Monday, 9 May 2011

Stuart Moxham: A private listen

I was a bit past it in, even in 1980 to be a reliable rock and roll witness. I was 30 and well into jazz; rock seemed to be going the polite quiffy way it always does when the raw power of something original crashes and burns out on the horizon and somebody starts calling it showbiz again, and you know you've got a fucking long wait for anything interesting to come along. A big fluffy ball of something called New Romantics drove pink Cadillacs up to crap night clubs, got let in by the bouncers, wrote songs about it, and that was it for a whole decade. The sound of Camparis, make-up and weird drugs. You couldn't make it up. It was, some of it, nicely and wittily hedonistic; but all I can remember was the shitty drum sound and the Fairline computer-as-producer. Homogeneity ruled. Rock had become shiny and shitty again.

I remember, though, in France in that year, as I stopped off at a bar somewhere in the Loire, the jukebox had its usual indigenous pop stuff; probably the vaguely punky Indochine and most probably Johnny Halliday, but had I looked a bit harder I might have found a track by The Young Marble Giants, a band just out on Rough Trade, who had an uncompromising minimal approach to making music. Their  record was called Colossal Youth, one that is still talked about as a classic. And an influential one at that.

There are names from the e
arly 80s who for various reasons just faded away. I'd heard of them; vaguely remember a film of a very understated band and a song that was underpinned by an elusive and quite plaintive riff. There were also the very confident and tuneful Original Mirrors who had that geezer from The Lightning Seeds... I saw them at the Marquee with someone from Phonogram. They were good. Quite tasteful before it became a dirty word.

I digress. One of the figures from this peripheral 80s memory has become a mate; His name's Stuart Moxham and he was the principal songwriter and creative spirit behind those elusive Young Marble Giants – he was too modest to let on at first – we met in a local choir and got on famously (also as part of this warbling mayhem was Mathew Priest, Dodgy's powerhouse drummer) and after about 4 post-choir pub meetings he told me he'd been to France to play a gig. And they had a lot of fans there. Well, you have to ask, don't you?

What band are you in?

It's like linking arms with the past, or giving the past a pat on the back for being so understanding. I know it's selfish, but if Stuart hadn't fallen out with the enigmatic chanteuse Alison, or had trod the boards more happily with his brother, they would no doubt have made a second album (the difficult one, they say) after the seminal Colossal Youth and life would have been different. But it's looking good for Stuart, and not before time.

He's been busy since the days with the Marbs. I was actually quite shaken when I started to pick his songs off the Spotify tree. I thought, well, he'll be shorn of that drum machine and all that stark, Krafty presence. He'll just be a geezer with a guitar. Which was true; what I wasn't expecting was the sheer drama of his emotions. His voice is a resonant deep tenor, and he sings with such a physical and lyrical honesty, that some lines just catch you off guard and you have to play them again. He's a natural, born again musician. I've heard a sneak preview of Six Winter Mornings and it is a stupidly beautiful record. It's full of atmosphere;  like a ticking clock near a kitchen table when the sky's going weird...

I asked him to play an earlier song of his, Cars In The Grass, when we sitting in his house recently. "It's a Lou song, really..." He was talking about the chords, I think, but there was more than a hint of the Reed melancholy, but most of all a mood, to this Cardiff lad's strange and beautiful gift.

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