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Marine \ Biography

Without doubt one of the best early signings to Les Disques du Crépuscule, Marine split within a year of their first trip to the recording studio. The legacy? A fleetingly brilliant band with the hooks - and the looks - for mainstream success, but whose early promise went unfulfilled.

A l'Alqa Selser
The band formed in Brussels at the end of 1980, with charismatic singer and sax/trumpet player Marc Desmare joined by Kris Debusscher (guitar), brother Stef Debusscher (bass) and Robbie Bindels (drums), all previously members of a band called Mad Virgins. After several weeks of rehearsals, the band debuted (as The Marines) on 24 December at the Alqa Selser, a club situated on the Rue du Sel in the suburb of Anderlecht. The set included So Young (aka Life in Reverse), Too Bad (aka Marenas Bop) and Lady X (aka C'est Pas Chic aka Scrub), as well as Bamboula, Help Me I'm A Rock and Jam. In January 1981 the new band supported Suicide frontman Alan Vega at the Disque Rouge club, an eventful show which promised 'go-go dancers, tapes and excitement' and saw Marc and company joined by second guitarist Nicolas Fransolet.

With his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Marc would claim later that Marine were inundated with lucrative offers from major labels at home and abroad, and invited by RTL to record a Monkees-style television series for an enormous fee. In truth, the band followed the more orthodox route of recording a three song demo tape, which Brussels indie label Crépuscule insisted they re-record in February for release as a single.

Life In Reverse
Life in Reverse, co-produced by the band and Wim Mertens, duly appeared in April 1981 housed in an exquisite sleeve by Benoît Hennebert. The single was an immediate critical and popular success both in Belgium and the UK. Tom Hibbert, writing in London Trax, declared himself impressed by 'a slice of minimalist Euro-disco enhanced by a saxophone player who seems to have learned his "technique" from Captain Beefheart', while the NME also found praise for a foreign single on which 'drums fly from one speaker to the next, horns go in and out of the mix like there is no tomorrow'. Hot Press warned that the record 'could very well funk your butt off - and I can't think of a better way to go.'

In the UK, the NME independent chart (11.4.1981) placed Life in Reverse at number six. Sales would eventually exceed 4,000 copies, in the process providing Crépuscule with its first home-grown hit. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, Josef K consciously borrowed Marine's frenetic funk style for The Missionary, a track recorded in session for John Peel in June. Released posthumously by Crépuscule, The Missionary proved to be one of Jokay's most durable raves.

Even at this early stage some interviewers found Marc a somewhat enigmatic character. You have to know that Marc just can't make up his mind,' wrote Bert Bertrand. 'We had recorded an interview with him replying in monosyllabics, stammering and contradicting himself. He said he would rather erase the whole thing. The following days, he brought us no less than four pictures to illuminate this article, because he didn't know which one was the best. Track titles change continuously and his band may change too and even the group's moniker. Don't expect a comparative description of Marine's music or their imminent single since, like some noted French actress said to some equally noted TV person, "I don't like comparing human beings." Find instead excerpts from an interview with Marc where nothing is said about Marine...

Heaven and Hell
As well as vibing up Josef K, Marine's growing influence also served to splinter British hopefuls Repetition, who lost platinum blonde singer Sarah Osborne to the band after a Crépuscule-sponsored date at the Alqa Selser on March 3rd. Sarah relocated to Brussels to guest on just a few songs with Marine, although soon Marc found himself clutching his trumpet and singing less than half the set. June saw the band support Defunkt at the Plan K venue, and cut another excellent track, Animal In My Head, released on The Fruit of the Original Sin compilation. Raw rehearsal tapes also spawned two tracks released on a flexi disc (TWI 037) issued with the Dutch magazine Vinyl.

Over the summer of 1981 the band expanded to include Sarah as well as percussionist Roland Bindi, with Paul Delnoy taking over on bass. Activity was limited by the fact that Marc was obliged to complete a period of compulsory national service in the Belgian army, but overcame the problem by the brutally simple expedient of having his foot broken with a hockey bat. Thanks to the acclaim heaped on Life In Reverse, and a full-length feature in UK rock weekly Sounds, the band crossed to London in July for a couple of gigs at the Moonlight Club and Heaven. The latter show was a Crépuscule showcase shared with Repetition, Richard Jobson, Eric Random and Factory jazzers Swamp Children, although Marine alone drew plaudits. For inkie Sounds Chris Burkham reported:

"Marine were the spotlight. Throughout their 20, 30 (who's counting - I was soft-shoe shuffling) minute performance they managed to show up all the other bands for the sad, shallow shadows that they really are... Playing fierce, modern dance music, they jived and sweated along to a pulsating rush of sound - the only real dance sound all night."

"Onstage it was all smiles and movement. Marc, fresh from his sewer-cleaning assignments in the Belgian army, skipped and swooped along to the frenetic tide of motion - oblivious to the fact that the saxophone he as blowing with such wild abandon kept missing the microphone. It didn't matter... After their over-energetic madcap musical sprint Marine were called back for an encore, when they surprised and delighted the Heavenly crowd by covering A Man and a Woman. Their rendition of this classically beautiful film theme may have faltered slightly in places, but the spirit and emotions were intact. A spirited finish."

Alhough a cassette souvenir of the night, Rendez-Vous Au Paradis (TWI 046), never made it to the shops, the short encore was included on the Fruit of the Original Sin compilation, released four months later (TWI 035). Marine's interpretation of the Francis Lai evergreen was in truth a little patchy; indeed the frank sleevenote for TWI 035 located the gig in 'Hell' rather than Heaven.

Split Portrait
In late August the band returned to London to open for Altered Images. The trip should have wound up with two recording sessions: one a new single already assigned the catalogue number TWI 043 by Crépuscule, the other a prestigious John Peel session for BBC Radio 1, which promised to be the first by a Belgian artist. Unfortunately Marine imploded in the studio, with the result that Marc departed and took the band name with him. Sarah and the dissident instrumentalists carried on as Allez Allez and completed the recording of the Peel Session on the 29th. Broadcast under the new name, the three tracks featured - Stripped Portrait, Papa Was and Turn Up the Meter - all came from the Marine repertoire. Part of the problem seems to have been that Kris and Nico felt that charismatic frontman Marc grabbed most of the attention and credit, whereas much of the music was their work. Another factor was the end of the whirlwind romance between Marc and Sarah. Allez Allez went on to release a string of well-received funk-styled records on Scalp, EMI and Virgin, including the albums African Queen (1982) and Promises (1984).

The Marine album announced by Crépuscule in the summer of 1981, Une Soiree Avec (TWI 051), was destined never to be recorded. Interviewed by Masterbag in 1982, while still with Allez Allez, Sarah candidly revealed:

"We had our differences of opinion with Crépuscule because we rubbed them up the wrong way. We wanted to approach it from a professional point of view and do things properly, not have airy-fairy ideas. Whereas Crépuscule's line was 'it doesn't matter about money, it's all in the art.' Which is all very well - but you have to eat. So after a while they saw us as capitalist pigs. Me especially. So we left. Parted company. Bitterly."

How To Keep Cool

Marc quickly assembled a new platoon of crack Marines, hiring Alain Lefevre (drums), Paul Delnoy (bass) and guitarists Stephan Barbery and Olivier Stenuit. That autumn the band recorded their second single, a 12" EP featuring three extended tracks, with the laid-back Remember Caribou and noir-ish instrumental A Proposito dei Napoli providing the highlights. All were produced by Tuxedomoon bass wizard Peter Principle; a superb monochrome clip for Napoli was also included on the Crépuscule compilation video Umbrellas in the Sun (TWI 099). The same line-up also recorded the rough instrumental Leningrad in Winter for another compilation A Day in October, like the 12" released on Radical Records, the short-lived 'Section Francaise' of Crépuscule. However on release in February 1982 the EP received almost no reviews at all, despite showing almost as much originality and promise as Life in Reverse.

February 1982 saw Marine take part in Crépuscule's Dialogue North-South package tour, covering France, Belgium and the Netherlands, highlights from which were documented on compilation album Some of the Interesting Things You'll See On a Long-Distance Flight. Having run a full-length feature on Marine on June of the previous year, British rock weekly Sounds dispatched reporter Johnny Waller to cover the continental leg of the ambitious multi-media outing, where he found Marine "momentarily exhilarating, but ultimately unsatisfying... as though they need more space than could ever exist."

The tour wound up in London, where Marine and The Names performed at the Venue on 16 February to a small audience of perhaps three dozen punters. According to Chris Bohn, writing in NME: "The Belgian Beat comes to London, and everybody stays at home... Maybe the push of British releases would've prevented The Names and Marine playing to an empty hall. Both deserve better, if only because The Names are no better nor worse than countless British groups. Marine, though, are something else altogether."

"Marine remind one of the giddy joys of guitars that are only hinted at by the floppy fringed jangle of Haircut 100's dance pop. Marine are less precious, more fun, almost funk, yet far too fast for all but the most frenetic dancers... As in the best guitar groups, Marine's two players aren't show-offs, but fine, disciplined and gleeful rhythm workers, who churn the slip sure bass/drum hustle into a happy, contagiously clean aural equivalent to a Serge Clerc cartoon."

"Their singer, straying just the right side of dimple cutesiness, confirms the comparison with his peculiar update of the pony, alternated with a new, hitherto unseen dance involving tearing ecstatically at his pomade in time to an ungainly hip wriggle. He doesn't so much sing as bark good-time imperatives with an insistence that nevertheless leaves the prerogative of catching the mood to the listener... If Marine are aware of the educated playtime aesthetic they haven't so far embraced it - and that's not to say their prickly charm is unembraceable."

Fellow Brussels natives The Names fared less well, in Bohn's view rendered "redundant" by virtue of their "tame rhythms with suffocating synthesized cotton wool blankets."

Same Beat

In May 1982 a third Marine single appeared on Crépuscule. Same Beat (TWI 069) was spirited and energetic, though sounded a little forced, and reviews were mixed. As if to emphasize the lack of forward progress, the a-side was backed by an inconsequential dub mix, titled Dim the Light. However, it was not quite the end. In 1983 a fourth Marine single appeared on Scalp/Himalaya, bearing Marc's photo on the cover and crediting him with the overall 'concept' for Kiss My Knee. The result, a latin-orientated club work-out redolent of Kid Creole and the Ze stable, was no disaster. Yet nor was it Marine properly so called. In fact Marc had licenced the rights to the name for a session project, which thankfully went no further.

As 'Marc Du Marais', Marc went on to front La Muerte, a faux biker rock outfit whose several albums on Soundworks and PIAS between 1984 and 1991 were light years removed from the tight-but-loose exuberance of his first band. He now works as an occasional director, and is completing a documentary on cult American actor John Phillip Law. After Allez Allez folded in 1985, original guitarists Kris and Nico went on to create a TV show, Les Snuls, for Canal +, and create publicity shorts. Sarah Osborne subsequently married Heaven 17 vocalist Glenn Gregory and continued to record as a featured vocalist on dance cuts, as well as working as a visual artist.

Marine left behind too few records, but the tracks gathered on this compilation show the band at their very best. In addition, you can view video clips for Napoli and Same Beat, and well as some charming Super 8 footage shot by the band in rehearsal, and on their way to play in London in July 1981. Enjoy!

James Nice