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Back on November 1st, 2019, I finally had the chance to see Marc Almond live.

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Through the years, Marc Almond has always been one of my favorite performers. Like many others, I was introduced to him through Soft Cell. I was in my adolescence when Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love hit the charts. In my late teens, someone passed on their copy of Non-Stop Caberet to my vinyl collection. That’s when I discovered the true essence of Soft Cell.

While Tainted Love was Soft Cell’s biggest hit, the band was so much more than a Northern Soul cover. The tune Tainted Love has it’s own history separate from Soft Cell. The original version was written by Ed Cobb, and sung by Gloria Jones back in 1965. Jones later re-recorded the song in 1976.  She became romantically involved with Marc Bolan from the ’70s Glam rock band T. Rex. Her and Bolan had a child together, Rolan Bolan, born in 1975. From 1981 onward, Tainted Love is best known as part of the Soft Cell collection. The single has continued to be covered. The most notable covers since Soft Cell were from Coil in 1985, and in 2001 by Marilyn Manson.

Perhaps when I have time, I’ll do a blog post focusing just on Tainted Love itself.

Back to Soft Cell. Soon after listening to Non-Stop Caberet and the following E.P. Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing, I acquired the band’s other albums: The Art of Falling Apart and This Last Night in Sodom.  Soft Cell broke up in 1984. Marc and his band mate David Ball didn’t get back together until 2002, releasing their final album Cruelty Without Beauty. In 2018, Soft Cell got together one final time. They did a sold out concert at London’s O2 venue. With that, I figured that was that. Marc Almond mostly plays in Europe. I had Marc himself back in 1988. He was doing a signing at a local NYC record shop called *Vinylmania. It was promotion for his solo album Stars We Are, a brilliant album that still holds up to this day.  However, I was under the impression that to see Marc live, I would eventually travel to Europe. Which wouldn’t be a bad idea. It’s just not within my current budget. From time to time, I would curse myself for not catching any of his other past U.S. live appearances. Then during the late summer of 2019, a bit of news bleeped on my social media radar. Learned through Instagram that Marc Almond was doing a brief U.S. tour in junction with Lethal Amounts, a fashion, art and club collective from Los Angeles, California. As I was riding a local bus in Queens with cell in hand, I noticed the link for pre-sale tickets.

Click.

Fast forward to November 1st, 2019. I’d been looking forward to this show for a few months. The venue, Brooklyn Bazaar was on it’s last legs, apparent by the broken hand rail by the stairs and the worn carpets. Regardless, excitement could be felt, for the event was completely sold out. It was standing room only. Barely any room to stand, never mind walk. As I was squeezing through the crowd, I spotted artist and musician Anohni, (formerly Antony Hegarty, from Antony and The Johnsons). That shouldn’t been no surprise. Anohni always mentioned how much Marc had been influential with her own work. Over the years, her and Marc have collaborated on songs, together with David Tibet’s Current 93, and with the annual Meltdown festival back in August 2012.

After the brief opening act of Amanda LePore, (Check out the song Champagne) Marc took the stage with guitarist Neal X, formerly of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Throughout the night, Marc did all the songs I’ve always loved throughout his career. He even performed tunes from his Marc and The Mambas era – my absolute favorite. Marc and The Mambas is right at the top spot, with Soft Cell, and then his album Stars We Are following. Oh, and yes, he did that cover of the Jacques Brel ditty Jackie.

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Marc Almond performs at Brooklyn Bazaar, Nov. 1st, 2019.

That’s one of the amazing things about Marc Almond. The versatility throughout his career. How he can easily have one foot in classic pop, and another foot in the avant-garde. Not many can accomplish this feat, but Marc makes it look so easy. A mark of a true artist is how the artist can constantly reinvent. It’s genius, really.

Oh, and yes, he did all the Soft Cell classics. Marc did each and every Soft Cell song that I’ve had on constant rotation: Numbers, Heat, Sex Dwarf, Say Hello Wave Goodbye, and Torch, (the one with Cindy Ecstasy doing background vocals). To answer your question, yes he did Tainted Love. The same song that introduced me to Marc during my adolescence has now become my least favorite song in his catalog. Only because it’s been played so much over the years. Familiarly breeds contempt. It’s very similar to how everyone loves Karma Chameleon by Culture Club – but as a Boy George fan myself, I usually pass. But if you put on Marc and The Mambas, now you’re talking. That’s just me.

Afterwards, Hercules & Love Affair did a DJ set, but I didn’t stick around too long. Did a rare purchase of a concert tee – Marc Almond with the Sex Cells logo. It’s a shirt I’ll be proud to wear for years to come. Just like I used to have Marc’s autobiography until the book got damaged.

Anyway, thank you Marc for performing an awesome set that night. (Despite the crappy sound mixing from Brooklyn Bazaar.) When I eventually do visit Europe, hopefully I’ll get to see Marc live again. In the meantime, I did this quick sketch in Marc’s honor.

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Portrait of Marc Almond. Pen and ink. Michele Witchipoo. Done in Jan. 2020.

(*Editor’s note: Vinylmania had two stores on Carmine Street, West Village area in NYC. One was dedicated to House music. The other store dealt with Pop and imports. Vinylmania was where I brought one of my first ever ‘Goth’ records – a 12 inch of the Bauhaus single Bela Lugosi Is Dead. NYC record stores of yesteryear would make another good blog post.

(** Editor’s note: For all the Soft Cell fans, you can also check out my other two blog post on Cindy Ecstasy, originally posted May 2012. For those into Marc and The Mambas, you can check out this post dated April 2012.)

 

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Continuing where I left off yesterday, (Yesterday’s blog post) now I’m going into music pins, buttons and badges of the 1980s.

My button collection started during my preteen years. It was around sometime during the early ’80’s, and I had just discovered rock music. The closest supplier of these badges was a local head shop called Yogi Lala, located in Astoria, Queens. For a small shop it was jammed packed full of juvenile delinquent merchandise. All sorts of hippie accouterments, silver biker jewelry, patches, drug paraphernalia, and hard rock band tee shirts. If you wanted the back of your jean jacket painted with a rendition of a particular Black Sabbath album cover, this was the place. For good measure, Yogi Lala mixed the sex, drugs and rock n roll wares with some 14k gold trinkets.

There was certainly a variety of genres covered within the rock music merch this place sold. Not only did they have your average classic rock groups like The Who, Led Zepplin, Pink Floyd, etc., but they also had the burn out Hard Rock stuff, Heavy Metal, and the newer New Wave and some Punk rock stuff. Mostly the more famous, or should I stay infamous bands like The Sex Pistols.

If you couldn’t find what you were looking for in Yogi’s, you could always walk further down Steinway Street, which to this day is one of Astoria’s main shopping areas, and check out Jolly Joint. The Jolly Joint’s store was a bit more spread out. It was a head shop as well, with a tiny more emphasis on the music. Jolly Joint was pretty successful in its day, with a second shop on Main Street, located in Flushing, Queens.

Jolly Joint is no more. Yogi Lala is still around, but they mostly sell gold jewelry now.

Anyway, I would start to buy these small music pins from these kind of stores. The pins would be proudly arranged with style and care on my jacket before heading off to my crappy junior high. The other kids would make fun of me listening to rock music, but I paid them no mind. I loved The Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Soft Cell, Human League and David Bowie.

Metal David Bowie pin from the 1980s. Let’s Dance era. Most likely brought at Yogi Lala during 1983. Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

I was very fascinated with the whole New Wave and Punk subculture, even back in junior high, although my tastes at the time were more mainstream. Guess this is when I started observing different types of counter cultures.

Assortment of Culture Club pins from the 1980s. Check out the “Boy George for President” button. Maybe since it’s election year in 2012, should I start wearing this again? Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

Then came Culture Club. I loved Boy George so much, I even tried to dress like him. If you look in the photo, you can see a button that says “Boy George For President.” As I type this, it’s election year of 2012. Perhaps I should start wearing this one again?

Anyway, my attempts of emulating the Boy just resulted in more verbal abuse from my classmates. The comments got more ignorant too. My favorite one? “Are you a fag lover?”

Since I hated my junior high so much, I swore I would never continue getting my education alongside these ignorant f-heads. So I applied for a whole bunch of the NYC ‘magnet’ schools. To both my surprise and relief, I got immediately accepted into the High School of Art and Design. From there I met more like-minded peers. One of these kids would take me to my first ‘underground’ club, despite the underage factor. It was the original Danceteria, and I loved every second of it. Another girl took me to my first excursion into Greenwich Village. It was up and down 8th street to be exact. Eighth street at the time was the main shopping strip of the village area, full of record stores, imported shoe shops, clothing stores, etc. Located towards more going 6th avenue was The Postermat. That was my new found base for my button fix.

During my freshman year, my tastes in music was leaning towards mainstream rock, top-40, new wave and imported UK pop bands. I was still big into Culture Club then. For a brief time though, I was listening to the newer metal bands like Motley Crue and Twisted Sister.

Dee Snider, lead singer of Twisted Sister. 1980s pin. Possibly gotten from a button trade. Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

Sometimes us A&D students would trade with one another. I traded something for the U2 band shot, as seen in the middle of the pic below. I think a friend gave me the Cyndi Lauper and Prince pins. A loner guy mysteriously gave me the Billy Idol one. I forgot where the Frankie Goes To Hollywood button came from. Check out the photo below. I’m surprised I still even have these.

Various 1980s music buttons. Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

Needless to say this phase didn’t last long. I discovered Siouxsie and The Banshees. Right there everything changed. Went to Astor Place for a major haircut, dying my hair much to my father’s chagrin. My wardrobe completely changed. I discovered Bleecker Bob’s, purchasing a second hand pair of combat boots. Boy, did those boots piss my mom off.

Most importantly, my music tastes had changed. I embraced the classic 80s Goth and Post-Punk bands. I liked much of the seminal ’77 Punk stuff, like The Ramones, for example. Although I never got into the Hardcore or crossover genres that much. As you can guess, my button collection reflected this. Instead of Culture Club and U2, I had bands such as The Damned, Bauhaus, and Sisters of Mercy. Most of the classic 80s Goth bands found a spot on my schoolbag. Only I wasn’t going to school as much. I had also discovered playing hooky. That particular discovery is something I still regret to this very day. I’m making up for lost time now, but there’s still a ping of regret somewhere.

Unfortunately, most of my button collection from that particular time is gone. Don’t know where they went. Perhaps they’re in a draw somewhere at my parents’ house, but at this point I’m not going to bother looking. It’s the past after all.

I did find this, however. An X-Ray Specs pin, which I think I might’ve gotten from the original Manic Panic shop in St. Mark’s Place. Was it that, or was it the pin that said “Oh bondage up yours!” I think it was the latter. That particular pin was stolen by none other than this kid Mike Waste. He stole from almost everyone. Not only did he steal that pin, he also stole my Cure shirt and something else. A total creep who told tall tales. He had ratty hair extensions that clung for dear life from the brim of his cap. Yet I heard about the early Industrial bands through him. I always knew he lifted from me. I suppose twenty years later I’m kinda sorta getting my revenge by calling him out on a public blog.

Here’s the X-Ray Specs pin that escaped Mike Waste’s grimey paws:

X-Ray Specs badge. Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

Now that I’ve blogged about these pins, perhaps its time to finally get rid of them. After all, they served their purpose. Maybe sell them on eBay or something. Besides, I’ve got my memories. You can never take that away.

However, if all else fails, you can tell people this:

Where’s the beef? Button from mid-1980s television commercial ad. The slogan was part of the Wendy’s burger campaign during 1983-84. Photo by Michele Witchipoo.

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When discussing the history of Soft Cell, you’ll hear about a certain early ’80s club kid. This downtown vixen went by the name of Cindy Ecstasy.

“A few nights later I was to find myself in an after-hours club called Berlin. There I met the girl who had saved me at Studio 54 and who was to have a major part in changing my life. In fact she would change both my life and Dave’s profoundly, and our work in Soft Cell from then on.” – from the book “Tainted Life (the autobiography)” by Marc Almond.

As the story goes, Cindy Ecstasy was a drug dealer. Her moniker came about from what she supplied: Ecstasy. In 1981, it was a drug for the nightclub elite. Hence, the name Cindy Ecstasy. Somehow, someone came up with the idea of having Cindy sing back-up on many of the classic Soft Cell tracks. That way she’ll always be around. A decade after Cindy weaved her chemical spells, Ecstasy became known to the general public.

Yet despite me just being a third generation spectator, I somehow have to agree with record producer Mike Thorne. “In one book about the group, Cyndi is obnoxiously described as ‘a drug dealer’, which is glib and convenient journalistic nonsense. She was a camp follower who contributed to the general party energy level and had her own distinctive style and rasping Brooklyn sense of humor and delivery. She passed on wonderful substances to Marc and Dave et al, but in a street social way. Ms Big she was not. I wonder where she is now.”  – from Thorne’s website: www.stereosociety.com

Cindy Ecstasy became the electronic duo’s accidental muse of sorts. She made appearances in the Soft Cell videos “Memorabilia” and “Torch.” Cindy even went as far as appearing with Soft Cell on the classic British countdown show “Top of The Pops.”

Alas, fame was only fleeting for Ms. Ecstasy. She did background vocals for the first Marc and The Mambas album. When her friendship with Marc Almond dissolved, she formed her own band called Six Sed Red. The band had two members. It was herself along with musician Rick Holliday, formerly of the early 1980s band B-Movie. The single was co- produced by the seminal Electronic/Industrial band Cabaret Voltaire, and remixed by Depeche Mode producer Flood.

Never heard of Six Sed Red? Don’t worry – not many people have. The single failed to chart much, and soon Cindy disappeared. Since then, her whereabouts have been largely unknown.

“She had a band called Six Said Red, and that was, like, 1984. I don’t know what became of her after that. Someone told me that she had a guest house in some seaside town in Britain somewhere, that she’s running a hotel. But I have no idea!” – Marc Almond, 1999 interview from the online magazine Chaos Control.

Who knows what would’ve happened if Six Sed Red had been more successful. Cindy did have some potential. Personally, I think the single could’ve been a bigger hit. Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.

Little known fact: right before her disappearance, Cindy and Rick Holliday wrote a song for 80’s pop trio Bananarama.

On the other hand, since she was dealing with drugs, perhaps she had to…”disappear.”

There’s really no new crucial information here regarding Ms. Ecstasy. What’s posted here isn’t any different from what anyone else has written. It’s more like wondering out loud; “where is she now?” Even if we never hear from her again, at least she already left a legacy of some kind. In the meantime, I shall leave you with a small watercolor portrait of the accidental chemical muse, Cindy Ecstasy. Created tonight in watercolor, pen and ink by me. Enjoy.

Small portrait of Cindy Ecstasy. Watercolor, pen, ink. Created by Michele Witchipoo, May 2012.

*UPDATE Jan. 2020: A review of Marc Almond in concert. Brooklyn Bazaar, Brooklyn/NYC, on Nov. 1st. 2019: https://witchesbrewpress.wordpress.com/2020/01/21/sex-cells-marc-almond-live-at-brooklyn-bazaar/

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Lately I’ve been listening to Marc Almond. Been a fan of his since I was a kid, thanks to Soft Cell’s biggest hit “Tainted Love.” But Soft Cell was way more than a band who did Northern Soul covers. In fact, after the  “Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret”/”Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing” period, Soft Cell produced two more darker, brilliant releases: “The Art of Falling Apart” and “Last Night In Sodom.” Alas, all good things must come to an end. In 1984 Soft Cell disbanded until 2001. In 2002, a reunion album came in the form of “Cruelty Without Beauty.”

What stands out with Marc Almond is his ability to have one foot in the mainstream, and the other foot in the more avant garde/underground music circles. Marc makes it look effortless as he switches from one genre to another, depending on the project he’s working on. Perhaps another reason why I’m still a fan of Marc is that musically he’s constantly evolving. Instead of resting on nostalgic laurels, as with the case of some ’80s bands, Almond embraced different styles such as French chanson and Russian folk music. With this Marc Almond has proved to be a versatile artist again and again. In my eyes he’s an extremely underrated musician, especially here in the United States.

Right before Soft Cell broke up, Marc had two side projects. One was the very short-lived The Immaculate Consumptive. The members consisted of Almond, Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave and J.G. Thirlwell, better known as Foetus. The Immaculate Consumptive only lasted about three live shows. To my knowledge, no studio recording exist. Afterwards, Marc Almond formed his own off-shoot called Marc and The Mambas. Marc and The Mambas put out two studio albums. In 1982 was “Untitled” and in 1983 “Torment and Toreros.” This to me, is my favorite Marc Almond period. The other personal favorites besides the Mamba records is from his later solo years. There’s 1988’s “Stars We Are” and 1985’s “Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters.”

I remember buying “Untitled” used on vinyl years ago. It was brought on a lark, particularly since I had just gotten my first steady job. Later on, when I first got into Psychic TV, I was happy to find Marc Almond listed in the credits from the “Dreams Less Sweet” album. Also brought on vinyl was Marc’s second collaboration with Foetus called Flesh Volcano. Come to think of it, much of my teenage vinyl, ranging from PTV to Coil had Marc Almond doing guest vocals.

And so finally I get to the subject of the album cover art itself. After all, Marc’s portrait on “Untitled” helped persuade me to purchase this record many moons ago. That distinction goes to an amazing artist named Val Denham. If you don’t know who Val Denham is, well, you should. She’s a fantastic transgender artist and musician. She’s not only done work for Almond, but for Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, and compilations put out by the Some Bizarre music label. Here’s the link to her work, and bio: http://www.valdenham.com/

Lastly, influenced by Marc and The Mambas and Val Denham, here’s my quickie artwork of Marc Almond. Here I used basic pen and ink, created tonight. Well, it is just a quick sketch. Enjoy.

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