from Embrace The Herd CD reissue, 1999
It's very strange when you realise an ambition -- and have to go beyond it.
I became shallow at school. Whenever necessary (and possible, given my maths/sciences phobia) to impress a teacher, usually on first acquaintance, I would simply produce some decent work -- before sliding back into the academic doldrums.
Mine was a tall glassy, sixties school overlooking the sea, and by the age of sixteen I could have gained a Doctorate in cloud recognition.
I left the education system like a misguided missile -- careering around between totally unsuitable and short lived occupations -- when a friend, Matthew Davis, casually offered to introduce me to playing guitar. That was a defining moment -- the first thing I can remember really wanting to dedicate myself to. There is a mystery in apparently simple things -- a guitar or a piano keyboard look totally finite and understandable, with a little effort, yet they can produce such an endless variety of music, can transport the player and the listener to fantastic places of the imagination and emotions. The catalyst which produces catalysts.
Always a closet novelist -- the liner who lives through books -- I found in music a vehicle to write.
After the usual early fumblings in the dark my songwriting started to become the exercise in personal exorcism that, in retrospect, I obviously needed. Again I was able to test my wings as a performing singer and player in a band, True Wheel, with my brother and Alison Statton, before we formed Young Marble Giants.
YMG were supported by friends like Spike, from another local band on the coffee bar scene, Reptile Ranch, who had the nous and political awareness to initiate a Cardiff DIY compilation album, Is The War Over, on their own indie label, Z-Block, which in turn was brought to the attention of Rough Trade, then arguably the trendiest record label on the planet. Luckily the rest is history -- the Grand Plan worked out a million times better than even I had dreamed. Then I pulled my usual trick; having established myself in a suitably momentous manner, I baled out.
Groups can be like marriages; they can operate on the same emotional level; an enormous commitment and trust, hope, time, energy and expectations must go into what is a deadly serious business, if one wants to succeed. Writing the music together is the equivalent of sex: you each have to become vulnerable in the intimacy of sharing, combining and rejecting Ideas -- at one point in The Gist, we even had to turn the lights down! Records are like the progeny -- your babies, out there in the world, advertising their parents' attitudes for all to see. Problems become exponentially more complicated, however, because there are several people in the "marriage" -- maybe with loyalties to their own internal groupings and agendas. Similarly "divorce" -- when the band ceases working together arid breaks up -- can be a traumatic experience the more so because it is unexpected, in that nobody realises the gravitas which attaches to the business of groups; their emotional dimension, which after all is so central to the production of the music.
Having naively allowed the Young Marble Giants to founder, I found myself creatively freed from the necessarily tight cocoon in which that highly styilsed music was alchemized. I began to undergo a shedding and stretching process, teaching myself to produce multitrack recordings, turning to technology in lieu of working with other musicians.
Now, seventeen years on, the musical landscape -- and, crucially, the narcotic one -- has inevitably broadened and this stuff doesn't seem anywhere near as wacky as it did in '81 or '82 -- but it still has its moments of near madness! The previously unreleased material included throws more light on the musical context of this album and the degree of pure exploration I was involved in whilst trying to find a new modus operandi, a new musical identity.