Marc Almond: The Last Star by Jeremy Reed
In 1981, two young men who had met at Leeds Polytechnic and called themselves Soft Cell went into a studio and recorded a cover of an obscure northern soul track. It was a sparse affair, with minimal electronic arrangement and an insistent drum beat played by Dave Ball. Singer Marc Almond delivered a blistering vocal, loaded with the menace and despair that would become his signature. The song was called Tainted Love and went on to break all records as the track that remained the longest in the US Billboard Top 100, and received a Brit Award for best single of that year.
It was Almond who chose Tainted Love to cover, and his debut on Top Of The Pops to perform the song, dressed in black leather fetish wear together with a percussive array of bangles, his eyes articulated by mascara and eyeliner, announced the persona that he would present for the rest of his career. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars” Oscar Wilde tells us in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and it’s a maxim that seems central to the spirit of Marc Almond’s music. What began as an exploration of lowlife and sleaze – the general public has never quite forgotten the notion of Tainted Loveas being attributable to the singer who so successfully espoused its virtues – has deepened with Almond’s maturity into a lyric concern for all outsiders, for the gay people, transvestites, transsexuals and underworld figures who populate his imagination. In this highly creative biography Jeremy Reed takes us through Almond’s discography, the elegantly titled songs and albums, his spheres of influence and inspiration from Jean Genet, Jacques Brel and Baudelaire through to Bolan and Bowie and places him as one of the century’s great torch singers, a diva figure who “thrives on a certain ruined glamour”.
As a renowned poet of subcultures himself, Jeremy Reed is uniquely placed to write this glittering and sympathetic study of his work. It became the first of numerous collaborations between the two artists, with Almond contributing Original Soho Songs to Reed’s poetry collection Piccadilly Bongo, performed together at the National Gallery, and in turn Jeremy Reed writing the lyrics for most of Almond’s 2011 album Feasting With Panthers and the libretto for the pop-operetta Against Nature.
Jeremy Reed is the author of over 40 award winning books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and is considered a legendary subculture icon. He has been lauded by giants such as JG Ballard – “Each time he goes out into our mundane world he makes the dust sing. He is as unique to British poetry as David Bowie is to pop” – and has won numerous awards. He is also well known as a performer of his work with the Ginger Light, unique in their genre as pioneers of spoken word and music.