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Marine \ Biography

Without doubt one of the best early signings to signed by Les Disques du Crépuscule, Marine split within a year of their first recording. The result? 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 debut concert was performed (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 (now with second guitarist Nicolas Fransolet) still billed as 'Marines'.

Marc subsequently claimed that the band were immediately inundated with lucrative offers from major labels at home and abroad, and invited by RTL to record a Monkees-style television series for a huge fee. In truth, the band followed the more orthodox route of recording a three song demo tape, which chic 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 proved 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 (11.4.81) placed Life in Reverse at number six. Sales would eventually exceed 4000 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 (and ironically) by Crépuscule, The Missionary proved to be one of the Haig/Ross partnership's most durable raves.

Even at this early stage some interviewers found Marc somewhat enigmatic. Bert Bertrand: You have to know that Marc just can't make up his mind. 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 incestuous 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 with the object of singing just a few songs with Marine, but quickly 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 superb track, Animal In My Head, eventually released on The Fruit Of The Original Sin compilation. Rough rehearsal tapes also spawned two chaotic tracks released on a flexi disc (TWI 037) issued with the Dutch magazine Vinyl.

Over the summer of 1981 the band expanded from the original four-piece to include Sarah as well as percussionist Roland Bindi, with Paul Delnoy taking over on bass. Activity was somewhat 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 by the rest of the band. Thanks to the acclaim helped on Life in Reverse and a full-length feature in UK rock weekly Sounds, the band crossed to London in July for a brace of live shows 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 weekly 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.

Even though a cassette souvenir of the night, Rendez-Vous Au Paradis (TWI 046), never made it to the shops, all one minute and nine seconds of the encore was included on The Fruit of the Original Sin compilation, released four months later. Marine's interpretation of the Francis Lai evergreen was a little patchy, and a frank sleevenote for The Fruit Of The Original Sin 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, and a prestigious John Peel session for BBC Radio One - almost certainly the first by a Belgian artist. However the band imploded while in the studio, with the result that Marc split and took the name. Sarah and the dissident Marine instrumentalists carried on as Allez Allez, and completed the recording of the Peel Session on the 29th. Although broadcast under the new name, the three tracks featured - Stripped Portrait, Papa Was and Turn Up the Meter - are tracks from the Marine repertoire. Part of the problem seems to have been that Kris and Nico felt that as 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 never 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 the noir-ish instrumental A Proposito dei Napoli providing the highlights. All three tracks 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), released some months later. 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, whose low profile meant that the release was largely overlooked. Indeed on release in February 1982 the 12" received almost no reviews at all, Despite showing almost as much originality and promise as Life in Reverse.

February 1982 also saw Marine take part in Crépuscule's ambitious Dialogue North-South package tour (documented on the compilation Some Of The Interesting Things You'll See On A Long-Distance Flight), on which the band also played dates in France, Belgium and Holland. British rock weekly Sounds had run a full length feature article on the band in June the previous year, and dispatched reporter Johnny Waller to cover the continental leg, 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 played at The Venue on 16 February to a small audience of perhaps three dozen punters. According to Chris Bohn, writing in the 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 (who followed) fared less well, in Bohn's view rendered 'redundant' by virtue of their 'tame rhythms with suffocating synthesized cotton wool blankets'. Spotters should note that a very low-fi live recording of the Marine song Same Beat was later included on the cassette and vinyl versions of the Some Of The Interesting Things... tour document, but not on the later CD.

Same Beat

In May 1982 a third Marine single appeared on Crépuscule, Same Beat (TWI 069). While spirited and energetic, however, Same Beat sounded a tad 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. In fact Marc had simply sold 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 a video 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 also create publicity shorts. Sarah Osborne subsequently married Heaven 17 vocalist Glenn Gregory, 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

April 2004