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In Their Own Words

I Was A Marine Girl: Kurt, Courtney, LCD & Me By Tracey Thorn
The Quietus , May 20th, 2010 10:08

In a fascinating piece for the Quietus, Tracey Thorn wonders why the Marine Girls have had such an impact on anyone from LCD Soundsystem to Courtney Love and Nirvana

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In 1994, eleven years after the Marine Girls split up, I was appearing on Later with Jools Holland, performing with Massive Attack. Also on the show that night was Courtney Love with her band Hole. Widely regarded at the time as something of a loose cannon, she was the focus of all attention in the studio that day, and when the bands gathered on their respective sets for the filming there was a sense that all eyes were on her, mine included. Just before the cameras started rolling she looked across to our stage, put down her guitar and strode across the empty central area to crouch down next to me. "Hey", she said, "you're Tracey from the Marine Girls! Kurt and I were both huge fans of your band" (he was not long dead at this point) - "y'know, Kurt always wanted to do a cover of that song of yours, ‘In Love’. More or less speechless, I managed to mumble something polite in return, before she strode back and the show continued.

At the time I'm not sure I entirely believed her. It was one of those bizarre showbiz encounters that happen from time to time, where things are said, and you're never quite sure how much of it is true. What I pieced together later was that it was a distant old friend of ours called Calvin Johnson who had carried the Marine Girls' legacy to Portland, Oregon - first by forming a band almost entirely in our image, called Beat Happening, (whose records he had sent me during the 80s), and then by being part of the label Sub Pop which ultimately signed Nirvana. He had played Beach Party to Kurt and Courtney, along with things like the Raincoats and Kleenex.

The whole unlikely story only finally became real for me when Kurt Cobain's Journals were published in 2002, and I was able to see for myself, in his own handwriting, our appearance in his many lists of favourite bands. There are the Marine Girls on page 128 and page 241, while on page 77, in a list of his favourite songs, are two of mine, Honey and In Love. Most incredibly, on page 271 Beach Party is listed as one of Nirvana's Top 50 albums, along with the Sex Pistols, the Clash, and Public Enemy.

Fast forward to May 2010, now a full TWENTY-SEVEN years after the demise of the Marine Girls. I am back on Jools Holland's Later, this time performing as a solo artist, and also on the show are the current incarnation of all things hip and New York - LCD Soundsystem. I'm sitting watching them set up to do their song, when a member of the band looks up and sees me, strides across to where I'm sitting and says - yeah you guessed it - "I just HAVE to tell you, I have always been such a huge fan of the Marine Girls ..."

This is clearly going to be a recurring theme of my life, and it is of course a wonderful thing, and makes me very proud, but it does just beg the question, what on earth is it, or was it, about the Marine Girls that means we cast this long and somewhat unlikely shadow? We only ever really performed a handful of proper gigs, and released two albums, which went on to sell something in the region of 50,000 copies each, and so we might have expected to be forgotten fairly quickly. But in fact the opposite has happened, and in that mysterious late-night obsessive world of the internet we have become a somewhat seminal post-punk DIY band, more revered now than we ever were at the time. Those who loved us, you see, loved us deeply and enduringly, and those who understood the singular nature of the music we made, saw themselves reflected and represented in our refusal to adhere to either mainstream pop or underground rock ‘n’ roll rules. We conducted ourselves as though none of those rules existed, or as if they simply didn't apply to us, and when I spoke to Alice Fox (singer) recently, she said to me that she thought we were "radical and brave", and I can see what she means.

We used to get up on stage in front of mostly male crowds who'd come to see a rock gig, and we'd quietly but defiantly play our heartfelt songs about boys we loved or boys we despised, mixing in strange and ever-so-slightly random references to the sea. We had no drummer, but hit little wood-blocks, often not in time with each other, Alice and I sang separately, and sometimes together, and not always in tune with each other. But it was artless and sincere, not arch. We made no fetish of our shortcomings, in fact mostly trying our best to overcome them. What you hear on record is the sound of us trying our very best to sound like a band, but most of the time we sounded like nothing and nobody else around. We created an almost magical sense of other-worldliness, hand-built our own little universe, and when audiences were allowed a glimpse of it, often they were entranced.

In all honesty, the Marine Girls were probably one of those bands who could only ever have lasted for a couple of albums. Our split was perhaps the most rock ‘n’ roll thing we ever did, in that in took place in a dressing room, after a fraught gig at which we were heckled, and was not without acrimony. We were very young, so the aftermath was poorly handled by all of us, and it was years before we ever talked to each other about it, and made our peace with the mess we'd made. Still, all that said, there is a kind of perfection in us having split up just when we did, leaving a legacy of a more-or-less entirely uncompromised version of indie-pop.

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May 20, 2010 3:00pm

It is a bit of surprise... but then if Marine Girls were a band I held dearly for all those years... to your first solo albums... the first EBTG single and the following albums... and now back to Tracey solo... they must have been held dearly by so many more...

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Johnny Black
May 20, 2010 4:55pm

Such a lovely piece! It brought it all back for me, the love I had for The Marine Girls and for Tracy's solo album.

Nobody but nobody was doing anything like that at the time and you just had to treasure them for it. It sounded to me like Astrud Gilberto had somehow pitched up in Brighton or Eastbourne and was busking on the prom.

Fond as I later was of Everything But The Girl, it's still those early records that I treasure.

My thanks to Tracy for confirming everything I ever suspected about those days in her life.

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May 20, 2010 8:56pm

well for me the marine girls came first. I was also a seperate fan of Ben watt when the Cherry Red compilation(year??) came out and Tracey and Ben were featured (along with Marc Almond, The The and many others). i wore Ben's coat and hat, longed for Alice...and then EBGT..heaven....
but I still listen to Lazy ways/Beach Party and will love it forever (Second Sight is genius and remains in my top5)..thank you M girls x you rember me and my friend blagging our way backstage to interview you in s'ton in '85

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Ross McConnell
May 21, 2010 12:42am

Animal shoes. Like the deserts, Miss Lorraine.

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Ross in Moffat (Bonnie Scotland)
May 21, 2010 1:35am

I've still got a MG cassette tape somewhere in a box that I bought when I was 14 years old and at school in Hertford about a million years ago. I remember having a crush on Alice when we met at a party once although I had a crush on most girls I met back then. :) I keep hoping that someone puts together some guitar tablature for Beach Party, Lazy Ways, North Marine Drive & A Distant Shore so duff guitar players like me could strum through their well spent youth.

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May 21, 2010 8:14am

anyone remember The Softies? also on Calvin Johnson's K Records label and with a huge Marine Girls influence.

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May 21, 2010 8:49am

Marine Girls were and are still, a great band. BIG UP GINA

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May 21, 2010 11:18am

In reply to HR:

Thanks HR =)

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May 21, 2010 12:32pm

I always liked Alice's take on the split, personally.

Alice: "Marine Girls split because Tracey was too square. Tracey wanted to write ballads for estate agents. Jane wanted to throw ping-pong balls onto xylophones."

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May 24, 2010 9:21am

In reply to Jerry:

"Tracey wanted to write ballads for estate agents" - which just about sums up Everything But The Girl for me, I'm afraid...

Nice piece though, and always good to be appreciated for your work, even if it's decades too late.

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John Doran
May 24, 2010 10:30am

In reply to Red_Dog:

It's a bit snide to be honest and it doesn't really mean anything.

"X wanted to make music for estate agents, whereas I wanted to make music for librarians, holistic rug makers and horse whisperers."

What a deeply unpleasant and patronising stance.

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May 24, 2010 2:03pm

In reply to John Doran:

True enough, and yet somehow quite apposite for the kind of break up conversations we've all had when we were in bands at an early age - "I was an artist, you were an idiot" kind of thing. As Tracey herself says, "we were very young, so the aftermath was poorly handled by all of us" - how many us can truly say we've avoided situations like that, back in the day when EVERYTHING was important...?

Otherwise, please discard my personal feelings about EBTG, being as they are tied up with a certain girl at a certain time in my life etc etc

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May 28, 2010 1:19pm

In reply to arne:

LOVED the softies....especially It's Love. It always felt (just like the Marine Girls) that it could have been written in Provincetown in the off season. Same with A Distant Shore. That album especially has a mystique to it that feels especially tied to a quite, lonely seaside town in the past. It feels like it was written in a place with very little distraction from one's own lonliness. I'd love to hear more about that record.

That was a lovely written piece. If you haven't, you need to hear Aluminum Group's version of Love To Know. sooo good.

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Mar 23, 2011 8:04pm

Unfortunately I was born after the Marine Girls broke up, but still their music (and EBTG and Tracey solo) are big inspirations to me.

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Jun 17, 2012 2:33am

Have jusy stumbled upon this piece and how wonderful an insight it is. I loved the Marine Girls when I first heard them on John Peel way back when and have carried them with me all these years. I have oftened wondered why they were so special and TT has beautifully explained it very succinctly! Lazy ways makes me cry everytime .......... it always makes me feel a strange sense of loss of something I can't quite explain....

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Elias Laurent
Jul 26, 2013 6:30am

In reply to Red_Dog:

Uhm, no.

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Oct 18, 2014 9:04am

"A Distant Shore" pops up on shuffle on my ipod, from time to time, on shuffle. Love it. Must dig out my "Beach Party" cassette.

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