I was posting on Westway the other day, extolling the virtues of Record Fairs, and declaring my love for old Rough Trade 7"s. Well, here's another one of those Rough Trade singles, and it's one that has never had its moment in the spotlight.
Mark Beer is one of those artists that never quite made it: a handful of singles, what looks like a self-financed album, and that's about it.There is a connection via one of those singles to Thomas Dolby, and another one of his collaborators was Jean-Marc Lederman, who played in Jules et Jim, with Julianne Regan, from All About Eve. Along the way, he seems to have picked up a tiny number of curious fans and he's been rewarded for all his years in the wilderness by having one of his songs: "The Man Man Man", turn up on a compilation of DIY UK post-punk releases. So, there are tantalising links to other bands, to other careers, to other lives. But when you try and find out what happened to Mark himself, there's nothing. No myspace, no CD's on Amazon, no website, nothing. Very odd.
This single itself is a bright little piece of pop, though in its rush for acceptance, its message seems to become somewhat muddled. Mark sings about how being pretty is his salvation, the "antidote to my despair". Yet later in the song, he's musing that being pretty is merely "a type of superficial grace". He seems to have a love/hate relationship with the process of self-examination and evaluation, and this sense of confusion and fragility really comes across in the track: the song is always on the edge of becoming over-wrought and merely theatrical, a heartbeat away from losing its integrity to base vanity. It also has the delicious prospect of a "dub" on the b-side, though in truth it was just a chance to give the echo box a workout.
Despite it's lo-fi sound, and, at times, simplistic production, Rough Trade obviously had high hopes for the single. My copy came with a plugging sticker on the back, which means that it was sent off to compete with all the pop heavyweights of the day, when in truth, it probably never had a chance. And in that one moment of pure hope, is the reason why I really loved Rough Trade: they never let common sense get in the way of their dreams. They were adamant that their records deserved a chance, no mater how slight that chance was. The sheer optimism and pride of record labels in that first flush of the Indie boom has been somewhat forgotten, and this single serves as a timely reminder of just how important it is for a label to believe in their artistes, and to follow that belief through, all the way.