I too had a memorable first date much more recently at The Globe, in its current capacity as music venue, when I saw The Blue Aeroplanes here in December 2013.
“Final Day”, the non-album single already mentioned was of course also played, but didn’t seem so much of a stand-out track in a live context, with just about every song sounding good.
During one song I wasn’t quite so familiar with towards the end, I went for a much needed cigarette, wishing for the days again, as I often still do, when you could smoke indoors at gigs. I came back, nerves calmed, to see the final couple of songs of the set which preceded the encore of “Brand New Life” for a second time (I thought she said a new song, lol). Having finally seen Young Marble Giants live, I honestly think the only other band that I now still need to see live is New Order.
YMG were ably supported by two bands that I enjoyed, The Irascibles who I just caught the end of, and Headfall – particularly liked the drummers in both bands. Funnily enough, had been chatting on facebook about drummers after someone on The Stone Roses fan page got a discussion about drummers going. On this page, Reni is of course considered the best. For me, the second best I’ve seen was a drummer in an all female Swedish band, Those Dancing Days. Quite unusually, for Headfall’s last song, the drummer (male) swapped with the lead singer (female). This substitute drummer had a slightly different style of drumming, it was not as loud (the drummer of Those Dancing Days hits those skins hard!), but still pretty good.
With a good sized, warm, very receptive and attentive audience, some people, I know, having travelled some distance with this being a bit of a one-off gig, hats off to Grassroots for organising this one. A very good gig indeed.
And then something strange happened. My watch had stopped earlier in the day; with my phone on 2%, this then inexplicably seized up just after I’d taken a couple of photos in the gig, and then I got home and I found I’d lost my keys. A series of quite spooky things that, added up, necessitated, in my mind, in me seeking out the aforementioned young lady who I had a first date with at the Globe, despite remembering, as I set off, that she also had lost the only spare key…
This article first appeared on www.louderthanwar.com