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: