Young Marble Giants
Young Marble Giants
Though they are often slotted in with the brash-sounding post-punk scene that flourished in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s, the three musicians that comprised the Young Marble Giants (YMG) from Cardiff, Wales, made some of the quietest pop sounds of the era. Vocalist Alison Statton, songwriter-organist-guitarist Stuart Moxham, and his bass-playing brother Philip Moxham produced just one full-length album over the course of their short career, but their influence has been felt for many years following the band's demise. Statton's light and subdued voice predated the twee-pop sound popularized in the mid-1980s, and the band influenced countless British and American indie rock acts to write songs with understated rhythms and gently hewn vocals. Of their intention to make music in a less-orthodox style, Stuart Moxham told Sounds, "Young Marble Giants is a reaction to everything successful today."
Influenced by the minimalist electronic rhythms of Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, Young Marble Giants used just an organ, guitar, vocals, and tiny sounds squeezed out of a reel-to-reel player and a jerry-rigged drum machine, to unleash their quiet, subtle strain of contemplative synth-pop. "When we first started playing we felt almost apologetic because we weren't loud and danceable," Moxham told Sounds. "We were quiet and slow and melodic and all those things you shouldn't be, especially after punk."
The members of YMG had first assembled under the name True Wheel with some other friends, but when that didn't work out, the trio went it alone. They played to small crowds at the Grass Roots café in Cardiff, and with a fellow Welsh group Reptile Ranch, they landed a pair of their songs onto a compilation of local bands titled Is the War Over?.
Perhaps it was the isolation of Cardiff, which Moxham called "a really awful place," that made their sound so unique, but whatever it was, it caught the attention of Geoff Travis, who had been running the popular Rough Trade record shop in London. As Travis was starting a house label for the store, Young Marble Giants were a welcome fit for his stable of left-of-center post-punk rockers, and he gave them free rein to do what they wanted. "He really surprised us," Statton told Sounds. "We thought he'd say: 'We'll let you do a single first and we'll see how it goes from there.' In fact he said: 'What do you want to do—an album, an EP, both, a single?' He said that before he'd even heard our cassette, just on the strength of the two album tracks.
The group's demo cassette, Colossal Youth, was re-recorded in a mere five studio days for only £1000, and ended up selling 7000 copies in its first six weeks in stores, with nearly no promotional muscle behind it. In the same Sounds article, Mark Ellen called the record "15 tracks of breathless width and definition [that] fill the shadows long forgotten in the usual rat-race for power and unsubtle assault."
The cult popularity of YMG was catching on, but Stuart Moxham wasn't completely satisfied with their quick efforts on Colossal Youth. "We didn't go far enough," he told New Musical Express. "There aren't enough weird sounds, it's very straightforward and smooth. We'd like to sound a bit rougher, like a European station on the radio at night."
The Final Day EP appeared soon after their debut, but the brothers Moxham had also been working on a follow-up EP, Testcard, a set of six instrumentals that were perhaps more representative of their intended new direction. Stuart Moxham had been working on a solo project as the Gist, to fulfill his experimental curiosities, and these instincts began to shine through on Testcard.
Young Marble Giants first toured the United Kingdom and Europe, and by 1980, the same year of Colossal Youth's release, they rather prematurely made their way to the United States with Sheffield synth-rockers Cabaret Voltaire. YMG weren't consummate stage performers, and because of their stage fright and slow, quiet songs, they often appeared rather bored onstage, much to audiences' dismay.
After playing their last gig in New York that year and returning from their tour of the United States, Young Marble Giants broke up. "I'd say naiveté [was] the main reason, really," Stuart Moxham told journalist Richie Unterberger in an interview. "There was a lack of communication, definitely, between the three of us. So problems, just personal things, built up. We weren't talking about anything, so it kind of overwhelmed us, really."
Statton joined Weekend, a swing-pop-sounding outfit. Stuart Moxham continued operating as the Gist, while Philip Moxham found himself playing bass in Everything But the Girl for a short while.
In 1990 Rough Trade reissued Colossal Youth, and many in the United States pricked up their ears. Around that time, K Records' label head and Beat Happening front man Calvin Johnson got in touch with Stuart Moxham. The bands on Johnson's label, such as Go Team and Beck, had all been heavily influenced by Moxham's minimalist production and songwriting prowess, and Johnson invited him to the United States to produce records for a few American artists. Lois Maffeo and Beat Happening both received Moxham's vintage touch on their albums.
Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was also trumpeting his appreciation for Colossal Youth around Seattle and Olympia. He spoke of Young Marble Giants as being one of his favorite bands, intending to cover "Credit in the Straight World" on a tribute compilation. However, Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, ended up doing a version of the song on her band Hole's record Live Through This. The songwriting royalties brought Moxham his first taste of commercial success, and he was finally able to support his family without supplementing his income with odd jobs. He was also able to build a handsome studio setup for his home in London.
YMG's popularity came back briefly with the song, and because of the Pacific Northwest scene's championing of their work. Moxham continued on a solo path with his band, the Original Artists, putting out some records of minor consequence. Statton studied chiropractic and began to practice the medical craft while continuing to perform and record with friends around Cardiff.
In January of 2004, however, the three original Young Marble Giants, along with a drummer, brother Andrew Moxham, reunited at the behest of the BBC. The UK's public broadcaster brought them together for a documentary that examined the band's impact on the country's pop music scene. Artists such as Stereolab and Super Furry Animals were also featured on the program, commenting on the impact that YMG had on their sounds. While the reunion was limited to the day's performance and interview, the band members finally resolved the animosity that their original breakup had created among them. They also discussed the possibility of a new recording, but as of 2005 nothing had come to fruition.
Colossal Youth, (demo cassette, independent), 1979.
(With others) Is the War Over?, (compilation) Z-Block, 1979.
Colossal Youth, Rough Trade, 1980.
Final Day, EP, Rough Trade, 1980.
Testcard, Rough Trade, 1981.
Peel Sessions, Strange Fruit, 1988.
Salad Days (compilation), Vinyl Japan, 2000.
Live at the Hurrah (live), Cherry Red, 2004.
For the Record …
Members include Philip Moxham, bass; Stuart Moxham, guitar; Alison Statton, vocals.
Young Marble Giants formed in Cardiff, Wales, after the dissolution of True Wheel, 1978; disbanded in 1981; members included vocalist Alison Statton, keyboardist-guitarist Stuart Moxham, and bassist Philip Moxham; released Colossal Youth, 1980; Final Day EP, 1980; Testcard, 1981; Peel Sessions (live), 1988; Salad Days (compilation), 2000.
Addresses: Record company—Rough Trade Records, c/o Sanctuary, The Chelsea Market, 75 Ninth Ave., New York, NY 10011, website: http://www.roughtradeamerica.com.
New Musical Express, June 14, 1980.
Sounds, May 17, 1980.
"Young Marble Giants," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (August 28, 2005).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Stuart Moxham conducted by Richie Unterberger, 1997.
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