Sunday, December 15, 2013

An interview with The March Violets, Si Denbigh

It's been a long while in coming, but now we finally present to you the interview with March Violets front man Simon Denbigh.

JVS: After six years since the Trinity EP and something like 28 years since the Electric Shades album, how was it to be back in the studio again as a functioning band?

Si: Ha! More like a malfunctioning band. Not that we were fighting or throwing tantrums, but The Violets are very rarely conventional, and the recording of this first 'proper' album, which took well over 2 years was fraught with all sorts of tension and unforeseen happenings and just didn't happen in the normal way. We are spread out all over and all doing other stuff, so everyone getting together at the same time tends to be a rare occurrence. And of course you can plan as much as you like but unexpected shit happens and then you have to try to get back on track.

JVS: What made you all want to get back together and do it all again?

Si: I can't speak for the rest of the band. I think my motivation was solely to be able to make some of the music that never got made, and say some things that had been left unsaid. You have to understand that, certainly from my perspective, the Violets never fulfilled their potential back in the eighties. From my point of view, we imploded at the end of '84, due mainly to different aspirations. The Violets were a rare thing, with Tom's amazing guitar work, Rosie's fantastic voice, and my stumbling around in dark and twisted visions. There was something unique, and in my head we were always teetering on the cusp of becoming huge, or evaporating.

JVS: Was there an underlying philosophy to recording Made Glorious and how has your approach to making music changed since the 80s?

Si: Interesting. Yes, I'd like to think there is some kind of underlying philosophy at work, however haphazard. Yes, I specifically wanted to attempt to do a real Album, one that works as an entity, one you can listen through from start to finish and enjoy the journey. I have those albums that have meant something at various points in my life, that I love exactly as they are. I don't want bonus tracks or a different running order, they are exactly right. And that is the target to aim for, it's a high bar, you'll have to decide if "Made Glorious" does it for you...

JVS: A lot of other artists I’ve spoken to from the early scene took considerable umbrage at being referred to as “Goth”. Did The March Violets ever consider themselves to be a part of that scene, and why do you feel so many of the original artists were so keen to reject the Goth tag?

Si: Hindsight, it's a weird thing. And history is a moveable feast. It's very easy and only natural for people who weren't there at the time to get their information from what is currently available. And over the years the tale has changed, been rewritten both by people with new perspectives and those with self-promoting agendas. And labels that were once laughed at, like "Positive Punk", become historically accepted as though they had more relevance than they did. I was asked to sign a book on 'Goth' the other day, and yet the Violets had pretty much been ignored as a musical force. Yet if you look at the 'Goth' record compilations over the last 25 years the Violets are on well over 50 of them. So we were obviously important to some people and I would never deny that part in history. However I would probably be happier to go with Siouxsie and Peter Murphy et al and accept the term 'Gothic'. I think 'Goth' is more of a lifestyle choice, and, despite my mainly black wardrobe and being in the Sisters of Mercy for 16 years, it's a label I haven't earned. Of course, the rest of the Violets, who naturally all sleep in stereotypical coffins, might disagree. It's not a topic that ever comes up. I'd say it's all about enforced labelling. Imagine you had been happily and independently making your own style of music for a couple of years and then someone sticks a label on you… You are now "Blah" and being included in a 'Blah movement' that maybe includes a few bands you like, and a whole pile of bands you think are shit. Your natural urge, that which drove you to try and make different and unique music, is to rebel against being put in a box. Put it another way: Let's say some misguided but visible source declares your blog/magazine is now an "Emoid" publication, and linked with 'Orkus', 'Gothik', 'Emo Weekly', and 'Dark Fashion 4 US Teenz'. What would your initial reaction be? Denial? That might just feed the flames. There is another obvious reason, for an active band, the 'Goth' scene is actually quite small and restrictive. It is much better to be a 'Rock' band, simply on the number of stages/people you can play to. I sometimes see the shutters come down in people's eyes when the word Goth (a diminutive) is applied. They are applying some presupposed stereotype, probably missing most of the truth. That is mainly why many bands take umbrage I think, and shaking the label, once it has been applied, is very hard. But the bottom line is that I really don't care how people view the Violets, as long as they DO view us, and nothing I say is going to un-tag us… if we are a Goth band to you, so be it. Personally, I'd say the Violets are a pop band and have both dark and light going on.

JVS:  In between the original March Violets and their current incarnation, you fronted a band called Batfish Boys. Along with Bomb Party, Gaye Bikers on Acid, Crazyhead and (arguably) Zodiac Mindwarp, this became an alternative genre known as “Grebo” which seemed to disappear as swiftly as it began. What was the basic vibe of that scene and why do you think was it such a “flash in the pan”?

Si: Once again, we are talking about 'scenes' created by journalists. I had many chances with Batfish to jump on that bandwagon, ride it to death, and become the featured 'grebo' band in whatever publication. And once again, I immediately rebelled against assuming that mantle. I hate being labelled. It's like someone who doesn't understand you telling you what you are. If I was going to put a label on myself it would be Punk.

JVS: Like yourselves, a lot of the early bands from the darker side of the post-punk scene seem to have recently reformed – Danse Society, Skeletal Family and Actifed all come immediately to mind; Why do you think this is suddenly happening now?

Si: Is it suddenly happening? Every Century has its Reformation Period, seems that there has been a gradual movement amongst old bands to get back together. Might be some kind of musical mid-life crisis. I'm all for it if they are: 1. any good, and: 2. doing something new and original and not just rehashing a formula. I will say that the difference live between experienced bands and new ones is obvious. The years of stagecraft tend to show. Of course you have to put up with old-looking artists, so if you can't get past that stay at home and listen to records.

JVS: The March Violets have of course been doing a number of live gigs recently and are booked as one of the major headlining acts for Alt-Fest in 2014, which sounds especially exciting. How has the general reception been, especially with younger followers of the dark-alt genre? Years ago you commented to Mick Mercer about later Goth bands in the 80s “…but as regards all this imagery, what do people think they’re doing? It’s hideous!!!” In the light of that remark, how do you feel about the Goth scene in the new millennium?

Si: We don't play very often, again, it's due to being individually busy with other stuff, and several thousand miles apart. But we do occasionally manage to come together to do some rare purple performances. They will no doubt get rarer as we get older. And having just done a little UK tour I have no real urge to do another anytime soon. Yes Alt-Fest is an exciting new thing and I thought it was important to support it from the start. I think we are down as playing on the 'Goth' stage on the Saturday, not headlining the Main stage, though if the Album takes off you never know. Should be a great festival, loads of stuff as well as some fab music. My remarks to Mick Mercer, hmmm, I said a lot of things back then. But I'll stand by my attitude… I'm not impressed by copies, rip-offs, or unoriginal style, 'Goth' or otherwise. You can still refer to classic images and yet paint new pictures, both visual and audio. And you might like to make a noise like the bands you like, but you need to push it further. I'm lucky in that I made my noise back at the start so I have the excuse that this IS MY style, but I still don't want to keep repeating the same old stuff, I don't want to be a copy of me. Evolve or die.

JVS: What contemporary bands on the dark-alt scene particularly excite you?

Si: I like Berlin Black, The Witch Hunt, Partly Faithful, Cold In Berlin, and a few other non 'Goth' bands.

JVS: When can the public expect to be able to lay their eager little paws on a copy of Made Glorious?

Si: Well, we haven't done any deals with labels yet. We are selling a few directly by mail order. The Limited First Edition double CD is nearly all gone now. We might well press up another run without the bonus remix disc… dunno, depends on whether we find a label… but I am in talks over doing a double vinyl LP, which is kind of what the album was designed to be in my head. We'll see, just think of all that lovely visual real estate!

JVS: What do you see lying in the future for The March Violets and the dark-alt scene more generally?

Si: Not sure really, for the Violets I want to start playing some other continents, South America would be lovely. We haven't done that much in Europe, though I just confirmed we will be headlining Resurrection 2014 a little do in Kaiserslautern in April. The 12th I think. And there is a lot of material that didn't make the album, maybe some of that might slip out. As to the dark-alt scene… well that's the problem isn't it, what do you actually call it? Tricky. We need a brand new, all inclusive term, that sounds old, and isn't hyphenated or a diminutive with stereotyped connotations. It's a job for you. "Goth is dead, long live…..". Sort it out please.

JVS: Have you any final words to say in your defence?

Si: Yes. And No.

Another fine reason to pledge money to crowd sourced efforts of bands 
you like - not only do you get to hear new music from them, 
but a t-shirt and and autographed copy of the Love Will Kill You EP.
 What more could you possibly want?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ritual - rare promo pics

I awoke this morning to a quite surprising message out of the blue from one Mr Jamie Stewart

"Hi James. I wanted to send you some promo pics of Ritual, since there aren't any elsewhere. It would be great if you could stick them on the page Thanks! J" Why yes, Mr Stewart, we'd be delighted to oblige!

No dates were provided with these, but common sense suggests they have to have been taken sometime between 1979 and certainly no later than '83.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Past, Present and Forever

Again, I must apologise that things have been so quiet around here lately. Rest assured that I haven't forgotten you, I've just been terribly busy trying to finish my thesis (And no, before anyone asks, it has absolutely nothing to do with music, let alone Goth.)

In the meanwhile though, myself and the redoubtable Adam Lovkis (who hosts dark alt/noise/metal show Behind the Mirror on 6RTR fm) have started up this rather more interactive page on Face Book.

Of course, you could just post music or video clips, but the key word here is "conversation", and we do sincerely hope that you will throw your two cents worth in.

Don't be afraid now, just walk on in

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Look Back in Anger – Caprice (Criminal Damage Records, 1984)

Sorry things have been a little on the quiet side in The Tombs lately. Life unfortunately has an annoying tendency to interfere with one’s hobbies.

 Never fear though! Starting out in Waterlooville in Hampshire on the south coast of England, in 1979 Look Back in Anger would experience a few line up changes, including losing the keyboards before anything concrete was released.

It would be easy to assume that the band took their name after the 1956 play about a love triangle which gave the world the phrase “angry young men”, but this seems slightly odd for a female fronted band. Perhaps it would be safer to assume that the actual source was David Bowie’s  single of the same name (RCA, 1979)?

Things kick off with the Caprice / Mannequin 7”, (LBA, 1981), swiftly followed by the Foxhunt cassette/7” (Stick It in Your Ear Tapes!, 1982) whose contact listing for various animal rights groups on the rear would leave no one in any doubt as to the group’s stance on the subject matter.

A short hiatus follows before the band reappears in 1984 with the Flowers 7” (Criminal Damage Records) with its title track sounding curiously like Kim Wilde trying her hand at Goth – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Kim Wilde happens to be a little guilty pleasure of mine and one of the first albums I ever bought. Anyone who doesn’t like it can bite me.


This brings us to the focus of this post, the Caprice mini album (or was it an EP?) containing both “Torment” and “Inamorata” from the Flowers 7”, but perversely not including the track “Caprice”.

Listening to this, there’s no ignoring the fact that it’s very much a child of its time. If 80’s alternative was a scent, you’d be able to smell this crew from the other side of the nightclub.

Unfortunately, Caprice is not an especially coherent album. It’s clear that Look Back in Anger had two quite different aspects, a relatively poppy side, and another less accessible one, and they were much the better for it when they adhered to the former. If we take that view, then tracks like “Executioner” and the rather aggressive “Silent Partner”, tend to pale into insignificance here in the face of the real stand outs here of “Gray Sky” and “Inamorata”. That last song is interesting here, not only because it’s substantially longer than the version on the previous single, but also because it includes a bridge in which the band suddenly break into a snippet of “Flowers”.

Even if listening now, this material sounds curiously dated, it is nevertheless clear that, when on the money, Look Back in Anger remain capable of evoking a deliriously wonderful sense of nostalgia.

Gray Sky



The Caprice album would prove to be the last thing Look Back in Anger would record before dissolving.

Jim Newby went on to form the curiously named The Fifteenth whose sole release would be the Andelain 12” (Tanz Records, 1986), with its highlight on the B side being the surprising and delightfully Duran-Duranesque “Marble Shire” and Zig Zag journalist Barbara Ellen, who may possibly have been Jim’s girlfriend at the time, gracing the cover.

He followed on with Splashpool, who as far as I can work out don’t seem to have released anything apart from the video below. He also appears to have been an occasional collaborator with cover version terrorists Brian.

Slashpool – Trash You Baby (watch for cameos from Jon Fatbeast and Mick Mercer)

Mich also seems to have had a busy year appearing in Mankinds Audio Development with Rob Hickson and Pete Waddleton of Play Dead fame on the one-off Sunfeast 12” (Criminal Damage Records, 1984), doing backing vocals for “Gimmick” on The Cult’s debut album Dreamtime (Beggars Banquet, 1984), and turning up again a few years later working with Balaam and the Angel on the She Knows 7” (Virgin, 1986). Later she would depart for the US, in company of her boyfriend, some chap called Billy Duffy.

Track Listing:
1. Gray Sky
2. Silent Partner
3. Executioner
4. Torment
5. The Dark
6. Inamorata

Line Up: Mich Ebling (vocals), Jim Newby (guitar), Simon Tufnail (bass), Chris Pickford (drums)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The March Violets – Made Glorious (Self-Released, 2013)

And so it’s finally out, well, almost. Made Glorious is one of those things that makes you proud to have been involved in a DIY fund raising issue through Pledge Music that began something crazy like two years ago.

I’ll be the first to admit to some hesitation after the Trinity EP (self-released, 2007) failed to light my fire, but hey, what’s a few dollars towards helping a genuinely alternative band you really like in an age when record companies are much more interested in instantaneous shallow pap like Niki Minaj, Nickelback or that Beiber thing?

Happily, what we have here is indeed glorious; a massive 16 track double album, including largely new versions of the album preview if you will, the Love will Kill You EP (self-released, 2011) and a whole heap of new goodies.

This is quite clearly The March Violets of old, and yet they have unsurprisingly subtly grown over the intervening years. Part of this is undoubtedly down to advances in technology allowing for vastly superior production, but also, the material presented here with more varied instrumentation is somehow more multi-textured than what folks who came to know and love the Violets from the Botanic Verses compilation (Jungle, 1993) may be used to.

There’s no filler here, all is wonderfully catchy from the title track “Made Glorious”, “We are all Gods III”, “Tokyo Flow”, “Dress 4 U” and of course, the unspeakably brilliant “Road of Bones”. Other tracks like “Billion 3”, “London’s Drowning” and “2024” come bearing political subtexts which could have been annoying had they been delivered in an in-your-face style like anarcho punk bands, say, Crass for example, but are actually pleasingly subtle. 

They’ve lost none of their humour either, which is very welcome in a genre where many bands are so tediously po-faced. It’s easy to imagine the serial killer ode “Of Roses” playing as the final titles roll on a particularly black comedy, and the rollicking “Ramming Speed” jogs merrily along in a vein not unlike what one might expect from Andy Prieboy. There’s a moment when things go weirdly electro, but the punch line quickly becomes apparent when the track listing reveals the song to be “Discoboy Must Die”.

At time of writing, Made Glorious has only been made available to those who pledged.  Very soon however,  it will be available by mail order, initially in a strictly limited 2 CD edition, albeit with different cover art than that shown above.

The Violets have requested that none of the pledgers upload or distribute their advance copies of Made Glorious, and from what I can see on Youtube, so far everyone has very graciously complied with the request. Just to give you a small taste of what you’re in for however, here’s two little snippets.

 We are all Gods (Live in Glasgow 2012, presumably a bootleg, but a very good one) 

Dandelion King

Buy this – you won’t regret a cent.

Track Listing:
1.    Made Glorious
2.    Billion3
3.    A Room With No View
4.    Of Roses
5.    Tokyo Flow
6.    Ramming Speed
7.    Little Punk Thing
8.    Dandelion King
9.    2024
10. London’s Drowning
11. We are all Gods
12. Road of Bones
13. Discoboy Must Die
14. Dress 4 U
15. Bottle of Poison
16. My Demons

Line Up: Si Denbigh (vocals), Rosie Garland (vocals), Tom Ashton (guitar), Jo Violet (bass).