HARMONY IN MY HEAD: LIFE, MUSIC, AND THE BUZZCOCKS ACCORDING TO MARION
Marion are a five piece rock band from Manchester, England, consisting of singer Jaime Harding, guitarists Phil Cunningham and Anthony Grantham, bassist Nick Gilbert, and drummer Murad Mousa. They released their first album, This World and Body in February of 1996. The following is an interview conducted with singer Jaime Harding and guitarist Phil Cunningham on February 17, 1996, during their first proper American tour, backstage at the Metro in Chicago, IL, prior to their performance with The Rentals and The Elevator Drops. After transcibing it, I decided that Jaime and Phil spoke best for themselves, without needing me to add a narrative, so I’ve printed it in question and answer form, just as the conversation took place. Lastly, before getting on with it, I feel I should apologize to Marion for taking so long to find this a proper home.
Leaking: How did you meet, how did the band form?
Jaime: Well, we all went to school with each other. We were in various bands for years just playing punk covers, and Blondie covers, and Buzzcocks covers and stuff. And then it happened 2 ˝ years ago we met Joe [Moss, ex-Smiths manager] and he sort of gave us the nudge we needed to give up our jobs and go on the dole and rehearse full-time. Which we did in the South of Manchester, and that’s what we did and we got really together as a band. And since then, which was 2 years ago, we’ve been constantly playing all the time.
L: So your influences were actually punk?
J: Yah. Brothers and sisters records...
L: So, about the Morrissey connection, how did it make you feel having him praise you publicly and invite you to open for him, especially considering it has been a death blow for several bands, such as the Primitives and Bradford. Has it helped you?
J: He’s such an incredible figure, you know, everybody knows it’s the kind of music he listens to, and umm, we were it, and he was into us, and umm, we were really pleased with the connection. Whereas most bands get the connection and they go on tour and they just get completely bad reception when they are on stage; whereas when we were on tour, we were determined that it wasn’t going to happen, so we were the opening band and it worked out really well.
L: So I hear that one of your guitarists (Anthony) has a Mickey Mouse obsession?
J: He certainly does, yeah. He’s added quite a lot to his collection since he’s been here too.
L: Why did you change the lyrics to “Sleep” on the album from what they were on the original single?
J: It sounded strange singing the old version, the lyrics to it. I didn’t like the idea of doing a song that was on the album that I didn’t feel was completely how I wanted it there and then, do you know what I mean? So it did change a bit.
L: How has the U.S. tour been going?
J: It’s been brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!
L: Are you getting the reception that you expected?
J: We expected quite a good reception, but we didn’t expect a reception like this, even after the first time we came. So we’re like “Alright!” It’s great. We were really excited about coming back and playing. And it’s been better, again, than what we thought it would be. We’re not a band that expects anything. The only thing we expect is that we’ve got to do a lot of work, we’ve got to play really hard, and we’ve got to show a lot of people that we’re a really good band. So it helps if there’s people who already know that we’re a good band.
L: It seems that you didn’t get much publicity for either the album or the tour over here.
J: Well, the actual purpose of this tour was to come here for the first time and play to a lot of music business people and it’s just a bonus that there are lots of people who know us already.
L: How did you end up opening for the Rentals?
J: I think, instead of us just playing a small club, it’s more beneficial to be playing with another band who’re bringing people in, cause the people who would have gone to a small club will still come and we get across to many more people.
L: Do you feel that you fit into the whole “Britpop” thing?
J: We don’t fit into it at all. We’re not at all part of the Britpop scene, we never have been. What we’ve achieved already we’ve achieved in a totally different way than the majority of the bands that are associated with the Britpop scene cause we couldn’t get any interest whatsoever from the British media. But we’d built up a big enough fan base, we got to the stage where we couldn’t be ignored anymore. It was Radio 1 who wasn’t interested in us at all, in the slightest, who wouldn’t even play us until our singles started getting into the top 40, just because of the fans. So now things are starting to turn around, and now people are looking at us and thinking, here’s this rock band - we’re not a pop band like the rest of this Britpop stuff -- there’s this rock band with a big enough fan base to get a turnout so now we’re starting to get the respect we deserve. But it’s been stringent. We’ve got so many crap reviews and stuff because we don’t fit into the Britpop format. I remember one review, it was of Menswe@r, I think, and it went on about how the singer had brought his clothes to the gig in a bin bag more than anything else in the whole piece. It just shows you what state the British music press is in.
L: I guess we just have a totally different view of things here in the U.S. There is so little media exposure that if a band is British we have to go see them just to see what they sound like.
J: It excites us tremendously to play in America cause the kind of people that are over here are more our kind of people cause they’re into the actual songs and the fact that a band is writing good songs rather than the British music press who are totally obsessed with fashion. So we’ve had a hard time about the fact we’re not a part of Britpop.
L: Are there any plans to re-release the “Violent Men” single?
J: There’s a version we did with Stephen Street that’s a better version than the Rough Trade version that came free with the album.
L: What’s the next single?
J: We’re re-releasing “Sleep” in the U.K.
P: Now that the radio stations are playing our singles, we think we can get it across to more people.
L: So, tell me more about the punk thing.
J: That's the music that meant the most to us. So when people say "What music did the band first hear?" It was that punk explosion. Because we found it and we relived that whole punk thing from our brothers' and sisters' records/ And because that's the way we felt we were unbelievably frustrated.
P: Because we've got crap indie bands like Ride and they way they'd play and just stare at their feet and they're not interesting. But the punk thing, especially the Buzzcocks, that's really hard, just AMAZING pop-rock songs with loads of energy, loads of attack, emotional lyrics. Most punk music has got a message to it, as opposed to pop music which is very pleasurable, but no message and no emotional content.
L: Do you try and emulate the dialogue that punk bands had/have with their audiences?
J: Oh yeah! Marion are renowned for it. They're a band that want to communicate with their audience. We go to a gig and we don't want to get on the stage and act like a bunch of pop stars and, umm, it would be so easy to do, looking as good as we do on stage [grin]. It's true though, we do want to communicate with people. Above all else, give everybody a good night. Above all else.
P: Because what are you going to see a band for who look like they just don't want to be there?
L: So what do you think about the Sex Pistols' reunion?
P: Is there going to be one? It'll just be funny.
J: I figure it should be. I mean, seeing Pete Shelley with his wig on, playing the way he does. Especially with the wig.
P: The wig [laughs].
L: I didn't realize he was wearing a wig, I haven't seen him in years.
J: It's a nice one.
P: It's nice.
J: Apparently, it was Steve Diggle the guitar player who said, "We're not going on stage as the Buzzcocks if we're bald. You've got to wear a wig." And Pete Shelley was like totally cool cause, you know, he wasn't bald, he's just thinning, and he's got it shaved and it looks cool. Steve Diggle was like, "You've got to wear a wig, man."
P: So he got described as something like "a toad in a toupee", and Steve Diggle got described as a "shouty milkman." But it's a pretty stupid analysis of Steve Diggle because he's just totally over the top.
J: He's in all the clubs in England. He's a really nice guy, I'm not putting down Steve Diggle, you know. He's in all the clubs in London, hitting on the girls, going "Buzzcocks, yeah, Buzzcocks, me, yeah yeah." So he's the driving force in the Buzzcocks nowadays. So, do you like the Buzzcocks?
L: Yeah, I do. Hard not to.
J: Yeah that's the thing. The songs are so strong you can't help but like them.
L: So, is there really a "Manchester Scene"?
P: I mean the reason we got into the Buzzcocks and bands like that was to get away from bands like that, the Manchester scene that was around at the time, you know, the 1989 scene. We weren't into that at all. Like, we were talking about the whole baggy scene before, the twistin the melon man kind of laid back stuff. We were just looking back to other stuff like the Buzzcocks. Yeah, there was definitely a scene.
J: What's your favorite punk band? You like the Sex Pistols?
L: I kind of like the Damned these days.
P: Oh yeah! Brilliant! Brilliant.
J: We were well into the Damned.
L: How do you feel about all the slagging off of other bands that goes on in the British press?
P: The thing is, it is helping each other our, it is sort of a conspiracy thing, but they don't really hate each other. It's just something that's corked together.
J: Don't get it wrong, they all drink together.
P: Yeah yeah. It's like the thing between the Stones and the Beatles, they do a similar thing.
J: Luckily, we don't get many other bands coming to our gigs. Except for like Morrissey and bigger people. Rather than Blur and Oasis and others. Cause we don't interest them at all. Well, yeah, and Pete Shelley and stuff.
L: He shows up at your gigs?
J: Well, yeah, he came and he got totally pissed and he stumbled home.
L: How does it feel to have somebody you've admired for so long come to see you play?
J: Oh, unbelievable.
J: It's easier to do the gig when somebody like that is there.
L: It doesn't make you nervous?
J: No. Cause we really couldn't believe in what we are doing more. So when somebody is there to prove it to, it's like "Yes!" It's harder when it's just a few people cause nobody's expecting anything.
L: So what have you seen since you've been in the U.S.?
J: New York, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis.
L: Did you get out to see anything?
P: It was cool getting out to Prince's club. That's where we played, purple beret and all, it was ace. Got a buzz being in the place where Purple Rain was done.
J: I know, cause me and Phil missed the last day of school, we didn't go on the last day of school when everyone was saying their goodbyes cause we were at home making egg chips and watching Purple Rain. So that just shows you how we thought we'd accomplished something.
L: So you're Prince fans?
J: At one time, yeah, yeah.
P: You cant beat Purple Rain, it's like he's just totally freaked out.
J: I haven't listened to Prince for years.
L: I think he now goes by Squiggle.
L: What did you think of Atlanta, since I'm from there....
J: Lovely place.
J: Yeah, really.
P: We were staying in an unbelievably dodgy area of Soho in New York so we got unbelievable paranoia attacks.
L: So, what's next?
J: Touring, we start a world tour. We finish here and we go back to Manchester for eighteen hours. We go to Oslo, Denmark, around Germany, some dates in France, then we come over to the U.K. for about eight dates and a couple of days later we go to Japan and do about seven gigs there which are all completely sold out. And from Japan we come back to America. So we miss on the U.K. again and then we tour America again, and then, umm, we do all the festivals. And then we're gonna record the second album and have it out by the end of the year. Cause we've already demoed it.
L: That's quick.
J: Yeah. The record company said, "Just chill out in January, you've got a lot of touring." And we'd been away for two months before. But instead we booked ourselves a studio in Manchester and demoed the whole of January so we've come up with the majority of the second album. We just can't wait to get that on out.
L: So do you like touring?
P: It's quite exhausting and it's scary to think I can't wake up in the morning and do what I want to do until about September, not for one single day. That gets a bit wearing sometimes.
J: Not at all. It doesn't bother us at all. It's exciting. Every time we go to places, we turn people on and then we come back to places and there's more people. It's just an amazing feeling.