The Return of the Box (3)

This week some more alt rock from the States and one that I think JC may have featured a few weeks back.

Hum – You’d Prefer An Astronaut

Hum originate from Illinois and are an alt rock band perhaps best known for the song Stars which achieved a lot of radio play on the American alternative stations. They released four albums between 1989 and 2000 when the split, and this their third was their most commercial successful, although saying it hardly set the world alight. Hum sound a lot like a previously mentioned band Superchunk and have that slowed down slacker feel to their music. The album is pretty good, with ‘Stars’ and ‘The Pod’ being the stand out records on it. This was I think the only one of their four albums that was released over here, it came out on Dedicated records, who at the time in 1995, also housed Spiritualized, which brings up nicely my connection to this band.

Amazingly in 1995 I was (briefly) a member of Hum, now don’t search Wikipedia because it isn’t there –and here’s why. I was sent to interview Spiritualized (I say sent, I kind of begged like a hungry dog) on tour in London, and Hum were the support band. When I arrived at the venue Hum were sound checking. The guitarist at the time, the wonderfully named Tim Lash was half way through when his manager told him that there was a phone call for him. I had been sitting watching the soundcheck, and had,I thought slyly pinched a can of Red Stripe from their rider, which I was drinking at the side of the stage. The singer came over and said, “hey if you can drink our beer, you can help sound check our songs”. So for roughly six minutes I got on stage and strummed a guitar with Hum. Tim Lash came back and stood and watched and then said dryly, “I hope your interview skills are better” and then before they had the chance to sack me I said “You know guys, this just isn’t working, our musical tastes are just too different” I quit the band and claimed musical differences.

mp3 : Hum – Stars

Engine 88 – ‘Clean Your Room’

Engine 88 were from San Francisco and were doing the rounds in the 1990s. They released three albums, two of these were released on Caroline Records, who kind of made a habit of releasing a lot of albums in the mid 90s that sounded almost identical. Something which I think I called frat boy punk at the time. By this the records were largely punk in the vein of Green Day played by white kids with guitars, with spiky haircuts and a range of stupid gurning faces for the cameras. Engine 88 are not really that different, they cite Fugazi, Nirvana and the Breeders as their influences but really this is Green Day or Rancid by numbers. It’s not terrible though. You kind of feel that around the time there were releasing records there was a bit of frenzy going on as labels looked for bands like Green Day to sign.

Clean Your Room was the debut album by Engine 88 and featured at least two fairly decent singles, Funny Car and Twenty both of which failed to chart in the UK (they were only released on 7” though). The band have now split and gone on their separate missions, and I will list these because its kind of interesting. The singer is now in a soft rock band that sound too much like Counting Crows for my liking, the guitarist is in a Pretenders Covers Band (obviously, why wouldn’t you), the bassist teaches martial arts to kids and the drummer runs a video store with the manager of Green Day. Punk really is not dead.

mp3 : Engine 88 – Funny Car

Marion – Lets All Go Together

JC may have posted this a few weeks ago on his excellent piece on Marion. Assuming he did, I will just add this. I loved Marion and they didn’t get anywhere near the success they deserved. They were perhaps the one band who might have justified the ‘New Smiths’ tag that was lumped on a lot of bands in the 90s. Lets All Go Together was the fourth record off their debut album The World and Body and you know its kind of ace.

mp3 : Marion – Let’s All Go Together




Today’s piece is adapted from a post over at the old place back in August 2008.  Apologies to ctel.  He dislikes this lot almost as much as he dislikes The Fall.

Back in the mid 90s, it seems that every A&R man in the country was hell-bent on finding the next Blur or Oasis, and just about every guitar-orientated band was offered some sort of record deal. There are dozens of bands from the Britpop-era who, having shone very brightly at first with the inevitable two-page colour spread in the NME and/or Melody Maker and/or Select and/or Vox, would crack the Top 20 with a half-decent single.

Some bands – the likes of Ash, Stereophonics and Supergrass spring to mind – would go on to enjoy reasonable careers over the course of a few years. Most bands however, soon faded back into obscurity, usually because they never had the talent or material to progress beyond the initial burst.

But given that they had a charismatic frontman, a guitarist who many reckoned was as talented as any of his generation, and the support and backing of the likes of Radiohead, Morrissey and Johnny Marr, it is hard to fathom why Marion never had any meaningful career.

Again, it was Jacques the Kipper who brought this lot to my attention via the inclusion of their debut single Violent Men on a compilation tape. It interested me enough to catch them live at King Tut’s in Glasgow not long after – I’m sure it would have been the autumn of 1994. Now I know it’s easy to get all nostalgic about these sorts of things and creep into hyperbole….but the fact remains that the first Marion gig I got along to was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen at King Tut’s.

I remember coming away convinced I’d seen the 90s equivalent of The Smiths, largely on the back of the way singer Jaime Harding and guitarist Phil Cunningham had captivated the audience with astonishing and intense performances, with a set that consisted of songs that fell into two distinct camps – instant pop classics that would sound great on the radio or instant bedsit classics that would soundtrack many a students’ life.

But it just didn’t happen. A succession of singles released throughout 1995 made next to no impression. To their credit, the band never gave up and just kept on with tour after tour after tour in an effort to gain a bigger fan base. The hard work did eventually pay off, with a couple of Top 30 hits coming around in early 1996.

The debut album ended up selling reasonably well, and fans/admirers sat back and waited for the new material to emerge.

And waited, And waited. And waited.

The expectations around the new songs were especially high, as it had been revealed that Johnny Marr was recording with Marion, but it took until March 1998 before the first fruits of these labours appeared. By now the Britpop train had hit the buffers. The bands that had survived had been those who kept on releasing new singles and LPs at regular intervals thus staying in the public spotlight. And besides, this fella called Marr was now seen as nowt special being very much as the day before yesterday’s man….

The March 1998 single wasn’t a hit. Relationships between the band and label, which were never great to begin with, hit an all-time low with the decision to hold back the second LP.  So Marion were back on the road with nothing to promote and with no natural audience. By early 1999 it was all over….

I reckon they are truly the great lost band of the Britpop era.  Phil Cunningham has since shown how highly talented (and regarded) he is when he was asked to join New Order at the beginning of this decade.

Jaime Harding? Well, he was long a dedicated apostle of the clichéd lifestyle of a rock’n’roll star. After the band disbanded, he continued to make music with friends, then bummed around Eastern Europe for a few years, before coming home to make-up with Phil and reform Marion at the beginning of 2006.

It didn’t however, all go to plan.  Some initial live shows promised much but then Jaime was hospitalised as the effects of years of drugs misuse eventually caught up him; he fell very fell seriously ill with a blood condition that required him to have life-saving open-heart surgery at the age of 31.

Things were put on hold till late 2011 at which point a serious effort was made at reforming, including new songs and a series of love shows leading to a short tour in the Spring of 2012.  It would seem however, that the spark didn’t fully re-ignite as the band’s own website would indicate that outwith a few Jaime Harding solo shows in 2013, there’s been next to no activity.  Sad proof that not all efforts by bands to reform 20 years on work out and lead to belated riches.

mp3 : Marion – Violent Men
mp3 : Marion – Sleep
mp3 : Marion – Toys For Boys
mp3 : Marion – Miyako Hideaway