Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The March Violets : Mortality Pledge Project reviewed

(This post breaks with the recent tradition of researching 1983 TSOM gigs and like previous posts reviewing new releases by Leather Nun and Salvation, talks of a new album of interest to TSOM fans)

The Yuletide excitement of childhood returned this year for many ageing goths, with many sprinting down the stairs on Christmas morning to see if the kindly bearded gent had left the promised delivery. Expectation reached fever pitch as laptops and tablets booted up to discover the e-mailed link to the download of the latest March Violets Pledge project, Mortality, put together by said kindly bearded gent, Mr Si Denbigh.
The March Violets are unquestionably the band most inextricably associated with TSOM, initially (summer of 1982) proving more popular than the Girls themselves on Eldritch's Merciful Release label, and Si Denbigh's crew continued to be an (unwitting?) inspiration throughout the 80s. Twin male and female "beauty and the beast" image ? That's the Floodland band image sorted. Old school all-male leather-clad rockers (Batfish Boys) ? Quelle surprise, here comes Vision Thing. Although Denbigh and Eldritch may have fallen out in the early 80s with the Violets leaving to form their own label, Rebirth, the rift was soon healed and Si served for many years as "Nurse to the Doktor", an integral part of TSOM's live entourage, until the successful reformation of the Violets (initially in 2007, then more seriously from 2011) saw him leave to re-graze former pastures.

The Violets' return was concretised with the critical success of their 2013 Pledge project resulting in the Made Glorious album, comprising the best of the songs since the band’s reformation, covering a plethora of styles but with all of the traditional elements still in place : Denbigh and (original) female vocalist Rosie Garland's very different but well-matched vocals complementing each other, the faithful mechanised clank of drum machine Dr Rhythm, the six string alchemy of vastly under-rated guitarist Tom Ashton producing as full a sound from his one guitar as most goth bands manage with two, and the driving bass sound of then new recruit, Jo Violet. However, two years later, in August 2015, the latter's departure from the band was confirmed by Denbigh on social media, as he prepared to launch the new Pledge project for 2015, the Mortality Tour and Album. This innovative idea was to give fans the chance to virtually accompany the Violets on their North American tour in the Autumn, at the end of which the band would head into the studio for a few days to re-record some old favourites in time for Christmas download release. Although the idea only attracted a couple of hundred pledgers initially, those who did sign up received regular video updates from the tour, including video footage of rehearsals, life on the road and some of the weird and wonderful venues which the band were booked into.
Joining the band for this project as Joanna Moy's replacement was none other than American goth royalty William Coulter, better known by his stage name William Faith, and former member of (amongst others) Mephisto Walz and of course Faith and the Muse (his partner in the latter band, the iconic Monica Richards having contributed a remix to the double CD for Pledgers on the Made Glorious project). The tour itself was a great success, with the set list gradually evolving to include more songs from the early 80's and fewer from the reformation, and ending with a gig on (appropriately) Hallowe'en in Chicago where they were joined on stage by the legendary Mars Williams, saxophonist with the current line-up of The Psychedelic Furs, and who coincidentally can beheard on the new promo video by Satellite Paradiso, the latest project by former Furs guitarist and of course Alice/Floorshow producer John Ashton. Mars stayed on in Chicago to add his jazz noodlings to a couple of the tracks in the subsequent recording sessions, which the workaholic Denbigh then tweaked over the remaining weeks of the year whilst also providing Pledgers with a highly novel countdown to the release of the Mortality album download in the form of an online advent calendar, featuring further unseen footage from the tour. Finally, in the early hours of Christmas morning, the download was made available, and we had our first chance to hear the finished songs (although further production and indeed track selection may have taken place by the time the physical CDs and vinyl releases are available later in 2016).
The first thing that was immediately apparent was that we had one brand new track, as previewed during the tour, entitled Mortality, a dark and fast-paced song with an understated chorus which would have sat very happily on Made Glorious. Elsewhere, the final selection of the other nine tracks revealed that none of the songs from the debut Religious as Hell EP had made the cut, but that both A and some B sides of the subsequent five indie chart-topping singles (Grooving in Green, Crow Baby, Snake Dance, Walk Into The Sun and Deep) are all present and correct. It's fair to say that none of the versions are drastically different from the originals - with more "arch" vocal phrasing here, some extra bass motifs there, and a bit (or indeed a lot) of jazz sax squawking on the likes of Lights Go Out and Walk Into The Sun - but the production is much fuller, and the songs which have all stood the test of time sound all the more potent for it. For the anorak completist (guilty as charged m'lud) there is the pleasure of hearing Rosie's more dulcet tones on some of the later tracks (rather than Cleo’s less subtle and pitchier vocals), and Simon's vocal (rightfully) restored to Deep (as he was unceremoniously booted out of the band before the single's release, although he did sing on the earlier BBC session version).
So all in all another successful Pledge project for the Violets, with the latest tally getting on for 200% of the original target set, two more legendary figures (Williams and Faith) added to the mix, and proof that there is still a great deal of interest for Violets music both new and old. With other new songs potentially in the pipeline, plus a large number of unreleased songs from the early/mid 80s (Miracle of the Rose, Big Soul Kiss, Kill The Delight etc etc) still available for (or is this wishful thinking on my part?) a future Pledge project, although the Violets are clearly aware of their own Mortality, this latest offering shows that there is plenty of life left in the old dog yet. Play loud, play purple!

(At the time of writing, it is still possible to "pledge" on this highly recommended project - http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/mortality )

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