november 26 2006
Year after year, the more or less forgotten new wave nuggets are newly exposed to the light. Not always through public success, but at least thanks to more or less confidential CD reissues, and more and more through younger bands who, a generation later, draw inspiration from their now venerable elders. Recently, Family Fodder, Fad Gadget (but Frank Tovey was not granted much time to enjoy it) and the Blue Orchids have had this chance. It has still escaped The Passions, but the Silicon Teens album has been rereleased, and a Flying Lizards compilation has been threatening to come our way for a long time.
But if there's someone who has little chance to see his records rereleased, if only because hardly anyone has ever listened to his one and only album, "Dust on the road", then this person is Mark Beer. Oh, he's not exactly completely unknown : one of his singles, "Pretty", was released by Rough Trade in 1981. A very good song, with the melodic line played on the bass (Mark Beer was originally a bass player, it seems, like Julian Cope), with a female voice as counterpoint. This record must have sold relatively well, but did not enter the burgeoning independent British charts. It was released in Japan, and it can be found on Rough Trade compilations from France and Germany, but sadly not on the US compilation (released too early) nor on the famous C81 NME/Rough Trade cassette, the success of which could have allowed him easily to decuplate his audience.
He must have signed a publishing deal with Rough Trade Music at the time, since all his songs were published by them after that, but he was denied the exposure of the Rough Trade label itself, since it is on My China Records, a label dedicated to Mark Beer whose address was care of Rough Trade, that the "Dust on the road" album was then released.
I must state that, had I known this album at the time of its release in 1981, among my Costello, Devo, Magazine, PIL, Cure and XTC records, I'm not sure I would have liked it, even if I liked "Pretty" a lot. And even when I got round to buying it, in 1983-84 on sale from the Rough trade shop in London, I listened to it once or twice, taking notice especially of the songs "Simple pleasures" and "Road to somewhere", and then I put it aside only to get it out from time to time, mostly to play these two songs on the radio. I must also admit that the name of the label (My China) linked to the catalogue number (Tao)and to certain song titles ("Merciful heavens", "Peaceful near silent", "Litany"), all this had an atmosphere, if not of religion, at least of more or less zen mystique, which had a tendency to rather put me off. And of course, it's precisely the impression of calm, of zen, of serenity that oozes from this album that I have grown to love years later and that represents the main interest and quality of this record. Mark Beer has succeeded where, for instance, French singer Gérard Manset partly failed with the "Lumières" album . And even if I dig deep in my memory to find a record that bosats as much calm and serene happiness, I can only think of "Colossal youth" by Young Marble Giants, the song "Whatevershebringswesing" by Kevin Ayers or"Sunday morning" by The Velvet Underground.
The cover art of "Dust on the road" is of the most abstract kind, even if one can think it illustrates in the most direct possible way the dust of the title : it's a simple gradation of colour from black to white, with the name of the artist and the album title on the black part. The photograph of Mark Beer on the back cover is in rather sharp contrast to the image one might have expected from the nakedness of the cover art and the music : a tall blond guy with mad hair, a cross between Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers, beer can in hand and handrolled fag between two fingers.
Musically, the record has a great homogeneity. The instrumentation is the same all way through : very present bass, percussions, relatively few guitars, a little saxophone from time to time and some piano. As for the production and mixing, each element is kept separated from the others. It's the case for instance with the opening song, one of the masterpieces of the record, "Road to somewhere" : it starts with the bass, then the voice comes in, then a little percussion, and the song closes with some slight guitar. The three following songs are a little less great, but the side finishes very well with "Precious ones". On the contrary, the four songs on side two are very consistent, starting with "Simple;pleasures", the other masterpiece of the album, and the only song here which could recall directly "Pretty". All of this adds up to make "Dust on the road" one of those great lost albums which would really deserve a second chance,as was the case for the Nick Drake records, "I am the cosmos" by Chris Bell or Alexander 'Skip' Spence's "Oar".
More than a plain reissue of the "Dust on the road" album, we have chose to offer you in our "Not available" collection a complete retrospective of Mark Beer's short career (I forgot to tell you that Mark Beer only recorded one 12" single, never released, after his album, which sank without a trace), which, aside from the album, comprises his UK singles releases, as well as two singles released in Belgium, which kickstarted the UK/Belgium axis which would flourish a year later with Factory Benelux and Les Disques du Crépuscule.
After this solo career, Mark Beer was a member of the band "Sneezes in China... Deaths in Paris", more experimental, who apparently gigged in London (including an opening slot for Bow Wow Wow !), in Paris and in Belgium, but who did not release any record.
PS : In Autumn 2006, the Crippled Dick Hot Wax label released "7" Up !", a compilation of singles released in the UK in the years 1978-1982 which opens with Mark Beer's "The man man man".
click on the underlined songs to listen to a 30 second MP3 extract
MARK BEER : Recollections (a retrospective)
1 Road to somewhere
1 to 9 album "Dust on the road" (My China, TAO 001, 1981)
Compilation by Pol Dodu, may-june 2002
Look at photographs of Mark Beer taken by Belgian photographer Philippe Carly