“I’ve experienced violence” he shudders “And it’s made me scared of ever being violent, or ever having a family, or ever having a wife, or ever having a drink.”
(Jaime Harding, Melody Maker, March 12th 1994)
“Who is the worst person you’ve ever met?” “Erm…my dad.”
(Jaime Harding, NME, June 1994)
When Marion released their debut single, “Violent Men”, in 1994 it appeared to tell the tale of a frightened girl, trapped in a home where violence was a terrifying part of her everyday life. It was a slice of the darker side of life that few other bands at that time were dealing with. Looking back at the comments in the Melody Maker, made some three months before the single was released, it is clear that the frightened girl in the song was, in fact, Harding. That ability to write so honestly and yet through the eyes of another, almost viewing his own life as an out of body experience, set Harding apart from the “knees up muvver brahn” of some other writers of the time. That is not a criticism of the upbeat, the frivolous or the slight but is merely an observation of what made Marion separate from many of their peers.
From the very early stages of the Marion story comparisons were being made with The Smiths and Joy Division. It’s easy to see why. Manchester, a “troubled” childhood, an intensity in the sound, lyrical themes, honesty…the side of life that so many of us know but that so few of us feel confident, or comfortable, about discussing. There were also some very direct links to The Smiths, particularly their relationship with Joe Moss. Moss, of course, had managed The Smiths and when he received an early demo from Marion he offered his services to them, even allowing them to rehearse in the basement of “The Night and Day Cafe” in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. The links between the two bands were cemented when Marion were awarded the support slot on Morrissey’s UK tour in 1995. Despite those seemingly obvious bonds Harding wasn’t exactly effusive about Mozzer during that tour, speaking to the Melody Maker he said “Were we ever big Smiths fans? No, not really. We were too young, man. I mean, Morrissey’s done good stuff…but when did The Smiths split? 1987? We were 12 years old. We’re not into the past, we’re into the future and the present.”
“Musically I couldn’t care less what this band sounded like – the emotions are the important bits”
(Jaime Harding, NME, June 1994)
Marion existed, in one form or another, in the life of Jaime Harding from the age of 11. “I started singing at school, and Keith, my best mate, would have to listen to me saying “Hey, look at these lyrics – “the past is our only mistake”! And he’d be going “Get out of it…what the fuck are you on about?”. It’s rare, I think, for anyone so young to know, with such absolute certainty, that they want to be an artist of any description and then to pursue that path. It certainly wasn’t an easy path to walk for them, no Brit School for this gang of outsiders from Macclesfield. Their home town during the 1980’s, like so much of the North, would have been gritty and keeping your eyes on any kind of better future would have been a challenge.
After Jaime read “Morrissey and Marr: The Severed Alliance” he forged a friendship with Joe Moss, having been impressed by the way Moss was portrayed. The band of five comprised Harding on vocals, Anthony Grantham and Phil Cunningham on guitars, Murad Mousa on drums and Julian Phillips on bass. Tucked away in that basement rehearsal space in the Northern Quarter they began to become Marion. After 9 months of practice, tweaking, fine tuning and repeating they were ready for London shows. They were signed by Rough Trade and released “Violent Men” which sparked a bidding war that was eventually won by London Records. Their time had come.
In January of 1995 I attended the Glasgow leg of the NME “Brat Pack” tour at the Garage on Sauchiehall Street. Marion were the main draw on a bill that also included Veruca Salt, 60ft Dolls and Skunk Anansie. What I witnessed that night was something that borders on the indescribable. They were ferocious. Each song was thrown at the audience with a thunderous, nearly tangible, fireball of rage, mania, love and desire. I couldn’t take my eyes off of Harding. He danced with the microphone stand, he prowled the stage, he leered, he winked, and he owned the stage, the venue and the night. I fell head over heels in love.
A month later and I was in Motherwell to see Morrissey. Marion were the support act. This time they had to contend with an audience who actively did not want to see them. As the crowd chanted the name of Morrissey through the opening numbers of their set I could see Jaime’s face darkening. “In six months, you’ll all be paying to see US!” he sneered. Absolute belief. It can’t be arrogance when you really are that good. The crowd shut their mouths and by the end of the set you could sense that people were torn…they had come to see the Emperor but had witnessed his heir and they wanted to pay tribute.
“Sleep” was released in February of 1995. An NME review at the time declared that Marion were “eminently ignorable” which is the sort of catty, snarky and sarcastic comment that we had all come to grow to loathe in the music press at that time. The truth was that nobody was ignoring Marion. Their concerts were selling out, crowds were falling at their feet, there wasn’t a student union or indie club in the land who were not playing their records and anyone who was watching knew that something big was looming on the horizon.
When “Toys For Boys” was released a few months later it served as further evidence that this was a band who could really be…something. The music press though had decided to deride and there were further bitter, mean and spiteful reviews, most noticeably from the NME (again) who seemed to have decided that Marion were “out”. Ironically, boys and girls up and down the country who really knew what it was like to be “out” were resolutely, defiantly “in” when it came to Marion. Thankfully the editor of the live desk at the NME hadn’t received the memo and it was here that the truth of Marion could be found. “What Marion add to this is a fury of distilled malevolence. When Jaime half croons, half taunts, “Sometimes it feels so nice to laugh at you when you cry.” in a cataclysmic “Late Gate Show”, it’s almost as if his rage is being taken out on someone, anyone who happens to be caught in the flood of emotions”.
It would be early 1996 before the debut album “This World and Body” finally arrived. The question was, of course, would it be worth the wait? The answer, of course, was yes. It had been obvious from the singles and live shows that Marion were a band where each member had put the hours in, no blaggers, no part-timers, nobody in just because they looked the part. Listening to the album three things leap out at you; Jaime is a fine singer and songwriter, Phil Cunningham is a fabulous guitarist and the rhythm section were much more than bodies in the studio. The fact that the album reached the top ten in its first week of release proves that there was “something” about Marion.
The songs are filled with desire, longing, angst, passion, rage, love and death. The guitars swoop and slide. The bass rolls and rumbles. The voice soars, yelps, whispers, sighs and screams. The drums beat, pound and rattle your bones. The singles “Sleep”, “Let’s All Go Together”, “Toys for Boys” and “Time” were all present and correct, only “Violent Men” was absent. The truth of the matter is that there were at least another three songs that could have been singles; “Fallen Through”, “The Only Way” (which did get a release on a Club Spangle E.P) and “I Stopped Dancing” are all songs that would make a “Best of…” compilation for dozens of other better known and more successful acts. Not convinced? Just take three minutes and eighteen seconds out of your life and look at this;
“The band is something we all need to do. When I write, I write lyrics that deal with emotions and I channel all my emotions into songs. Without it I would be a sad-arse like I was before Marion gave me the opportunity of doing this full-time for the rest of my life.”
(Jaime Harding, RAW, 1996)
The promotion for “This World and Body” included nearly eighteen months of touring. Up and down the UK, the States and Europe. Solo shows. Support slots. Festivals. For people in the crowd the live performance looks like the best job in the world, hundreds of adoring fans, people dancing and singing to the songs you’ve written, posters on the wall, autographs…glamorous. What do you do for the other 23 hours when you are not on stage or when you don’t have a show at all? For many people in bands the answer is, often tragically, drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Then more drugs.
“Then I started doing way too many drugs – the wrong drugs. I’d always used speed and cocaine but the heroin really took hold round the making of The Program. Johnny hated it because he’d dealt with that part of his life a long time ago. We were supposed to get Chrissie Hynde in for backing vocals but she’d had bandmates who’d died from drug use and she’d have been disgusted. Johnny and the band, and Joe, stuck by me for way longer than they should have. But by the time the record was finished, I was good for nothing.”
“I was good for nothing.”
Oscar Wilde said that “Nothing should be beyond hope, life is hope” and when one thinks of a young man who before his life has really begun thinking that he is good for nothing it’s enough to make you weep. The cliche of the tortured artist is one that is all too familiar and, I think, is applied far too freely to people who don’t really know what it means to suffer. In the case of Jaime I think he really is a man who has demons, who has experienced pain and who is simply trying to cope, to make sense of it all.
By the time the band started working on the follow up to “This World and Body” tensions were already all too evident. Joe Moss had persuaded Johnny Marr to come on board as producer. It should have been a brilliant moment, a record that would shift them from the fringes to the forefront of the music scene. That things didn’t go that way is no reflection on the album, it was another tremendous record.
“The Program” is a huge leap forward from a fairly impressive starting point. The problem is that the heroin “thing” was overshadowing the “real” thing; the music. Shortly after the release of the lead single from the album, “Miyako Hideaway”, the NME ran a full page interview with Jaime entitled “Jaime’s Addiction”. Three quarters of that interview is devoted to discussing drugs. A live review in the same journal a few weeks later was entitled “The Drugs Didn’t Work”. Next up was an article in the Melody Maker, “Running with the Smack”. Are you getting the picture?
“Miyako Hideaway” was released in March of 1998 and was the last single from Marion. A year later and Marion were a memory. A band who had promised so much, a band who had meant so much to a loyal gaggle of disciples, a band who had faced down the snides in the music press, a band with more verve, vim and vigour than many of their peers, a band who meant it…gone.
Here’s a funny thing about drugs, not funny “ha ha” but funny “peculiar”. They tend to get in the way of things. Relationships. Careers. Hopes. Dreams. Ambitions. All break apart on the rocks that form the shoreline of the addict’s life. Lies, deceit, betrayal, crime, misdemeanours…these are the things that, more often than not, fill the life of the soul who has committed his life, albeit inadvertently, to drugs. Specially heroin.
In the years following the demise of Marion there have been sporadic highs in the form of reunions, live shows, new line-ups and anniversaries. Sadly those green shoots of recovery haven’t actually been green shoots of recovery but simply reminders of what once was and what might have been. The details of what has happened in the life of Jaime are there for those who are interested.
The past is the past.
A foreign country.
I’m interested in the future.
A pessimist may well never be disappointed but there’s little joy to be found in that way of living.
Here’s an interesting thing. In April of this year Jaime Harding is going to be appearing at the Moz Army Meet at Manchester’s “Star and Garter”. That, most definitely, isn’t Madison Square Gardens or Wembley Stadium but it’s a something to hold onto. A short set of Marion songs is promised. I hope the people in attendance shower him with love, that some of the bolder and more beautiful souls put their arms around him and tell him that they love him. It’s love that will be the soothing balm of Gilead for this bruised heart of a man.
What are we waiting for?