To mark LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari asked its contributors to recall a song that had an impact on their own stories.
Untitled – Marc and the Mambas
by Clayton Littlewood
I have three memories of my childhood bedroom; it was where I first masturbated, where I drew mystical creatures on the wall, and where I discovered the artistry of Marc and the Mambas.
Marc and the Mambas was a Marc Almond side project (away from Soft Cell) and the band’s first album was called Untitled. Recorded at Soho’s Trident Studios between May to July 1982 and released in September of that year, I was 19 when it came out. And I was 19 when I came out. The two events are not coincidental.
I bought Untitled in a small independent Weston-Super-Mare record shop, hidden down a decaying back alley (it’s uncommercial location in keeping with the uncommercial album) and I distinctly remember buying it because I was having sex with the much, much older, 25 year old record shop owner at the time (not while I was actually buying the record I should add). I can remember staring in wonder at Val Denham’s androgynous painting of Marc on the cover (while my boyfriend stared in wonder at my pert teenage bubble butt). And I remember sneaking the album home in a large brown envelope so that no one would discover my purchase (and link me to its camp singer).
It was released as an LP with a bonus 12″, and looking at the album now it’s amazing how even the photos on the back led me to another world. There was Marc with Divine (a year later I would be able to recite most of the dialogue from Pink Flamingos), Marc with Warhol (the Warhol pop-up book is one of my prized possessions), Marc with the Mambas (I went to the Torment and Toreros album show at Meltdown last year). But anyway, the music.
Back in 1982 the charts were comprised of acts such as The Human League, Kraftwerk, Adam Ant and the err, Goombay Dance Band. Of course, being a Soft Cell fan, nothing compared to my Marc. I adored everything he recorded. So with my Marc album under my arm, I rushed into the house, crept up the stairway, locked myself in my bedroom, put the record on the record player (remember them?), lay down on my bed and listened. It was romantic, desolate, sad – it was like nothing else I’d ever heard. And … I hated it. It was too raw. Too unfinished. Too painful. Marc’s depressing album made me depressed. How could he do this to me? Why would a singer (my singer!), a singer with so many hits under his (Goth studded) belt put out such an experimental and personal demo, with no commercial appeal? I didn’t understand it. But then, reluctantly, I played it again. And again. And again. And then something changed. Gradually Marc weaved me into his suicide laden world: a world where I discovered drug taking, abuse and self harm (in the cover of Lou Reed’s, Caroline Says): a world where I discovered a dramatically delivered version of ‘If You Go Away’ (the 1959 Jacques Brel song which I imagined/hoped/prayed/was 100% sure, Marc was singing to another man).
Just a few plays later, I was a Mambas junkie. I injected that album so far into my veins that I became delirious. I would hum to it, dream to it, stand in front of my bedroom mirror and mime to it (I could’ve given Beyoncé a run for her money). I was even caught wanking to it (my Dad walked into my bedroom, which lead to a very quick-thinking coughing fit to mask the dirty deed).
Looking back, Marc was not only an identity to focus on (when I still struggling with my own) – but that album was my first introduction to an artist, to someone who creates something because they believe in it, rather than thinking about how much it will sell. The Untitled album elevated my love for Marc. There was no turning back after that. It was Marc or death. So that year I left that Victorian seaside town and moved to London. I had to be near Marc and I had to live my life differently. And that’s when I ‘came out’. I am forever in Marc’s debt for that.