Young Marble Giants

TrackAlbum / EP
Searching For Mr RightColossal Youth
The TaxiColossal Youth
Constantly ChangingColossal Youth
Colossal YouthColossal Youth
Music For EveningsColossal Youth
Credit In The Straight WorldColossal Youth
Salad DaysColossal Youth
Final DayFinal Day EP
Radio SilentsFinal Day EP
The ClockTestcard EP

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Contributor: Rick J Leach

Most music – well, unless it is totally experimental and off the wall – has roots. You can see where it has come from, what influences play upon it, what the inspiration is. With the benefit of hindsight you can also see where it was going, what it would lead to.

There is none of this with Young Marble Giants. They can’t be compared to anybody else – either in their past or their future. They arrived in 1978, split up in 1980, and released one album and two EPs. YMG were like nothing before and since. Colossal Youth (the album) was their first release i.e. before the EPs and it turned up in 1980, like nothing else at the time, so different, but perfectly formed. It was if they had followed a different path to get where they were; it was just a different kind of music.

This potentially sounds as if they are some out there, avant-garde, improv, free-form group if you haven’t heard them before. Maybe I’m not describing them properly, not doing them justice. Colossal Youth (as originally released in February 1980), had 15 tracks and a running time of 40 minutes. These tracks were all distinct songs, all discrete tunes. There was nothing avant-garde about them, no dissonance, nothing to set your teeth on edge. But it wasn’t like anything you had heard before.

Maybe a bit of explanation is called for. YMG were a three piece band: Alison Statton on vocals, with brothers Stuart and Philip Moxham on guitar, bass and keyboard. There was no drummer; they used tape recordings of a very primitive home-made drum machine for the limited percussion. All the songs were written by Stuart Moxham, and he played the guitar and keyboard. It wasn’t actually a keyboard as such, but an electric organ.

Colossal Youth was recorded in three days and cost only £1,000 to make. There are no overdubs on the album. It was recorded all in one take. It’s such a quiet album. The Pixies film was called “loudQUIETloud” – if YMG had made a film it would be called “quietquietsssh”. There is more silence on Colossal Youth than there is noise. You can only hear four things on the album: Stuart Moxham’s choppy, minimal guitar and fragmented cheesy keyboards, Philip Moxham’s steely, loopy bass and Alison Statton’s voice suspended in the middle. You can hear all these four things all the time, there isn’t anything extraneous on there, no bells or whistles (literally or figuratively). Alison Statton’s voice is so plaintive, gentle, matter-of-fact. She could be singing a shopping list or from a telephone directory, but that makes it sound too cold and dispassionate. It’s more than that. There is more emotion in there, but like the music itself, there are no histrionics, no rock posturing. I can’t imagine any album that is less rock than this. She hasn’t got a massive vocal range – it’s not a Mariah Carey thing – but she’s one of my favourite female vocalists. I’m listening to the album while I’m writing this and she sounds as if she has a cold on many of the tracks.

Maybe that’s just my imagination. Maybe it’s because the album came out in February 1980 when I was full of cold myself. I remember taking it out of the plain black and white cover, with only one photograph of the band on the sleeve and a simple font for the track listing. There was only a plain paper inner sleeve. It was a Saturday afternoon and it had been drizzling all day. I sat with a cup of tea and some toasted teacakes while this spun round on the record player. Alison Statton’s voice and the music was the only sound in the house. It was a perfect way to spend 40 minutes.

Colossal Youth was reissued a couple of times; the most readily available reissue is from 2007 and includes the original album, plus the two EPs and collates a post-split album (Salad Days) which comprised of early demos. There is a later 3 CD set which has all this as well as a Peel session. But that is everything they recorded and it’s the best place to start – and finish, I suppose. As much as any selection of tracks for a Top Ten, mine are purely arbitrary. Any ten tracks that they recorded are well worth listening to. If you have never heard YMG, then please do; you are in for a treat. A quiet treat, but a treat nonetheless.

As a bit of a footnote, it was to my surprise that one of my friends alerted me to the fact that YMG were playing one of two rare gigs at the end of 2014. They had sporadically played a very few shows since they split and had stopped recording. I couldn’t really miss the chance of finally seeing them live, after all these years, could I? It was with a certain amount of trepidation however, that on a very rainy Sunday night in late October I toddled off to Manchester, ticket in my hand. These reunion gigs never generally work out well, I thought. Age creeps up on us all, memories become rose-tinted beyond belief and voices are never the same as you imagine. Maybe it was because I was being a bit of a glass-half-empty sort of chap, but I didn’t expect that much. It would all be interesting anyway and at least I could say I’d seen them.

I needn’t have been concerned. Although time had indeed dealt most of the audience, the male side anyway, a bit of a blow (it was like a convention of bald-headed men with thickening waistlines – not excluding myself here, by the way), Young Marble Giants were amazingly and incredibly well preserved. There were no reunion rock histrionics, no twists or updates on their music, nothing with a 2014 edge, no throwing in of mad technology. They just played their wonderful music, that perfect music. Alison Statton’s voice still had that indefinable quality, that gentle, plaintive tone. Stuart and Philip Moxham still played with that quiet and intelligent relaxed intensity. There was not a wasted note. Above all, there was a rare, unspoken communication with all of us who had turned up to see them. This was our music as much as it was theirs; you could sense that it really meant something and that it was special.

As well as listening to their music on Colossal Youth, if you get the chance to see them live – if they ever play another show that is – please do. As the Jackson 5 once sung, I’ll be there.

Young Marble Giants Official Facebook

Young Marble Giants biography (iTunes)

Read more about YMG in Rick’s “Totally Shuffled – A Year of Listening to Music on a Broken iPod” available as a Kindle book here and in paperback here. He is also the author of a trilogy of books about going to the Glastonbury Festival: Turn Left at the Womble;Left Again at the Womble; Tea and Toast and Rock and Roll.

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