If you have ever heard the Young Marble Giants, I’m sure that you won’t have forgotten the experience. In the three years in which they were together between 1978 and 1981, they recorded just one album ‘Colossal Youth’ and a handful of singles. There are few other bands, however, that have ever managed to sound so fresh and original, or been such a seminal influence on so many musicians during the last two decades. They proved that you can create great pop music with very few ingredients. Mostly they just used a drum machine and a bass guitar to back up singer Alison Statton’s sweet, fragile voice. Maybe, however you don’t know very much about this Cardiff trio, so we at Pennyblackmusic thought that we might help you out a bit. We have for you, therefore, an interview with guitarist, organist and songwriter Stuart Moxham.
How and when did you become interested in music?
– Does anyone have a choice about becoming interested in music? It surrounds all of us from day one, surely?
What kind of music did you grow up with?
– My parents are music lovers – in fact my father is a singer. They are also church goers, so we were raised with hymns, carols, Gilbert & Sullivan, Lerner & Loewe, classical music, the radio of the ’50’s, and then eventually all the hits of the 60’s and 70’s. I have an elder brother who was in the Royal Navy and brought home an early stereo from the Far East and also had a brilliant record collection. I remember singing ‘Twist and Shout’ (the Beatles’ version) in Gladstone Junior school playground. It seemed then as though the Beatles had a new single out every week. I dug the Stones, too -grew my hair long in the early ’70’s – you get the picture.
Did you play in any other bands prior to Young Marble Giants?
– I was introduced to playing guitar by my friend Matthew Davis who later formed a group, playing covers, called True Wheel in which I was the singer and second guitarist. My brother Phil was the bassist. We played regularly for a while in Cardiff.
How did Young Marble Giants form?
– True Wheel faded away and, after an abortive attempt to collaborate in a second group with Phil, I decided to form my own group, to do my own songs. I invited Phil to join me in my new venture and he told me he’d teamed up with Alison, a backing singer in True Wheel, and that they were now a musical unit. I therefore took them both onboard.
What were your influences?
– Some of my personal major ones were: Beatles/Cat Stevens/Led Zeppelin/Neil Young/Early Roxy Music/Eno/Eno/Eno/Kraftwerk/Steve Miller/Police/Bob Marley etc.
Where does the name Young Marble Giants come from? On the ‘Final Day’ 7″ sleeve there is an excerpt from a dictionary. Does it come from that?
– It comes from a book about classical sculpture. We’d given up trying to find the name – one idea was the Clones – but even then it was too obvious. Then I was flicking through this book which was Alison’s and saw the sentence with those three words and thought it was perfect.
Why didn’t you use a ”real” drummer in Young Marble Giants?
– Have you ever met any real drummers? No, seriously, we’d only worked with one previously and he was a pain in the arse and had a lot of heavy gear which we had to carry. Plus drum machines were so sexy then. We wanted everything easy – why make work? Plus we were anti traditional rock/record production/arrangements – we wanted our great riffage to be unadorned – it didn’t need tom toms, cymbals, and some hairyback trying to write songs on his drum kit!
Did you have any goals with Young Marble Giants?
– Er, just a few…to get a record deal and therefore to get the hell out of Cardiff, which was the capital of a musical wasteland; to become necessarily famous and generally fulfil the rock’n’roll dream. To avoid a straight career at all costs. I’ve subsequently discovered that I’m useless at most jobs anyway. I was made to write songs, man!
How did the music press react to your records back in those days?
– Very favourably – we had reviews to die for. Of course there are always a few fuckwits who don’t get it but luckily none of them were in the music press!
Why did you split up?
– The usual undiscussed reasons. Tired and emotional bollocks, ego, and so on
After the Young Marble Giants split, you formed the Gist. What was that? Was that your solo project?
– Basically yes. I wanted to have a name that sounded like a group and I liked ‘The Gist’. I included various musical friends as well as my brother, Andrew, who is the person I have played and recorded with by far the most of anyone.
You also produced the second Marine Girls album ‘Lazy Ways’ in 1983. How did you get to do that? Did you know Dan Treacy (The Television Personalities frontman was helping to promote the group at the time) or any of the Girls?
– Cherry Red records rang. I didn’t know of them at the time so I asked for a tape and liked it immediately – it was so refreshing to hear love songs from the female perspective.
Today, the Welsh music scene is very much alive, but what was it like in the early 80’s?
– It seemed that nobody in living memory had ”made it.” The music industry could not have been less interested in Wales and confidence was always zero among young groups. You had to be in London or Liverpool. Or Scotland. Or anywhere. The English hate the Welsh because the Welsh are soulful, passionate Celts. The English find all that messy and soppy because they don’t have soul. Same thing with the Irish, the Scots, you name it. The English have enormous self belief and arrogance, aggression and thick skins. Everything you need to get on in life and found an Empire! Having said that I choose to live in England and enjoy the subtlety and unflappability, the coolness of southern Englishness. Life’s a mystery. Thank God. All the best things in life are unsolvable mysteries. Science is limited. End of ramble!
What do you think when you listen to those old records now?
– I almost never do but of course it’s intensely personal for me if I do. I can see the merit in them and I love them. They are like old friends.
What is your favourite YMG song?
What are you doing nowadays? Are you still making music?
– I live in a cottage in an old village in deeply rural England. I am married with three young children and I pay the bills by being a driving instructor. I have a studio at home and am trying to get to grips with producing my music on my own CDR label, hABIT records, for release via the Internet. (Watch http://www.appelstein.com/ymg/ for developments but don’t hold your breath.) I play gigs, if I’m asked and if I’m paid, so that means virtually never! I play covers for a theraputic/spiritual event each Friday evening at a drug and drink rehab clinic. I am in a band of church bell ringers locally. I sometimes pick up a guitar and play half a song before rushing off, usually to do something less enjoyable. But then what isn’t? Hope springs eternal and I still cling to the belief that a) there is justice in this world and b) if I stick at it, one day I’ll have a huge hit or three and go back to being a full time musician/recordist. Sad, really, but we must have our dreams to prevent reality from doing our heads in.
What are the other two members doing now?
– I’m not the best person to ask – all I know is that Alison has been a chiropractor in Cardiff for years and Phil currently looks after polo ponies at his rural home outside that city.
I read somewhere that you worked on the Roger Rabbit movie. Is that true?
– Check the credits (Writer’s note: I have, and according to imdb.com, he was a painter during the production of the film.)
Have you thought about a reunion? I read something about a reunion of sorts at the Rough Trade anniversary last year…
– Constantly, for years, but with no enthusiasm from the others it was too much like hard work. It just ate away at me. I came close a couple of times and last year’s Rough Trade gig was the closest. I’ve given up now. Big shame because I know we could produce more shitkicking music if only the will was there. Life gets in the way though.
What is the single greatest moment in your music career?
– Tough question. There have been so many great moments, especially great gigs. Perhaps the summer of ’93 when I recorded three consecutive albums, one in London (‘Random Rules’) and two in Chicago (‘Barbara Manning Sings With The Original Artists’ and ‘Plan A’ – although that one has never been released.)
If you had the chance, what would you have done differently with the Young Marble Giants career?
– Taken a step back and not stupidly let it dissolve. Treat it as a professional occupation rather than a vehicle for my hang-ups.
What do you listen to now?
– My own stuff as I record it, plus old chart music on Radio 2 because local radio stations, outside London, are shite. I don’t know why.