“Success is really only there so they can cruelly take it away from you”
Stretch marks by medical definition are narrow streaks, or lines that occur on the surface of the skin. Stretch marks are often red or purple to start with, before gradually fading to a silvery-white colour.
‘Humans are fucked mate!’ -Stern
In the case of cult Mancunian band, Stretchmarks; They are otherworldly artists, creating under the surface sounds during the ‘cold chill of Thatcherism’ before imploding into the abyss of society.
‘I like to think we spearheaded the demand for that.’ -Martin
Approximately in existence, 1988-1991 were (M Wand & R Casswell of Stock, Hausen & Walkman notoriety, R Harrison of Dislocation Dance, Blue Orchids. M Hennin – loosely associated with A Certain Ratio members and that scene & Stern of The Grind, once drummer in Dub Sex & Suns of Arqa.) a seldom heard band, comprising persons under the influence of Allen Ravenstine, David Moss, Gareth Sager, Sonny Sharrock, Bootsy Collins, Herbie Flowers, John ‘Drumbo’ French, Robert Wyatt, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Don Van Vliet, Gabi Delgado etc who attempted to meld the noisier end of free improvisation with a slightly more oblique and accomplished Funk than the Manchester ‘baggy’ sound of that era.
If they had been around in the late 1700’s the band state that they would have been ‘Jacobins for sure!’
However, ‘being mostly Mancunians and living in the 1900’s ‘we had to be content with inflicting our ‘Terror’ by musical means… and wearing trousers fortunately!’
“Do people still care what the Government thinks?
“they do in this country, unfortunately. -Stern
‘NOT SINCE DUCHAMP WRAPPED UP THE EXHIBITION’ you could argue has Avant Garde music truly been about new and experimental ideas and methods in art, music, or literature. If the avant-garde is characterized by ‘initial unacceptability’? then judging from Stretchmarks sales figures at their bandcamp site, they are absolutely flying the vanguard!
‘I keep looking, maybe in the wrong places!’ – Richard
Some of my concern with modern music is how the internet has helped advertisers absorb the majority of diverse art, such as music, dance, theatre and literature; enabling an unleashing of unconstructive, tame versions in response, which concentrate the mainstream and public consensus.
‘NOT LIVING ON A COMPUTER MIGHT BE DIFFERENT’ – Matt
‘The horizon is slightly curved and clear of any sea going vessels’ is the response when questioned in regards to the bands eminent future. Three out of the five members continue to pursue other ‘music related poverty’ whilst the other two have found ‘successful’ ways to make a living. I guess, ‘there’s really no coming back from that!’
‘I don’t think there are any great aspirations around this release. no reforming, no tour! no promo! no horse! no moustache!’ – Matt
Time has not evolved the bands ethos around self promotion, which I truly admire. I do feel sad, however that a band so musically rich is poor in fan base and critical acclaim but is there any hope for the future?
Engaging with the band, I find out that their definition of success- ‘Success is really only there so they can cruelly take it away from you… best avoided.’
With a desire for ‘this thing we did to be acknowledged, noted and possibly praised in certain rarified circles.’ I, therefore call an arms, for all of our readers to force this group of musicians to reconvene, and complete what they began back in 1988 because, hell, we need another exhibition!
Q & A
Why did you not decide to ‘jump’ on the ‘baggy’ vibe to achieve acclaim before unleashing your ‘true’ artistic assault?
Stern: We wore different trousers, and we were not seeking fame.
Matt: we would have had to embrace the appalling graphic design of ‘that’ scene. I can’t abide bad graphic design. Unless, of course, it’s entirely intentional. For Dada, anti-aesthetic or political reasons but in the case of those bands I think they were just SO off their tits that they got fobbed off with the design office tea-boys retarded doodles and paid through the nose for the privilege!
Who are the StretchMarks?
Stern: “Proud Mancunians who thought anything was possible”
Matt: In the late 1700’s we would have been Jacobins for sure! if we were French that is.. being mostly Mancunians and living in the 1900’s we had to be content with inflicting our ‘Terror’ by musical means… and wearing trousers fortunately!
Is anything Avant Garde in existence?
Martin: NOPE, NOT SINCE DUCHAMP WRAPPED UP THE EXHIBITION
Richard: I keep looking, maybe in the wrong places!
Stern: ‘’The bAnd At THE Bar is better than The BaND on THE STaND” “Deep shit, it depends where you do your shopping these days, it’s a bit negative to generalise and say “Everything’s been done, blah, blah.” Some of the problem is how the internet has helped advertisers absorb all diverse art, music, dance, theatre and literature and unleash diluted and tamed versions.
Matt: Ah! more French… isn’t the avant-garde characterised by ‘initial unacceptability’? if so, judging from Stretchmarks sales figures at the bandcamp site, I would say we are absolutely flying the vanguard flag high.
You guys are known for various musical side projects. Outside of music what occupies your days and minds?
Richard: The distinct possibility of a real socialist government in Britain, to redress the Neo liberal Thatcherite agenda of the last 40 years.
Stern: Nature, the real wilderness, my wife, my dog and death.
Matt: My mind is generally occupied with failed attempts to NOT be occupied/horrified by ALL the really shitty stuff people in positions of power are doing AND the awful things the proletariat end up doing, generally as a result of the situation those higher up have put them in. Scratching about on old cassette machines is currently helping distract me from that… slightly.
‘The cosmic dream keeps doing its thing’! What is the cosmic dream you sing of?
Stern: “I dreamt oF String AND you hear Ding A Ling” The lyric is “STRING” not “DREAM”, probably a typo”, the cosmic string is a forgotten fragment of a psychedelic, hallucinatory, figment of the imagination. Maybe that makes sense now?
Matt: Yes, as Stern says, it’s Cosmic ‘String’ not ‘Dream’ , dream doesn’t even rhyme! what were you thinking/drinking man!! any road… Cosmic Strings are very very very thin ( about 1 proton ) so that makes them difficult to play or tune up.. also they are very very very very looooong so if you did play them it would be one hell of a sub bass sound! I would suggest the time honoured thumb slap technique rather than plucking style to avoid losing digits. Cosmic Strings DEFINITELY keep doing their ‘thing’ despite remaining entirely hypothetical since Tom Kibble first ‘outed’ them in the 70’s.
Do you feel like pioneers?
Stern: We all had a kind of youthful swagger spiked with ingenuity and originality.”
Matt: We were definitely the BEST at being us at the time. I think Rex once wore a ‘davy crockett’ hat for a month but on the whole that home made clothing and frontiersman look is best left to Twin Peaks extras. i quite like Daniel Boone’s quote:
“I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.”
‘Which might be a reasonable metaphor for the StretchMarks musical trajectory?’’
Whom or what were your inspirations?
Richard: For me, Stretchmarks touch on the ideas of Ornette Coleman, Faust, Holger Czukay , Don Cherry ,and a host of others ….
Stern: too many to list here, today,
Matt: I saw my role in StretchMarks, as kind of the Allen Ravenstine role in Pere Ubu, except without a big synthesizer. Just a homemade cassette switchboard ( a member of This Heat wrote about how to build one in an early Resonance magazine article, if I recall correctly) and some hacked drum machines. the skittery shrapnel percussion was my love of NY improviser David Moss. I keep mentioning that I wanted the band to be an equivalent to Laswell’s Material and all the great stuff on the Celluloid label… but of course it never was, the opposing artistic forces each of us brought to the table could only ever have ended up in ‘StretchMarks’ as it was.. which, in a way, is true to the melting pot spirit of that NY stuff but with a lot of the English eccentric tradition infecting it… wait! Isn’t that what happened with that Daevid Allen New York Gong 10 inch. Basically, Material with an English eccentric calling the shots. A great, great record!
“As the monster Tankers, they tilt and spill… ‘Lloyds of London’ Insure they will”. Sheer poetry.
What does ‘post-punk’ mean to you?
Richard: The displacing of the hippie /prog yawn , with a more open attitude to the ways and means of music .
Stern: the opening guitar riff in “Rip it up and start again” by Orange Juice.
Matt: My life, from the age of 18 onwards is post-punk and pre-putrescent.
Why do you think that music is considered a ‘lesser cultural art form’ than books, for example by the Government?
Stern: Depends what you mean by “music”, but I can see why that happens, there’s a lot of very awful dross sloshing about. Books need saving anyway. It’s the Government’s job to create the illusion of order. – Stern
“Do people still care what the Government thinks?
“they do in this country, unfortunately.
Matt: it seems to be considered a ‘semi-literate’ art form. there’s a lot of musicians who don’t help with that.. of course some just act that way to keep the bourgeoisie at bay! 🙂 there is a huge amount of trash available in book form so I don’t quite understand how we got here. maybe the division between so called ‘high culture’ and the perceived ‘lower forms’ is greater in music, with the high culture being so elite that it’s painful to behold. Books tend to get classified by subject in a shop, you don’t usually see shelves labeled “ FUN – no big words! “ or “ Unintelligibly up-it’s-own-arse but will make you look clever on the bus “ . but that would be the bookshop for me!
Could you explain to our readers about your recording process and the equipment you employ to explore?
Stern: Matt?, Martin?
Matt: Richard?, Rex?
Martin: Stern? Philip?
Richard: well… we did have a DAT machine… anyone remember those?
Do you feel that you managed to ‘meld the noisier end of free improvisation with a slightly more oblique and accomplished Funk’?
Stern: No. …that was just how it turned out at the time.
Matt: I did! …but those other gits just had to play it THEIR OWN WAY damn them!
How do you relate to human kind?
Richard: I shake it by the hand, anything more is private, No peeping!
Stern: Humans are fucked mate.
Matt: I concur with Stern but admire Richard’s optimism, naive trust and discretion.
In what ways has guitar music evolved since you originated?
Stern: I haven’t thought about that at all.
Matt: the guitarist in the band seems oddly absent from the discussion. Rex’s only response was to email me a photo of an old compilation of northern soul classics on the WAND label! so you could say guitarists have become a lot more inscrutable? or perhaps it’s safer to say that they definitely have a lot more fx pedals to chose from?
I think, like a lot of them, he’s gone all Modular Synth these days so maybe you could say guitarists now prefer their wires to ‘dangle’ rather than ‘stretch’?
What is left, or on the horizon for the band?
Stern: we’re all still alive so life goes on, who knows? To play live again would be a buzz, the problem is Rex and I don’t live in Mcr anymore.
Matt: Yes, the horizon is slightly curved and clear of any sea going vessels. Though 3 out of the 5 members of the band continue to pursue music related poverty.. 2 of them have found successful ways to make a living.. there’s really no coming back from that!
How do you rate success as musicians?
Martin: when Reggie workman looked to me at a workshop and said “cool riff”
Stern: I don’t
Matt: Reggie Workman! I once played with him at Derek Baileys Company Week, he spent the whole evening going on at me about vegetarianism.. then at the Indian restaurant we ended up at ordered a Chicken Tikka!! he defines successful wind-up merchant as well as musician in my book. Success is really only there so they can cruelly take it away from you… best avoided.
Are there any aspirations or reasons behind m-ARKhives?
Stern: the music still sounds fresh, just took us a while to get around to it
Matt: Well! everyone else is airing the abuses of the 70’s/80’s, this one needed confessing to.. we all feel a certain relief after having spoken out about it and having our day in court.
Matt: Well it was a little bit random. Stern was on a rare visit to the north and dropped in at mine. I suggested we head into Gentrified Manchester to view the damage and rang up Martin to see if he was around. We met at a bar and Martin’s head seemed to be full of vinyl thoughts. I’d recently and tentatively been dipping my toes back into the record label lark with the release of “Entertaining the Invalid” on Compact Disc. Martin offered to pay a significant portion of the production bill if I would do the work to ‘get StretchMarks out there’ surprisingly the other band members also were able to bung in a £100 quid here and there too! good job as it hasn’t got any cheaper or easier to press vinyl since the 90’s and I don’t have those kind of resources these days … yet! obviously the massive sales of the Stretchmarks release will change all that… certainly in one of the parallel universes it will surely? I don’t think there are any great aspirations around this release. no reforming, no tour! no promo! no horse! no moustache! we just want this thing we did to be acknowledged, noted and possibly praised in certain rarified circles. Also it’s a little piece that was previously missing from the puzzle for folk interested in any of the current things any of us do, they can see another part of where it all comes from. Genealogy is apparently quite a big thing these days!
The cover art is such a paradox to the content. Who created this and why was it selected?
Matt: I done it! is it a paradox? I thought it was a ‘trompe l’oeil’ ? anyway… it’s just the box that the cassette tapes were kept in, so if it is symbolic it says “Job Done” all the tapes are out the box and digitally transferred for the benefit of mankind..
I am reasonably proud of the end result, I think it’s graphically sound and looks pretty fine on a 12 inch LP sleeve.
Do you regret being sidetracked by other side projects from making such an emphatic album after recording 3-4 cool demos?
Stern: Regret is for what you never did, we were young and easily distracted
Matt: the “other projects” were also quite good. At least this loose end has been tied up now. Only another 30 or 40 to go!
What WOULD YOU guys deem as ‘listening sins’?
Martin: COCKTAIL JAZZ AND SIMPLY RED
Richard: My 15 year old son said he was loving late period Fleetwood Mac , I was shocked !
Stern: Prog Rock leaves me cold
Matt: Conor from Boomkat recently asked me if I would be support act for DJ replacement bus service.. I looked her up, she imagines that she is ‘inflicting’ bad music on her audience by playing entertaining and kitsch novelty records of yesteryear!! little realising that the real horror being inflicted on the masses is the dour, po-faced, derivative and bland ‘electronica’ that every numbskull and his donkey is releasing on £25 vinyl LP these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love her style and what she plays and it’s a great DJ name.. but I think she has her irony pants on inside out.. somehow entertaining people is considered ‘not cool’ therefore if someone possibly considered ‘cool’ comes along and plays entertainment it is seen as ‘anti’ and therefore ‘cool’ again!! how did we get here girls and boys??!! anyway, didn’t do the
gig… my comedy is even more inverted than that. I suggested Vicki Bennett/ People Like Us do it… or better still Wevie Stonder.
Could you describe to me the Manchester of thirty years to the Manchester you experience today?
Stern: Back then drugs were everywhere in the city, now coffee shops are everywhere in the city.”
Matt: it is easy to get a feel of that bygone era by watching any of nightclub bouncer/ library music composer Cliff Twemlow’s straight to video movies he directed and starred in. The vision of shabbily attempted M/c glamour through the appropriately fuzzy lens of a VHS camera and the constant threat of random violence behind all the unconvincing hard-man dialogue pretty much sums up 80’s Manchester perfectly.
Tape dark grey tracing paper over all your windows to emulate the sudden blocking out of sunlight. That will give you the correct atmosphere this insane unstoppable towerblock development in Manchester has brought. Maybe add a few earth tremors and poisoned tap water from a fracking plant in yr next door neighbours garden for added effect?
Would you prefer to be a young band today, or back in the Eighties? How do they even compare, out of interest?
martin: NOT LIVING ON A COMPUTER MIGHT BE DIFFERENT
Stern: I’d say back then, there were more venues, thing is I’m not young anymore so I can’t really compare in that way.
Matt: at least the equipment is tiny these days!! that was the Stock, Hausen & Walkman dream back then.. playing a gig with whatever is in yr coat pockets is now a reality… I like to think we spearheaded the demand for that.. god bless the Japanese and shrinkage in general.
Could Richard and Martin, tell me about their days backing for Nico and how was that? Was she living with John Cooper Clarke at the time?
martin: SHE WAS, AND SHE WAS ALWAYS MY ICON, UNTIL THE MOMENT WE PLAYED TOGETHER
Richard: It felt like a pretty cool thing to do, then and now . The music wasn’t very challenging but the gigs took me to many places I hadn’t been too before, seeing Yugoslavia before the break up /war , and having been back since , but then Europe has changed in those 30 years . It was great to perform with Nico in Berlin, it felt like a home town gig with her.