Friday, June 21, 2019


When I was a boy I was always suspicious of Marcs, feeling them to be a little affected in their ways, a name for hairdressers and models, not actually realising that the name, in that spelling, is a diminutive, for Marcus. Marks always seemed more manly. Anyway, this is not a tale of two Marc/ks, being a little more complicated than that, as Marc Almond is one person and Mark Almond, or to be more correct, Mark-Almond were a core of two, but with anything up to another 30 associated. Let me explain........

Jon Mark, guitar/vocals, and Johnny Almond, sax and flute, were a pair of jobbing musicians in the 60s, each earning a pedigree from a combination of sessions and the company they kept. Mark was in the short-lived 'Sweet Thursday', alongside Nicky Hopkins, later becoming bandleader and musical arranger for Marianne Faithfull's nascent works. Almond was kept busy in 'Zoot Money's Big Roll Band', also including later Police-man, Andy Summers, and the ex-Animal, Alan Price's 'Alan Price Set'. Meeting on the sessions scene and becoming members of the legendary John Mayall's band, like all Mayall alumni, the logical next step was to form a band. Arguably jazzers more than rockers, their music was a hybrid of the two, with hints of the later Steely Dan in some of the moods evoked. Augmented by a swathe of the great and the good in both genres, with the likes of Billy Cobham, Dannie Richmond and Steve Gadd present on occasion, individually if not collectively, and that is just the drummers. They actually lasted way longer than just the first two albums I am familiar with, with a number of reunions, ahead of finally calling it a day in the mid 80s. Mark still plays music, producing new-age and celtic fare, actually gaining a Grammy for a record of tibetan chants in 2004. Almond died in 2009.

Marc Almond actually was a Mark, leaving this behind him as he started his musical career. (What did he leave behind him? Do keep up.) With training in performance art, his childhood idols were Marc Bolan and David Bowies, hints of whom remain evident in his extravagant feyness. It was whilst he was at college that he met Dave Ball, the pair forming 'Soft Cell' in around 1980, with massive worldwide success arriving in 1981 with 'Tainted Love', a song by Gloria Jones, the wife (and widow) of Bolan, originally the b-side and segued with 'Where Did Our Love Go', the Supreme's hit. More slow burning in the U.S. than Europe, it got as far as number 8 on the Billboard chart, but later held the record for the most number of consecutive weeks on the chart. Some further success followed but the band were short-lived, splitting 3 years later, bar a later (or the inevitable) brief reunion tour.

Since then Almond has had a varied career, veering between distinctly arthouse material and more obvious chart-bothering, such as gloriously over the top duets with Gene Pitney and with Bronski Beat. His camp persona and theatrical overtones seemed  entirely appropriate for Gallic chanson styles, and one success came with his covers of Jacques Brel, 'Jacques', and then a more varied set in a similar style, 'Absinthe'. Later years saw him move to Moscow and work with russian artists on traditional folk song based material. In 2004, and back in London, he sustained a life-threatening motorbike accident, taking some few years to recover. Sustained by a decidedly odd covers album, he has since been been energetically pursuing increasingly widespread projects, with collaborators as disparate as neo-classical composer, John Harle, and, as above, boogie-woogie TV presenter and ex-Squeeze pianist, Jools Holland, with whom he has toured extensively.

I feel some irony that, given the purpose of this piece, to demarcate the differences between the similarly named artists, now, in 2019, the idea of Marc Almond fronting Mark-Almond would seem strangely not so odd. A pity it can't happen.


blog comments powered by Disqus