I was at the leftish University of Sussex, camping out on the Vice-Chancellor’s lawn, protesting in a kind of self-harming way by occupying the Administration Block and thwarting attempts to distribute student grants (remember those?) to indigent students. I would hang out in the Pulse Cafe at Sussex University, making out as a callow proto-revolutionary in Mandela Hall, visiting the Vinyl Demand record shop off Trafalgar Street, dipping into the vaguely seditious Solstice Bookshop (run by contemporary Paul Bonett, now a successful avant garde Estate Agent in Brighton) and engaging in some highly self-indulgent pirate radio activity.
For a boy from Southend, transplanted to the exciting and Graham Greeneian Brighton landscape, Tracey Thorn’s melancholic voice accompanied this Bohemian existence perfectly and I rushed out to buy as much of her work as I could.
The all-female Marine Girls were formed by Tracey with her schoolmates Gina Hartman and Jane Fox in Hatfield, Herts England in 1980. At first, Tracey Thorn played guitar, with Gina on vocals and Jane on bass. There was a drummer shortage so the band applied necessity to invention and pursued a minimalist approach to arrangements. Gina Hartman sang on ‘A Place in the Sun’ and recorded the first album, ‘Beach Party’ before leaving (voluntarily) and was replaced by Jane Fox’s younger sister, Alice Fox on vocals. This was before Tracey Thorn first put voice to mic. The original trio recorded a tape called ‘A Day by the Sea’ and sold it to their mates. The Marine Girls eventually released two albums in the UK – 1982’s ‘Beach Party’ and 1983’s ‘Lazy Ways’. ‘Lazy Ways’ was produced by the band’s mentor, Stuart Moxham of Young Marble Giants.
The video for early single ‘A Place in the Sun’ was shot on Brighton Beach and features some background footage of the now derelict West Pier. I looked in vain in the video for a glimpse of me with a crocodile of 100 German foreign language students – a Summer job I had at the time.
Whilst at Hull University, Tracey began writing her own material as the logistics of getting back south to write with the rest of the band was difficult between university breaks. The Marine Girls broke up after Tracey and Alice Fox fell out following a concert in Glasgow in 1983. Tracey then recorded her solo album ‘A Distant Shore’ which influenced Curt Cobain and others, before joining Ben Watt in Everything but the Girl. In 1997 Cherry Red Records packaged the two Marine Girls’ albums onto one CD and 4 years later spinART reissued the albums in the US.
“We never really paid much attention to these so-called ‘rules’ about what a band was supposed to be,” Tracey said. “We didn’t know anyone who played drums, for example, so we just formed a band without a drummer.”
The very minimalism of the sound, instead of placing the album in an envelope between post-punk and the advent of the ‘Twee’ (Altered Images etc) movement, creates a timeless voice from the eighties bedsit low-fi chamber. Tracey’s unique voice remains a siren call from the caves of the southern isles which forever recreates the hours spent listening to these albums on headsets and Walkman on the stony, yet strangely comforting beaches of Brighton, Hove and Worthing.
Play these albums now and enjoy the waves gently lapping at the toes of your imagination.
Bass – Jane Fox (tracks: 1 to 31)
Guitar – Tracey Thorn (tracks: 1 to 31)
Percussion – Alice Fox (tracks: 15 to 31), Gina Hartman (tracks: 15 to 31)
Saxophone – Timothy Charles Hall (tracks: 1 to 14)
Vocals – Alice Fox (tracks: 1 to 31), Gina Hartman (tracks: 15 to 31), Tracey Thorn (tracks: 1 to 31)
Lazy Ways (Tracks 1 to 14)
‘Originally issued in album format 1983 BRED 44, and as a double play cassette with Beach Party C BRED 44’
Beach Party (Tracks 15 to 31)
‘Originally issued in album format 1981, Licensed from Whaam Records reissued on Cherry Red Records 1987 BRED 75′
1. A Place In The Sun (2:31)
2. Leave Me With The Boy (1:50)
3. Falling Away (1:46)
4. Love To Know (2:52)
5. A Different Light (2:22)
6. Sunshine Blue (2:05)
7. Second Sight (2:58)
8. Don’t Come Back (2:01)
9. That Fink.Jazz-Me-Blues Boy (1:32)
10. Fever (2:14)
11. Shell Island (2:27)
12. Lazy Ways (2:42)
13. Such A Thing.. (2:22)
14. You Must Be Mad (2:02)
15. In Love (1:53)
16. Fridays (2:03)
17. Tonight? (1:19)
18. Times We Used To Spend (1:41)
19. Flying Over Russia (2:05)
20. Tutti Lo Sanno (2:21)
21. All Dressed Up (1:46)
22. Honey (2:02)
23. Holiday Song (2:12)
24. He Got The Girl (1:24)
25. Day/Night Dreams (1:10)
26. Promises (1:29)
27. Silent Red (1:33)
28. Dishonesty (2:16)
29. 20,000 Leagues (2:23)
30. Marine Girls (1:39)
31. The Lure of the Rock Pools (1:50)
Marine Girls – A Place in the Sun – original video shot in Brighton 1982 – featuring rare footage of the West Pier and Peter Pan’s Playground:
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I was having my yearly look on the internet today to see what Marine Girls info was floating about out there,and i just read your post.
As you obviously love Marine Girls I thought i’d put you straight on a couple of things,that seem to have become internet “truth”
I don’t want you to think that i’m ANGRY about it,it’s just a bit annoying….
Just for the record,there never was a Gina Fox,that is me, Gina Hartman,and i did not leave after a few rehersals,i recorded “A Day By The Sea” with firstly Tracey and then Jane when she joined us,i also sung and played on all of Beach Party…then i left!
There you have it.
Just so as you know,we are all still good friends and have regular meet ups.
Like your article,anyway!
Thank you so much for your comment. It is a real honour to have your input and I am delighted to be able to put the record straight. Slightly annoyingly, I knew that you weren’t Gina Fox and imported the mistake in an erroneous Discography. I have included your comment about leaving into the post which I hope will stand as a testament to the intimate and timeless music made by The Marine Girls. If you would like to share any links or information on what you are doing now please be my guest.
Two years later… just stumbled across this after searching for Gina on web. Recently revisited Marine Girls on new Spotify subscription (birthday present – I’m similar age: 51 !). I have firstly annoyed, then intrigued, then won-over my household by non-stop playing of MGs ever since (the past two weeks). We bought Pillows and Prayers when it first came out in early 1980s (still got it) and, despite being a punk of very heavy sound inclinations, by far my favourite tracks were MGs, TT and Ben Watt – particularly the MG’s Lazy Ways. What a supremely fantastic and boss band you were!
One thing missing from the Spotify collection is the “(cover)” [sic: youtube]?? – surely the original? – version of ‘On My Mind’; which thankfully you can get on youtube. Did you sing on that Gina?
Anyway, what have you been up to since? Impossible to find on google! It feels like deja vu now: mass youth unemployment (I was on the dole for most of the decade of the 80s) but without the innocent politics of ‘post-punk’ (please forgive my gross oversimplification – but you know what I mean) – how lucky we were to be young then and not now!
I hope I haven’t missed your “yearly look”. Thanks to Roy for the blog and to you, so much, for being a Marine Girl and for such brilliant music. Love and all the best. Ben McCall